Christ our Healer

pexel hand outIn the Christian and Missionary Alliance Statement of Faith we find this sentence: “Provision is made in the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of the mortal body.”

To understand the Biblical foundation for this belief we turn to Matthew 8 and find a story of healing. “14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.” (Matt. 8:14-16, ESV)

Notice that when Jesus touches Peter’s mother-in-law not only is she healed immediately, but she is also healed completely.  Apparently in this area of Israel Malaria was common.  We do not know if that is what she was suffering from or not, but imagine if she did have Malaria.  Even if she had been healed of the fever it still would have taken her some time to recuperate.  But in this story she immediately gets up and starts to serve them.  That is amazing.  Jesus didn’t just take away the sickness, he gave her complete health and rejuvenation and strength to the point where she was immediately able to get up and start serving her guests like a good Jewish mother in law would probably do.

There is a completeness to the healing work of Jesus that is powerfully shown in this example.  Jesus doesn’t just take away what is wrong, he brings life.  And word must have spread because soon a crowd had gathered to seek a healing touch from the Lord.

That is a powerful story, but it also provides important context for verse 17: “17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”  (Matt. 8:17, ESV)

This verse suggests that there is more to this scene than just the healings that are taking place.  This is the fulfillment of a prophecy about the Messiah.  This is a declaration of who Jesus is.  And it is referring to Isaiah 53, which is known as the passage on the suffering servant.

“1 Who has believed what he has heard from us?[a] And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected[b] by men; a man of sorrows,[c] and acquainted with[d] grief;[e] and as one from whom men hide their faces[f] he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:1-6, ESV)

This passage is a prophecy about the coming Messiah and it is easy to see Jesus in these words. Nobody would have looked at Jesus as he was growing up in Nazareth and said, look there is the Messiah.  There was no pomp and circumstance.  He was just the son of a carpenter.  And after he came out and began his ministry he was despised and rejected.  He had his life threatened and he was constantly under attack from the religious leaders of the day.  Eventually he was arrested and unjustly tried and convicted.  Then he was beaten and placed on a cross where they drove nails into his hands and feet and hung him up to die.  And on that cross he took our sins upon himself and died as a sacrifice for the world.

This passage in Isaiah 53 seems to be focusing on what Christ would do on the cross when he was beaten and pierced and killed while carrying the sins of the world on his shoulders.  Even the phrase “bearing our griefs and carrying our sorrows” from verse 4, has us picturing the cross.

But if Isaiah 53 is pointing toward Christ’s work on the cross, why is it connected to Matthew 8 which is a story about Jesus’ healing ministry?

When we look at verses 4-5 of Isaiah 53, we see that it is our sicknesses and our pain and our sin and our punishment that he takes upon himself, while he is stricken, smitten, afflicted, pierced, crushed, chastised and wounded.  And it is because he went through what he went through, while carrying all of our stuff that we get to enjoy what we see at the end of verse 5 which says, by his wounds we are healed.  That healing is complete.  Christ died and rose again in victory over sin and the curse that sin brought.

Now let me point out that because of sin, we are living in a broken world.  We treat sickness as if it is the main problem, but sickness is actually a symptom of the brokenness that has come as part of the curse of sin.  Healing sickness is actually like healing a symptom.  In Matthew 8, Jesus healed Peter’s mother in law, but she would have gotten sick again after that and eventually she still died.  Sickness is simply a symptom of the brokenness caused by sin.

While he walked this earth Jesus chose to care for the symptoms of living in a broken world, like hunger, sickness, and evil spirits.  But while he chose to address some of the symptoms he was always moving toward the main focus, which was the victory he would bring through his work on the cross and through the grave.  Things are not going to be perfect until Christ returns and wipes away this broken world and brings a new heaven and new earth.

In Revelation 21 we read: “1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4, ESV)

That is what we look forward to.  One day sickness and death will be no more. But what about today? What do we do with the stuff we face right now in this broken world?  Are we stuck just looking forward to our future in Heaven?

Christ could have just walked this earth, completely focused on the cross, and ignored the symptoms of this broken world that were all around him.  But he didn’t.  He chose to stop and listen and touch and heal those in need.  Even though those healings were just temporary and he was just addressing the symptoms, Jesus still chose to heal.  Why?

Last week I was at a national youth convention for The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  As part of that convention my son Jacob and I attended a seminar led by Ken Castor.  During that seminar Ken asked the audience to shout out some things as volunteers wrote them on a giant white board.  One of the things he asked for them to shout out was things that Christ does for us.  People yelled out: he healed; he forgave; he died; and other things Christ has done.  My son Jacob just quietly said, he stopped.  And I turned to him and asked what he meant by that.  He told me that when people cried out to Jesus as he was passing by, he would stop and listen to their need and touch and heal them.  And I was like, you know what, he’s right.  That’s something that Christ did.  He stopped.  Why did he stop?  He stopped because he loved them.  He had compassion on them.  And that is still true today.  When we cry out to him Christ still stops and listens to us and touches us.

As we continue on through Scripture we see that healing was an active part of the ministry of the early church.  And down through history that has continued.  Sure there have been plenty of abuses and we have gotten off track from what it was intended to be along the way, but Christ is still our healer.

He still stops when we cry out to him.  He listens and cares about what we are going through and he touches us.  I don’t know why he sometimes chooses not to heal.  But I do know that Christ loves us and he is still our healer.  It is not our faith that heals us, it is not some guy in a fancy suit, it is not prayer or oil or the ability we have to believe, it is Christ who heals.  Through the cross he established victory over sin and death and everything that goes with it.  He came to bring us life.  And even though he no longer walks on this earth in flesh and blood, when we cry out to him, he still stops because he loves us.  Christ is still our Healer.

 

 

Christ our Sanctifier, Part I

pexel bible1Did you know that Western Union originally rejected the telephone, saying in an internal memo in 1876, “The device is inherently of no value to us.”  In 1903, the president of Michigan Savings Bank advised Henry Ford’s lawyer not to invest in the Ford Motor Company, saying “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty, a fad.”  In response to David Sarnoff’s urgings for investment in the radio in the 1920s, his associates said, “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?”

Sometimes really smart people make poor decisions simply because they think some really great idea is foolish.  In I Corinthians 1:17-31 Paul talks about how the gospel seems like foolishness to those who have rejected it, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.

From an earthly perspective the message of the cross makes no sense.  How could a man who was put to death on a cross be of benefit to anyone?  Why should someone stop going their own way and follow this Christ who had been put to death?  But the message of the cross is not just some instruction about how to live, it is about accepting the sacrifice of someone who died, to bring us abundant life.

Actually the way this is written in the Greek suggests that those who are perishing are destroying themselves, while those who are being saved are saved not by what they do, but by what is being done for them.  The message of the cross is not instruction for how to live, but life-giving power for those who believe.

Paul talks about how the Jews were looking for signs and yet when Christ came they missed him because he was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting.  So to the Jews, Jesus was a stumbling block.  They thought there was no way he could be the Messiah.  So they killed him.  Meanwhile, the Greeks were seeking wisdom.  They had the great philosophers of the day desiring to know answers to the great questions of life and the universe.  These great philosophers studied the world and applied their wisdom to life. To them the idea of Jesus was folly.

Man is very arrogant.  We naturally think we know everything and can handle anything.  We are taught from an early age to be independent.  But God turned things upside down when he sent Christ.  Through the work of Jesus Christ our sins can be forgiven and we can receive eternal life and this is a free gift that we simply receive by faith. To those who are willing respond to this seemingly foolish message and to proclaim their need for a Savior, God gives abundant life.

And notice what Paul says in verses 30-31, “30 And because of him[e] you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” I Cor. 1:30-31, ESV)

So Paul is writing to a Christian group.  He is addressing the church.  And he reminds them of what has happened in their lives through Christ.  He speaks of Jesus Christ becoming wisdom from God to us.  This contrasts with the wisdom of the world.  The wisdom of the world does not have the power to save us, but Christ does, and therein lies true wisdom.

Then Paul talks about what happens in us through Christ by using three words: righteousness, sanctification and redemption. The word righteousness basically means to be put in right standing with God.  We are declared righteous by God, because of the sacrifice of Christ.  The word redemption refers to being bought back.  It suggests a ransom and that a price was paid for us.  It has ties to the concept of slavery and being bought out of that.  The word sanctification means to be separate or set apart.  Specifically in this context it would be set apart from sin and set apart to God.  It refers to our holiness or the process of holiness in our lives.

I want to dig into this word a little more.  So let me try and illustrate it visually for us.

sanctifier

 

 

Imagine if this graph represented our sanctification, as if we could quantify it.  The top is 100% fully sanctified and down at the bottom is 0, representing someone who is going their own way, doing their own thing, not set apart for God at all.  That doesn’t mean that they are a bad or good person, but specifically whether or not they are set apart from sin and to God.

At the point of conversion, when we receive Christ into our lives, there are some things that happen to us immediately.  One of those things is that we are declared righteous, justified, or sanctified in God’s eyes because of the work of Christ.

In other words, when God looks at us, he sees us as clothed in Christ’s righteousness rather than covered in our sin.  So at that moment we are placed in the position of sanctified based on Christ’s work in our lives.  One day when we get to Heaven, we will be given new resurrected bodies and things will be like God intended, completely perfect and we will be glorified.

But between now and then, if we are honest with ourselves, while we may realize that God sees us right now positionally as sanctified, that is not the actual condition of our lives.   We know that we are not perfect.  We still sin, we still mess up, we are still not fully set apart from sin and set apart for God all the time.  If we looked at the actual condition of our lives, and how much we are living like Christ, it would probably be more along the lines of a rocky up and down kind of following of God.

The question is, do we want more than that?  I think in the church today we almost treat Christianity as if it is about praying a prayer so that when we die we will go to Heaven rather than Hell, but it does not really make that much difference in our day to day lives.  So we are okay with an up and down following of Christ.  However, if we are truly disciples of Christ, then that means that we are supposed to be in the process of becoming like the one we are following.  That is what Christ has called us toward.

And we are not just looking ahead to eternal life in Heaven, God has promised us abundant life right now.  He wants us to be victorious as we walk through this life, experiencing victory over sin, receiving his blessing and best for us today.  He wants us to be walking in a newness of life that he has for us that I think many times we fail to grasp as Christians.  And the only way for us to walk in that newness of life is by relying on the work of Christ who sanctifies us.  Sanctification is not about cleaning up our lives and doing a better job of being a good Christian it is about relying upon the work of Christ in us.  He is our sanctifier.

Think about the context of this passage.  Paul has been pointing out throughout the preceding verses, the folly of man’s wisdom compared to the power of God.  Just as we could never save ourselves we also cannot transform our lives into Christ-likeness.  We need Christ to do that in us.  Christ is not done with us at the point of conversion.  He doesn’t stop with salvation, but continues on in our lives.  He is our Sanctifier.

That flies in the face of earthly wisdom.  This world would say that it’s up to you.  You need to work hard.  You need to get it done.  You need to try harder.  It is foolishness in the world’s eyes to rely upon Christ as Savior or Sanctifier, but that is exactly what we need to do.

So what is our response?  If Christ is our Sanctifier, how do we respond to him?  That’s a great question.  Check out the next blog to find out more.

Resurrection not just Reanimation

pexel zombieSo Zombies are kind of a big deal lately.  There are many TV shows and movies related to zombies.  There was even a youtube video that went viral recently about a couple of brothers who pranked their younger sister on the way home from having wisdom teeth surgery.  They got her to believe that a zombie apocalypse was beginning.  Last I saw it had almost 14million hits.  According to Wikipedia “A zombie is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a human corpse.”

Today zombies are potentially more popular than they have ever been.  If you go online you will find all kinds of information on zombies, including many sites that focus on the best way to survive a zombie apocalypse.  I even came across articles on this subject on the websites for The Center for Disease Control, US News and World Report, and The Washington Post.

Recently I was asked by someone in my church, “What does the Church mean by bodily resurrection?”  This person referred to the apostle’s creed which refers to the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  They were wondering if this means that when we go to Heaven we will have a body like we have now?  In other words, will we be resurrected back into the body we had before we died?  And if so, then at what stage?  Does a person just end up with the body they had right before they died, or is it from like when they were in their prime?  And what about someone who was missing a limb or had some major problem with their body, is that fixed?  And what if you were cremated?  Does that mean you can’t be resurrected?  The person who was asking these questions didn’t specifically connect this to zombies, but they are trying to figure out what to make of the idea of bodily resurrection.

Well, first of all let me point out that we are not talking about reanimation we are talking about resurrection.  That is a significant difference.  Scripture may not give us a definitive picture of what these resurrected bodies will look like, but in I Corinthians 15 Paul gives us enough of an image to recognize we are talking about something a whole lot better than zombies.

Paul begins that chapter with a very succinct outline of the Gospel.  In a few verses he reminds us that Christ died for the sins of the world, that he was buried and that he rose again and appeared to many people.  It is kind of like the Gospel in Cliff Notes fashion.

These first six verses provide an important foundation and then Paul moves on to connect Christ’s resurrection with our own. It is important for us to realize that Jesus did not just die as a sacrifice for our sins, he rose again in victory over death and sin and paved the way for our resurrection.

There were apparently some in Corinth who were suggesting that there was no resurrection for the dead.  In these verses Paul lays out a very logical argument that reminds them of the completeness of the Gospel.

Paul then moves on to talk a little bit about what this will be like.  Paul doesn’t give us an exact picture of what to expect, but he gives us a few images to think about to help us consider the idea of a resurrection body.

The first analogy is of a seed in verses 36-37. A seed that is planted in good soil germinates.  Basically the seed itself disintegrates or dies, but out of that seed grows new life in the form of a plant.  And what comes up out of the ground is not the same thing that went into the ground, but something new and different.

So we can understand the analogy to the seed.  A person dies, they are even planted in the ground, and a new body comes up out of the ground at the time of resurrection.  We should not expect it to be the same as it was when it went into the ground, but rather something new.

Paul moves on to the analogy of different kinds of animals in verse 39.  We know and understand the difference between a human being, an animal, a bird and a fish.  Their bodies are designed for very different purposes that are right for the environment where they will exist.  Our resurrection bodies will be different than our earthly bodies and will fit the needs of the new environment awaiting us.

And then Paul moves on to compare earthly and heavenly bodies in verses 40-41.  Right now we live in earthly bodies.  They are fine and work for here on earth, but God has something different in store for us in Heaven.  These bodies were not meant for Heaven.

Paul then goes on to make some comparisons in verses 42-44.  First he talks about how our bodies will be imperishable compared to perishable.  That means that our resurrected bodies are not going to fade away or be temporary.  It is a body that will be built to last.

He then talks about how when we die, that is the low point for our earthly bodies.  They finally run out of strength and fail completely.  And when they do our bodies are at their weakest and most dishonorable.  But out of that weakness and dishonor of death our new bodies will rise in glory and power.  I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but it sounds pretty good.

The last comparison Paul points out is that our resurrected bodies will not be natural, they will be spiritual.  This is an important distinction.  I don’t know exactly what that will mean, but I would image that a lot of the limitations we know now, will not be limitations then.

Then in verses 45-49 Paul talks about how we will be born in the image of the man of heaven.  We started life with earthly bodies.  Adam was made out of the dust of this earth and so were we.  Our earthly bodies reflected Adam.  But our new bodies will be more reflective of Christ and that doesn’t mean we will look like he looked while he was on this earth, but more in the image of who he is in Heaven.   We will all finally have heavenly bodies.

Then Paul ends the chapter by telling us of the victory that is coming.  For those of us who believe in Christ, death is not the end.  Death is a result of the fall.  It Is because of sin.  In Christ we are set free from that curse of sin and have victory over death.  For most of the world death is seen as the biggest defeat of our lives.  But Paul is turning things upside down and saying that it is not defeat.  Death has been defeated and victory is ours in Christ as we are raised to new life with imperishable, glorious new spiritual bodies.

We may not be able to picture exactly what that means or looks like, but the specifics don’t matter.  Paul gives us enough information here to recognize that we have a lot to celebrate.

Paul’s final verse ends with a good note of encouragement for us in light of the resurrection.  He writes: Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

There is a confidence in this resurrection that allows us to get on with our daily lives.  We can be steadfast, immovable, abounding in the work of the Lord, because we know that our future is secure.  In Christ, we know that one day we will rise again to spend eternity with him, and that understanding of our future allows us to have confidence here and now for whatever we are facing today.

We are looking forward to a glorious life in Heaven and while we are here on this earth we can stand in that victory even though we have yet to experience it.  I know life is not always easy here on this earth, but understanding this chapter can give us strength to stand immovable, knowing what is to come.

 

Why Blood?

pexel crucifixion stained glassHave you ever asked yourself why there is so much of a focus on blood in the Bible?  Between the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament and Jesus’ death in the New Testament there is a lot of blood.  In church we read about the blood, we talk about the blood and we even sing about the blood.  Some people probably question why the Church seems so infatuated with blood.

In chapter 9 of the book of Hebrews the author spends a lot of time talking about blood and does a good job of connecting the blood we read about with Old Testament sacrifices to the blood we read about with the story of Jesus on the cross.

First, he reminds his readers of the Mosaic covenant that existed in the Old Testament.  This was a covenant God had with Israel that they would be his people and he would be their God.  It consisted of a system of rules like the 10 commandments and others that taught them how to live and what it looks like to follow God.  This covenant also included animal sacrifices for them to offer when they messed up.

The system was not bad, but it was temporary, pointing forward to what would be completed in Christ.  And that is what the author is focusing on throughout the chapter.

He talks about the tabernacle, which was set aside as the place for God to dwell with his people.  And that tabernacle included the Most Holy Place, which was located behind a curtain that separated it from the rest of the tabernacle.  In this Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant which represented the very presence of God.  Nobody went behind that curtain except the high priest and he went back there only once a year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  On that day he would make atonement for his sins and the sins of the community by way of animal sacrifices and sprinkling the blood on the cover of the ark.

In Hebrews 9:9 we find out that this was symbolic.  The word used for symbol is a word that means comparison, from which we get our word parable.  And then verse 10 ends with the phrase, “until the time of reformation.”  That is not referring to the reformation time period in history, the word means to set or make right.

So the old covenant was like a symbol of what was to come.  It was a system that God put in place that signified repentance and God accepted it as a way of purification.  It was a system that was temporary and incomplete but pointed the way to the time things would be set right and become perfect in Christ.

The author of Hebrews then moves on to connect Jesus to that old system of sacrifices.  He points out how Jesus became the perfect sacrifice.  In the old covenant the sacrifice of animals symbolized cleansing from sin, but in Christ those sins are truly atoned for and there is no further sacrifice necessary.

In verse 15 the author calls Jesus a mediator.  Our sin separates us from God, but Jesus came between us and God and made it possible for us to be reconciled.  And not just us but everyone, including those who made those sacrifices in the Old Testament.

Notice in verse 16 the word covenant is used and in verse 17 the word will is used.  In the original Greek that is actually the same word.  The old covenant looked ahead to the death of Jesus, the promise of what was yet to come.   Hebrews 9:15 says, “since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.”  Jesus completed or perfected what was begun with the first covenant.

The animal sacrifices that were offered in the OT had to be offered again and again.  It was not enough for them to just be done once.  It was over and over again.  But Christ’s sacrifice was complete.  What he did on the cross was perfect and atoned for the sins of all people, past, present and future, once for all.

And the author points out at the end of the chapter that Christ is coming again.  This same Jesus who died for the sins of the world and rose again is coming back and when he comes he is going to raise all those who believe in him to a new eternal life.  That is what we are looking forward to and the way we have access to that new life is through the blood of Jesus Christ.

So that gets us back to the original question, why blood?  My answer is, I don’t really know.  We can trace animal sacrifice back to the sacrifices of Cain and Abel in the book of Genesis and how the animal sacrifice of Abel was accepted while the fruit and vegetable sacrifice of Cain was not accepted.  And some even trace it back to the Garden of Eden when God clothed Adam and Even with animal skins after they sinned and realized they were naked.

But the closest answer I can find is in Leviticus 17:11 where we read: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.”

So while that is not an exact answer for why the blood, it does point out the importance of blood.  Blood represents life.  We need our blood to survive.  With the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament it is not like they just took blood from the animals and then set them free.  They killed the animals.  Using their blood cost them their life.

And the word for atonement means to cover or appease.  In the Old Testament the people would sacrifice animals to atone for their sins.  They would take one of their animals, that they had raised, or one they had bought with their own money.  An animal who had done nothing wrong, and they would sacrifice it to atone for their sin.

It wasn’t literally the blood of the animal that saved them or washed them.  Romans 6:23 tells us that the penalty or wages for sin is death, the life of the animal was sacrificed in place of the life of the person.  And the life was represented in the blood.

It might seem cruel today, but I think it is important for us to recognize that dealing with sin costs something.  We too easily blow off sin today, and it is good for us to recognize that there has always been a cost.  Back in the OT they saw that cost.  They recognized that an animal would be sacrificed for what they had done.

But we don’t live under the Old Covenant anymore.  God made a new covenant with his people when he sent his Son Jesus to this world.  Jesus became the perfect completion of the Old Covenant.  He died on the cross as a perfect, sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world.  His blood covers our sins.  And it is important for us to recognize the cost.

Now that we don’t regularly offer an animal as a sacrifice it is easy for us to forget the cost of sin.  We take sin lightly and therefore we take grace lightly. We forget how great a price was paid for our sin.  We tritely pray “forgive me for this or that mistake that I have made today” as if it is really no big deal.

I may not know exactly why blood, but I do know that it is good for us to remember that sin costs.  There is a price that was paid.  When we ask for forgiveness for our sins it is not like God says “oh it’s ok, don’t worry about it, it’s no big deal.”  When we ask for forgiveness, God says, “it is a big deal, it separates me from you, but I sent my son as a sacrifice for your sin, because I love you and I don’t treat you as your sins deserve, I choose to show you grace and mercy, you are forgiven.”

Let’s not ever take sin or grace lightly.  Let’s always remember that sin costs and be thankful for what Christ paid for us.

 

Waiting for Eagle’s Wings

pexel eagle2One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Isaiah 40:27-31: 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? 28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 29 He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. 30 Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 31 but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;  they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

I believe that we all wrestle with the kinds of questions we see in verse 27.  We all have times in our lives where we wonder if God sees what we are going through or if he does see us we wonder why he isn’t stepping in to fix things.

Verse 28 reminds us that God is the Creator and that he is all-powerful and all-knowing.  We know that to be true, but in the midst of tough times in our lives it is hard to not have questions about why God does not seem to be saving us from the trouble we are facing.

Verses 29-30 go on to remind us that God is in the business of giving strength to the weary and that it is normal for us to be weary at times.  We are all going to face times where our strength is waning physically, spiritually and emotionally.

And all of that leads us to verse 31, which is an often used verse that gives us the image of God swooping in like an eagle to carry us away from the trouble we are facing.  At least that is what I used to think it was talking about.  However, after closer examination it seems like the point of this passage is not God saving me from the tough things in life, but rather renewing my strength and helping me to grow in the midst of my struggles.

Notice that verse 31 does not say that we will be carried away on eagle’s wings, but rather that we will mount up with wings like eagles.  It seems to indicate more along the lines of the wings being developed in us.  That also fits with the focus on the Lord renewing our strength so that we can continue to walk and to run even though we are weary.

I think one of the most important words in this passage is the word “Wait.”  I believe that waiting implies an expectation that someone is going to show up.  Like when I am waiting for a friend, I am waiting because I am expecting that friend to show up.  If I didn’t expect him to show up, I would not be waiting for him.  Waiting on the Lord implies that we are expecting him to show up.  But I think often in the midst of my troubles I don’t really have the expectation that God is going to show up.  Or if I do expect him to show up my expectation is that he is going to deliver me from the tough stuff that I am going through.  But that is not what I see in these verses.

This passage is saying that in the midst of tough times I should wait in expectation for the Lord to show up and renew my strength and to help me continue to walk through what I am facing and in the midst of it even to grow in such a way that I will be better able to handle all that I am going to face in this life.

Upcycling

pexel upcycledHave you ever heard of upcycling?  It is basically the practice of taking something old and making something new from it.  Like this example from pulptastic.com of an old TV console that was transformed into a new aquarium.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we find a verse that seems to indicate that God has done some kind of upcycling in our lives.  In that verse Paul writes these words, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.”

That is a well-known verse, but it is typically used without any reference to the context of the rest of the passage, even though it begins with the word, “therefore.”

When we put the verse back into the context we begin to see that Paul is talking about how in Christ we are no longer to look at ourselves or those around us the way we did before.  God is calling us to take the message of reconciliation that we have received and share that with others.

Take a look at verses 18-20: 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling[c] the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.  20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

I love this image that Paul gives us about how we are to view our lives.  We are supposed to look at ourselves as ambassadors.  An ambassador is someone who is sent from one country to another.  That involves living among those he has been sent to, getting to know them, their language and their culture, building relationships, but always recognizing that they are there to be used by the one who sent them.  What a powerful way to view ourselves.  As ambassadors to this world, living our lives on a mission for God.

That puts a different spin on verse 17.  In his old life Paul was an enemy of God, but God stepped in and did more than just a little upcycling.  He reconciled Paul to himself, transformed him into a new creation and gave him a role as his ambassador.  And God has done the same with is.  It is time for us to grab hold of this mission God has given us.  To realize that we are not who we used to be and to start living like his ambassadors to a world that desperately needs his message of reconciliation.

 

The Best Verse in Genesis

Last year for my devotions I read through the Bible and for each chapter I underlined one, and only one, verse.  That was a very difficult assignment because many times there were several verses in the chapter that I would have underlined.  I am planning to start that same devotional plan again this year with a different version of the Bible, but first I am putting some finishing touches on last year’s study.

I have been going back and looking at all of my underlines for each chapter and picking one verse, and only one verse, from each book of the Bible.  If I thought that one verse per chapter was tough, this is ridiculous.  How do you decide between several verses that are worth underlining?  It becomes a very subjective experience that is also dependent upon where I am at spiritually, mentally and emotionally at the time as well. 

But be that as it may, it has been a very interesting undertaking.  For instance, for the book of Genesis, I chose Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”  I could have gone with something signifying God as Creator, like, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”   I could have gone with a verse that focuses on the downfall of man and the essence of sin, like Genesis 4:7, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted?  But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”  Or I could have focused on a verse displaying God’s sovereignty like, Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

But instead I chose Genesis 15:6, “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”   Why?  Simply because of Abram’s example of faith.  He believed the Lord.  He had faith in God for the present and the future.  In Hebrews 11, which is sometimes referred to as the “Faith Hall of Fame” we see that Abraham is credited for this.  He was a man of faith.  And his example stood the test of time. 

Obviously it could be argued as to whether or not this is the best or most important verse in Genesis.  Maybe you would have a different choice?  But this is my blog and this is the verse I chose.  In the weeks ahead I will unveil some of my other choices for best verses as well.

On the Bubble

So this is the week that the NCAA Basketball Tournament starts.  The brackets were unveiled yesterday.  This is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love filling out a bracket and then watching the games as the tournament progresses.  But one of the interesting discussions on Monday is about the teams that were on the bubble heading into the weekend and the debate that ensues about whether the right teams made it into the tournament or not.

For those of you who are not familiar with the term, “on the bubble” let me take a moment and explain it.  The NCAA Tournament only has space for 65 teams.  About 30 of those teams make it in through an automatic bid which goes to the winners of the different conferences.  The other 35 teams are selected as “at large teams” by a committee.  Usually most of those 35 teams had a great season and obviously deserve a spot in the tournament, but the last 4 or 5 spots in the tournament are always up for grabs and could go to about 8 or 10 different teams.  Those 8-10 teams are considered to be “on the bubble” and that means that about half of them will make it and the other half will not.  This year some of the bubble teams that made it were Minnesota, Utah State, and Florida and some of the bubble teams that just missed the cut were Mississippi State, Virginia Tech, and Illinois.

Imagine being one of these “bubble” teams waiting to see if you made it to the tournament or not.  The wait was probably quite excruciating.  But ultimately the teams only had themselves to blame.  Those teams were on the bubble because they didn’t take care of business when they needed to.  Instead of excelling, they were just mediocre.  Minnesota is a great example.  They had a decent season, going 21-13 on the season, but they had some bad losses including losing to Northwestern and Michigan down the stretch.  They ended up having a good run in the Big Ten Championship to get off the bubble and into the tournament, but if they had not had that late rally they probably would have found themselves on the outside looking in.

The “on the bubble” teams wound up there because they were satisfied with mediocrity instead of excellence.  They had some good moments, but they also had too many bad moments that kept them mired in mediocrity.  They could have taken care of business all along and stayed away from the “bubble.”

So why am I blogging about the NCAA Tournament?  The reason is because I believe that we have a tendency to live our lives “on the bubble.”  Instead of excelling, we just kind of slide by.  We don’t put the priority on abiding in Christ that we should and we spend too much time flirting with things that have no business in our lives.  I believe the Lord wants us to get off “the bubble” and excel.  Let me remind us of what we read in Revelation 3:15-16: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

I want to challenge us to not be satisfied with living life “on the bubble.”  Let’s step up and follow the Lord with everything we’ve got!

Underlines Revisited

Back in January, I wrote about how I am reading through the Bible this year in my devotions and for each chapter I read, I am choosing one verse to underline.  I thought it might be good for me to revisit that thought by sharing a few of the verses that I am choosing to underline.  So here it goes…

Understand, today is Wednesday so I have underlined a total of 12 verses this week from Numbers 19-30.  I will share with you just 4 of those 12 verses. 

On Sunday I underlined Numbers 19:22, “Anything that an unclean person touches becomes unclean, and anyone who touches it becomes unclean till evening.”  That is not a verse that I would normally have underlined, but since I was choosing to underline one verse from each chapter, this is the one that I chose from chapter 19.  The reason I chose it is because it reminds me of the holiness of God.  In order for us to understand God’s grace and love we also need to understand His holiness and justice.  We need to grasp the concept that our sin, and anything that is unclean, separate us from a holy God.  It is only when we grasp that separation that we can understand our need for the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

On Monday I underlined Numbers 22:18, “But, Balaam answered them, ‘Even if Balak gave me his palace filled with silver and gold, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the Lord my God.'”  If you were at The River on Super Bowl Sunday, you would have heard me preach on the story of Balaam.  But I focused on Nubmers 23:19 and not on this verse.  But this verse is a great reminder to us as well.  In a world that is all about compromise, this is the attitude we need to take.  All the time we get opportunities to compromise in our faith.  But we need to take a stand.  We need to recognize that nothing is worth turning away from what God has called us to do.  That means being true to God first in our workplace, being men of integrity in our marriages, and being bold with our testimony.  We need to be willing to do and say only what God commands of us.  We need to be right in the center of His will at all times.

On Tuesday, one of the verses I underlined was Numbers 25:13, “He and his descendants will have a covenant of a lasting priesthood, because he was zealous for the honor of his God and made atonement for the Israelites.”  This is an interesting verse with an interesting context.  In Numbers 25 we see Israel is being seduced by Moab.  The men are falling into sexual immorality with the Moabite women and that is leading them to idolatry as well.  And we see that God is angry with this and sends a plague against Israel.  At one point we see an Israelite man blatantly falling into sexual immorality with a Midianite woman right in front of the whole assembly and Phinehas the grandson of Aaron the priest, grabs a spear and drives the spear through both the man and the woman and the plague that was against the Israelites stopped.  Then the Lord commends Phinehas and we see in verse 13 that God commends him for being zealous for the honor of his God.  How often are we zealous for God?  How often do we stand up for God?  People all around us blaspheme God.  I am obviously not saying that we should pick up a spear and drive it through them, but how often do we ever even simply stand up for God?  Where’s the zeal?

Then finally, today one of the verses that I underlined was Numbers 30:2, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.”  That is a great challenge for us.  We treat our word so casually.  How often do we keep our promises.  When we say something, we should be willing to stand by it, or we shouldn’t say it.  I know the term is overused, but we really should be “promise keepers.”

So that is a little taste of some of the verses that I have underlined this past week.  I will plan to do more of this in the weeks ahead.  I would commit to blogging everday about one of the verses that I chose to underline that day, for those who would like to follow along, but then I would probably find myself not keeping my word and that would not be good.

It’s Not Easy Being Famous

In case you didn’t see it, there was an article about me in the Chaska Herald this week. Seriously! One of the guys who writes for the Herald visited our church a couple of weeks ago and afterward he asked me a few questions over email and the newspaper wrote it up as an introducation to a new pastor in town. Pretty cool!

Okay, so maybe I am not exactly famous. But I did walk by a guy in the library who was sitting at a table reading the Chaska Herald and it was open to the article on me. I don’t know if he actually was reading that article or a different one on the page, but it is kind of fun to see somebody reading the paper with your photograph on the page. Well, of course it depends on what the article is about. I can think of a few times that would not be such a nice thing.

Anyway, I may not be famous, but it was really great of the Chaska Herald to write the article. They shared some great information about the church and our website and our vision for the community. It brings some great exposure for the church. And who knows, maybe someone will even come and check out the church as a result of that article. If you haven’t seen the article you should pick up a paper and check it out, or you might be able to find the article on the Chaska Herald website.

Pages:  1 2