2 Corinthians 6 – Play through the Pain

Read 2 Corinthians 6

Paul’s ministry, and indeed the ministry of all of the apostles and the Church, in general, endured great hardship.  Paul was whipped, beaten, imprisoned, and rioted against, all because of the message of Christ.  He also experienced a great deal of joy in his ministry, seeing churches grow and the message of the Gospel advance in ways that were likely beyond his imagination.

Through it all, however, Paul makes it very clear that the circumstances that he has encountered have not stopped him from preaching the Gospel or opening his heart to them.  In no way has he put a stumbling block before them or in any way tried to hinder their growth.  He has been truly authentic with them, and he asked them to do the same.

This can be a hard passage to read.  Paul lays all of this out before the Corinthians, saying that he’s pushed through so much and it hasn’t stopped him from continuing his work.  Essentially, it sounds like he is saying that he is playing through the pain and telling others to do so as well.  Does that mean that our pain, our struggles, and our insecurities don’t matter?

Certainly not.  Paul would never, and is not here, minimizing the trials of his readers.  In fact, he is acknowledging here the vast array of things that he has encountered in his ministry.  In spite of it all, however, he encourages them to remain focused on Jesus Christ and the hope that God offers through Him.

While the many struggles, hurts, pains, and wounds of this life are a lot, Paul encourages us to not allow the enemy to make a stumbling block out of them.  Instead, we are honest in our sufferings, fixing our eyes on Jesus who walks through it all with us and guides us through the Holy Spirit towards deeper healing and reconciliation.

Luke 8 – This Little Light of Mine

Read Luke 8

The children’s Bible song “This Little Light of Mine” is certainly memorable and a fun way to help kids learn a piece of Scripture.  I wonder, however, how often we take its message to heart in our lives.

Jesus, talking about the Parable of the Sower speaks specifically about parables and understanding Biblical wisdom, and then specifically directs the disciples in the fact that they need to share this knowledge and wisdom with others, a part of “bearing fruit,” which is a common theme in Jesus’ teaching.

It seems like this would be rather self-evident given what Jesus tells His disciples: some are given to know the “secrets of the Kingdom of God,” while others aren’t.  For those that are, it is imperative that we share what we have seen and heard with those around us.  Yet Jesus knows well that we aren’t given to this sort of thing.  Whether it makes us uncomfortable or it is simply not something that we readily think about, “letting our light shine” is often times the thing we struggle with the most.

Contrast this teaching with the narrative of the demon possessed man later in the chapter.  Once healed, he couldn’t be stopped from telling what Jesus had done for him.  When something miraculous happens like this, it seems natural to tell everyone, but what about the “mundane” everyday faithfulness and blessing that we experience every moment of our lives?  How quick are we to tell others about that?

Sometimes we think that it is those who have stories of dramatic healing and change that warrant being told, yet Jesus says here that it is important for all believers to share their faith and the Word of God so that it is like a lamp on a stand, giving everyone light!

Mark 5 – Recognize

Read Mark 5

There seems to be an increase in the recognition of the spiritual realm and its influence and impact on our lives in today’s culture.  As we move out of the age of modernity, marked by the attainment of knowledge, scientific advancement, and the need for concrete evidence for proof, culture has seen a much wider acceptance of a reality that is both coinciding with ours and also beyond our vision and understanding.  This truth, however, is not one that took Jesus by surprise.

I am struck by the recognition that takes place from different characters in this narrative.  The demons see Jesus and instantly recognize who He is and are aware of what His presence means for them.  Jesus is quite aware of them too.  Whether or not the man they possess knows Jesus is uncertain, but what we do know is it took much more than human strength to bring him healing.  Yet the reaction of the people in that region is puzzlingly similar to that of the demons, both want to get away from Jesus.  Why, after such healing had taken place, would the people be fearful to the point of sending Jesus away?

Sometimes I wonder if people are actually afraid of healing, afraid of the light.  When we are confronted with our sin, and shown the way toward healing, it can be uncomfortable… even scary.  Our current way of living may not be the best, but it’s certainly familiar.  This is a constant theme in the Old Testament.  Israel complains everytime the going gets rough, wanting to go back to Egypt because at least they knew what to expect.

I wonder if our churches today engage in these same reactions, settling for the safe and familiar rather than the abundant healing Jesus offers us?

Mark 2 – Doctor! Doctor!

Read Mark 2

Have you ever looked at friends, neighbors, or family members and wondered what they were doing hanging out with that person or that group?  It has probably happened to all of us.  Or maybe it was you, hanging out with someone questionable or suspect.  You may have thought to yourself, “What will (insert name here) say when he/she sees me with these people?”

In Jesus’ day, the religious people were the  determiners of who was “in” and who was “out.”  The out people were considered sinners and were lumped in with the sick and the tax collectors, the lowest of the low.  No teacher or upstanding person would be seen with these people, much less eat with them.  Yet Jesus, as He calls yet another disciple, reclines with them at the table, the pinnacle of relation and familiarity; the religious leaders can’t stand it.

Jesus’ response is striking and convicting.  Why on earth would He hang out with those people that are already righteous?  You can probably sense a bit of irony here too.  Maybe the question would be, why would Jesus hang out with those who think they don’t need Him?  The analogy of His ministry and the work of a physician drives home the point.

I’ve often wondered if Jesus would have a similar response to the groups of people gathered in our churches today.  It is said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America, and not just from a racial standpoint.  We gather to worship with groups of people just like us, but where are the sick, the outcast, those that Matthew reminds us we are called to minister to?  Are we welcoming the sick that they may find healing, or shutting them out for fear of the disease?

Mark 1 – Action!

Read Mark 1

Mark’s Gospel is a story of action.  Right from the very beginning, he records Jesus’ works of healing, casting out unclean spirits, and calling His disciples.  While some of the nuances that Matthew’s writing brings may be less prevalent here, the message that Mark’s record of Jesus’ life brings is no less profound.

Jesus’ ministry doesn’t begin timidly; it appears out of practically nowhere here and spreads like wildfire.  The Gospel of John describes the coming of Jesus like a light shining in the darkness and I think that is a rather apt description of what is happening at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

If you stand in a dark room and light a match, it does not take the light a little while to spread throughout the area; it is practically instantaneous.  Though your eyes may need a moment to adjust, that light is  already there lighting up the room.

When Jesus’ ministry beings, it is much like that light.  It doesn’t begin with Him trying out a few different places to see if it’s a good fit for Him, He calls some disciples and starts healing people.  This is the nature of the Kingdom and God’s impact on our lives, instant work.  When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we are instantly transformed into something new, an act that we call Justification.  Paul says in Romans 3, “We are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes, though, it takes us a while to adjust to the new “light” that is shining; we call this process sanctification, God’s continuing work through the Holy Spirit to make us more like Christ.  Like Jesus’ ministry, the impact of God’s love and grace brings healing in both the short term and the long.

Matthew 9 – Healing

Read Matthew 9

Jesus continues in His ministry, going throughout the land healing many diseases.  It is, however, not the physical healing that gets the attention of the religious leaders this time, but the spiritual healing that Jesus offers too.  Their reaction to Jesus’ forgiving of sins is actually not out of line, but the point Matthew is making here is much deeper.  The authority that Jesus has, the purview of His ministry goes far beyond just the physical realm and infiltrates all the way to the very depths of our true sickness.

As Matthew continues to recount all that Jesus did, his readers begin to get a clearer picture of the Kingdom of Heaven, something the prophets spoke of and Jesus inaugurates.  We’ve seen the scope of this Kingdom, spanning much more than simply the Jews, and now we see it’s impact.  The reign of God and the restoration that He brings impacts the entire human experience, from birth to death, male and female, sickness and health, sin and faith.  Jesus, both fully God and fully human, meets us where we are at, not waiting for us to have it “all together,” and begins the work of true healing in our lives.

When I think about today’s Church, God’s people called to be the heralds of the Kingdom, the “light of the world,” the “workers in the harvest field,” I wonder if the Church’s ministry, in Jesus’ name, covers the same scope.  Often I hear Christians respond to the problems of others with a dismissing, “they just need Jesus.”  Yet His own words and actions demonstrate a much deeper concern for the least, last, and lost, all who have been marginalized in the world.  James 2:14-26 picks up on this theme; we are called to more than just calling for repentance.

Day 318: Acts 3-4; What We Have Seen and Heard

So the Church has begun to grow and the Spirit of the Lord is alive, active, and moving throughout the believers and the Apostles as they preach the Gospel and heal.  The first narrative that we read today is so very interesting.  I have to wonder what Peter and John were thinking, or if they were even thinking when they encountered this lame man.  How did the Spirit work through them?  Or did it just come to them and they went for it, like calling an audible on offense or something.  When I read this I envision two men walking through the Temple gate with their eyes set on where they were going until they were distracted by the faint, distant voice of a man asking for money.  This voice is not distant because of any physical distance, but because of their focus on the task at hand, yet suddenly it is very near and very real.  They stop, turn, and look directly at the broken man.  Without missing a beat Peter says, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”  He grabs the man by the hand a pulls him up.  I wonder if there was some interaction here, or if they just turned and went on their way like it was nothing.  I wonder if they invited the man to go with them or if he just followed them because he was so excited.  In any case, what we are seeing here is only the beginning of the Church’s continuation of bringing the wholeness, healing, forgiveness of Jesus, the very elements of the Kingdom of Heaven into reality here on earth.

From there, as they walk into the Temple, all the people see the beggar and are in aw of his ability to walk.  Peter is once again filled with the Holy Spirit as we get the second sermon preached by Peter in as many chapters:

Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?  The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.  And his name—by faith in his name—has made this man strong whom you see and know, and the faith that is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all.
And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers.  But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.  Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.  Moses said, ‘The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you.  And it shall be that every soul who does not listen to that prophet shall be destroyed from the people.’  And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came after him, also proclaimed these days.  You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant that God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”

Because of what happened the religious leaders arrested Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man, however we read that because of what had happened and the testimony of Peter almost 5,000 people became believers!  I think that this is so crazy to us, sometimes it doesn’t even compute!  Do we expect that when we hear the Word of God on a Sunday morning that people are going to become believers?  Somehow I think that we would claim to hope that this would happen, even though we don’t expect that it will…

In any case, the next day the religious leaders question Peter, John, and the no-longer lame man and Peter once again is filled with the Holy Spirit and speaks to them in such a way that they cannot find any fault.  This whole scene has a lot of echoes back to the questioning of Jesus, except this time the people are all for Peter and John, not against them as they were against Jesus.  The religious leaders find themselves in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable predicament.

Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well.  This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

When it comes down to it, even with the aid of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John are both witnessing to what they have seen, heard, and experienced in their lives.  While they have the wonderful pleasure of seeing it unfold before them, it is the boldness for the faith and the work of the Holy Spirit that is speaking through them.  Friends, this is the same Holy Spirit that has been placed in our hearts as well.  I am speaking from a purely North American context, but we don’t speak with half the amount of conviction or faith that Peter and John speak and we have experienced the grace, love, and forgiveness of Jesus in very much the same way.  More than this though, we don’t have any fear of reprisal here… NONE whatsoever.  We are free to preach, to speak, to testify to the faith that has been given us!  We can tell people what we have seen, heard, and experienced as well and we do so with such timidity…  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on us!  We have experienced Jesus’ saving grace!  We are given the opportunity to speak each and every day to those around us!  Brothers and Sisters testify to the grace of Christ!  Fear not for God is with you!

Day 291: Mark 4-6; Jesus' Ministry in Galilee

Mark waists no time in continuing the narrative of Jesus’ life and ministry.  We begin our reading today with some of the parables of Jesus and the explanations that He gives His disciples about them.  I think it is interesting how He does that, quoting an obscure passage of Isaiah, and not really offering much of what we would consider a solid explanation.  I guess I don’t really understand the reasoning behind this, but Jesus makes the point that the “secrets” of the Kingdom of God are revealed to His disciples (and by extension those who believe), yet for those that don’t, these may be something that they can grab a hold of.  Maybe it is like the seed of the parable that is sown into their hearts, something that the gardener (God) would water and cultivate over time.  In any case, Jesus teaches in this way throughout His ministry.

Another thing that we start to see emerging here, something that perhaps wasn’t as clear in Matthew, is the contrast between those who believe and those who do not believe.  As Jesus continues His ministry, we see Him interacting with more and more people in different regions of Galilee.  What is interesting, and probably what the religious leaders of the time despised, is that Jesus associates more and more with the people they would have considered outcasts by virtue of the law.  Jesus eats with sinners, associates with demon possessed people, heals the sick, and even talks to Gentiles (which sadly enough was worse than all the rest of these put together).  Even in Jesus’ home town, where all the people would have known Him since His youth, Jesus is rejected and very few people believe.  Contrast this with the woman who just wanted to touch a piece of Jesus’ cloak to get healing because she was to humiliated and afraid to ask.  What does Jesus say to her?  “Your faith has made you well, go in peace.”  Mark goes back and forth with this theme as a way of showing very clearly that for those who believe, great healing and peace will come, and for those that don’t, no peace or healing is found.

Finally today, I think that there the particular theme that emerges in chapter six is that of abundance.  While we could look at this in many different ways, I think that the word ‘abundance’ seems to fit.  Jesus calls His disciples to Himself and sends them out empowers to preach and to heal in the same what that He has been doing.  They go out and what we see, though it is not recorded as well in this book, is the Kingdom of God appearing throughout the region in abundance.  Many people are healed, freed from spirits, and given hope.  Next, after the interlude of John the Baptist’s death, we see the narrative of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  This too is a theme of abundance and carries with it the themes from the Lord’s Supper.  As one professor has said to me, “if there is water in the narrative, you best be thinking baptism.  If there is food in the narrative, you best be thinking Communion.”  Though we do not see the liturgy of the Lord’s Supper, we do see the image of Jesus breaking bread and giving it to the people.  In this we see that there is an abundance!  In fact, there is more than an abundance, there is an overflow!  Jesus is revealing to the people that in the Kingdom of God there is no wanting, no hunger, no need, there is only abundance.

Day 281: Matthew 8-9; Jesus Heals Many

This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases.”

Honestly, I think that we could just stop with that for today, reading through all of the different healing that Jesus did throughout the beginning of his ministry, we just remember that this is indeed the culmination of the many promises of what was to come when the Messiah came.  Think back to all the different prophets that we have so recently read, all the times that they would say “In that day…” or talk about “the day of the Lord…”  The incarnation of Jesus, God putting on human flesh, it the very fulfillment of those words.

What we are seeing in Jesus’ ministry is an intentionally counter-cultural movement in which Jesus challenges all the norms that had been set up in the Jewish faith community, turns them on their head, and then demonstrates the true meaning of what is written about them in the Law.  Like we talked about yesterday, the purpose of the Law was not strictly moral living for its own sake and the message of the Law as not exclusion for the sake of “purity.”  Jesus challenges this directly in all that he does.  We see the lame, the sick, the blind, and the demon possessed all as outcasts in this society.  The lame and the blind are beggars, the sick are shunned for their impurity, but Jesus does what now Jewish person would even dream of… He touches them… and they are healed.  Here we see revealed to us the true mission of God’s people: healing and reconciliation.  Yes they were to be holy as God is holy, but not at the cost of loving their neighbor.  Not at the cost of caring for the poor.  They were given cleansing rituals to clean themselves when they went before God not so they could never use them because they didn’t associate with “unclean” persons.

I think Jesus makes this abundantly clear in chapter 9 when He is questioned as to why it is that He is eating with the “sinners and tax collectors.”

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

This really is contrary to everything that the religious leaders were teaching at the time.  They had set up the Law and the sacrificial system as an end to itself; moral living for the sake of moral living.  But that was never what the sacrificial system or the Law was about.  Israel was called to be a light to the nations, a place that people could come and encounter the love of God displayed through His people.  Yet that calling was twisted into something that was never meant to be, and Jesus challenges that in front of the very people that were being excluded.

I wonder if Jesus were to talk into our churches today if he would say the same thing.  Are we all about our programming?  Our preference of worship?  Our style of sermon?  The friend group we hang out with?  Do we welcome the “sinners and tax collectors” into our midst?  Or are we so focused on trying to do our own thing that we have lost sight of the true calling of the Body of Christ?  I wonder this about my own church as well… it is definitely food for thought this morning.