The Shepherd of Hope blog is here to serve you, to help you know Jesus better and to find hope in Him. This blog relies on the Spirit of God using the word of God to build people of God. All material has been prayerfully submitted for your encouragement and spiritual edification. Your questions and comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Truth About Unity

“These all continued with on accord. . . .” – Acts 1:14


Google “unity” and the top responses are a video game, cult, and college. Unity is so much more than that. Unity is a word that expresses how life is held together. Unity is woven throughout our life relationships. It’s very important to correctly define unity. Not all unity is beneficial. Not all unity is acceptable or pleasing to God. Unity at the expense of truth leads to disunity with God. God is a “God of truth” (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 31:5; Isaiah 65:16). His word contains His truth. Obeying God’s revealed truth is what separates the holy from the profane, truth from falsehood, fulfillment from emptiness (John 17:17). Unity that is holy, right, blessed and fulfilling is according to God and His truth.


Unity can be perverted and abused. Some unity is sinful; an unequal yoking according to God (2 Cor. 6:11- 7:1). Some unity puts things together that do not belong together. When this happens it causes chaos and disorder. God has created the universe with a certain order (1 Cor. 14:33, 40). He has a sovereign plan (cf. e.g. Jer. 29:11-14; Eph. 2:10). God has created things to fit together and be united. Some things were never meant to fit together. When we put things together that aren’t supposed to be together it leads to being out of sync with God and His order of relationships.


When the things God never intended to fit together are put together it creates static as opposed to a clear signal from God. It creates imbalance; a sickening sinful vertigo. For instance, the unity of those who live together in a sexual relationship without being married is displeasing to God. God’s truth defines that as the sin of “fornication” (1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:3-5; Col. 3:5).  In such situations sexual relations are given priority and relationship building suffers. Sex is a very brief cheap thrill without a covenant commitment for life in the sight of God. Like trying to assemble a model before the paint dries on the parts, it creates a sticky ruined mess. Statistics prove more and more that those who cohabitate before marriage are less likely to have an enduring marriage. That’s because it is a premature unity. It’s out of sync with God’s order.


Uniting same-sex couples in marriage is not pleasing to God because God defines homosexuality as sin (cf. Romans 1; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Those who persist in willful sin cannot maintain a right relationship with God (cf. Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:1-2; Habakkuk 1:13). Without God there is emptiness (Eccl. 3:11). God never designed men to marry men or women to marry women. Biology testifies that such relationships are fruitless; they cannot reproduce. There will always be impotence in such relationships. There will always be loss of God’s intended best in such unions. No matter how loudly proponents of such unnatural disunited relationships shout in favor of these relationships, they will always be on the outside looking in at God’s best.


No matter how many homosexual partners or relationships people enter into there will always be emptiness. The pieces just don’t fit. But there is hope in Christ. Repentance from their sin, forgiveness from God and trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord can lead to the unity that is fulfilling. In Christ such relations can become a thing of the past. In Christ we can say, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Praise You and Your order Lord!


The world defines truth based on the relative circumstances of life regardless of God’s truth. Humanity is at the center of the world’s universe. Their world view is hedonistic; pleasure is the guiding principle. Their mantra is more or less, “If it feels good do it.” If you adopt worldly standards of unity you will be cheated of God’s best and likely find yourself at odds with God (Col. 2:8). The unity that pleases God is based on and defined by His truth. This leads to the question, “What’s God’s truth about unity?”


When we see the word “unity” we think of such synonyms as agreement, harmony, accord, unison, union, concord, or unanimity. Unity involves orderliness. It involves symmetry. Unity doesn’t necessarily mean likeness. Harmony is a form of unity but involves various different parts working together. A choir or worship team has singers who sing in different ranges such as alto, soprano and bass. They are different. But when they are coordinated and united they produce beautiful harmony and worship. Unity therefore is the arranging or coming together of different parts to make a beautiful whole.


Unity is important to God. God by nature is a tri-unity or trinity; One God in Three Persons. The Father, Son Jesus and Holy Spirit are separate, distinct and different but they are united in that they are One God. God is a unity and loves unity. We see unity in His creation in such areas as land, sea, air, the seasons, animal and human coexistence, the different types of terrain and a host of other aspects of nature that come together to make a tapestry of a united creation. God created the environment for relational unity in marriage where two people of the opposite sex become one (Gen. 2:24). Family is an expression of unity between parent and child. There is unity in all God does.  


The church is an expression of the unity of God. It is composed of those who have received the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. The saved compose a body of believers made up of those from a Jewish and non-Jewish heritage (cf. Eph. 2:11-22). The body of Christ is diverse in many ways. It is made up of people with a lot of differences. There are men and women, rich and poor, people of varying degrees and capacities of intellect. People come from different cultures, countries, and continents. There are people who range in age from newborn to senior citizen. There are people in all colors, shapes and sizes. Every person is unique and loved by God. Every person is valued and has a calling to serve in God’s plan. We are all a part of the poetry of God (Eph. 2:10). We are His building. We are fellow workers with God (1 Cor. 3:9). Everyone in the church has an important part to serve in. No one can or should be dismissed as unimportant in God’s plans or His church (1 Cor. 12 and 14). The Lord knows us intimately. He has us down to the very hairs on our head! (Matthew 10:30). God loves us all (John 3:16). He is the One who has brought us together; united us in Christ.


The devil is so uncreative. He works through his own brand of unity to further his evil. He knows a good tactic when he sees one and isn’t averse to adopting something when it works. The devil unites his forces too. Those who stoned Stephen were of "one accord" (Acts 7:57). Those who opposed Paul were of “one accord” (Acts 18:12; 19:29).  Let it not be said that the enemy is more united than Jesus’ disciples. Look around you. It’s sad that the forces for sin, immorality and darkness are frequently more fervently united in their cause than those walking in the light of God. That is a shame. That is a sin.

There are times when we don’t appreciate our differences and allow them to cause division. We cannot allow our differences to divide us. As Christians we are exhorted to, “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1-3).  This “unity” (Greek henotes) is unanimity, oneness; togetherness.

Unity is an instrument through which God fulfills His plans to His glory. Unity is part of God’s strategy for unleashing His power in this world.


When the Holy Spirit works He works in and through unity. Prior to Pentecost there were one hundred and twenty united in “one accord” (Acts 1:14-15). “One accord” is a translation of a single Greek adverb (homothumadon) which means to have a common agreement of mind and purpose hence the translation one accord, or together. The Book of Acts provides an inspired historical account of the work of the Holy Spirit after the ascension of Jesus. Acts should be our model for the church. When we look at this portion of scripture we see unity precedes, is in the midst of, and is a result of the work of the Spirit.


For what purpose did the disciples of Acts come together in “one accord”? Acts begins with the disciples being in “one accord” in prayer in the Upper Room seeking the Promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5). They were “one accord” in obeying Jesus’ command to wait for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). They were “one accord” in purpose. They knew they needed something outside of themselves to accomplish the Great Commission. They needed the power of the Spirit upon them. And when they were baptized with the Holy Spirit and power they were in “one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1). If we are ever to experience another outpouring and empowering of the Spirit to deal with the deep darkness of this age, we will have to unite in “one accord.”


The newborn church was birthed in unity and grew in unity. They were steadfastly devoted to and united in the teaching of the word, fellowship, worship and prayer (Acts 2:42). They continued and grew in being in “one accord” (Acts 2:46). When they faced opposition they came together in “one accord” and prayed. The result was a renewed powerful holy boldness to face their enemies (Acts 4:24 and 31).  They liked being together in “one accord” (Acts 5:12). The Spirit brought more people together in “one accord” as the gospel spread (Acts 8:6). Even when there were issues in the church God’s people came together and found a united resolution (Acts 15:25). When the Spirit acts, He unites.


But when we look at the church today we don’t see a people who are “one accord” do we? We don’t often see the Spirit either do we? The two go hand in glove. A.W. Tozer once said that if the Holy Spirit was removed from the church 95% of what goes on would continue to go on. Think about that. That is sad. Too much of what we do in the church is Spiritless. Too much of what the church does is divided, dividing, and divisive. Where is the unity? Where is the Spirit?


Today we don’t see a united church. Oh, sometimes we do. But too frequently we don’t. The focus is on people, problems or what we perceive as deficiencies. I’m not talking about addressing deviations to scripture. We have to reprove, correct, and instruct (2 Tim. 3:16-17). What I’m talking about for the most part is our tendency to create factions based on personal preferences or party spirit. I’m talking about the Corinthianizing of the church (cf. 1 Cor. 3). I’m talking about carnal flesh-rooted self-centered words and deeds that are divisive. And such is always divisive and unity destroying.


Why is the church so divided? There are a lot of reasons. They are rooted in the flesh. We personally don’t like something or the way something is done so we express our displeasure. Maybe it’s the carpet or color of the paint, a worship style, or the way the pastor says a word. Maybe it’s the people group the church is seeking to reach out to. Maybe it’s about some use of technology or lack thereof. It’s something. It’s not a scripturally based preference just our own personal preference and we don’t like it. I’m talking about a  church degenerated and backslidden into another brand of wandering naysayers and complainers much the same as the children of Israel who preceded them (cf. Exodus 15:24; 16:2, 7; 17:3; Numbers 11:1; 14:2, 27, 29; 16:11, 41; Deuteronomy 1:27; Joshua 9:18; 21:22). What’s the problem?


The problem is the heart. The heart is prone to deceit and desperate wickedness. Only God can know it (Jer. 17:9-10). In us, in our fleshly sinful nature there is nothing good (Rom. 7:18). Our flesh opposes the work of the Spirit and indeed cannot do anything that pleases God (Rom. 8:5-8). The flesh opposes unity. Like Korah the flesh cries out, “You take too much upon yourselves.” We push others aside as we push to the front of the assembly (Num. 16). The flesh wants center stage. It cries out “Unity be damned! I want my way!” This is a terrible weakness. How can it be fixed? The only way is to walk in the Spirit (Rom. 8).


The Holy Spirit has provided unifying instruction in His word. There are very practical steps to make us agents of unity in the church. If we seek the Spirit’s leading and His power to implement His word in our lives, we can experience blessed and powerful unity. So what must we do to foster unity in the Spirit?


First, to foster unity understand that unity is all about Jesus. The Spirit will always point us to Jesus (John 15:26). Colossians 1:17 states, “And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” The word “consist” is a translation of the Greek term synistao which means to place together, to set in the same place, to bring or band together. Jesus brings us together in unity. The more we look to Jesus the more united we will be. The more we walk like Jesus, talk like Jesus, live like Jesus, love like Jesus, the more united we will be. It’s all about Jesus. His way, His life, His truth is what unites people in proper holy unity. Look to Jesus to be united.


Second, to foster unity have a servant’s heart. Jesus said He didn’t come to be served but to serve and give Himself a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). The Spirit’s aim is to conform us to the likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). That means we are to follow in Jesus’ steps and walk as He walked (1 Petr 2:21; 1 John 2:6). That starts with a servant hearted attitude. He is our Lord. Therefore His wish is our command. And when we obey Him and do what He tells us to do, we shouldn’t think we are doing Him a favor. When we subordinate our interests to foster unity we aren’t doing Jesus a favor. We are only doing what is expected for us to do (Luke 17:10). Obedience in service unleashes the Spirit (Acts 5:32).


Third, to foster unity be other-centered not self-centered. Jesus came to give His life. He died on the cross for you and me. He lived for others. So should we. And we must live for others if we are to be united. God’s word says we should think of others more highly than we think of ourselves (Rom. 12:3). Jesus died and gave us eternal life not so we could have more time to spend on ourselves, but that we might live for Him in reaching and helping others (2 Cor. 5:14-16). Our priority should not be to get my will done but to get His will done. That means serving Him by serving others.


Fourth, to foster unity actively love. No one ever loved like Jesus. Jesus is the epitome and demonstration of God’s love (Romans 5:8). The love of Jesus should be the compelling motive in all we do (2 Cor. 5:14). “Let brotherly love continue” (Heb. 13:1). Jesus’ disciples are known by the love they show (John 13:35). When the Spirit is present and working there will be an outpouring of love (Rom. 5:5). The fruit of the Spirit is love (Gal. 5:22). Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:8). If we value and want to bless God with our unity we must love in the Spirit.


Fifth, to foster unity cooperate with church leadership. Jesus submitted to and cooperated with His Father. As Man Jesus submitted to the authority of the Father. We need to have the same spirit of submission to authority if we are to experience unity. We should remember and respect pastors and those ministering in the church (Heb. 13:7). The Bible says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17). The local pastor is God’s instrument to teach and encourage the flock of God in unity.


We don’t like words like “obey,” or “submissive.” Our flesh recoils at such words. So when the pastor is used by God to apply His word to our life we oftentimes rebel. This is true even though the pastor may have the best of intentions. We just don’t like to be told what to do or to be corrected. And so the seeds of division are sown. And so the pastor, the one called by God to lead in unity, is attacked clandestinely or with open confrontation. The enemy chalks up a victory when that happens and a board in the building of unity is torn away. It often starts with seeing a speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in our own eye (Mat. 7:3-5). We don’t have a united perspective.


We forget the tremendous weight of responsibility a true minister of God bears. Not every pastor is a Paul. Few if any could provide a list of hardships like he did. But even if the pastor could list one of the things on Paul’s list of hardships it would be costly. To the divided Corinthians Paul listed labors, whippings with the lash, the danger of death, beatings with rods, being stoned and shipwrecked. He lists perils in the sea, perils with robbers, perils with various people, perils in the city, perils in the country, perils with false brethren, sleepless nights, hunger, cold, and nakedness (2 Cor. 11:22-28). We look at that list and are quick to comment not too many pastors or ministers today know those kinds of problems. That’s true, nevertheless few in society sacrifice health and family like the local pastor does.


There are a lot of costs to the pastor that people fail to appreciate. Loneliness, spiritual attacks from every direction of a ruthless relentless devil, carnal Christians, false brethren, living in a fishbowl, and being on call 24/7, sacrifice of family time, pressures on family, and the list goes on. But whatever list is provided, with Paul the pastor adds, “besides the other things, what comes upon me daily; my deep concern for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:29). There is a burden, a constant pressure, a heart throb for the lost and the things of God that can only be sensed, sustained and survived with the help of the Holy Spirit. Burn out happens when the pastor gets away from depending on the supernatural power of the Spirit. Ministry without the Spirit will crash and burn. Pastors are who they are by God’s grace (1 Cor. 15:10). They are God’s chosen under-shepherd to lead the flock in unity.


“But my pastor doesn’t care about his flock!” you might say. Well, maybe he’s discouraged. Maybe ministry became for him a never ending procession of dealing with complaints and problems. Maybe no one told him of the victories. When was the last time you sincerely encouraged your pastor? Moses got to the point where he preferred death to leading his complaining crew of people (cf. Numbers 11:10-15). A wife is said to be a reflection of her husband and a husband the reflection of his wife. It might also be said, at least to some extent, that a pastor is a reflection of the people he serves. Is your pastor run down, depressed, lacking of zeal and weak? Have you prayed for him? Have you encouraged him? Have you loved him? Showed a concern for him and his family? If you have a problem with your pastor, maybe the problem is you! If your pastor is in good shape, is he who he is because of you or in spite of you? Pray about it.


Who would you rather be led by, a weak, sad, downtrodden, depressed Eeyore of a person, or a dynamic, joyful, encouraging, zealous on fire for the Lord leader? Who do you think would be more likely to unite the church? It’s to your profit that you actively encourage your pastor, those in ministry and especially those who are in ministry leadership. Jesus was joyful. His leaders should be joyful. Let’s unite in serving the Lord joyfully together for His glory!


Sixth, to foster unity attend events together. For the three years of Jesus ministry He did everything with His disciples. He brought them together in and to Himself. Psalm 133 speaks of the blessedness of brethren dwelling together in unity. It speaks of oil running down the beard of Aaron as imagery of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. It speaks of the dew from Mount Hermon which is imagery of refreshing. Want to be anointed and refreshed? Unite! Come together at services and ministry events. Come together united in heart and purpose.


Seventh, to foster unity encourage one another. Jesus said He would be with us always (Mat. 28:20). He will never leave or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). That is a great encouragement. We need to encourage each other in our commitment to the Lord and each other. The wicked scheme in secret on ways to divide (Psalm 64). We must learn to be a Barnabas; a “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36; 11:23). Wherever Barnabas went he encouraged someone. To “encourage” is to do or say something that helps someone find courage to carry on. We can encourage people with a written note, letter, email, text, tweet or in some other form of writing (Acts 15:31). It’s best to encourage face to face with a genuine heartfelt word (Acts 20:2; 1 Thess. 3:2). Orderliness as opposed to chaos facilitates encouragement and unity (1 Cor. 14:31). Orderliness allows us to see the advance of God’s plan and will. And when we see the fruit of ministry it’s encouraging to let those serving know about it (Phil. 2:19). BE AN ENCOURAGER!


Eighth, to foster unity pray for one another. Jesus prayed for His disciples (John 17:9). Jesus prays for us (John17:20; Rom. 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). He prays for the Spirit to come upon us (John 14:16-17). Like He did with Peter, when Satan comes after us, He prays for our strength and recovery if we fall (Luke 22:31-32). If Jesus prays for us, we should pray for us too.  There will be no unity unless we unite in prayer.


I’ll close with this. Guard against discordant behavior; behavior in word or deed that will create discord or disunity. The enemy prowls around shooting thought-arrows that pierce the flesh and rile it up (Eph. 4:25-32; 6:10-18; 1 Peter 5:8-9).  The devil’s strategy is like any other commander – divide and conquer. The enemy is a deceiver and liar; he works secretively (John 8:43-44). Watch for his influence in your thinking and behavior. Take every thought captive to obey Jesus’ way of thinking (2 Cor. 10:3-4). Be submissive and humble before God. Guard your heart and mind. Be strong in prayer. Resist the devil and he will flee (James 4:7-10). But work in the Spirit for unity and when you do, the Spirit will work through you.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

“Do you want to be made well?”

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” – John 5:6


“Do you want to be made well?” That is a question asked of a lame man by Jesus. The man had been lame for thirty eight years. Such a question seems rhetorical at best, cruel at worst. Yet we know Jesus was anything but cruel so there must be some other reason for Him asking the lame man such a question.


In John 5 we are provided the third of seven “signs” or miracles of Jesus that tell us something about who He is in the Gospel of John. The context is that Jesus had gone up to Jerusalem during one of the feasts of the Jews (John 5:1). Jesus passes through the Sheep Gate. And just adjacent to this gate was the Pool of Bethesda. “Bethesda” means house of mercy (John 5:2).


At the Pool of Bethesda, “lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. 4 For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had”  (John 5:3-4). The word “blind” (Greek typhlos) means physically or mentally blind. The word “lame” (Greek cholos) means limping, deprived of a foot, maimed. The word “paralyzed” (Greek xeros) means shrunken, withered, dried out.  This was a place where hurting people in need of healing gathered. Did angels actually stir the water so that whoever stepped in first would be healed of whatever disease they had? This was the thinking of the day. But isn’t that what human tradition or the law speaks of, being “first,” or earning your healing? “Try harder. Fight your way out of it. Fight to the top. God helps those who help themselves” are all expressions of human tradition, self-reliant work and legalism. That’s an inaccurate portrayal of how God works.


God blesses by grace to lead us and draw us to Himself (e.g. Rom. 2:4). Grace is undeserved or unmerited favor of God. God sent Jesus “while we were yet sinners” (Rom. 5:8). God loves the world (John 3:16). The truth of the matter is you can’t make God love you more than He already does. You can’t do something to make God love you more so that He will do something you want Him to do. All you can do is receive that love as a gift of His grace through faith in Christ.

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years” (John 5:5). The word “infirmity” (Greek astheneia) means sick, frail, diseased, feebleness, weakness, without strength, physically or mentally wanting. This man was hurt and hurting. Think of it, thirty-eight years trying his best to position himself to be the first to step in the pool and be healed. Thirty-eight years and still lame! What must this man have thought about the mercy and grace of God? He probably had lost sight of God’s mercy. He at least must have questioned it. Thirty eight years is a long time. But time does not change the mercy of God.

Jesus looked at “a certain man.” Jesus focused on one man; one individual. That’s the way Jesus looks at us; as though we were the only person in the world. Think about that. If you were the only human being on planet earth and had a need, Jesus would still have come, just for you, just to heal you, and just to die on the cross for you! Incredible!

Think too of the situation this “certain man” was in. He was never, not even in thirty-eight years, able to maneuver himself close to the pool side to step in. He was always last. He was always just not strong enough, just not quick enough, and just out of sync. He wasn’t mobile, agile, or powerful. He was far away; removed. He was in a hopeless situation. When Jesus looked at him He could see and “knew that he already had been in that condition a long time.” The marks of futility, frustration, depression, discouragement, despair, and being in a dead end were written all over his face. Jesus saw that. He sees that in us when we are in a similar state of being.

When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” (John 5:6).  “Do you want to be made well?” This question flew like an arrow to the bulls-eye center of this man’s heart. But wasn’t it obvious that this man did want to be healed? Jesus could see he “had been in that condition a long time.” He had been like this for thirty-eight years! So why would Jesus ask him, “Do you want to be made well?” I think Jesus asked the man this question because sometimes people get used to their condition of lameness in whatever form; it becomes a way of life. They may use their condition to manipulate others in order to survive. For most who are in such a condition for such a prolonged period of time, such a thought would be offensive. But for others, it is something to consider.

There are some with limiting conditions who learn to survive through fostering pity in others through their condition. Maybe they lose all hope of repair and feel forced to rely on such “survival” tactics. Maybe they become so adept at using their condition it really does become a situation where they need to ask, “Do I really want to be made well?” Jesus simply asks the question. He gives the infirm man a choice; a decision to make. The psychology of physical pain and brokenness is complicated. Jesus is the answer to those limitations and complications. He comes and offers healing.


“The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” (John 5:7). How sad it is when people go round and around in a circle of circumstances that only move them deeper and deeper down in darkness. This man could only respond to Jesus with a hopeless explanation of his plight. Think of how alone and lonely this man was. “I have no man to put me into the pool.” This man had NO ONE. He was alone. Loneliness is a place of hurt and pain. Ever feel alone? Ever feel like no one cares for you? Jesus had a word for this man. Jesus has a word for you.


Feel hopeless? Feel like nothing is working; like nothing is meeting your need? Feel like you’re in a dead end; like you’re fruitlessly doing the same ineffective and failing things over and over again? Feel locked in with no way out with no one to help you? Jesus has a word for you; the same word He had for this man. “Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked” (John 5:8-9).  “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” A simple word; not even a raised voice worthy of an exclamation mark. A simple word from Jesus solved this man’s life problem and answered every doubt he ever had. God had heard him. And God was now answering him. It was worth the wait. Think of what these words describe. Think of the incredible liberation. Think of the stupendous eye-opening powerful effect of the simple words of Jesus. Isn’t Jesus wonderful? Yes He is!


But what might this man have thought at these words? Maybe he thought what? But I can’t walk! We too might think “What? But I can’t . . .” when Jesus tells us to “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” But in Jesus words there was an empowerment. Jesus does the heavy lifting. Someone has said, “God’s commandments are God’s enablements.” That’s what we see here. Jesus spoke to the infirm man telling him to “Rise, take up your bed and walk.” And that word was infused with power to do what was asked to do. God will never ask you to do something He doesn’t enable you to do. Remember that. If you think you hear something and then you can’t do it, listen closer, either you’re not listening deep enough, or it may not be the Lord speaking. Pray and go to God’s word and He will clarify.


Notice too that Jesus in saying to the man, “take up your bed” was asking him to make no provision for failure. Jesus didn’t want him to leave his bed where it was so he could return to it “if it didn’t work out.”  This was a “Rise, take up your bed and walk” and you will never go back, never be the same again call of Jesus to this man. Some bridges need to be burned. Some things need to be left behind. Sometimes we need to move on; move forward to God’s higher calling in Jesus Christ.


When we struggle with an addiction or bad habit and turn it over to Jesus, then that means throwing away everything related to it and burning the bridges that would tempt us to return to the sin. Burn the dirty books; the little black books or your phone contacts with phone numbers of past loves. Block the filthy websites from your computor. Throw the computor away if you need to. Don’t hide the Oreos or candy where you can find them later when you might crave them. Clean the house. Make a clean and total break. Pick up your bed and walk on!


Jesus said to this infirm man, “Walk.” The man had to take action. He had to take a step in faith. He had to trust Jesus. You have to take action. You have to walk by faith. No one is going to do the work for you. There is a time when you have to take a step of faith. We can’t always lean on others, unless it is Jesus. But Jesus isn’t here, you might say or think. Wait a minute. Jesus is the word made flesh. The entire Bible is all about Jesus (Heb. 10:7). Jesus speaks through His word. Prayerfully seek Him in His word and you will hear His encouraging and comforting voice. His word is powerful and contains what you need to “Rise, take up your bed and walk” (cf. Heb. 4:12).


Circumstances of despair serve a purpose. “Despair” means no hope; hopelessness. Corrie ten Boom the woman of God and holocaust survivor used to say, “You will never discover Christ is all you need until Christ is all you have.” The man in this story was in his hurting condition for thirty eight years. Another woman in the gospel spent “all her livelihood” on physicians without getting a cure for her ailment (Luke 8:43). Both had no alternatives when Jesus came their way. The medicines of man don’t always measure up to meet our need. There are always limitations when we rely on humanity.


Modern medical science is wonderful. We can do a lot more today medically than in Gospel times. Some look to modern medicine as though it makes God obsolete and unnecessary. Yes, modern medicine can do great things. Just because a medical treatment brings healing doesn’t mean the healing isn’t from God. Who do you think gave humanity the capability to learn such incredible healing techniques? Who made the surgeon’s hands? God did. He created the minds that make the medical advances that meet our medical needs.


Humanity is confused and at a loss. Abortions of convenience don’t make you well, they make you worse; they emotionally scar you forever and they kill a life; a baby. Surgery may help to bring physical healing but it doesn’t go deep enough to heal emotions. A therapist may be a good listener but going around and around recounting your problem does not always have the desired effect. You may be able to identify the problem but what about solving it? A pill? Today there’s a pill for just about everything we think we need fixed. But we aren’t being made well. Have you noticed the side effects of the plethora medications for various conditions and ailments advertised on TV? For example, there seems to be something drastically wrong with an anti-depressant medication that makes a person suicidal. Isn’t that what an anti-depressant is trying to avoid? Is being “happy” or blind, calm or cancerous, thin but ready to explode or have heart failure  really choices that make people well? Just wondering. Sometimes medicine, therapists, social workers and all humanity just don’t measure up. Sometimes, many times, people are not the answer. That’s when we usually finally come to Jesus. But we should come to Jesus first, not last!


God provides precious promises in His word and that would include the keys to healing (2 Peter 1:3-4). I like what Bible teacher Jon Courson says, “Everything we need to escape the sickness and sadness of this world is found in the exceedingly great and precious promises of the Bible. Yet people don’t read their Bibles. They’ll drive fifty minutes to go to a thirty-minute counseling appointment but won’t spend fifteen minutes in the Word. It’s a tragedy.” [1] Jesus is able. He is able to make you completely whole. Do you want to be made well? Go to Jesus. No one loves you like He does. And no one has what you need like Jesus does. Jesus can make you well.


Peter and John once told a beggar who was lame from birth, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk” (Acts 3:6). Then Peter took the man by the hand and lifted him up and, “Immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked, leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:7-8). Later when Peter explained what happened to the crowd of witnesses he stated, “And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all” (Acts 3:16). The word “strong” (Greek stereoo) means to receive strength, make strong, confirm, and solidify. This man was given strength in the name of Jesus. He also received “perfect soundness” (Greek holokleria) which means physical wholeness, good health, soundness or wholeness in all parts. This is an all-encompassing word. It means whatever needed healing in this man was healed. That included physical healing and healing for emotional scars associated with his physically lame condition. And it also included spiritual healing or the healing of his soul; salvation. That is really what led to the jumping praise of God by the man. In one fell swoop when Peter in the name of Jesus told him to rise and then took him and lifted him up this man was physically, emotionally and spiritually healed. No wonder he jumped for joy! Glory! How about you, do you want to be made well like that?


That is what Jesus wants to do for you. He wants to heal you. And Acts 3:16 tells us Jesus provides “faith that comes through Him [Jesus]” for what He wants to do in you. There are times when Jesus prioritizes what is healed in us. His prime concern is our eternal healing with salvation and eternal life. There are times when he allows our physical ailment or condition to continue. We don’t always know why this is the case. But we know God is good and therefore we need to trust Him. He knows what He’s doing. His plan is best.


But why doesn’t Jesus always heal? It’s true; sometimes God’s will is not for healing. Word of faith teachers may claim otherwise. They put the onus on people and their faith. They say, “If you have enough faith, you will always be healed.” Sound familiar? Sounds a bit like the infirm man who couldn’t get close enough to dip into the pool when the angels stirred the healing waters. It’s just not true that God always heals. He can always heal. But He doesn’t always heal. When the focus is on our faith to be healed and not on what Jesus wants to do, it compounds people’s pain. Not only are they physically hurting, but added to their predicament is a lack of faith according to the false doctrine of “faith” healers. Such a view is out of touch with reality. It’s out of touch with God. It is actually offensive to God because “faith” is used to make God answer our beck and call. That’s offensive to God.


Jesus is able to heal us completely in all areas of our life. Eternal life salvation healing is always available for, “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). If Jesus chooses to have you remain in a physically ill or hurting condition He promises to provide sufficient grace to get you through. No temptation or trial is exceptional. All humanity experiences temptations and trials. But God is able. Our focus needs to be on God and His ability not our inability. God’s promise is to not allow us to be tested beyond what He enables us to be tested with. He provides what we need to be victorious in whatever He allows in our life. He is faithful to do this. He will help us come through our trials. He will bring us through standing strong. That’s His promise. He is faithful. Trust Him (2 Cor. 12:9-10).


No matter our circumstance when we hear Jesus say, “Do you want to be made well?” we need to see with eternal priority. We can be eternally healed right now! And God can use us in our trials to work eternal healing in others around us. “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That is true all the time. That is definite. Of that there is no doubt.


This life is short. It does not compare with eternity. If God has a greater eternal plan that includes using your physically hurting condition, if He can use that for His glory, then praise Him for it! God can use healing and non-healing to glorify Himself. Healing can come through medicine. Healing can come without medicine. But don’t’ sell God short. Go to Jesus first. Healing shows the presence and power of God. Non-healing shows the presence and powerful sufficiency of His grace to get us through. The saint that has a physical challenge or terminal illness and is still joyful is a testimony to the power and presence of God. That glorifies Him. Be content even in this (Phil. 4). In both instances God works His will for His glory. To that we must surrender. So when Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well?” Our answer should be, “Thy will be done.” Lord, by your grace this will be our answer. “Do you want to be made well?” Go to Jesus. Go to Him first!

[1]Courson, Jon: Jon Courson's Application Commentary. Nashville, TN : Thomas Nelson, 2003, S. 478

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Count the Cost – Light and Blood

“But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” - 1 John 1:7


Being a Christian is a blessed life. But that should not be interpreted to mean it is an easy life. There is a cost that comes with life in Christ. That is especially true in our day and age. In our day being a Christian means there is a target on your back. And there are a lot of people shooting arrows at that target. There is a cost to consider that concerns an enemy from outside the church. But there is another cost to consider. There is a cost that concerns serving in and through the church.

Jesus told people interested in being His disciples that they needed to count the cost. “Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23-26).  Put “self” aside. Pick up your cross; a symbol of shame and execution; sacrifice. And follow Jesus and His set of eternal priorities; something very different from what we are used to in the world and past life of sin.

Jesus has to be first in our life. He has to truly be our “Lord.” It’s expensive to follow Jesus as His disciple. We need to count the cost. Jesus illustrated this “cost” with illustration when He said: “Now great multitudes went with Him. And He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. 27 And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. 28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it29 lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. 33 So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple. 34 “Salt is good; but if the salt has lost its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? 35 It is neither fit for the land nor for the dunghill, but men throw it out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:25-35). Are you listening? The “great multitudes” that followed Jesus thinned out when He began to speak of the cost of following Him. The bottom line powerful statement of Jesus here is, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciples.” Think about what that means. “All” in the original Greek language means all. It means hating anything and everyone in comparison to serving Jesus. There can be no challengers to the reign and calling of Jesus in our heart, mind and life. Yes, think about that.

Sometimes we impress ourselves and maybe even try to impress others with what we give. But our prime concern should be with whether or not we impress Jesus. Jesus looked at quality more than quantity. He looked at “all” as being more important than “some,” even if the “some” someone gave was more than the “all” of another. We see this in Jesus observation of a poor widow who put a meager penny in the offering plate. Others gave much more quantitatively, but she gave “all” and that was more pleasing to Jesus than a greater number amount (cf. Luke 21:1-4). What are you giving? All?

Jesus has blessed us in so many ways. We need to hold what He has provided with open hands. We need to be ready and open to what He asks of us. We are not our own. We belong to Him. He purchased us with His blood. “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The precious blood of Jesus; that’s what Jesus spent for us. Our only reasonable response to what Jesus has done for us is to present ourselves before God in full surrender and be ready to give what He directs us to give, even if that means “all.”

Following Jesus is costly. He calls us to be His disciples. A disciple is obedient to Jesus’ words (cf. Mat. 28:18-20). We don’t have enough in our spiritual bank to follow the Lord or pay the cost required. We cannot follow Jesus in our own strength. We need the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. We need the Spirit poured out in us (Rom. 5:5). We need His empowerment (Acts 1 and 2). And for that there is also a cost.

If we want to be empowered to follow Jesus, if we want the currency to pay the cost, then we will have to lay down our petty resentments, jealousies, bitterness and dislikes. We will have to even surrender our emotional and physical scars to the Lord. If we want the Spirit’s infilling and power we have to be “one accord” in heart, vision and mission for what God wants to do in and through us. When we look in Acts and the times the Spirit powerfully baptized the disciples of Jesus one thing is very clear; they were of “one accord”  (e.g. Acts 1:14; 2:1, 46; 4:24; 5:12; 8:6; 15:25). They laid down their lives, including their prejudices, dissimilarities and dissensions. Those powerfully used disciples of Acts laid down their lives for Jesus and that meant they laid down their lives for each other (e.g. Acts 2:40-47). On Pentecost those empowered for service by the Holy Spirit were together of “one accord.” We need to come together like that if we would fulfill the vision mission of Christ.

The light of God’s truth is that Jesus gave His precious blood to redeem and cleanse us sinners from our sin (1 Pet. 1:18-19). If we are to follow in His steps (1 Pet. 2:21) and walk as He walked (1 John 2:6), if we are to be conformed to His likeness (Rom. 8:29), then we too will have to shed blood. That which is done for God always requires blood. That was true of Old Testament sacrifices (Exodus 12:22; 30:10). That is also true of   New Testament living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2).

“And they overcame  him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Rev. 12:11).  Implementing God’s vision and will in our particular parts of the world where God has sovereignly placed us will indeed cost us. We need to ask ourselves, "Am I willing to shed blood to see God’s will come to pass?” If we are, I believe God will do great things through us for His glory. 

Light and blood, that is what it means to count the cost. The apostle John was inspired to write,  “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). “But if,” speaks of a choice we must make; a decision to be made. God is calling us to make a decision. “We,” speaks of a united effort. Will we unite to work out God’s vision for us and His perfect will? “Walk in the light,” speaks of the light of God’s truth and our obedient good works that reflect on and glorify our Lord (compare Mat. 5:16). “As He is in the light,” speaks of the Lordship of Jesus. We follow His light; we walk and work the way Jesus would. “We have fellowship with one another,” speaks of the unifying and increase to the body of Christ God’s venture of faith leads to. “And the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” speaks of the example of Jesus shed blood and His call to be willing to shed our blood too for His glory as He conforms us to the likeness of Himself.

Count the cost; its light and blood. The light of God’s word to live by in the power of the Holy Spirit, and the shedding of our blood in living by His word. Look around you, there is a clear contrast between God’s light of truth and the world’s darkness of falsehood. And arguably never before has it been more important that in the power of the Spirit we present ourselves as living sacrifices ready to shed our blood for Jesus to fulfill His vision and will in our world today. Will you answer that call? Light and blood; will you answer that call?