Archives November 2017

The Absence of “if”

A belief in something always results in some sort of response or action otherwise it is just a reasonable theory.

Salvation is more than just theory.  It is something we must receive (John 1:12)

Becoming a child of God produces transformation and that transformation bears fruit.  Hence the famous statement in the book of James that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:17-20)

The life of a resolute disciple is one that is founded on the ability and actions of a capable Savior.  That capable Savior is able to aid and uphold us in the issues of life. By His sacrificial death and victorious resurrection, Jesus has demonstrated the means and the power necessary for us to be and live a life of victory.  Not one in our own ability or power, but in His.  Yet, too often we still struggle with the “if” of the Savior actively displaying that power on our behalf.

Below, in the story of the boy prone to fits of convulsions, Jesus erases the “if” factor regarding the potential for wholeness (both the boy’s and his father’s) …

Mark 9:17-27

21 So He asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?”
And he said, “From childhood. 22 And often he has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.
23 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
25 When Jesus saw that the people came running together, He rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it: “Deaf and dumb spirit, I command you, come out of him and enter him no more!”26 Then the spirit cried out, convulsed him greatly, and came out of him. And he became as one dead, so that many said, “He is dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up, and he arose.

The man says to Jesus, “…if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help…”

In hindsight we see the absurdity of his statement.  Jesus would not have been present if front of the man if it wasn’t for His compassion.  And, the power to heal had been displayed multiple times already (and would ultimately be shown in Jesus rising from the dead as proof of His ability).

Jesus responds to the man, “If you can believe…”

Jesus erases the man’s “if”.  Because all power has been given to Him (Matt. 28:18), He tosses it back to the man.

The man’s response is revealingly transparent and relatable… “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”.  I am sorry to say that even after 30+ years in ministry this is still where I live.  I know (and have even experienced) the wonder of the Lord’s presence and power.  Yet, I still struggle to trust it in the issues of my own life.  Can you relate?

Belief: General v. Specific

We believe that God is able but waver in the practicality of life where we live.  But this is where the Lord desires for us to exercise our belief…

  • God can heal marriage problems, but will He heal mine?
  • God has power over sickness, but will He remove my brother’s?
  • God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and all the riches of the universe, but will He help me pay the bills?
  • Jesus won victory over the power of sin, but can He help me stop choosing it in my life?

The man asked, acknowledged and was transparently honest. Jesus rewarded that honesty by healing his son. He took him by the hand and he arose.

Like this man, let’s be real with Him too.  “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief”.

When Jesus is involved there is no “if”.

True Sheep Share the Concerns of the Great Shepherd

In the passage below, Jesus again masterfully utilizes the local culture to press home a vital point.  The heart of God cares for society’s “least”- those who are socially or physically needy.  True followers of Christ (the sheep in this passage) will share that same compassion.

Society has become more urban in its setting, so we must not miss the cultural illustration Jesus is using.  Palestinian sheep and goats often looked similar from a distance and often grazed together. But they needed to be separated at nighttime because the goats required a warmer place to rest.1

So the concept of separating the two resonated with those listening to the Savior’s words.  But Jesus’ purpose for this separation was not because of temperature.   It was for evidence of the actions of true sheep.

41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41-46)

In verses 31-40 while detailing a future time of judgement, the sheep (separated to the right) were blessed for the extension of their merciful care and compassion to those who were in need.  And, the context may be specifically emphasizing those who were needy in the brotherhood of the Christian community (see “my brethren” in vs.40). This is not about obtaining salvation, it is about the genuine actions of the truly saved.  The actions of resolute, active disciples of Jesus reflect the fact that the spirit of Christ is in them.

In contrast, the goats (separated to the left) were cast out (into everlasting punishment!) because they did not exercise the compassionate heart of the Savior to those who were in need.  This speaks loudly (in its actions) to the genuineness of the true follower of Christ.  Authentic disciples care.  To know and to ignore is unacceptable.  And, is unlike Christ in its core.

 The one-ness of the early church camaraderie (Acts 3:32-33) and the reality of persecution from following Christ (Acts 12, Hebrews 13:3) provided them the opportunity to extend compassionate aid and encouragement to the brotherhood.  As our American society becomes more antagonistic toward Christianity we have a great opportunity to act accordingly.  Additionally, worldwide, persecution of Christians is at record numbers2.  We cannot ignore these realities.

As an individual are you locally and globally involved in this good practice?  Is your church family raising awareness by addressing these issues?

10Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 5:10


1Note. Matthew 25:32 NIV Zondervan Study Bible, pg.1986

2For more information on how you can become more aware and help the persecuted church go to…

The Heart of the Savior and the Resistance of Human Will

In Matthew 23 the entire chapter is a scathing, tirade against the hypocrisy and pride of the religious leaders of the day.  In harsh, descriptive terms and in visual language Jesus rebukes the clergy class of Jerusalem. With penetrating, biting vocabulary He openly and publicly criticizes their self-inflated pride and their ability to twist everything from vocabulary to religious rituals for their own purposes.  Christ’s diatribe resounds to a crescendo as He condemns them as vipers bound for hell (v.33).

What a scene!

Yet, as the sting of His words are still in the air we see a glimpse into the loving, compassionate heart of the God of the universe…

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (Matthew 23:37)

What could have been.

What was not.

What made the difference?

The will of man.

Continuing in beautiful, visual language, Jesus relates that it is God’s desire to lovingly pull in Jerusalem’s humanity close to himself.  There it would truly be protected and loved.  It would thrive under the wing of the Savior.  But, their will was not there.

There is a scholarly camp within Christianity that promotes a theology that God pre-chooses who will become children of God and that human will cannot play a part in that process.  Passages like this (and many others) combat that ideology.  The core of God’s desire will not preempt the willful choice of mankind.  This is God’s choice.  As the All-Powerful Creator He certainly could force whatever He desires.  He has the ability and authority to do so.  But, He chooses not to do that.  Seemingly, choosing rather to revel in mankind’s choice to choose Him.

Let’s run to the warm, loving and willing embrace of our heavenly Father.  It is His desire and it is our best choice!