James 5:13-20 Prayer is the Cure for Suffering

A cowboy was driving down a dirt road late one night in his pickup truck. His horse was riding in the trailer behind the pickup. The cowboy failed to make a curve and his truck tipped over and landed in a ditch. The cowboy was knocked unconscious.

Several minutes later he awoke to the flashing lights of a police car. The officer walked up to the horse, saw that his leg was broken, and did what only he could do. He pulled out his service revolver and put the horse out of its misery.

The cowboy heard everything and felt terrible about losing his horse. But more painful was what he felt from is own leg, which was surely broken. The officer walked up to the cowboy and asked, “Are you okay?”

The cowboy looked at the smoking revolver in the officer’s hands and replied, “Never felt better!”

This story is a picture of a stark reality for many Christians. They walk around broken, but when they are asked by fellow believers how they are, they put on their best smile and say, “I’m fine.” The Christian life is meant to be lived among believers who are open and honest about what’s really going on, especially when they suffer. We don’t have to put on happy faces when we are suffering. We can trust fellow believers and share what’s really going on. We can be sure that they will pray for us.

James 5:13-20 begins by referring to two ends on the spectrum of life-suffering and cheerfulness. Suffering refers to affliction of any kind-physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual. It includes anything that causes trouble or affliction. James’ remedy is to tell us to pray. This passage focuses on the life-transforming power of prayer. Every state of mind or mood is a call to prayer.

It’s easy for us to turn to God when our lives are unraveling or when we feel overwhelmed. It’s also easy for us to see prayer as the last option or treat it like a time-waster that keeps us from solving our problems on our own. James argues that the best solution to our problems is prayer. Prayer doesn’t mean that God will end our pain, but it does mean that He will give us patience and perseverance. In James 5:7-12, the word patience is used seven times. In verses 13-20, the word prayer appears seven times. Prayer is the key for dealing with situations that require patience. Take the apostle Paul, for example. Several times he asked God to remove the thorn in his flesh but God said that “my grace is sufficient for you.”

When anyone faces hardship and stress, the answer is to pray. Failure to pray cuts the believer off from God’s power, leading to greater distress. Praising God, especially in song, is also a form of prayer. Praising God is just as important as praying to God. In verses 17 and 18, James, for the fourth time, uses Old Testament characters to illustrate his point. He mentioned Abraham in James 2:21-24, Rahab in James 2:25 and Job in James 5:11. Now he cites Elijah, whose prayers God used to do a miraculous thing in Israel in 1 Kings 17-19. James’ message to the scattered believers is that God still answers prayers, even on a national scale.

The next area James talks about is one that most Christians know well. Who hasn’t called out to God for healing from sickness, either for themselves or for others? In fact, this is what James tells us to do. He tells us to follow these steps when someone is sick:

  1. Call for the spiritual leaders of the church. Sometimes ministers are the last to know when someone is sick. James argues that we are to give the body of Christ the opportunity to minister to us. After all, ministers can give us spiritual pain relief.
  2. The elders/ministers are to provide prayer and anointing. Oil had two uses in the Bible: consecration (as in the anointing of David as king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16:13) and medicinal or hygienic purposes. For example, in the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan poured oil on the victim’s wounds. The medicinal use of oil provided physical comfort and promoted the healing process. Similarly, prayer provides spiritual comfort.
  3. Leave the results to God. The sick are healed not by the elders’ power, not their faith, nor by the anointing oil but by the Lord’s intervention-either through indirect means such as medical treatment or by His supernatural healing. We have to accept the fact that He might not heal the sick person. We have to accept His plan and purpose.

The work of healing takes many forms. Sometimes there is physical healing. Sometimes there is spiritual healing where God comes into our lives and our sins are forgiven and we are made whole. Sometimes there is relational healing-healing withing families, among friends, within a church. I saw this happen when my brother was on his deathbed. He had a strained relationship with his younger son, but when he arrived at my brother’s bedside, my nephew regretted the strained relationship and was able to forgive his father.

James 5:15 sets forth three specific results of prayer and anointing offered in faith: restoration, raising up, and forgiveness. James might have had in mind someone who is sick as the result of sin. Physical illness can be the result of sin such as smoking, drinking to excess, overeating, or lying. If that is the case, God’s restoration can include both physical and spiritual recovery. The reality that sin can lead to sickness and death is behind James’ instructions to confess our sins to one another. That means making amends to those whom we have wronged and forgiving those who have wronged us. If our soul is plagued by guilt, it will consume us until it is cleared through confession and prayer. When our sins are released, the garbage in our inner lives will be cleared and we will be able to pray more effectively.

Prayers of faithful people or prayers prayed in faith have an effect. God responds. Prayer is appropriate for any situation in life, not just in times of sickness and affliction. We tend to pray in terms of “why.” We often cry out to God and ask Him why we are sick or in trouble. A better prayer in times of suffering is that of “what.” We should ask, “Lord, what are you saying to me through these difficulties?” or “Father, what do you want me to learn, or what do you want me to do?”

So how can we pray effectively? First, we must know the Scriptures and pray in keeping with God’s Word. Second, we must be specific. We have to deal directly with the specific issue and ask for specific results. Finally, we must have faith in God’s ability, timing, and wisdom. We must trust that He will provide the right answer to our prayers. We are helpless when it comes to others’ problems. The only thing we can do is pray to God and seek His wisdom.

What must we do so our prayers will be effective?

  1. Our prayers must flow from a heart filled with love, compassion, and forgiveness.
  2. We must recognize that our prayers are the link between another person’s need and God’s inexhaustible resources.
  3. We must identify with the needs of the people we are praying for.
  4. We must want the highest good in the lives of the people we pray for.
  5. We must be willing to be part of God’s answer.
  6. We must be willing to persevere. We must not give up when God does not answer our prayers right away. God will answer our prayers in His own time and in His own way.

Our prayers must be ones of faith. They must not waver. They must be followed by corresponding actions. They must be prayed from right motives.

Prayer must be continuous. We have to talk to God throughout the day, responding in prayer and praise to whatever occurs. Prayer is desired for every part of our lives. It has to be applied in both good times and bad times. Prayer is not a substitute for responsibility. Prayer and actions go hand in hand. Prayer is for the imperfect, not the perfect. Since we are not perfect, we need prayer.

Genuine prayer is not the same as passive permissiveness. Real faith calls for intervention. This does not mean that we are to hypocritically judge, slander or speak against another person. Jesus warns us in Matthew 7:3-5 about removing the speck in another person’s eye when there is a plank in our own eye. Only those with clear vision along with patience, wisdom, and humility should criticize another person, but it must be done in love.

James makes the church body responsible for wandering believers. Christians do not live to themselves. When one part of the body falls away, the entire body suffers. Therefore they must do what they can to help fellow Christians remain true to the faith. When we turn a sinning Christian from sin we will save his or her soul from spiritual death. We will also cover a multitude of sins.

How can we pray for other people? When I was doing the research for this message, I came across what is known as the “Five Finger Prayer.”

  1. When we fold our hands, the thumb is nearest us. We are to begin by praying for those closest to us-our loved ones.
  2. The index finger is the pointer. Pray for those who teach-Bible teachers, ministers and those who teach children.
  3. The next finger is the tallest. It reminds us to pray for those in authority-national, provincial, and local leaders, even our bosses at work.
  4. The fourth finger is usually the weakest. Pray for those who are in trouble or who are suffering.
  5. Then comes the little finger. It reminds us of our smallness in relation to God’s greatness. We are to ask Him to supply our needs.

How can we connect with God when we pray? There are three guidelines:

  1. Pray with expectancy. We can come to God as a little child and cry out “Father, I’ve got a need, a problem. I need your help.” We can do this because we are His children.
  2. Pray with faith. We can trust God. We can believe what He tells us.
  3. Pray with fervency.

James 5:16 tells us that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” What are the characteristics of a righteous person? A righteous person has a personal relationship with Jesus as his or her personal Saviour. A righteous person seeks to obey God and yield to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Righteousness is manifested in a person who wants what is right according to God’s Word. He or she wants to see God’s Truth and will established on earth.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1778-1779)
  2. Swindoll, Chares R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights: James, 1&2 Peter (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010; pp. 117-119)
  3. Cedar, P.A. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34: James/1&2 Peter/Jude (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984; pp. 97-102)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Bayless Conley, “The Prayer of Faith.” Retrieved from Bayless@AnswersBC.org
  6. Daniel Darling, “The Best Thing You Can Do For a Friend.” retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Jim Burns, “Accountability and Support.” Retrieved from www.HomeWord.com
  8. Anne Cetas, “Five-Finger Prayers.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  9. Harold Sala, “3 Guidelines to Connecting With God When You Pray.” Retrieved from info@guidelines.org
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Effective Prayers.” Retrieved from web@ltw.org
  11. “How to Build an Authentic Faith Community.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary: Eighteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Sept. 26, 2021.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2021/09/adveturouos-lectionary-eighteenth-sunday-after-pentecost-september-26-2021
  13. Bishop Kenneth Carter, “To Make the Wounded Whole.” Retrieved from www.day1.org

Mark 9:38-50 Sin Fighters

In 2012 Dr. Michael Youssef, who is the founder and President of Leading the Way Ministries, wrote an article about a Christian Sunday school teacher who was leading a class of boys. After a conversation with one of the boys, the young man prayed and received Christ. That young man was D.L. Moody, who became one of the greatest evangelists of his time.

On one of his trips to England, D.L. Moody preached at a church pastored by another great evangelist named F.B. Meyer. Moody invited him to come to the United States to preach. At one service, a man named J. Wilbur Chapman gave his life to Christ and became a great evangelist. One of the people he led to Christ became his travelling companion. That companion was evangelist Billy Sunday.

After Billy Sunday preached in Charlotte, North Carolina, a group of farmers asked God to do something great for the world, starting in Charlotte. They invited an evangelist by the name of Mordecai Hamm to preach in Charlotte. During one of his services, three young men came forward to receive Christ. Their names were Billy Graham, Grady Wilson and T.W. Wilson. Billy Graham became one of the most respected evangelists of our time, and the Wilson brothers became administrators with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

While we are on earth we will never understand what God is doing through each and every one of us. We will understand this only when we get to heaven. One lone Sunday school teacher impacted generations of Christians by doing God’s work. If that one Sunday school teacher can have such an impact, just think of how our ministries or our gifts can be used by God to impact the world.

In Mark 9:38-50 we read that in their struggle for position, the disciples were upset to find that an exorcist was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, especially since recently they were not able to heal a demon-possessed child. Every mature Christian can be drawn into “turf wars” in the church. Jesus said that anyone who does God’s work in his name is a partner in ministry, not a threat to ministry. There will be no peace in our world until we have peace in our hearts. God loves us all the same. God’s will is for liberty and justice for everyone. We do not have peace in our lives if we try to protect our turf and destroy the weak among us.

In Jesus’ time, salt both preserved and seasoned food. It also came with impurities that could make it useless. Jesus tells us to get rid of the impurity of selfishness and show the purity of self-sacrifice for the benefit of others. Any little thing we do in Christ’s name will be rewarded. Jesus tells us that if there is nothing distinctive about our lives, it is no good for us to be followers of Jesus. There is no use in following him if we don’t make any real contribution to the life of the world, or if there is no redemptive power flowing through our lives and our actions.

So what does it mean to be a “salty believer?” Let me give you an example. Legend has it that a missionary was swept overboard while traveling on very high and rough seas and was subsequently washed up on a beach at the edge of a remote village. Nearly dead from exposure and lack of food and fresh water, he was found by the people of the village and nursed back to health. He lived among them for twenty years, quietly adapting to their culture and working alongside them. He preached no sermons and made no personal faith claim. Neither did he read scripture to them.

But, when people were sick, he sat with them, sometimes all night. When people were hungry, he fed them. When people were lonely, he gave a listening ear. He taught the ignorant and always took the side of the one who had been wronged.

The day came when some missionaries entered the same village and began talking to the people about a man named Jesus. After listening for a while to their story, the native people began insisting that Jesus had already been living in their village for many years. “Come,” one of them said, “We’ll introduce you to him.” The missionaries were led to a hut where they found their long-lost companion.

All sacrifices we make to serve Jesus are accompanied by hardships, suffering or persecution, so we should not be surprised when these things happen. Believers are purified through suffering and persecution.

Jesus was not commanding self-mutilation when he said that if your tongue, foot, hand or any other body part causes you to sin, cut it off. He was talking about the importance of doing whatever it takes to actively oppose sin. For example, if an addiction to pornography causes you to sin, cancel your Internet service and stop buying adult magazines.

Professing Jesus’ name means living the life that Jesus lived. This means driving out the demons of intolerance, injustice, strife, grudges and poverty, to name just a few. We as Christian disciples are to focus on what we are to do in Jesus’ name and not be quick to criticize others who also follow Christ but who do not belong to our church, church group or denomination. We must not fault people or churches who do things differently than we do. We must assume that what they do is “in His name.” There are many different ways to do things for God, and if someone chooses to do something that is different from the way we do things, we are not to stop them from doing it their way.

We are not to be like the lady who cornered my father one day and asked him which church he belonged to. He did not belong to either of the two churches in the community. When he told her which church he belonged to, she replied, “Well! That’s what I was afraid of!” She turned around and walked right out of the post office.

We must not look for labels or titles. We must look for attitudes, actions and spirit. Jesus rejoices when he sees mercy, justice and compassion in our lives, because when he sees them he sees God at work in our world. How we live the life Jesus lived is more important than having the right documents or the right membership cards. Jesus has invited us to join his eternal family. The invitation means that he lives through us so that our words and deeds might be a loving response to his grace.

Jesus’ love knows no limits. His compassion never runs out and it isn’t limited to a select group of people with the right credentials or disposition. There is plenty of his love for everyone. Jesus is the face of the God we can’t see; the God who wants to forgive all sinners, and not just a few; the God who wants to reach out and heal everyone who is sick physically and/or spiritually, not just a select few.

We must be very careful about how the example we set influences other people. Every person is a role model for either good or evil. The best way to show love for the children of God is by loving God and keeping his commandments. Our commitment to Christ affects how we live our lives. Our lives are enhanced when we follow Christ. Our lives will be more effective and have more impact. Christ will give us the strength we need to fight our sinful nature. The burden of our sin runs away at the foot of the cross. The Kingdom of God is a treasure that is worth giving up everything to get.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  4. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 26th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  5. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “A Powerful Perspective.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  6. King Duncan, “The Ultimate Solution for Sin.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  7. King Duncan, “Losing Favor or Losing Flavor?” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  8. King Duncan, “About Other Denominations.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  9. King Duncan, “Can’t We All Just Get Along?” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  10. Brett C. Blair, “Be At Peace with One Another.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  11. King Duncan, “Choices.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  12. Thomas Peterson, “The Needle’s Eye.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  13. Donald Strobe, “Radical Surgery.” Retrieved from www.esermons.com
  14. Exegesis for Mark 9:38-50. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  15. Dr. Keith Wagner, “Salty Believers.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  16. Pastor Dave Risendal, “Do No Harm.” Retrieved from http://onelittleword.org/?p=7337
  17. Jude Siciliano, O. P., “First Impressions, 26th Sunday (B), September 27, 2015.” Retrieved from firstimpressions@lists.opsouth.org

Mark 9:38-50 Salt of the Earth

Hello boys and girls!

How many of you have ever eaten something that didn’t taste very good? What did you do to make the food taste better? Did you put any salt on the food?

Improving the taste of food is one of many uses for salt. Salt is used to keep dyes from washing out so our clothes will always look nice. Salt is also used to make leather, and without it we would not have things such as leather belts. Salt is also used to make plastics, and without salt we would not have toys made out of plastic.

Salt has been important throughout history. In fact, at one time people used to be paid with salt. Because salt has been so important it’s not a surprise that Jesus told us in Mark 9:50 that we are to be like salt to the world. In particular he said, “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.” What he meant is that we should flavour our world with both our love and Christ’s love. The world needs that love because there is a lot of bitterness and hatred in the world today. He also meant that we should allow him to use us to make the world a better place. If we show Jesus’ love in everything we do, we can do much to reduce bitterness and bring peace to our world.

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to flavour the world with his love. Help us to add flavour to our world by letting you use us to make the world a better place. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “Pass the Salt, Please.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com/pass_the_salt.htm
  2. “A Pinch of Salt.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com/a_pinch_of_salt.print.htm

Mark 9:30-37 The First Will be Last, and the Last Will Be First

What is the one human quality that drives us to success while causing all sorts of problems at the same time? It is ambition. Ambition is one of the driving forces in our lives. It propels us to excel in our jobs. It pushes us to reach our goals. It can give us a reason for living. Ambition is one of the tools that the world uses to measure success.

There is another way to measure success-one that is not of this world-and that is the topic of the Gospel reading from Mark 9:30-37. We sometimes think that we can measure success the way the world does. We mistakenly believe that if God receives glory for what we do, then it should be glorious for us also. We must remember God’s faithful servants from the Bible, and we must remember that their situations were far from easy or glamorous. For example:

  • Noah built.
  • Abraham moved.
  • Moses led.
  • Josiah restored.
  • Rahab protected.
  • David conquered.
  • Nehemiah repaired.
  • Ruth stayed.
  • Jeremiah preached.
  • The poor widow gave.
  • The Apostles went.
  • The early church persevered.

Ordinary people did extraordinary things and even though they may have thought their actions were insignificant at the time, the Lord through his word, has allowed us the opportunity to see the role these good people played in the greatest story ever told.

I read a story a few years ago about a couple of school kids. One had gotten into some trouble and was going to have to walk a few laps at recess and wasn’t taking the news very well. Another student who wasn’t even a close friend stepped in to offer encouragement. She informed her peer that she wouldn’t have to walk alone. She’d stay by her side, cheering her on the entire time. When the teacher remarked what a wonderful thing she had just done, the student shrugged and replied, “It’s no big deal. It’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Can you image a world if everyone had the same attitude? Can you imagine a church if everyone had that attitude? It’s those Kingdom-minded thinkers who change the world. Those who forgive, love, go the extra mile, and live righteously, not out of a sense of obligation, not because they’re trying to earn their salvation, not to be seen by others, but because that’s what they’re supposed to do.

The Lord might also call us to do simple, humble acts that show compassion toward other people and which display God’s character. These deeds are not done for personal gain. They are done out of an outflow of God’s love in us and for his glory.

Jesus argued that the way to be successful or get ahead in the spiritual world is to become like a child. In Jesus’ time, children and women were seen as little more than property. Little children were considered useless until they were old enough to help with housework. In other words, they were humble and lowly. The child in this passage represents all of God’s people. The greatest people in God’s kingdom are not the rich and the powerful, but the poor and the helpless; not the ones with the most servants, but those who serve others the most. Jesus argued that if we help those who are humble, lowly, poor, or oppressed we will be successful from a heavenly point of view.

The disciples did not realize this. They were still thinking of success in worldly terms. They were concerned with using earthly ambition to get ahead in heaven. Jesus knew that this was what the disciples were talking about, even though they did not answer his question. You see, Jesus knows everything about us-what we think, what we feel, what our thoughts are, etc. He knew what their problem was and he also had the solution. The disciples tried to hide their discussion, but you can’t hide anything from God.

The disciples could not understand the true meaning of power described by Jesus because they were afraid to ask the right questions. Instead of asking how they could better understand and fulfill Jesus’ mission, their main concern was finding out how each of them could become the greatest. The disciples’ attitude was one that Jesus had to address. We have to do the same. If not, we will end up conspiring with sinners to defeat righteousness. God disciplines his children by speaking the truth to power and offering correction. We and the disciples need to learn that the true heavenly power that Jesus inaugurated is in the form of service to others.

It can be difficult for us to let go of our desire to succeed in earthly ways. It is part of our human nature for us to be in control. We want to be independent. We want to be in control of our lives and our goals, and this includes the desire to succeed. We need to let go and let God control our destiny and successes if we want to be first in his eyes. We need to let go of our desire to get ahead and replace it with a desire to serve others, especially the less fortunate.

A good example of this type of success is Franklin Graham. He is the president of Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian relief organization. He got involved with that organization in the 1970s when he was asked by the organization’s founder, Dr. Bob Pierce, to accompany him on relief missions throughout the world. Franklin Graham rose from humble servant to the organization’s president by following God’s path to success. Along the way he became a born-again Christian. Later, he became an associate evangelist with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and eventually President of the Association when his father, The Rev. Billy Graham, stepped down. Franklin Graham once said that God called him to the ditches of the world and his father to the stadiums of the world.

Billy Graham is another example of God’s definition of success. He humbly answered God’s call as a young man and became one of the world’s greatest evangelists, leading untold thousands to Christ while at the same time running the Association and his team of associates in a humble, moral manner.

If Billy Graham and Franklin Graham are examples of God’s definition of success, there is another member of the Graham family who best represents the lowly and suffering people whom God calls us to serve. In her book “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart”, Billy Graham’s youngest daughter Ruth shares the story of her struggles with divorce as well as her children’s problems with drugs, rebelliousness, eating disorders and teenage pregnancy. She also shares how all of them were helped by God’s love as shown by concerned friends and family members who were ready, willing and able to help her and her children.

Jesus constantly challenges us to be a servant, to think of others instead of ourselves. If we feel unhappy and unfulfilled in our lives, perhaps it is time to take a long hard look at our lives. We have to ask ourselves if we are I-centered or others-centered, because our decision will affect our eternal destiny. The child in this Gospel passage represents the new birth or new start necessary for real leadership and real life. The road to happiness is the road of service. The way to greatness is not possible without a servant heart, a servant hand, a humble heart and a humble hand. Jesus himself is a good example of the greatness of service and humility. He came to earth as a servant. He humbled himself to the point of death on a cross, and thereby became highly exalted by God.

Some of us might think that serving someone is beneath us or that somehow the act of serving others diminishes us. On the contrary, those who serve the most are the greatest people on earth—and in heaven. Jesus asks us to embrace those who are in need. We are to show concern for the less fortunate. To welcome a child is to welcome one of low status who might not tell anyone else of the welcome or mention the name of the host to others.

Those who would be first must be last. This is the opposite of our ambitious ways, but we have to admit that Jesus was right. Our ambitions are compulsive, suspicious, obsessive, jealous, resentful and full of revenge. The only ambition that truly gives life is the ambition to serve others. In God’s eyes what is important is not what we have to offer, or what we do not have to offer, but who we are. It means relying on God’s strength instead of our own. As God said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.

There is an interpretation of Exodus that teaches that Moses not only put the tablets of the law that he received on Mount Sinai into the Ark of the Covenant, but also was commanded by God to add the broken pieces of the first tablets that he broke in anger after seeing the Israelites worshipping a golden calf. The broken and the whole were together in the same ark. Likewise, the broken and the whole are together in the embrace of a loving God. The image of God is upon all of us. If we want to be successful in God’s eyes, we must show the image of a serving, humble God.

Faith is not about a church doctrine or power or privilege. It is about service to others-service to the point of sacrifice. It can be expressed equally through individual actions and experiences as it can be in churchwide attitudes, actions and public declarations. Each and every day we will have the opportunity to show how Christ’s love can bring healing to our hurting world. The only way we can do this clearly is with the greatest humility-just as Jesus did when he set the little child among the disciples.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F., The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  2. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  3. ESV Study Bible.Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  4. Notes from Peter Anthony’s Bible Study on the Gospel of Mark.
  5. Graham, Franklin:  Rebel With a Cause: Finally Comfortable Being Graham (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1995)
  6. Graham, Billy: Just As I Am (Toronto, ON: Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.; 1997)
  7. The Rev. Stephen Lewis, “Insignificant Greatness”. Retrieved from www.day1.org
  8. Graham, Ruth: In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Inc.; 2004)
  9. Jim Burns, “The Road to Happiness”. Retrieved from Crosswwalk@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Pastor Bob Coy, “Down is up”. Retrieved from www.activeword.org
  11. T.M. Moore, “Truth in Everyday Relationships”. Retrieved from www.colsoncenter.org
  12. Berni Dymet, ‘The Guillotine”. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 23rd  Sunday (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
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  16. Carl L. Schenck, “Ambition”. Retrieved from www.ministrymatters.com/all/article/entry/3075/ambition
  17. Alyce M. McKenzie, “Commentary on Mark 9:30-37”. Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching_Print.aspx?commentary_id=393
  18. The Rev. Charles Hoffacker, “The Kid from Capernaum”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  19. Dr. Philip W. McLarty, “The Greatest of the Kingdom”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  20. Rabbi Marc Gellman, “The Broken and the Whole: God Knows and Loves Us All”. Retrieved from www.arcamax.com/religionandspirituality/godsquad/s-1198200
  21. John Shearman’s Lectionary Resource, Year B, Season After Pentecost, Proper 20 Ordinary 25. Retrieved from http://lectionary.seemslikegod.org/archives/year-b-season-after-pentecost-proper-20-ordinary-25.html
  22. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  23. Jamieson-Fawcett-Brown Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package.
  24. Paula Harrington, “The Big Deal”. Retrieved from http://forthright.net/2012/09/12/the-big-deal/

Mark 9:30-37 Being First Means Being Last

Hello boys and girls!

How many of you play sports? How many of you won or were on a team that won? It’s fun to win, isn’t it? Now, who actually lost or was on a team that lost? That wasn’t fun, was it? Everyone likes winning or being first, but no one likes being last or losing.

The disciples felt the same way at times. For example, in Mark 9:30-37, they argued about which one of them would be first in God’s Kingdom. Jesus said that anyone who wants to be first in God’s Kingdom must be last on earth by serving everyone, including the less fortunate. In a moment I’m going to tell you a story that shows what he means, but before I do I’m going to ask you a question. Do any of you know what an obstacle race is? Well, for those of you who don’t, it’s a race course where at points along the way you have to do things like walk across a log, climb a rope, climb over a wall or run through a set of tires.

One day at a church Bible Club party, the teacher announced, “Next we’ll have an obstacle race. Let’s go outside, and I’ll give you the instructions.”

“Cool!” exclaimed Andy. He bolted for the door. “I’m going to win!”

Drew frowned. “Andy always wins,” he muttered. “I never do.”

When everyone was at the starting point, the teacher explained that they all would be following the same course, and they would have to overcome the same obstacles. “At some of them, you’ll find directions that you must follow before you can move on,” the teacher said. Then he blew his whistle, and the kids dashed off.

“I hate crawling,” moaned Drew when he reached a tunnel.

“Me, too,” agreed Tamara. “Guess we’ll be last together.”

“Whoa!” yelled Drew a little later as he slipped off a rail that had to be crossed. “Don’t wait for me. I’m used to being last alone,” he joked.

Drew finally puffed up to the last obstacle–a wall. “Why is everyone just standing here?” he asked when he saw everyone waiting. “What’s the problem?”

Andy frowned and pointed to the directions. “I got here first and have to help everyone over the wall in the opposite order that they got here. You’re the last one, so that means you get to go over the wall first,” he said.

When Andy finally dropped over the wall, all the other kids had already crossed the finish line. He frowned at the teacher. “It’s not fair,” Andy complained. “I was winning, but now I’m last!”

“Hey, Andy, look what I got for coming in first,” said Drew, holding up a trophy. He read aloud the inscription on it. “Many who are first will be last, and the last first.” He grinned. “Thanks for helping me win, Andy.”

The teacher smiled. “You did very well, Andy,” he said, pulling another trophy from a box and handing it to Andy. “This is for your great job at the wall.”

After the kids applauded, Andy read out loud the inscription on his trophy. “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Andy looked at the teacher. Then he grinned at Drew. “Thanks for helping me win, too, Drew!”

So you see, boys and girls, by helping the other kids during the obstacle race, Andy was a true winner. Jesus would be very proud of him.

Let us bow our heads and close our eyes for a moment of prayer.

Dear God, thank you for reminding us that in your eyes, we are first if we help those who need our help. Open our eyes for chances to help other people and show them the love you have for us. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “No Losers”. Retrieved from keys@lists.cbhministries.org

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8 The Devil Made Me Do It!

I want to take you on a trip down memory lane for a minute. Some of you may remember a famous comedian named Flip Wilson. He had a TV show in the 1970s, and on this show he had such famous characters as Geraldine Jones and Brother Leroy. He also had some famous lines, including one that ties in nicely with the reading we heard from the Book of James. That line was, “The devil made me do it!” The characters in Flip Wilson’s comedy routines often blamed the devil for leading them into trouble, and they were partially right. The devil can’t make anyone do anything, but he can definitely tempt us and influence our choices.

The devil is part of earthly wisdom, and James contrasts earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom. People’s lives reflect the source of their wisdom. There is “earthly, unspiritual, devilish” wisdom that leads to “envy and selfish ambition” in the individual and “disorder and wickedness of every kind” in society. Against this, there is “wisdom from above” that is “first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits…” Trouble arrives, he tells us, when we act based on earthly wisdom and not out of faithfulness to God.

The Letter of James was controversial for much of Christian history, largely because its emphasis on doing good works seemed to clash with parts of Paul’s writings that emphasized salvation by faith alone and not by works. This passage can help us understand that faith in God and charity towards our neighbor are inseparable. It is our faithful adherence to the “wisdom from above” that spurs us to act gently, justly, and in ways that will yield “good fruits.”

If we have a right relationship with God, we will be understanding people and show concern for others, and therefore we will demonstrate heavenly wisdom. Heavenly wisdom is shown through Jesus, available through the Holy Spirit, written in the Bible and delivered in a steady flow from God to us. Heavenly wisdom is the foundation for our Christian lives. When we draw close to God, he will draw closer to us in response. If we put ourselves under God’s control, we will be open to God’s grace. This will be the ultimate challenge for proud people.

If we trust in God’s wisdom, we will be seen as meek. This is not to be confused with the world’s definition of meekness, which is cowardice and passivity. Earthly wisdom comes from sin and Satan. Earthly wisdom causes chaos, self-ambition and the playing of the “blame game.” Peace is the opposite of selfish ambition. If we bring peace, we will harvest a rich crop of righteousness.

Selfish desires cause people to make war against each other, even in the church. For example, James talks about murder taking place in the church. How could that happen? One possible reason is that the rich were taking the poor to court and basically stripping them of all they owned. Without food or the necessities of life, the result was death. In addition, how many churches have been divided because of selfish desires?

Another example is people who leave a church because they don’t like the Order of Service or the music or the minister or something else. We don’t come to church because of the Order of Service or the music or the minister. We come to church to worship with both God and fellow believers.

We show earthly, sin-filled wisdom when we are estranged from God. James tells us that if we try to get what we want through our own efforts instead of asking God, we will end up being frustrated. Worldly pleasures never satisfy us. They provide short-term pleasure and long-term pain. External conflict is often a sign of internal conflict, because if we are not at peace with ourselves, we are not likely to be at peace with others, especially within the church.

One of the deepest problems in our world is the problem of the human heart. If there were no greed, jealousy, anger, covetousness or any other sin, the world would be a much better place. If we truly loved one another and treated each other with respect, the world would also be a much better place. Unfortunately, this will be wishful thinking unless and until we put others first instead of ourselves. This will be wishful thinking unless and until we seek God’s will for our lives

Wisdom is more than understanding something intellectually. Wisdom must be demonstrated in our Christian lifestyle. Wisdom must be pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruit, without hypocrisy or partiality, and show true justice. This type of wisdom comes only from God. James is concerned with our ability to understand the truth of God’s Word and live it by faith. We do these things by submitting to God, denying ourselves, taking up our crosses daily and humbling ourselves before God. When we humble ourselves before God, we grow closer to him, and when we grow closer to him, offering forgiveness becomes easier over time, our faith will increase and our concern for the spiritual conditions of others will expand. Heavenly wisdom is full of sacrificial earthly action. We must use our circle of influence or friends to make a difference for God. After all, wisdom is not what we know but what we sow.

The main way we humble ourselves before God is through prayer. God makes us ask for what we want and need, even though he already knows what we need and want. He makes us ask because he wants to have fellowship with us, and the only way he can have fellowship with us is for us to talk to him through prayer. Those who humble themselves before God and trust him to provide for their needs will receive his grace. That grace will give us the desire and ability to obey God and respond in a way that pleases him.

Prayer is the lifeblood of our relationship with God, but sometimes we have questions about its power and effectiveness. We will find the answers to those questions when we take them to God, study the Bible for answers and talk to a trusted spiritual mentor. Some of these answers will cause us to question the motives behind our prayers.

God is very concerned with those motives. He’s interested in the state of our hearts. We need to check our motives from time to time. James points out that there are two problems in prayer lives-lack of prayer and wrong motives. Believers don’t get what they ask for when they do not ask or when they ask with selfish motives. Some of us have promised God that we will walk closely with him or that we will spend time in his word only to find that we became busy or tired and therefore broke those promises. We became disappointed with life’s circumstances, so we gave up on the promises we made.

Resisting the devil means that we have submitted to God, and that means going to his word as written in the Bible to counteract our earthly thoughts, feelings and wants. If we obey his word, he will draw near to us, and when that happens, wars will cease. We will not be at war with God, so we will not be at war with ourselves or with others. Prejudice, bitterness, anger and hatred will be uprooted at the foot of the cross. We as Christians must not have any of these things in our hearts because we are all sinners in need of a Saviour in spite of our differences.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. David Jeremiah, “Defeating Temptation.” Retrieved from turningpoint@davidjeremiah.org
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. Cedar, P.A. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34: James/1&2 Peter/ Jude (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1984)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Spiritually Satisfied.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Bayless Conley, “The Motive of Faith.” Retrieved from Christianity.comn@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Pastor Ed Young, “Make the Most of Your Opportunity.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Coming Back to the Cross.” Retrieved from mydevotional@leadingtheway.org
  11. Stormie Omartian, “Maturing in Prayer.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  12. Dr. Neil Anderson, “Your Position in Christ.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Alex Crain, “Not What You Wanted?” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  14. Dr. Charles Stanley, “Does Prayer Make a Difference?” Retrieved from Jesus.org@crosswalkmail.com
  15. Billy Graham, “What is the World’s Greatest Challenge?” Retrieved from www.arcamax.com
  16. Steve Arterburn, “Fellowship with God.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com

Mark 8:27-38 The Key to Happiness and Eternal Life

The scene in Mark 8:27-38 is the climax of the first half of Mark’s Gospel. This first half focuses on miracles and gradually reveals Jesus as the Messiah. The second half explains the nature of that Messiahship and has far more teaching and far fewer miracles.

Caesarea Philippi was located well into the heart of Gentile territory. Why would Jesus choose this location instead of Jerusalem to reveal himself as Israel’s Messiah? The most likely reason was to state that his followers were not to remain in Jerusalem but were to go to the ends of the earth and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel.

Jesus did not want the disciples to reveal his identity right away because they did not completely understand what that meant, as Peter demonstrated when he rebuked Jesus. Peter’s reasoning was demonic. He was influenced by Satan, hence Jesus’ demand to “Get behind me, Satan.”

Three times Jesus mentioned that his death and resurrection were part of God’s plan, and each time the disciples misunderstood his meaning. They thought that the kingdom meant Israel’s return to power and the end of Roman rule. Christ’s way meant suffering and sacrifice, not political maneuvering. Jesus knew that the freedom people need the most is spiritual freedom from sin and God’s wrath, not freedom from political oppression.

Christ’s death represents atonement for sin, and the beginning of God’s eternal, messianic rule. Nothing can make up for the loss of our soul, but there are many times when we exchange our souls and our lives for worldly things instead of spiritual things. Worldly things do not lead to eternal life. Those who give up their lives for the sake of Christ and the Gospel will find eternal life. This concept was very evident to the readers of Mark’s Gospel because they faced persecution and conflict. They saw this as a challenge to be faithful. We have the same challenge today. The world is still hateful to both Christians and the Good News of the Gospel. 

I read a news story some time ago about a group of young people who were arrested for trespassing and attempted burglary. They drove to a car lot late at night and removed a set of tires from one of the cars on the lot. Unfortunately for them, the lot’s owner saw them on closed-circuit television. While they were busy trying to steal his tires, he picked up their vehicle with his forklift and hid it inside a building. When they finished their dirty work and were ready to leave, they had no transportation.

Many people today are the same. They spend all of their time trying to get material goods that they think will make them happy, when what they really need for happiness is a personal relationship with God. That relationship will provide us with the transportation we need to get to heaven when we die.

We must not let anything or anyone worldly take control of our lives. Self-control is the fruit of the Spirit that the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians 5:22-23. When we have self-control, we can stand up to people and things who try to tell us what we should be and what we should do.

Jesus taught that being great in God’s kingdom means self-denial and sacrificial service. These values are opposite to the world’s values. Self-denial means letting go of self-determination and becoming obedient to and depending on Jesus. Happiness comes from service, and we need to practice service and generosity today. These two things will bring more happiness to our lives than anything else, and they also define what it means to be a Christian. Jesus is calling us to carry the cross of sacrificial living. Words come easy and living the life is more of a challenge, but in today’s world people need to see that sacrificial living leads to fulfillment and real life.

Sacrifice does not necessarily mean martyrdom. It also means doing small tasks such as giving food to a hungry person or a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty. It also means doing things in the church such as teaching a Sunday school class or singing in the choir. Our willingness to do the small tasks as they are needed is more important than our willingness to die for Christ when that is not needed.

We do not have to do this alone, and we can’t do this alone. We need strength, and Jesus will give us that strength. This strength will allow us to live a life that will bring us blessing and fulfillment beyond our wildest dreams.

If we become suffering servants like Christ was, there is a danger that we might assume that the saving work of Christ is automatic. Mark’s Gospel reminds us that this assumption is false. Christ’s suffering servanthood teaches us about the Incarnation, but the passion of his suffering teaches us about his redemption. Too much emphasis today is placed on the healing of human hurts, which reflects Christ’s loving care for us when we hurt. More emphasis needs to be placed on righting of human wrongs, also known as sin.

This might makes us uncomfortable in the short term. We like our worship to be comforting and uplifting, and while this is a necessary part of worship, it must not be the most important part. The main emphasis must be on redirecting our lives, our values and our priorities. This disruption in our lives is necessary if we truly believe that the heart of Jesus’s message is change or repentance. If we accept this, we have to let go of the lives we have now, no matter how painful the process will be.

Jesus’ message of self-sacrifice won’t always fit neatly into our earthly lives. Words like “Come die with us,” or “Follow Jesus no matter what the cost,” or “Called to sacrifice for the world” aren’t heard very often in churches today. These words are the heart of what Jesus taught. He wants us to follow him by giving of ourselves so that others may know his grace. Believers have resisted this call since it was first made over 2,000 years ago, so it isn’t surprising that the same call is resisted today. How do we as Christians see it?

Our attitude as children of God must centre on a life that is lived in him. In return for his sacrifice we need to make good use of the opportunities Christ sends our way. God wants to be an active presence in our lives, and it is because God has been an active part of the lives of men and women throughout history that the church has survived and thrived. If the church is to survive today, God needs to be active in our lives today. If more people made God an active part of their lives, the world would be a better place (and our churches and offering plates would be full to overflowing every Sunday!).

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  3. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006
  6. Paul Estabrooks, “The Cross-Choosing to Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Rick Warren, “You’re Happiest when You Give Your Life Away.” Retrieved from connect@newsletter.purposedriven.com
  8. Exegesis for Mark 8:24-38. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  9. Pastor Ken Klaus, “Let Us Follow Jesus.” Retrieved from lh_min@lhm.org
  10. Steve Arterburn, “Will You Have a Ride?” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. Pastor Dave Risendal, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” Retrieved from donotreply@wordpress.com

1 Kings 11:1-13 Absolute Power Does Corrupt Absolutely

Have you ever heard the old saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely?” The events in 1 Kings 11:1-13 are a good example of the fact that this saying is true.

Solomon was about 60 years old by this time. Among kings in the ancient Near East, taking foreign wives often produced political alliances: for Israel, it led to the worship of other gods-a double disobedience. At first, Solomon’s sin was immorality and sensuality, but eventually it became gross idolatry that divided his heart.  A love of the world and a ceaseless round of pleasure corrupted his heart and produced (at least for a little while) a state of mental darkness.

Some scholars regard Solomon as merely humoring his wives in the practice of their superstition. They also argue that in being present during their respective religious rites, Solomon was only paying an outward homage. Solomon mistakenly assumed that allowing idolatry to exist alongside the worship of God was a commendable form of neutrality. In reality, his actions were sins in God’s eyes. This reminds us of the fact that sin’s victory in our lives most often occurs not by sudden satanic assaults but by slow, moral erosion.

It was bad enough that Solomon took so many wives and concubines and strained the finances of his court. It was bad enough that they were foreigners, and this led to suspicions among the Israelites. What made the situation intolerable was that Solomon took the women from the nations God specifically warned him to avoid. The Scriptures specifically told the Israelites not to marry Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites, but Solomon chose his harem from these very nations.

Even God’s blessing and wisdom cannot compensate for a divided heart. Solomon spoke with the God of Israel in person twice and was singled out for a special blessing. Yet he left a son who was more foolish than he was, and Solomon died knowing the great kingdom God had given him from his father would soon be torn asunder.

Solomon was favoured with gifts from heaven, but he grossly abused them. God pronounced a terrible judgment on Solomon’s household, but not on Solomon himself. God decided to spare a part of Solomon’s kingdom so that He could keep the divine promise He made to King David. God rose up an adversary to plague Solomon. God was not punishing Solomon. God wanted the adversary to turn Solomon’s heart back to God. When we suffer adversity we should examine ourselves to see if there is sin in our lives. That is not always true, but it is something to which we must be sensitive.

Similar situations often happen today. Many pastors in their later years have fallen away from earlier patterns of exemplary ministry. Some were manipulated by younger pastors who use their reputations to support their own causes-causes that those senior ministers opposed when they were younger. Others have given in to inappropriate popular trends that seem to be succeeding in desperate attempts to rescue a ministry that they believe is declining. Others in their senior years become obsessed with establishing some sort of earthly immortality and building monuments in hopes of perpetuating their names.

Solomon’s defiance was not a sudden thing. He planted some seeds early in life and harvested them later in life. The first seeds were seeds of compromise. He made an alliance with Pharaoh and married Pharaoh’s daughter. As a result of that compromise, he began to make concessions in his spiritual walk.

Later, he planted seeds of extravagance. He spent lavishly. He lived lavishly. There were no limits in his budget. He was able to buy at will, build whatever he desired and live wherever and however he wished. Self-control and restraint were not in his vocabulary.

He also planted seeds of unaccountability. Solomon was never willing to be accountable-not to any of his counsellors, not to any of the prophets, not to any of his wives. He never asked for straight answers or listened to sound advice. He was close-minded. He even ignored what God was telling him.

He also planted seeds of idolatry. When harvested, Solomon’s idolatry led to lust and open defiance.

Healthy compromise occurs when we can “give in” without sacrificing our values and beliefs. A different kind of compromise leads us to abandon sound ideas or standards, leaving us morally and spiritually bankrupt. We live in a world full of temptations that urges us to compromise our godly values. When we choose to compromise, we pay a price, even though it may not seem immediately apparent to us or to other people. Satan wants us to believe the lie that no one gets hurt when we compromise our core values, but that lie has cost people their jobs and ministries, children their innocence, and at times it has cost people their very lives.

What happened to Solomon is an example of how God stands ready to deal with His people. We must remember that He is still jealous for our hearts. When we walk against His way, He deals with us.

God never blesses us so we can hoard His gifts. He blesses us so we can share them. Don’t allow spiritual erosion to begin in your life. It’s easier to avoid it altogether than it is to stop it once it has begun. Has God put his finger on something in your lives? Perhaps you’ve crossed the line and are no longer flirting with compromise but have jumped headlong into it. Satan is cunning and powerful. If he can get you to give up what is important to you, he can send you down a dark road that will cost you dearly. Don’t fall for it. Don’t give in. Don’t compromise what you shouldn’t. Trust God and leave the consequences to Him.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 457)
  2. A Commentary: Critical, Experimental, and Practical on the Old and New Testaments. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Dilday, R. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol 9: 1,2 Kings (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 120-125)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Dr. Ed Young, “Don’t Allow Spiritual Erosion in Your Life.” Retrieved form ministry@winningwalk.org
  7. Charles R. Swindoll, “Defiance: A Biblical Warning.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca
  8. Charles R. Swindoll, “God’s Attitude Toward Defiance.” Retrieved from eministries@insightforliving.ca

Mark 7:24-37 When You’re With Jesus, Expect Surprises

Have you ever noticed that Jesus often does things that we don’t expect him to do? Take the stories we read in Mark 7:24-37, for example. He does two things that we don’t expect him to do.

First, Jesus gave an uncharacteristically rude and abrupt reply to the woman’s request for her daughter to be healed. Jesus is often portrayed as a gentle, kind and caring person, but in this case he gave a harsh response. The woman made a bold move by approaching Jesus in the first place. At that time, women did not boldly approach men. She was also bold by continuing to engage him when he attempted to dismiss her because she was a Gentile.

There was a reason for his reaction. He wanted to encourage the woman to keep asking him to cast the demons out of her daughter. This should remind us that God doesn’t always answer prayer right away, and sometimes he doesn’t answer prayers in the way we want him to answer them. Sometimes he says, “yes’”, sometimes he says, “no,” sometimes he says “not right now,” and sometimes he says, “no, I have something even better in mind for you.”

The Jews hated the Gentiles and referred to them as “dogs.” In Jewish households at that time, people ate with their fingers and then wiped their hands with a piece of bread, which was given to their pet dogs to eat. Since dogs were considered to be unclean, Gentiles and dogs were on the same level in Jewish society. Dogs also ate any crumbs that were dropped from the table. When the woman referred to dogs eating the crumbs from the table, she meant that the Gentiles would accept any scraps from Jesus’s initial ministry to the Jews. Because of the woman’s faith, Jesus healed her daughter without seeing her or touching her.

Jesus was right when he told the woman that he was sent to minister first to the people of Israel, but there would come a time when his ministry of God’s salvation would be extended to the whole world.  After all, Jesus was in Gentile territory, and even in Gentile territory his fame preceded him, so he could not move about in anonymity.

The woman with the demon-possessed daughter knew that Jesus’ first earthly ministry was to the Jews. She was willing to accept this, and she was willing to be called a dog, but her love for her daughter was so great that she was willing to endure Jesus’ harsh remarks. She did not give up, and neither should we. When we persist in spite of harsh treatment and ridicule, Jesus will meet us at our point of need and bless us richly. Everyone who accepts Jesus as Lord will never be turned away.

God sometimes tests our faith for various reasons, just like Jesus tested the woman’s faith with his rude reply. The reasons for these tests range from strengthening our faith to teaching us something. When Jesus was abrupt with the woman, he was testing her faith. Jesus and life can be hard teachers at times. They give the test first and then they teach the lesson. Our response to their tests influences our character, faith and future. By the way, the woman passed her test with flying colours!

Sometimes the life of faith doesn’t turn out the way we want it to. When this happens, we must continue to believe not only because we want to, but because we have to. Jesus is the only one we can rely on in our deepest sadness. Jesus is the only one we can hope in when all hope is lost. Jesus is the only one we can seek out, fall at his feet and ask for even just a small amount of help. Jesus can take our belief and call it faith.

Another way Jesus surprised the people was by healing the deaf man who had a speech impediment. He healed the man in a very personal way-by touching him. Such a miracle was expected of the Messiah, but the fact that this miracle would be done for a Gentile was a complete surprise. By healing the deaf man, Jesus’ popularity reached a new high. He told both the man and the crowd not to tell anyone about what happened (because it was not time for his ministry to be extended to the Gentiles), but they disobeyed him.

In Jesus’ time, sickness was thought to be the result of sin. When Jesus touched the deaf man, he touched someone whom many people considered to be a sinner. Jesus came a long way physically, religiously and socially to get to this man, open his ears and loosen his tongue. By healing the deaf man and the woman’s daughter, Jesus reached out to people who were eager to hear him.

Jesus is for everyone, but what really matters is our relationship with God. Part of that relationship includes regular prayer time with God. How we pray does not matter. For example, it is the custom today for people to close their eyes and bow their heads when they pray, but when Jesus healed the deaf man, he looked to heaven when he prayed. There are no standards or postures for prayer. Prayer is about a person’s heart.

Heaven was the source of Jesus’ power. If we want to see God’s presence at work, we must look at the power behind a miracle, and that power is God. All miracles are God’s blessings. If we meet the needs of other people, we can be a part of God’s miracles in their lives.

Jesus took the deaf man aside as an act of common courtesy. He does not want to embarrass anyone. People’s feelings were important to him. He was sensitive to the deaf man, just like he is sensitive to the cues of everyone he deals with. He reads the situation and acts accordingly. We need to follow his example when we deal with hurting people in our world.

When the deaf man was healed, the people saw God at work in Jesus. They confessed that Jesus was the Messiah. Mark uses this to lead us to the point where we will also confess that Jesus is the Son of God and his Gospel is the Good News of salvation for everyone.

There are a lot of similarities between the deaf man and the disciples. The man could not hear or speak properly, and the disciples could not understand what Jesus was telling them. Because they could not understand what Jesus said and did, their proclamation of the Good News was hampered. They needed Jesus’ touch so that they could see, hear and understand.

We also need Jesus’ touch so we can understand. The church often experiences the same failings. For example, many preachers proclaim the Prosperity Gospel by telling people that all they have to do to become rich is believe when they really need to tell the people to take up their cross and follow Jesus. The church also tolerates any divisions within its midst because crossing these dividing lines makes people uncomfortable. Jesus crossed all sorts of racial, religious and other boundaries during his ministry, and he calls on us to cross those same boundaries today. Jesus’ commitment to enter Gentile territory shows his commitment to those who are different, and he calls on us to share that same commitment.

Our worship agenda is too often “what we get out of it.” In other words, we are concerned more with God serving us than we are with us serving God. We need to recover our ability to be astonished, especially our ability to be astonished by the wonderful things Jesus does in our lives today. The miracles we read about in the Bible seem to be so remote to us, but Jesus still works miracles and changes lives. We need to open our eyes, ears and hearts to the wondrous things of God that are happening all around us. Then, we need to bring a friend to Jesus either in person or in our prayers.

The deaf man represents each and every one of us, and the miracle of his healing applies to each and every one of us. Just as Jesus opened the ears of the deaf man to hear physical sound, he opens our ears to hear the gospel message. Just as he opened the eyes of the blind, he opens our spiritual eyes to see by the light of faith. Just as he cast out demons, he casts out anything that would hinder our Christian journey. We are often deaf to the pleas of those around us, especially the pleas of the poor, the hungry, and the oppressed. We have to open our lives to everyone and listen carefully to what they have to tell us. Listening means that we do not plan our answers while they are talking. Listening means hearing them out without the obligation to give advice or provide them with a solution. When we hear God’s Word we must speak it plainly to a world that has turned a deaf ear to Christianity. When we do, we might just be pleasantly surprised by the reaction we will get.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Fr. John Boll, “First Impressions, 23 Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  3. ESV Study Bible. Part of Wordsearch 10 Bible software package.
  4. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. Macarthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Lucado, M: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2010)
  8. Exegesis for Mark 7:24-37. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org.
  9. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  10. The Rev. Janet Hatt, “A Young Man Named Pablo and the Syrophoenician Woman.” Retrieved from http://dancingwiththeword.com/
  11. The Rev. Dr. Charlene Han Powell, “Desperate Belief.” Retrieved from http://day1.0rg/6783-desperate_belief.print.

Song of Songs 2:8-13 Images of Love

The entire book of Song of Songs is a picture of the interaction between God and the faithful, between Christ as the lover in this book and the church. It talks about the life-changing character of God’s unconditional love and its implications for our lives. The interaction between the two lovers represents God’s love for us and our love for Him.

The overall image of this passage is one of joy. The writer is happy to see his/her lover, just as God is happy to see people repent and turn to him. It applies to happy relationships, including marriages. I’ve recently discovered the true meaning of this image because I have a new girlfriend. Joy is something that may be lacking right now as we see the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic spread throughout the world.

The writer of Song of Songs uses a series of images and poems to describe God’s love for us. They represent the joys, the ups and downs, even painful longing when apart. It is a relationship between two people who love each other. In the case of Christians, it is a relationship between us and God. It is a contrast to references comparing an adulterous woman to Israel’s idolatry. It shows the longing, joys and sorrows that occur when we are separated from God. Both humans and God experience these feelings.

Five times in this passage, the Shulamite refers to Solomon as “my lover”-a title that pleases Solomon. Similarly, we can speak of Christ as the best beloved of our soul and feel that He is very precious to us. God is courting us. His love is not just a fling. It is for keeps. We are the beloved in this passage, and then God becomes our beloved. This love comes with great vulnerability. We will be changed by God’s love. Some changes will be wondrous, even ecstatic. Other changes will be devastating, such as suffering with someone whom we love and suffering because of someone whom we love.

The word “margin” represents Jesus Christ. The phrase “hind of the morning” refers to the coming of the kingdom of heaven as announced by John the Baptist. Christ’s voice is indirect. It comes through “the friend of the bridegroom.” Jesus often stands near to us, especially when our lack of faith hides Him from us.

This passage from the Song of Songs is a joyful celebration of love associated with the beauty of nature in springtime. There is a sense of a new beginning or a new and heightened appreciation of what God has created. None of this is experienced and appreciated until the male lover entices the woman to come and experience its delights. If the male lover represents wisdom, he is luring the woman toward an appreciation of the benefits of wisdom. For her this is like the appearance of spring in her life. The coming of wisdom is represented by the appearance of light and warmth after the darkness and cold rains and snows of winter. If the male lover represents Christ, then the lure is to take up the life of discipleship.

“The wall” refers to the prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament church, especially in spite of the wall of separation that sin built. Both John the Baptist and Jesus gave clear glimpses of the kingdom, but the wall was not completely removed until Christ’s death. Even now Jesus is only seen through the window of His Word, ordinances, and sacraments. We won’t see Him clearly until He returns. His return is represented by the phrase “the rain being over.” Love is the key for each “new song.” In the individual believer now, joy and love are set forth in their earlier manifestation.

Verses 10-13 represent Christ’s offer of salvation to those who accept His invitation. The “little foxes” referred to in verse 15 are insignificant things that will stop the Holy Spirit from doing His work in our world. They can be anything from annoying co-workers to a piece of machinery that isn’t working. If we are aware of these minor annoyances, they won’t stop the Holy Spirit from working in our lives. We can’t neglect these little annoyances because they can cause a lot of damage in the future.

For example, researchers who made several dives to the wreckage of the Titanic challenged the theory that an iceberg tore a 300-foot gash in the side of the ship. The ship’s bow is stuck in the mud, but they used sound waves to “look” at the hull. They concluded that the damage is small-only six small gashes along the starboard hull. Unfortunately, the openings were made at the worst possible places-along six watertight holds.

Similarly, a little lie here, a little cheating there, a little stealing, a little gossip or a little unresolved conflict can lead to serious problems in the future. We must not neglect these holes in our lives. With God’s help, we can take care of them today before they sink us. Contrary to the old saying, sometimes we do have to “sweat the small stuff.” Small, sinful habits stifle small good intentions.

So what are the “little foxes” that can interfere with our relationship with God?  Here are three of them:

  1. Selfishness. “I want what I want when I want it.” Other people won’t make us happy. Things won’t make us happy. Only a relationship with God can make us truly happy.
  2. Unconscious neglect. In a marriage, husbands and wives must focus on loving each other. Similarly, in our relationship with God, we must focus on loving Him and everyone else.
  3. Unresolved conflict. We can’t truly love God if we have conflicts with other people. Unresolved conflict turns to resentment and bitterness. Once they set in, we are on the road to unhappiness and disillusionment if we don’t resolve these conflicts.

Jesus wants us to be sure-footed in our daily walk with Him. He doesn’t want us to allow anything to come into our lives and cause us to stumble on our walk of faith. He does not want us to worry. Worry chokes us and prevents us from living faith-filled lives. A little worry can steal our joy and cause us to distrust God. He can conquer doubt, fear, and worry. When we surrender our lives to Him, we don’t have to worry because He will provide all that we need when we need it.

We need to hear voices that speak boldly of true love; specifically, our love for God and His love for us. When Jesus visits us in tenderness and asks us to arise, can we refuse His request? He has risen so He can draw us to Him. He has revived us so that we can ascend to heaven and enjoy fellowship with Him. God wants to have a deep relationship with His children, but it is easy for us to get distracted by life’s clutter. When we realize that we have sinned against God and against other people we can take steps to correct the problem.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 869-870)
  2. Hubbard, D.A. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 16: Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1991; pp. 288-290)
  3. Jamieson, R., Fawcett, A.R. & Brown, D.: Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1 (Oak Harbour, WA: Logos Research System; 1997; pp. 418-419)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. The Holy Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  6. Vikki Burke, “Discouragement and Detours.” Retrieved form dbm@dennisburkeministries.org
  7. Richard Innes, “Little Foxes.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  8. Alistair Begg, “How to Obtain Blessings.” Retrieved from newsleters@truthforlife.org
  9. Richard Innes, “Little Things.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  10. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “Catch the Foxes.” Retrieved from web@ltw.org
  11. Dr. Jeff Schreve, “Fox Hunting.” Retrieved from www.christianity.com
  12. Joni Eareckson Tada, “Little Foxes.” Retrieved from communicaitons@joniandfriends.org
  13. Alistair Begg, “A Spiritual Spring.” Retrieved from newsleters@truthforlife.org
  14. Joel Osteen, “The Little Foxes.” Retrieved from devotional@e.joelosteen.com
  15. Dave Branon, “Catching Foxes.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  16. Amy Boucher Pye, “Catching Foxes.” Retrieved from donotreply@email.rbc.org
  17. Noelle Day, “Don’t Swerve for Squirrels.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  18. Alphonetta Wines, “Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  19. Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
  20. Br. Curtis Almquist, “Participation in Love.” Retrieved from www.ssje.org/category/sermon