Ephesians 3:14-21 God Can Give You a Spiritual Heart Transplant

“A heart transplant?” Jesse asked with wide eyes. His parents had just explained to him and his younger brother, Marcus, that the doctors had decided Grandpa should have a heart transplant as soon as a donor could be found.

Dad nodded. “It’s amazing what doctors can do these days, but we must remember that it’s a dangerous operation and isn’t always successful. Let’s pray for Grandpa and trust God for the outcome.”

“But wait a minute! What if Grandpa has the heart transplant and then dies anyway?” Marcus asked anxiously. “He wouldn’t go to heaven.”

Everyone turned and looked at Marcus curiously. “Why do you say that?” asked Mom. “Of course Grandpa would go to heaven–he’s a Christian.”

“Yeah. Grandpa loves Jesus,” said Jesse. “He said he trusted Jesus as his Savior when he was just a kid, remember?”

“But my teacher at church says we won’t go to heaven unless we have Jesus in our hearts,” replied Marcus. “So if Grandpa gets a different heart, he won’t be a Christian anymore, will he?”

“Didn’t your teacher explain what she meant by having Jesus in your heart?” asked Dad. Marcus just shrugged. “Well,” said Dad, “think of it like this, Marcus. You have a big place in my heart, but that doesn’t mean you’re actually inside my physical heart.” Dad placed his hand on his chest. “You don’t crawl around in the organ beating inside here. So what do you think it means when I say you’re in my heart?”

“I don’t know. I guess it means you love me a whole lot,” said Marcus.

Dad nodded. “Right. It’s like that when we talk about having Jesus in our hearts. We don’t mean our physical hearts then either. We mean that we know Jesus loves us, and we love Him too. When we trust Him to forgive our sins, we say He comes into our hearts–not into our physical hearts, but into our lives. He’s with us all the time, and we look to Him for help and direction. So no matter what physical heart is inside Grandpa’s body, Grandpa loves Jesus and belongs to Him. Does that make sense?”

Marcus smiled and nodded. “I feel better now.”

Do you have Jesus in your heart? In the Bible, the word “heart” refers to your innermost being–the place where your thoughts, feelings, and desires come from. The Bible says our hearts are sinful, which is why we need Jesus to free us from sin and change the way we think and the things we desire. When we trust in Him, He comes into our hearts–not physically but spiritually. Trust Him to change your heart today.

When Jews prayed, they normally stood upright with hands raised, but Paul’s bowed posture in Ephesians 3:14-21 tells us that this is no ordinary prayer; it is the prayer of someone kneeling, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even now, kneeling before someone is considered a way to acknowledge that he or she is greater. Whether people kneel physically or only in their hearts, they should come to the throne of grace with a spirit of submission and humility.

Paul prayed for at least four things:

  1. An inward power.
  2. An inward presence.
  3. An inward perception.
  4. An inward provision

Paul was very specific in the petitions in his prayer. The exact number of intercessions is not important. What is important is that we identify the mystery of God in prayer.

Paul saw two elements of human nature:

  1. The flesh, which includes all the impulses and activities of our earthly lives.
  2. The mind, where our true personality lives. It is the inner self that can be continually renewed and strengthened.

The latter item is the key point of Paul’s theology. A person many be “in Christ” and thus live in the Spirit and in the power of the living God who lives in us. Union of Christ and possession of the Spirit mean the same. They are created and affected by faith. When Christ lives in us, our lives are reoriented. In other words, when the Holy Spirit comes to us, we get a spiritual heart transplant.

God’s love can be known. It can be known because the Cross is the supreme revelation of love. This love is so glorious that it can’t be described. It is best experienced by fellowship with other believers. The more we are united with fellow believers, the more we enter into fellowship with God. Christ’s love is so boundless that the only way to understand it is through the combined experience of all Christians.

Paul used four dimensions to describe the immensity of God’s love:

  1. Its breadth reminds us that His arms reach around the globe. On the cross, Jesus’ hands were stretched out for the whole world.
  2. Its length reminds us that His love extends from eternity past to eternity future. It existed before the foundation of this world and will exist after this world’s end.
  3. Its depth reminds us that His love addresses the deepest needs of the human heart. God loves sinners no matter who they are, what they have done, or where they have been.
  4. Its height reaches to the very throne of God. Out of love Jesus came down from heaven and lifts up to His level anyone who chooses to believe, because no one can climb up to His level.

The word “dwell” means more than merely to live in a place. It means to settle down, move in, take up residence and be at home. When God makes His home in the hearts of His people, and the Holy Spirit fills them with His presence, they begin to understand the length, depth, width and breadth of His love.

God’s love can’t be contained, but we can receive it to the full measure of our capacity and to the degree that we yield to it. That is what it means to be filled with the Spirit. We have a relationship with God that is so yielded to Him that He comes to us and lives with us in intimacy and power. Consequently, we can experience in life all things Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do for believers.

If we are weak, it is not because there is no available power. The power of God that created the universe and raised Jesus from the dead is always available to us through prayer. Spiritual power is a mark of every Christian who submits to the Holy Spirit. It is not reserved for special people. It is available to those who discipline their minds and spirits to study God’s Word, understand it and live by it. Just like Christ grew in Mary until He had to come out, He will live in us until He comes out in our speech, our actions and our decisions. We, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world.

Paul urges us to think about what it means to represent Christ in the world. When people look at us as Christians, do they see Christ-like qualities? After all, God works through people who know Him and trust Him. God’s ability to perform miracles is not the question. The question is: How do we get the miraculous to happen to us? The answer is that we have to believe in God’s power, which is alive and working in us. When God’s Word is alive in our hearts, we must keep it alive and active in us. We don’t know how He does this in all believers all the time, but without God living through us, it would be impossible to live the Christian life.

If the Holy Spirit lives within us, and if He is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, should we not expect more of ourselves than merely what we’ve known or attempted in the past? We don’t have to worry that we don’t have the tools, skills or experience to do what God asks us to do. God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.

Here are some truths for us to consider today:

  1. There is no promise too hard for God to fulfill.
  2. There is no prayer too big for God to answer.
  3. There is no problem too big for God to solve.
  4. There is no disease God cannot heal.
  5. There is no heart God cannot mend.
  6. There is no relationship God cannot restore.
  7. There is no sin God cannot redeem.
  8. There is no bondage God cannot break.
  9. There is no need God cannot meet.
  10. There is no mountain God cannot move.
  11. There is no enemy God cannot defeat.
  12. There is nothing God cannot do.

A good example of what God can do in our lives can be found in the life of a gentleman named Stuart Hamblen. He had a popular radio show on the West Coast of the United States in the late 1940s. During Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade, Stuart Hamblen invited Billy Graham on his show as a guest. Stuart Hamblen encouraged his audience to attend the crusade and remarked that he would be there too.

The first night Stuart attended, he was convicted of his sins. Because he could not understand what was going on in his soul, he shook his fist in anger and left. He came back several times and each time he had the same reaction. One night, Billy Graham was awakened in his hotel room by the ringing of the telephone. Stuart Hamblen was on the other end on the line, and he was in tears. He asked to see Billy Graham right away. They talked and prayed, and Stuart Hamblen gave his life to Christ that night, and came forward in the next service during the crusade.

Not long after, Stuart had a conversation with the actor John Wayne. That conversation inspired Stuart to write one of the most famous Gospel songs. Some of the words are:

It is no secret what God can do
What he’s done for others he’ll do for you
With arms wide open, he’ll pardon you
It is no secret what God can do.

Without the Holy Spirit, we can’t live the Christian life. With God in our lives, we can experience Christ’s life in abundance. How does this happen?

  1. God’s Spirit makes us alive in Christ.
  2. He assures us that we are His children.
  3. He guides us into all truth by taking the things of Jesus and making them known to us.
  4. He gives us the power to understand and experience the love of God.
  5. He works in us to live out God’s purposes for our lives.
  6. He expresses the fruit of His live through us.

The great Protestant reformer Martin Luther commented on a professor of his who would follow the same routing every day. He would enter the classroom, hang up his coat, then proceed to take off his hat and bow before every single student in the classroom. Finally, Martin Luther asked him, “What are you doing? Why do you bow before each of us?” The professor replied, “I bow before you in honour of what you might become if you get your life in tune with God!”

What might we become if our lives were consistently in tune with God? What might we become if our lives were set apart, knowing Him, confident, mature, allowing His power to work exceedingly abundant in us? What might we become if we entrust our loved ones to Him, knowing that they will be safer with Him than in our hands? God can bring change in people’s lives, but people have to follow His plans instead of their own.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1643)
  2. Hazel W. Marett, “A New Heart.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org.
  3. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 182-189)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King 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. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1636-1637)
  7. “Success Story: A Community Formed by Remarkable Differences.” Retrieved from Chrsitianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Pete Briscoe, “God’s Working Today Through You.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  9. Christine Caine, “First Things First with Christine.” Retrieved from no-reply@christinecaine.com
  10. Dr. Ed Young, “In Tune With God.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  11. Bob Christopher, “The Word of the Holy Spirit.” Retrieved from bob@basicgospel.net.
  12. T.M. Moore, “Pushing the Limits.” Retrieved from www.ailbe.org
  13. Billy Graham, Just As I Am: The Autobiography of Billy Graham (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins Worldwide; 1997; pp.145, 147-148)

John 6:1-21 Nothing to Fear

Good morning boys and girls!

Have you ever been scared? Has there ever been a time when someone told you to do something and you were scared to do what they told you to do?

You know, even people in the Bible were scared from time to time. For example, on at least two occasions the disciples were scared. One time, the disciples returned from a long trip and they were tired. Jesus told them to go with him to a quiet place where they could rest. Unfortunately, the people found out where Jesus and his disciples were, and they went to see them. Jesus had compassion on them, so he taught them.

As the day wore on, the people didn’t have anything to eat. The disciples urged Jesus to send the people away to get something to eat, but Jesus told them to give the people something to eat. The disciples didn’t have enough food, and they didn’t have enough money to buy food. The disciples were scared, but Jesus knew what he was going to do. Andrew found a little boy with a small lunch. Jesus took the lunch, blessed it and gave it to the disciples to give out to the people. Suddenly there was more than enough food-enough to fill twelve baskets with leftovers.

After Jesus dismissed the crowd the disciples got into a boat and started to cross a lake. Before they got to the other side, it became dark and a storm came. The disciples were afraid, and they were scared even more when they saw someone walking on the water and coming toward them. The disciples recognized Jesus when he said, “It is I, don’t be afraid.” Jesus calmed their fears, and they invited him to get into the boat.

All of us have been afraid at one time or another, even adults. Being scared is nothing to be ashamed of. When we invite Jesus into our lives, we don’t have to be afraid, because we aren’t alone.

Let’s close our eyes and pray. Dear God, thank you for sending Jesus to help us, especially when we are scared. Help us to remember that with Jesus we have nothing to fear because he protects us with his love. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “There’s No Fear in Jesus.” Retrieved from http://sermons4kids.com/no_fear_in_jesus.htm

John 6:1-21 Jesus and His Tests

Have you ever had to prepare a meal for a large group of people with little or no advance notice?

When you prepared that meal, did you ever stop to wonder how you would do it, especially if you realized that you did not have enough food and you did not have the time or money to go to the grocery store? If that is the case, perhaps you can sympathize with the disciples in the story of the feeding of the crowd, which is written in John 6:1-21.

Jesus had been teaching the crowd all day, and it was almost time for the evening meal. The disciples wanted Jesus to dismiss the people so they could go and buy food in the neighbouring towns and villages. Jesus had other ideas. He told the disciples to feed the people.

We saw the reactions of two of the disciples to Jesus’ instruction. Philip saw the need for a miracle and calculated the odds. He tried to prove that it could not be done. How many times are we like Philip? How often do we fail to see what God is doing because we are focused on our selfish desires and needs?

Andrew, on the other hand, set out to try to solve the problem, and the solution he found is the key to the first part of this story. He searched for food among the people, but he found only one small boy with a small lunch that seemed inadequate for the task at hand. We have to give credit to Andrew for at least trying to find a solution to the problem.

Barley was a staple part of the diet for the poor. The loaves were small, flat wafers. The fish were the size of sardines. The meal was barely enough for one little boy, let alone sufficient to satisfy the appetite of a grown man. When Jesus accepted the boy’s gift, he blessed it, and in the blessing the small became great. There was suddenly enough bread because Jesus saw the people and wanted them to be fed, just like Jesus saw the fear in his disciples on the sea. He loved the disciples and the crowd and gave both groups the peace of his presence.

This story shows the difference between two types of churches-missional and maintenance. Missional churches welcome all situations and see the potential while acknowledging the challenges these situations create. Maintenance churches focus on creating committees that make decisions and not disciples. Maintenance churches distance themselves from problems because they are too busy having committee meetings. Maintenance churches are filled with tension because the members don’t know what’s going to happen or how to respond. They do just enough to get by. Missional churches look for things to do, even when their members are already doing things. They believe that because God is in what they are doing, God will provide everything that they will need. Maintenance churches are paralyzed by the size and scope of the task before them, but missional churches break the task down into manageable parts. They do not try to do everything all at once because they know they can’t be everything to everyone all of the time. Jesus accepts their limitations and only expects them to work with what they have and with the next people they meet. Which type of church would we prefer to be?

Jesus can take anything we give him, no matter how big or how small, and multiply it to be used to do his work in the world. My own ministry and spiritual life are good examples. God has taken the talents and gifts I have (and have offered to him) and used them to spread the good news and do his work both locally and world-wide through the worship services I lead and the sermons I post on my blog.

All life and all good gifts come from God. Jesus comes to open our hearts and our hands to those around us. We can do that only because he opens our eyes to his own presence as the grace-and-peace-filled “I” in the middle of the storm.

When Jesus sets an impossible task before us, he knows what he is going to do, but he wants us to see how we will react. Will we react in fear, confusion or faith? Jesus tested the disciples. He wanted them to fail so that he might strengthen them. Jesus also tests us for the same reason. Failure gives us strength. We and the disciples should have learned a lesson from this story. We must never gauge the size of a challenge in terms of our capability. God calls us to commit whatever we have, and he will use it for his glory. When we give ourselves into God’s hands, we become instruments in his service. We can then serve many people who are hungry physically and/or spiritually. When we come to the end of our resources, God comes in with his resources. In Jesus, there is more than enough for everyone.

The miracle of giving is that it produces a ministry of giving. Money is a miracle because it increases when we give it away, especially when we give it away to God so he can use it to do his work in our world. Jesus gives us ample resources, but we have to receive them before we can share them with others. This story has to do with faith in Jesus rather than his compassion. It is also about God’s ability to take too little and change it into more than enough.

Jesus intended for his miracle to point people to God. That included his disciples and everyone he met. The people realized that the food they had eaten was a sign from God and that they might believe in Jesus, and they did. They realized he was the long-promised Messiah, but he wasn’t the type of Messiah they were looking for. They were following Jesus for the spectacle, not because of who he was. They were enamoured with his words and what he might do for them. Coming to God on the mountain was a fearful experience, yet it was full of expectation at the same time. Why? Because God was seen at this time in history as a mighty and exalted God.

Because he could work miracles, many people wanted to make Jesus a king. They thought that if he could feed them, he could free them from Roman rule. They wanted an earthly king who would protect them and provide for them. Instead, Jesus was a humble, servant king who would restore their relationship with God. They wanted a Messiah who would provide for their physical needs, but Jesus was the type of Messiah that would provide for their spiritual needs. He wanted their undivided attention, just like he wanted the disciples’ undivided attention.  Jesus got the disciples’ attention thanks to the storm. He wanted them to make him their chief focus even when the storms of life take over. He also wants us to pay attention to him, especially when we face the storms of life.

A colossal testing often follows a colossal success. The real proof of discipleship is how closely a person follows Christ when his/her needs are not met right away and the storms of life are raging. Jesus’ walking on the water is a sign of his power over the living spirit of the sea-a living spirit that is dangerous and unpredictable. By telling his disciples, “It is I; do not be afraid,” Jesus identified himself as the Great I AM. He comes to all of his followers in their storms and reminds them that he is the Great I AM. When Jesus walked on the water and told his disciples not to be afraid, he showed his power to rescue human inadequacy.

The story focuses on how the disciples will respond to the tests Jesus gives them. We are also being tested as we apply this story to our own lives. The test for us is how we will do the work Jesus wants us to do, especially when the task seems impossible. We must not concentrate on what we lack. We must concentrate on what we have. Jesus gives us the resources we need, but if we want to get them, we have to get rid of our earthly habits. We must starve judging and feed on kindness. We must starve indifference and feed on compassion. We must starve isolation and feed on community.

There will come a time when we will face a test that we declare to be impossible. When that happens, we need to take the following steps:

  1. Acknowledge our inadequacy and the Lord’s omnipotence.
  2. Be certain the challenge before us glorifies the Lord, obeys one of his commands from Scripture, or helps to fulfill a spiritual mandate.
  3. Give the challenge back to the Lord as a chance for him to accomplish it on our behalf and receive glory for the victory.
  4. Do what we can, supply what we have, put forward our effort, then let God multiply it at his discretion.

The two parts of this story are linked by Jesus’ doing something totally unexpected, and it changes the lives of those around him. This story tells us that there are things in life that will catch us off guard, but nothing will catch God off guard. God sends the storms of life that we face. These storms have been engineered to strengthen us, teach us something and cause us to grow deeper in our faith. God knows what we are dealing with before it happens. He also knows how we are going to get out of the situation. He still allows the trial to happen because it will be for our benefit.  When we face the storms of life, we must remember the words of the hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold?”

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,

When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?

When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,

Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Stedfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
  Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.

Our job is to involve Jesus in any problems we are facing and to count on his presence and power. Jesus is present and ready to help in any situation of need. All we have to do is come to him in faith.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013)
  2. Swindoll, Charles R.: Swindoll’s New Testament Insights on John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan; 2010)
  3. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1985)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NKJV (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles, 2005)
  5. Os Hillman, “Thinking Outside the Box.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  6. Pastor David McGee, “Trusting God.” Retrieved from www.crossthebridge.com
  7. Anne Graham Lotz, “Receiving His Resources.” Retrieved from angelmin.info@angelministries.org
  8. Exegesis for John 6:1-21. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org.
  9. Jude Siciliano, O,.P., “First Impressions, 17th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  10. Pastor Jack Hibbs, “The Storms of Life.” Retrieved from devotion@reallifewithjackhibbs.org
  11. Anne Graham Lotz, “Give All that You Have.”  Retrieved from angelmin.info@angelministries.org
  12. Tozer, A.W., “The Church: Philip the Calculator.” Retrieved from biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  13. “On Barbeque Grills & A Boy’s Lunch.” Retrieved from http://www.dancingwiththeword.com/2012/07/on-barbeque-grills-and-boys-lunch.html
  14. Sharon L. Blezard, “Blood, Water, and Signs of God.” Retrieved from http://stewardshipoflife.org/2012/07/bread-water-and-signs-of-god.html
  15. David Lose, “Bread of Life Sermon Series.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org.craft.aspx?post=1504
  16. Brian Peterson, “Commentary on John 6:1-21.” Retrieved from http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=350
  17. Alyce McKenzie, “Mind the Gap: The Feeding of the 5,000.” Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com
  18. Katie Munnick, “All the Water in All the Oceans.” Retrieved from http://presbyterianrecord.ca/2102/07/23/all-the-water-in-all-the-oceans.html
  19. The Rev. Sharon Hiers, “More Unexpected Jesus.” Retrieved from http://day1.org/1373-more-unexpected-jesus.print
  20. Weekly Evangelectionary for Sunday, July 26, 2015. Retrieved from http://www.evangelismconnectgions.org/weekly-evangelectionary-for-sunday-july-26-2015/

John 6:1-21 God’s Signs for the Masses

The Gospel reading which we just heard from John 6:1-21 is full of rich imagery.  Although the story of the feeding of the 5,000 appears in all four Gospels, John’s version has a slightly different meaning. In fact, John includes only seven of Jesus’ miracles in his Gospel, and in each miracle the believer is brought closer to God. Each miracle invites us to reflect on what the miracle says about Jesus.

John most likely included this version of the feeding of the 5,000 to provide additional information that was not recorded in the other three Gospels. For the early Christians, this story got to the heart of something they knew was important about Jesus, about who he was, what he was up to, and what he found to be important. John’s recording of this miracle showed the creative power of Christ and set the stage for Jesus’ talk about the “bread of life” in the remaining verses of Chapter 6. The purpose of John’s Gospel is to show that Jesus is the mind of God in human form, so the signs in John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000 are designed to show God at work in the lives of his people.

The feeding of the 5,000 represents both the manna that came from heaven while the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years and faith in Jesus. It is also a sign of the Last Supper. It represents the covenant that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is God’s provision for the world’s salvation.

The barley loaves represented Elisha’s feeding of the 100 people with a small supply of barley loaves as mentioned in 2 Kings 4:42-44. Barley bread was a bread of poor quality that was eaten by poor people. Barley loaves were less nutritious, less tasty and harder to digest than bread made with wheat. The small lunch represents the great things God can do with whatever we bring to him, no matter how big or how small. The 12 baskets of leftovers represent both God’s abundance (which means that there is enough for everyone) and the 12 tribes of Israel. The crowd’s desire to make Jesus an earthly king represents our desire to fit God into our expectations of him instead of fitting ourselves into God’s expectations of us. Jesus walking on the water in the midst of the storm represents God in our midst and God coming to us when we are in trouble.

The Bible uses the word “signs” to speak of miracles because God has a special place for miracles. Jesus used his miracles to point people to God, and it was God’s power that made Jesus’ miracles possible. In other words, Jesus opened the people’s eyes to see and their hearts to believe, but the people in the crowd only saw Jesus as a provider for their earthly needs. They did not see the signs as indications that God would provide for their heavenly needs and their spiritual needs. Jesus wanted the people to live in him and partake of his spiritual food, but the people wanted Jesus to stay with them so they could continue to enjoy the physical food that he offered.

In order to make room for the spiritual food Jesus offers, we must starve our human weaknesses such as judging, indifference and isolation and feed on kindness, compassion, community and generosity. In other words, we must feed on the characteristics of Jesus in order to become more like him. The crowd did not understand what was happening. They got their stomachs full, but their spirits were still hungry. They did not realize that if they accepted the spiritual food Jesus offered, they would never be spiritually hungry again.

The disciples learned firsthand that God is greater than the needs of 5,000 people, and this gave them confidence that they could trust him for their daily needs. Likewise at times the Lord will set a seemingly impossible task before us to test us and see whether we react in fear or faith. That is because He is training us to have faith in Him and trusting Him means looking beyond what we can see and do to what He is able to accomplish, especially when he works through us. We can trust God in the storms of life. Faith is the key to the storehouse of God’s ample supply. When we believe God, we will have rest and peace in our lives. In spite of opposition, Jesus will enable his people to achieve the goals he has set for them-including salvation.

John Wesley, the great Methodist preacher of the 18th century, once said, “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth”. Can you imagine what would happen if every believer took that advice to heart? No, we are not perfect, but God uses imperfect people to do his perfect work in our world. In fact, he seems to go out of his way to find imperfect people to work through. Just look at Moses, David, and Samson, to name just a few.

Moses was a stutterer who murdered an Egyptian, but God used him to free the Israelites from slavery. David was an ordinary shepherd boy who was used by God to lead the Israelites to greatness and prosperity, in spite of committing adultery and murder. Samson was used to destroy the Philistines in spite of giving in to temptation by having his hair cut. If God can use people like them to do great things, just imagine what he can do through us if we let him. God makes the impossible in our lives possible when we act on His word and trust Him for what only He can do. As the old hymn says, “It is no secret what God can do. What He’s done for others, he’ll do for you”.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F., The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2009)
  2. Exegesis for John 6:1-21. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Lucado, M., The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2010)
  4. MacArthur, J., MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006; 2008)
  5. Frederikson, R.L. & Ogilvie, L.J., The Preacher’s Commentary Series: Volume 27: John (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.; 1985)
  6. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
  7. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
  8. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible Software package.
  9. Jude Siciliano, “First Impressions, 17th Sunday (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  10. John North, “Time With God, John 6:6”. Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  11. John Piper, “The All-Providing King Who Would Not Be King”. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org
  12. John Piper, “Twelve Baskets of Bread and the Walk on Water”. Retrieved from www.desiringgod.org
  13. Harold Sala, “The Mother of All Storms”. Retrieved from www.guidelines.org.
  14. Anne Graham Lotz, “Give All That You Have”. Retrieved from www.angelministries.org
  15. Sharon Jaynes, “Sit Down and Be Quiet”. Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  16. The Rev. Debra Metzger Shaw, “Living Loaves”. Retrieved from www.day1.org

Mark 6:30-34,53-56 Resting and Serving

“Are we almost there?” Noelle asked, eagerly leaning forward from the back seat of the car. “I can’t wait to go swimming!”

“There it is!” Cameron shouted as the car rounded a bend in the drive and the little cottage came into view. Dad parked by the front door, and Noelle and Cameron helped unpack the car. The smaller children played on the swing set in the yard, and Mom swept and dusted inside the cottage.

“I’m starving!” declared Cameron when they finished their work. “Me, too,” said Noelle. “When are we going to eat, Mom?”

“Soon,” Mom replied, getting out some sloppy joe meat, chips and buns. She put the meat in a pan and turned on the burner. Then she plugged in the coffeepot. “How about macaroni and cheese with your sloppy joes?” she suggested as she turned on another burner. Immediately, all the lights went off. “Oh, no!” exclaimed Mom. “I must have blown a fuse.”

Dad got up and went to find the fuse box. “Looks like there are too many things on one of the circuits,” he said when he came back. “We’ll have to turn off a few lights whenever we want to use the stove.”

Soon their lunch was ready, and they sat down to enjoy it together. “This is fun,” said Noelle. “It’s our first real vacation in ages.”

“I know,” said Mom thoughtfully. “That over-loaded fuse reminds me of our family lately. We’ve been so busy getting Dad’s business started and redecorating the house. Then with piano lessons, Little League games, housework, and homework, I think we’ve been overloaded, too. We’ve been so busy that we haven’t had much time to spend together and enjoy each other.”

Dad nodded. “Let’s evaluate our activities during this vacation and see which ones we could cut out of our schedules,” he suggested. Dad turned to Cameron. “How about getting my Bible from the shelf over there, Son? Let’s have family devotions right now–that’s one activity we should always take time for.”

“Right,” said Cameron getting the Bible. “That and my Little League games. But we could skip the piano lessons,” he added with a grin. “And homework.”

Dad chuckled. “I don’t think so,” he said. “We’ll talk about it later.”

How do you handle it when your plans get changed, even for good reasons? Do you feel disappointed or angry? The passage from Mark’s Gospel gives us some ideas about how to handle unexpected changes in plans.

Jesus’ disciples led busy lives. They were tired. They were too busy from ministry with Jesus and the people to even find time to eat. Jesus displayed His concern for practical matters. His disciples had just returned from a ministry trip, so He expected them to “come aside…and rest awhile.” Jesus saw the problems and suggested that they get away and get some rest.

Jesus also recognized, honoured, and tended to His own tiredness. He pulled His disciples away from their labour and striving. We see a Saviour who probes below the surfaces of our busy lives and pinpoints the hunger our culture won’t allow us to name: the hunger for space, reflection, solitude, nourishment, recreation, rest, and sleep.

Jesus was also tired emotionally. He had just lost John the Baptist, his beloved cousin and prophet. We read about his death in Mark 6:14-29. John the Baptist baptized Jesus and spent a lifetime in the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus. To make matters worse, Jesus lost him to murder. This was a terrifying reminder that God’s faithful servants are not immune to violent, senseless deaths. If we want proof, all we have to do is look at what happens to Christians in countries such as North Korea and China. Perhaps Jesus felt that His own death was closer and His own ministry was more ominous. He had many reasons to feel heartbroken and tired emotionally.

Jesus made sure that His disciples took care of themselves both spiritually and physically. He wants His modern disciples to take care of themselves as well. That’s why He created the Sabbath. We are well-advised to heed the words of this prayer:

Slow me down, Lord.

Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.

Steady my hurried pace.

Give me, amidst the day’s confusion

the calmness of the everlasting hills.

Break the tension of my nerves and muscles

with the soothing music of singing streams

that live in my memory.

Help me to know the magical, restoring power of sleep.

Teach me the art of taking minute vacations…

slowing down to look at a flower,

to chat with a friend,

to read a few lines from a good book.

Remind me

of the fable of the hare and the tortoise;

that the race is not always to the swift;

that there is more to life than measuring its speed.

Let me look up at the branches of the towering oak

and know that…it grew slowly…and well.

Inspire me

to send my own roots down deep…

into the soils of life’s endearing values.

That I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.

Slow me down, Lord.

How long has it been since we were quiet and still in God’s presence with no agenda other than a desire to sit at His feet? A little solitude can give us an opportunity to reconnect with our spiritual life. It is an important time to rest, pray and renew our spirits.

According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. The man laughed at Aesop and asked him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the man, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”

The man looked at it for several minutes but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually, but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.”

Rest is essential, especially for ministers. Time alone with God is important. We aren’t built to keep going at full steam without stopping until we fall over. We need breaks once in a while. Unfortunately, to quote the great Scottish poet Robert Burns, the best laid plans often go astray.

Despite His own weariness, Jesus ministered to the needy crowd because He saw them as “sheep not having a shepherd.” This phrase appears repeatedly in the Old Testament; it refers to the fact that the leaders in Israel had abdicated their role as shepherds. Also significant, Jesus’ compassion for the multitudes is expressed by His staying to teach them. We are familiar with verses that say Jesus had compassion and fed people or healed them. We often forget that teaching is also compassion. Jesus saw their need.

Jesus had compassion for the people. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. In other words, they were leaderless. They were dumb and defenseless. They wanted a spokesperson. They were vulnerable. They were a milling mass that could be turned by a leader, a voice or a protector to the uses of good or evil. Today the masses can also be vulnerable to fickle and volatile movements. If we want proof, all we have to do is look at Donald Trump, especially when he was the President of the United States. People saw his rhetoric and statements on Twitter as gospel. It was his supporters who stormed the United States Capital building in January of 2021 in an attempt to block the certification of Joe Biden as the winner of the 2020 presidential election.

The Shepherd promised by God arrived and taught the bewildered flock. He was the true Shepherd they lacked. He did not leave them on their own because God did not leave them. Through Jesus they learned about God’s reign. He taught them these things:

  1. God loves them and is ready to forgive their sins.
  2. Though the world treats them as last, in God’s eyes they are first.
  3. God is their true Ruler, and God’s reign is one of justice, peace and love.

Jesus also taught them that, if they accept His teaching and receive the reign of God into their lives, then they must treat others as God treated them: love one another, welcome the stranger, forgive their enemies, care for the needs and welcome the least and forgotten to their table. 

Jesus helped the masses by teaching them, organizing them, speaking for them and feeding them. Many leaders play on people’s emotions in order to gain control. For example, Adolph Hitler had the verbal ability to whip the German people into a frenzy. The people did not ask if what Hitler said was right or wrong. Jesus did not play that game. He did not want to make the people shallow believers whose faith had to be constantly reinforced by emotional jabs. He taught them many things in order to build up their enthusiasm for the foundations of truth that would sustain them.

Jesus saw people as more important than His own plans and need for rest. He saw them not as an interruption but as an opportunity to reveal His loving care and His compassionate power to meet their needs. He saw them as God sees them. Similarly, we must also see people as God sees them and do what we can to meet their physical, spiritual and emotional needs.

Rather than chronicling this part of Jesus’ ministry in Gennesaret in detail, Mark says only that wherever Jesus went, people ran to Him, hoping to be healed and blessed. All those who touched Him in faith were made well. Was Jesus disappointed to think that the people missed the substance of the truth? We don’t know, but we do know that He chose to be known as a servant. Rather than being insulted by the sick who were brought to Him, He was flattered to know that the first purpose of His earthly mission was being accomplished. The sick people had faith and determination. They were freed from their illnesses and they were made whole. Are the people who touch our lives set free and made whole, or do we add to their chains and increase their fragmentation?

If we didn’t know it before, we now know the world’s need for a Shepherd. As we navigate a world where the losses from COVID-19 have been too many to count and where in the wake of the resulting grief and uncertainty many have not been able to make sense of it, there are people who need our Christian hope, help and love. People who are sick want to be healed. People who are hungry want to be fed. There are needs all around us. Sometimes these needs are in our congregations and sometimes they are spread throughout our communities. In both cases our faith communities can play an active role in meeting these needs. God welcomes us into His healing power, grace and peace. When we are filled and renewed, we are sent out to share these gifts within our world. When we are tired from that ministry, we are welcomed again into His healing power, grace and peace, and the pattern continues.

Jesus knows that we often feel tired and overwhelmed when we do His work in our world. He went through it Himself. He gave Himself completely for us. He laid down His own life to meet our needs—first through His years of living, working, teaching, preaching, healing, suffering, dying and rising again. He gave Himself for us so we might live even when we are overburdened, overstretched, over-matched in every way.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1353-1355)
  2. “Teach Strong.” Retrieved from teenlilfeministries@gmail.com
  3. “Overloaded.” Retrieved form keys@lists.keysforkids.org
  4. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982; pp. 132-143)
  5. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  6. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  7. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010; pp. 1363-1366)
  8. Richard Innes, “Slow Me Down, Lord.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  9. Dr. Ed Young, “Your Spirit and Strength Renewed.” Retrieved from ministry@winningwalk.org
  10. “Strength from Solitude.” Retrieved from notifications@opperroom.org
  11. Anne Graham Lotz, “Jesus Saw the People as God Does.” Retrieved from info@angelministries.org
  12. Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 16th Sunday (B).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
  13. Richard Innes, “Come Apart and Rest A While.” Retrieved from www.actsweb.org
  14. The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Seeing With the Eyes of Jesus: Like Sheep Without a Shepherd.” Retrieved from https://dancingwiththeword.com
  15. Debie Thomas, “The Gift of Rest.” Retrieved from www.journeywithjesus.net
  16. Dr. Kari Vo, “Balancing Needs.” Retrieved from www.lhm.org

Mark 6:14-29 The Three Faces of Evil

How many of you have ever watched a horror movie or read a horror story? It’s not always a pleasant experience, is it? As strange as it might seem, there are actually some horror stories in the Bible, and one of the most famous of its horror stories is the story of the death of John the Baptist.

John condemned Herod’s marriage to Herodias because it went against the Law of Moses. Herodias was the wife of Herod’s brother Philip, and she divorced Philip in order to marry Herod. Herodias was also Herod’s niece (She was the daughter of Herod’s half-brother Aristobulus). She wanted the intrigue of palace politics and a man whom she could not have lawfully. John’s condemnation upset Herodias so much that she looked for an opportunity to have him killed, and that opportunity came at Herod’s birthday party.

Herodias hated John so much that murder was in her heart. There is an old saying that someone who tries to get even by making others suffer for their sins is interfering in God’s business. Revenge is all-consuming and all hatefulness. Revenge is in the business of hurting others. Revenge is the destructive force in life. Herodias had all of these characteristics and one more-coldness.  She was an example of another old saying: revenge is a dish that is best served cold.

Herodias’ daughter Salome was not an innocent bystander. On the contrary, she had an active part in the plan. Salome’s dance, which some modern commentators labelled as pornographic in nature, pleased her stepfather so much that he made a promise he would later regret. When he promised her anything she wanted, he thought she would ask for material goods, but she didn’t. She fell under the influence of her mother and asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter.

Herod should have relied on the following advice, which is the same advice we need to rely on when we face temptation:

  1. Recognize temptation for what it really is and what it can do to us.
  2. Run away from temptation’s seduction and turn to God. Do not walk.
  3. Rely on the power of God through the Holy Sprit’s power to give us strength as we ask for his moral courage.

Herod allowed John to speak the truth and protected him, even though John’s words puzzled him (according to some ancient manuscripts). Herod listened to John because John told him the truth, even though it hurt. Herod was surrounded by “yes men” who would tell him anything he wanted to hear, and he got tired of it. Herod wanted to hear the truth.

John spoke the truth about Herod and his wife, but he also spoke the larger truth about repentance in our lives and the even larger truth that he shared as he always pointed to Jesus. The same certainty rings true to us today as we also clear the way and get ourselves out of the way so that others can encounter Jesus.

Herod beheaded John and did not give him a formal trial. This was in violation the Law of Moses. Herod did this because he wanted to save face and not look like a fool in front of his guests. Many of the sins we commit today are done in order to save face. How many lies have we told because we are more concerned with looking good in front of others than we are with pleasing God?

Herod’s story was one of impulse, pride and stubbornness, and the story of our lives is similar. Herod gave his word to his stepdaughter Salome in front of his friends, so he had no choice but to agree to her demands. To do otherwise would have led to a loss of power. Politics overruled principle. Herod was infected with guilt both physically and psychologically. Guilt does that to everyone. Herod had greater concern for his pride and reputation than for truth and integrity. Believers and unbelievers alike can easily allow peer pressure and public opinion to turn them away from doing what they know in their hearts is right.

Herod ordered the execution of John the Baptist even though he wanted to spare his life. He made a foolish promise to his stepdaughter. When Herod heard about Jesus’ work, his guilty conscience made him wonder if John the Baptist rose from the dead. His conscience bothered him. He could not forget the evil he did by having John beheaded.

Herod is an example that speaks to leadership. People in positions of power are subjected to pressures that threaten their security or cause greed, the desire for prestige or the influence of ambitious advisors to take control of their lives and their careers. As a result, the desire to serve truth and the common good can fade. The results can be damaging. Even great leaders who are devoted to the welfare of the people they serve find themselves in conflict with human greed.

John’s life counted for something. He put himself in God’s hands, went where God told him to go, did what God told him to do and said what God told him to say. God was in control of John’s life. John is a good example for us as believers to follow. In the case of Herod, the voice of God cane from the mouth of John. This same voice comes to us today in many forms. It can come in the form of a sermon or a friend. It can even come in the form of beauty in nature. In any event, something or someone awakens our spirit to the fact that there is something more in life. When we realize that there is more to life than our earthly circumstances, we have a choice. If we make the wrong choice, it leads to more bad choices. Instead, we need to listen for the voice of God, decide to make our relationship with God the top priority in our lives, keep our eyes on who we are in Christ and remember that no one can take the place of the inheritance we have in Christ.

In Mark’s Gospel, John’s death was crucial because it was a preview of the death of Jesus. Both men were put to death by secular rulers who did not want to execute their prisoners. Both secular rulers caved in because of pressure from outsiders.

This story also serves as a warning of the dangers involved to those who proclaim God’s word. Mark included this story to encourage us by reminding us that nothing can stand in the way of God’s kingdom. The story also suggests that just as the mission of the disciples followed the death of John the Baptist, the mission of the church must follow Jesus.

Those who do good and right things still won’t be protected from being badly hurt. The story of John the Baptist’s death is meant to shock us out of our complacency. We are called on to confront the evil we see around us. Confrontation is never comfortable, but it is necessary. Those who proclaim the truth of God’s word will certainly face opposition, and John was no exception. John condemned Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, and the condemnation was based on Leviticus 18:16 and Leviticus 20:21. Herod knew that his life was wicked, and John’s was holy. Herod recklessly abused his power and privilege. He took dead aim at every standard of decency and morality. He was not the first ruler who sinned because they took advantage of their God-given power to challenge God himself. Herod still had some characteristics and conscience that were not destroyed by sin.

Some might think that God doesn’t care about them deeply. Just when we feel forsaken, God appears and assures us that we have an eternal inheritance. We might be martyred for our faith. Our martyrdom is a symbol of a deep commitment to Jesus and the truth and value of the Gospel. Martyrs inspire us, lift us up and energize us to the same quality of commitment to Christ and his values that the martyrs had.

John and Jesus are linked to Herod, the man who would play a role in both of their deaths. Herod killed John for telling the truth. In time Herod became involved in Jesus’ death. Herod was ambivalent about both John and Jesus. Neither Herod nor Pilate wanted to kill Jesus, but they were persuaded by crowds. John’s disciples took his body and laid it in a tomb. Joseph of Arimathea did the same for Jesus. Both John and Jesus continued to wield power after their deaths. John’s death haunted Herod, and he thought Jesus was John resurrected. Of course, Jesus was in fact resurrected later on.

John was faithful to his calling-faithful to death. He prepared the way for Jesus, and so should we. John’s life was intended to prepare the way for Jesus and point people to Jesus. The church needs to make these same two roles the centre of its ministry. We as individuals and as the church need to spend our lives preparing the way for Jesus, pointing toward Jesus and drawing people to Jesus.

Herod wasn’t the first person who had a false opinion of who Jesus was. People then and now have different opinions about who Jesus is. Some people in Jesus’ time thought he was a reincarnation of the prophet Elijah. Others saw him as the prophet foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. Still others thought of Jesus as someone like the prophets of old-a remarkable holy man and teacher, but nothing more.

Christianity is not about knowing about Jesus. It is about knowing God as represented in Jesus. It is about having a relationship with God through Jesus. Our affirmation and allegiance to the truth of the Gospel is all or nothing regardless of the consequences. We have a choice-be like John or be like Herod. Will we be weak like Herod, easy tempted and easily manipulated, or will we be strong in our moral convictions like John? We are often fascinated by the wealth, power and intrigue of Herod’s court, but the death of John in Herod’s prison is the most significant point of the text. Mark invites us to look closely at success, and then choose significance by following Jesus on his way.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, NKJV (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing, 2013)
  2. McKenna, D.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 25: Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982)
  3. Macarthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASV (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2006)
  4. Exegesis for Mark 6:14-29. Retrieved from www.lectionary.org
  5. “Barriers to Blessings.” Retrieved from www.lectionarysermons.com/jul_16_00.htm
  6. The Rev. Dr. Catherine Taylor, “Remembering Faith.” Retrieved from www.day1.org/507-remembering_faith.print
  7. Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, “Commentary on Mark 6:14-29.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.oerg/preaching.aspx?commentary-id=348
  8. Rev. James M. Childs, Ph.D., “The Downfall of Giving Into Fear.” Retrieved from www.huffingtonpost.com
  9. Preaching Magazine, May/June 2015 (Nashville, TN: Salem Publishing Inc.; pgs. 50-51)

Ephesians 1:3-14 Unity in Christ’s Family

John came into the family room where his parents were watching the news. He heard the end of a report about a man trying to collect a large inheritance. “If that man’s parents died, why can’t he get the money that was left?” John asked after Dad turned off the TV.

“He ran away from home when he was sixteen years old,” Dad explained. “That was thirty years ago, and he never contacted his family again. They searched and searched for him and found out he’d moved to another state. They wanted to have a relationship with him again and made repeated efforts throughout the years to contact him, including several visits to the city where he lived. But he wouldn’t even speak with them.”

“But he’s back now, so won’t he get at least some of the money?” asked John.

Dad shook his head. “Apparently not. His parents gave up trying to get a response from him and didn’t include him in their wills.”

“But now, after they’ve both died, he’s finally shown up and thinks he should have the inheritance?” asked John.

“Yes, but now it’s too late,” replied Dad. “He contested the will, but the courts upheld it. They said he’s not entitled to any of the money.”

“Wow!” said John. “I bet he’s sorry he didn’t make up with his parents when he had the chance.”

Dad nodded. “He learned a hard lesson–and a very common one. Do you realize that something similar happens every day?”

“It does?” asked John in surprise. “You mean there are lots of people who leave home and refuse to have a relationship with their parents?”

“That happens often enough,” said Dad, “but what I really meant is that God offers an inheritance to everyone who comes to Him through Jesus Christ. Because of our sin, we’re cut off from God, so He sent Jesus to pay the price of our sin so we could have a relationship with Him. But many people ignore His offer of reconciliation. When life ends, they’re going to want the inheritance–eternal life–given to those who are part of God’s family, but it’s going to be too late. That’s why it’s important to accept God’s offer to have a relationship with Jesus now, while we still can.”

The passage we heard from Ephesians expresses a new understanding that Paul has talked about in his other letters but never fully developed. The abolishment of the barrier between Jews and Gentiles is the key to understanding God’s plan for the universe. His plan was and is to unify the entire universe in Christ Jesus. That is God’s gift to us, and we should be grateful for what He has done for us.

The author of Ephesians refers to God’s gift of grace as a lavish inheritance. Something we didn’t earn, but which is gifted to us. How often do we settle for less when God is dying to give us grace? How often do we settle for the tired old habits of religion—legalism and dogmatism- instead of waiting in expectation for the lavish gift of forgiveness, the mystery of adoption by God? How do we correct our vision?

When the New Testament speaks of a mystery, it normally refers not to a secret but to a truth that has previously been unknown. The mystery of God’s will focuses on God’s great plan to centre all things in heaven and on earth in His Son, Jesus Christ. The dispensation of the fullness of the times refers to the time when God’s plan will be fully revealed at the Second Coming of Christ. Then everyone on earth will recognize that Jesus is Lord.

The fact that we are chosen by God gives us a purpose that we can hang on to in our slippery world. Our wide-open, permissive society is similar to the sinfulness of first century Rome. It doesn’t provide a purpose, but God does, and that purpose is to be holy and blameless in love. Second-best isn’t good enough for us as Christians. To be chosen for a purpose means that to be human and Christian is to be holy, and to make our lives an offering to God. Our destiny as Christians is in the hands of a God that loves us so much that He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins so we can have eternal life with Him.

Those in Christ have every spiritual blessing needed for spirit, soul and body; for the past, present and future; for salvation and service; for time and eternity, both now and forever. The spiritual blessings believers have in Christ encompass every need and aspect in their lives. Paul specifies that these blessings are in the heavenly places so that readers will understand: this promise is not one of earthly blessings that will pass away but of spiritual blessings that will endure forever!

God hates uncleanliness. He hates to see anger boiling in the heart rather than the love that He placed there. God hates the lackadaisical heart that finds it hard to care about God, let alone anybody else. God hates gossip flowing freely off the tongue rather than encouragement or words of praise. God hates the self-indulgence that often replaces compassion and attention to the needs of the people around us. God hates the uncleanliness of the jealousy that chokes off our ability to have healthy relationships.

God hates uncleanness because he hates anything that sells us short-short of what we can be, short of our destiny. God hates anything that harms us or prevents us from being the people He designed us to be. God hates anything that chokes off the life He desires for us.

God hates uncleanliness because God is holiness and we are not. God has higher hopes, holy hopes for us, and yet we fall short. And let’s be honest-cleanliness is next to impossible. But God is holiness, yes. At the same time, though, give thanks because God is also pure mercy.

God is love, and love does not wish to live alone. By definition, love requires relationship, so God chose for himself a people to be His own special possession. Love and sacrifice go together. We have been redeemed, justified and drawn near to Christ through His blood. This is the power of God because the love that initiated it is God’s love. Through God’s forgiveness we have redemption because of Christ’s sacrifice. As a result of this forgiveness we can respond to God in all wisdom and prudence. Through God’s forgiveness we are gathered into one body and we become God’s children. We become what we want and need. We become part of God’s family. We find unity in Christ.

When you were in school, were you ever among the last children to be chosen when teams were formed in Physical Education classes? Perhaps you felt the same way a little boy named Ronnie did. Ronny squirmed back and forth unable to peel his eyes from the black asphalt below him. He hated this part of physical education class. He shifted his weight back and forth and listened; wishing and praying that he would hear his name called.

“Simon.” The boy next to him smiled and hustled over to his team. Ronny sighed. There were only a few kids left and he knew he would be the last one picked. He was right, as he found himself standing alone, again. Ronny, shoulders drooping, joined his team. Getting picked last stinks.

There are none picked last in the Kingdom of God. God does not choose us because we are the most athletic, the smartest, the strongest, or the most religious. We cannot do anything to earn the salvation God graciously and freely gives us. It has always been a part of God’s plan to adopt us into His family, so we cannot take the credit. There is no room for pride.

Our team captain is Jesus Christ. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are holy and blameless in God’s sight. We are set apart. Through Jesus we are a part of the body of Christ. We are on His team. We are not picked last, but first. In fact, Jesus picked us long before any of us existed! We are valued by Him because He had us in mind from the beginning of time. He took the time to create us. We belong to Him. He has a plan for us. Most important, He will never stop loving us.

The word “beloved” is a reference to Christ. The believer’s relationship with the sinless Christ is what makes him or her acceptable before God. When we believe in Christ, He works a miracle in us. We are purified and empowered by God. We obtain the riches of God’s grace in abundance. We have everything we need for life and godliness. We are to share these gifts with an unbelieving world. That is the point of the parable of the wicked, unforgiving servant. We didn’t deserve grace, but now that we have it, we have to give it as liberally and as graciously as we received it.

Six times in the Letter to the Ephesians Paul reminds readers of God’s riches: grace, the glory of His inheritance in the saints, His mercy, Christ and his glory. Because God is the source, this wealth can never be depleted and can never be lost.

The original form of the term “redemption” recalls the word “forum”, the place in ancient cities where slaves were bought and sold. Believers have been redeemed from the bondage of sin and freed by the shed blood of Christ. The believers’ inheritance consists of the promise of eternal life with God and all the spiritual blessings the heavenly Father supplies until then. Not only do God’s people receive an inheritance from God, they also make up His inheritance.

When something is sealed, it is marked with the owner’s name and secured as being in his or her possession. God marks believers as His very own by sending His Holy Spirit to live in them. The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal.

Whatever our situation may be, we are assured that God will work things out after the counsel of His own will. He will turn our sorrow into joy, and our groaning into glory. There will be times in our lives when our spiritual growth will be slow and times when it will be fast. God doesn’t always hurry in the development of our Christian life and He is not bound by time. Those of us who are deeply spiritual will be the ones who have made up their minds that they are going to stick with the Word of God, love other people and allow Him to live His life through them.

The Gentiles heard and responded to “the word of truth, the gospel of salvation”, which must include both the message of divine forgiveness and the vision of a transformed world. The Spirit is the advance instalment of the fulfilled vision. What will the vision be like? It will have the features we recognize in the Spirit. And what are they? Some might think of ecstasy and wonders. People who have listened to Paul will answer: love.

This elaborate and somewhat flowery acclamation is grounded in its underlying vision of divine love. People and things will be one when they acclaim love and compassion and acknowledge those alone as what rules. That vision of Christ is then a vision for the church and the whole world. It already shows itself where barriers and prejudice are broken down.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: NKJV (Nashville, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1639)
  2. Dunnam, M.D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 31: Galatians/Ephesians/Philippians/Colossians/Philemon (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, pp. 144-153)
  3. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  4. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  5. Bob Christopher, “It is Finished!” Retrieved from www.basicgospel.net
  6. Kenny Luck, “God’s Influence in Us.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  7. Bayless Conley, “It Will All Work Out.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  8. Michael Youssef, Ph.D., “A Glorious Inheritance.” Retrieved from mydevotinal@leadingtheway.org
  9. “Lost Inheritance.” Retrieved from info@keysforkids.org
  10. Kelly McFadden, “Not Last, but First.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
  11. “Received and Accepted.” Retrieved from Christianity.com@crosswalkmail.com
  12. “Spiritual Growth.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
  13. Christine Caine, “Obeying Matilda.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
  14. “Global Positioning System.” Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Positioning_System
  15. William Loader, “First Thoughts on Year B Epistle Passages from the Lectionary: Pentecost 7.” Retrieved from www.staff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/BepPentecost7.html
  16. “I Exam.” Retrieved from http://morrisokcumc.blogspot.com/2006/07/sermon-july-16-i-exam.html
  17. The Rev. Dr. Allen Hunt, “God’s Promises for You: I Forgive You.” http://day1.org/1026-gods_promises_for_you_i_forgive_you.print

Mark 6:1-13 No Fear of Failure Here

The Gospel reading from Mark 6:1-13 occurs just after the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. It is two different stories about faith, and that’s where the similarity ends. Unlike the two miracles that we heard about in Mark 5:21-43, which demonstrate faith in Jesus, the first parable we heard in this passage is about the lack of faith.

By the time Jesus returned to his home town of Nazareth, the stories of his healings and miracles had spread far and wide. Even the people in his home town had heard of his popularity, so you would expect that he would have been accepted by the hometown crowd and welcomed with open arms. Unfortunately that was not the case. He was seen as the son of a carpenter or the son of Mary and Joseph, and not as the Son of God.

Jesus was surprised by the unbelief of the crowd, and not because he was expecting to be welcomed as a hometown hero. The lack of faith always caused Jesus to be amazed because he is all-knowing, almighty, all-present and all-loving. Why would someone not trust him?  If you consider the population of Nazareth at the time of Jesus, you can understand why he was not accepted.

For starters, most of the people were poorly educated if they had any education at all. They could not read the precious scrolls in the synagogue, so the only way they could learn their religious heritage was to listen to the rabbis, who were educated. Jesus did not have the formal training required for rabbis, so in the eyes of the people, he was just a local boy who was “putting on airs”. To make matters worse, the scribes in Jerusalem spread rumours about Jesus—rumours which had also reached Nazareth. For example, in Mark 3:23 Jesus was accused of working with the devil.

A son was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps but not go beyond them. If a boy’s father was a carpenter, then the son was to be a carpenter as well-but nothing more. When the people heard Jesus teach in the synagogue, they were on the verge of applauding him, but they didn’t because they saw him as just a carpenter.

What they failed to see was that Jesus was following in his father’s footsteps-his heavenly father’s. Jesus really upset them when he told them that it takes outsiders to see what the locals refuse to see.

So why couldn’t Jesus perform many miracles in Nazareth? It was because of a lack of faith. We know that unbelievers, like the people of Nazareth, often fail to tap into God’s power. If they had put faith in Jesus’ wisdom they would have heard God’s guidance and encouragement. If they had looked deeper into Jesus’ cures, they would have seen God reaching out to rescue them. Instead, they missed out on the greatest miracles of all.

Jesus took the rejection in stride and continued his ministry be sending out the twelve disciples. He sent them out with only the barest of essentials-one cloak and a staff. He wanted them to trust God to provide for their needs. They were to concentrate on their mission. Plus, Jewish custom at that time was to offer hospitality to travelers. Jesus wanted the disciples to stay at the first house that offered them a place to stay in each city or town that they visited, rather than moving from house to house.

Warnings about the trappings of affluence need to be heard again today, especially when we hear stories of millions of dollars flowing into Christian ministries-dollars that are used to finance the leaders’ lifestyles instead of being used to do God’s work in the world. They need to be more like Roman Catholic priests in that functional simplicity is better.

God calls us to let go of some of the assumptions and rules we have about how we have always done things. The rules can be more of an obstacle than an aid in our spiritual journey. He calls us to leave behind our pride and ego. He strips these things from us so that we might travel light again and rely on God’s power alone to guide us and trust His grace to support and sustain us.

So why did Jesus send the twelve out in pairs? He had three main reasons. First, a partner provides strength, protection and companionship. Second, a partner also provides credibility. Deuteronomy 15:19 required two or three witnesses in order to convict a person of a crime, because a single witness was likely to make a mistake. For the same reason, one witness had less credibility than two (and perhaps that is why Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses always come knocking on our doors in pairs today). Finally, a partner holds people accountable. A person is less likely to succumb to temptation when accompanied by a partner.

Jesus wanted the disciples to know that they would travel the open roads of Palestine penniless and expecting to be welcomed with open arms, especially in their own home towns. He also wanted them to know that the Gospel message was a hard one to preach and a hard one to hear-not popular, not easy, and not automatically earning respect, especially at home.

Those who refused to show proper hospitality, or those who refused to listen to the disciples’ message, were to be treated as pagans. As such, the disciples were to do what the Jews did after they walked through Gentile lands-namely, shake the dust off of their feet as they left. Not only did this warn the offenders, it freed the disciples to move to more fertile territory-just like Jesus did after the people of Nazareth rejected him.

Jesus and the disciples always challenged the status quo, and we need more people like them today. We need people who will speak the truth and shake us out of our comfortable lives. We need people who will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. We need people who will cooperate with God’s plan for their lives. In other words, we need people of faith.

Just like the people of Nazareth did not really know Jesus, it is possible for us to not really know Jesus. We can understand him and what he can do for us, but we often play it safe and refuse to take risks. More important, we might not know him personally. God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things in our world. Jesus was just an ordinary man in the eyes of the people of Nazareth, but he was God in human form and could do extraordinary things. Every Christian has a part to play in God’s master plan.

This story represents one of the few failures in Jesus’ ministry, but it also shows his human side. Like Jesus, we will all face failure at some point in our lives. Failure is hard because society has conditioned us for success, but it has not adequately prepared us for failure. We look at people such as Tiger Woods or Sidney Crosby and see only success. The only time we really see failure is when it involves someone famous such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston or even evangelists such as Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker.

Those who accept God’s call to follow him will face rejection in its many forms-persecutions, insults, hostility, contempt, scorn, etc. They are the common situation for those who accept the call. Just like Christ rejected the way of glory and found glory in obedience and death, we must also reject the way of the world and accept the way of the cross. Christianity is not a religion for those who want success or power in the traditional worldly sense.

Jesus faced failure, but he kept on going. We can face failure and keep on going if we have the faith, courage, wisdom and strength that come with both believing in Jesus and fellowship with fellow believers. When Jesus sent the twelve disciples out, he prepared them to handle failure. He constantly prepares us for failure through his word and our faith. If we want to do something for the Gospel or for God, we have to believe them and behave according to their teachings. We must have faith and let our actions match our faith. When we do, Christ will do deeds of power thought us, and the world will be blessed by our having been here.

Bibliography

  1. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 2009)
  2. Exegesis for Mark 6:1-13. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  3. Ron Hutchcraft, “The Home Folks’ Hazard”. Retrieved from www.hutchcraft.com
  4. Jude Siciliano, O.P., “First Impressions, 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)”. Retrieved from www.preacherexcchange.org
  5. Richard Inness, “The Power of Little Things”. Retrieved from www.actsweb.org.
  6. Dr. Mickey Anders, “The Sacrament of Failure”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  7. The Rev. Amy Butler, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T”. Retrieved from www.sermonwriter.com
  8. MacArthur, J.: The MacArthur Study Bible, NASB (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers: 2006;2008)
  9. McKenna, D.L., & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Volume 25:Mark (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.: 1982)
  10. ESV Study Bible. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
  11. Commentary on Matthew & Mark. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
  12. Matthew Henry Concise Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
  13. Wycliffe Bible Commentary. Part of Lessonmaker 8 Bible software package
  14. The Rev. David Shearman, “Hometown Celebrities”. Retrieved from http://seemslikegod.org/articles/hometown-celebrities/
  15. The Rev. Anthony Robinson, “Buying the Ticket”. Retrieved from www.day1.org

2 Samuel 1:1,17-27 How to Grieve Over the Death of Someone

How do you react when you find out that someone you have known has died? Does your reaction depend on how well you knew the person who has died? Does your reaction depend on whether the deceased was a close friend or a bitter enemy? The death of a loved one calls for prayer of honour. When someone we know passes away, we must take time to honour them in conversations with God.

In the passage we heard from 2 Samuel, David teaches us how we should react when someone dies, especially if that person is our worst enemy. What David did was customary at that time. It was the custom of Eastern people, on the death of great kings and warriors, to celebrate their qualities and deeds in funeral songs. Verses 18-27 have been referred to as the Song of the Bow. These verses are a classic funeral dirge from which many dirges or eulogies have been adapted. The lament, “How the mighty have fallen!” is the key refrain in the song and brackets the entire poem for emphasis.

David’s extreme grief at the death of the man who tried to kill him for 30 years is astonishing, but it is consistent with David’s believe that Saul was God’s anointed. Whenever there is a report of one of God’s choice servants falling by the wayside in moral or physical defeat, the response should follow David’s response-not gladness, not smug complacency or a superficial piety but sorrow for the person, sorrow for the people, and sorrow for the work of God that person committed his or her life to do.

David’s sincere grief over Saul is striking. As a fugitive from Saul, David went so far as to work for the Philistines as a mercenary. Despite Saul’s hatred, David refused to treat him as an enemy. David spared Saul’s life on many occasions. Whatever relief David might have felt at the death of his tormentor is overshadowed by the loss of Saul and Jonathan. David’s mourning might have been so intense because he was unreconciled to Saul and exiled from Jonathan when they died.

David knew that God placed Saul in office and David respected what God did. We need to learn the same thing. We might not like our current leaders or the previous ones, but we have to consider that God might have put them there.

Hearing that Philistine cities such as Gath and Ashkelon rejoiced over Saul’s death, as the women of Israel did in 1 Samuel 18:6-7, distressed David. Despite Saul’s poor leadership and repeated efforts to kill him, David eulogized Saul in glowing terms and did not mention any of Saul’s faults. These words model the way to honour someone who has died.

David never read the words Jesus said in Matthew 5:44, but he practiced those words. Matthew 5:44 reads, “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” David was able to practice this teaching without ever having read this teaching because David was a man after God’s own heart. David thought and felt as God does. David knew instinctively what God wants and how God operates.

There is nothing more natural than to grieve the death of a friend. The ability to grieve is God’s gift which allows us to process our loss in such a way that we can go on living without a sense of grief. Just like Jesus wept at the grave of Lazarus, David and his men grieved when they heard of the death of the soldiers, Saul and Jonathan. David honoured Saul, but he celebrated his dear friend Jonathan. David did this because what he was at least in part was because of Jonathan. Friends play important roles in shaping our spiritual destinies.

David sorrowed over Jonathan as he would a brother. There is no hint of an inappropriate or sexual relationship between David and Jonathan as some modern translations allege. Besides grieving the closest of friends, David also honoured Jonathan for his extreme sacrifice in giving up the throne.

In God’s plan every life is long enough and every death is timely. We might wish for a longer life, but God knows better. We don’t know the final thoughts of a dying soul, but we do know that God is a good God. He wants our loved ones in heaven more than we do, and He usually gets what He wants. Do you know what else God wants? He wants us to face our sorrow. Denial and dismissal are not part of God’s grief therapy. If we have faith, we can face our sorrow head-on, especially is we ask God to give us inner peace.

All of us eventually lose our friends to death-theirs or ours. The best thing we can do is to make sure that our friends follow Christ and that we also follow Christ, because after death we will be with our friends forever. We will never be separated.

Bibliography

  1. Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 402-403)
  2. Jamieson Fawcett Brown Commentary. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
  3. Chafin, K.L. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preachers’ Commentary Series, Vol 8: 1,2 Samuel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 221-2224)
  4. Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
  5. MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
  6. Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
  7. Ron Moore, “A Prayer of Honour.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org

Mark 5:21-43 Doctor Jesus is in His Office

Good morning boys and girls!

What do your parents do when you’re sick?

If you are sick to your stomach or if you have a headache, they probably give you some medicine from the drug store and wait and see if you get better. What would they do if you don’t get better? What would they do if you are so sick they think you might die? They would take you to the doctor.

Our Bible story today is about a man who did just that. His name was Jairus, and he had a daughter who was very sick. She was so sick that he thought she was going to die and he wanted to do everything he could to help her get well. Jairus heard about the best doctor in the area-a doctor who was healing many people. His name was-and is-Jesus. Jairus ran to meet Jesus, fell down at his feet and begged Jesus to put his hands on her and heal her so she could live. Jesus did not say, “Give her two aspirin and call me in the morning.” He made a house call by walking with Jairus toward his house.

As they got closer to the house, some men came up to Jairus and told him that his daughter was dead, and that there was no need to bother Jesus. Jairus was heartbroken, but Jesus told Jairus not to be afraid, but to believe. When they got to Jairus’ house, there was a crowd of people who were crying. Jesus asked them why they were crying. “The girl is not dead, only asleep.” The people laughed, so Jesus told them to leave. Jesus took Jairus and his wife into the room where the girl was. He took her by the hand and said, “Little girl, get up!” Immediately the girl got up and walked around the room. Her parents were amazed. 

Boys and girls, what did you learn from this story? In this story we saw how much Jairus loved his daughter and would do anything for her. God our heavenly father is the same. He loves us so much that he would do anything for us, including sending his son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.

Something else that we learned was that with God anything is possible. Jairus’ daughter was dead, and the situation was hopeless, but Jesus raised her from the dead because of Jairus’ faith. When we face hopeless situations, we must remember what Jesus said-“Only believe.”

Let’s bow our heads for a moment of prayer. Dear God, thank you for your love. Help us to remember that all things are possible if we only believe and trust in you. In Jesus’ name we pray, AMEN.

Bibliography

  1. “Only Believe.” Retrieved from www.sermons4kids.com