Friday, April 21, 2017

Sight Recovered

Mark 10:46-52 (MSG) ~

They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.”
They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.
Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”
The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”
“On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.”
In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

The crowd cringed as the blind beggar shouted over and over again, "Jesus! Have mercy!"  The more they tried to hush him up, the louder he yelled.  He didn't care what anyone thought about him.  He knew that the one who could heal him was near and he was determined to be heard.

Jesus stops, calls to him, and then asks him, "What do you want?"  The man simply says, "I want to see."  And just like that, he was healed.  Jesus states that this man's faith is what healed him.

Dan & I were recently at our annual District Prayer Conference for pastors. I always enjoy going because it's a way to catch up with friends I only see once or twice a year.  As we listen to the speakers, we get re-motivated and encouraged. 

The first night, during the break time in the church lobby, I was standing there with my crutches when a very young couple approached me.  I didn't know who they were but they asked me what happened to my leg.  So I shared with them.  Then they asked if they could pray for me.  When I agreed, they knelt down in the middle of the foyer with about a hundred people milling around, laid hands on my knee and leg and began to pray aloud.  To say, I was a bit embarrassed is an understatement.  I appreciated their desire to pray for me, but at least be respectable about it! (wink, wink)  They finished praying and I thanked them and then we went on our merry way.

I didn't think anything more about it until a few days later when the realization hit me that I was bending my knee more easily.  The stiffness was gone from my knee, as well as a lot of the pain.  Something seemed different. 

I thought, "I wonder if I've been healed?"  But the human, rational side said, "It's all in your head." but I couldn't get past the thought that something felt different.  So I shared with others that I thought my leg was healed (not 100%, but certainly something was different).  The more I shared, the more my faith that I had been healed kicked in.  I do know that a few kind of roll their eyes and think I went off my rocker, but I honestly believed that God had healed me.

Yesterday, I went to my doctor's appointment and after looking at the x-ray, he gave me freedom from my crutches and I was told I can weight-bear.  This is was to be a 12 week non-weight bearing prognosis which would then turn into partial weight-bearing and up to a year of physical therapy.  At 9 weeks I was told that my leg is looking good and I can walk on it.  I was told I can start to work on bending the knee more.  I still need to keep the brace on during the day for stability until I go back in 3 weeks, but the healing process escalated.

I have never experienced that type of healing before, but God in His mercy, granted it.  I am so thankful for this experience.  My faith-sight has been recovered.  I'm so thankful that this young couple who could have been my own children were willing to step out in faith and pray for me.

God is good!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Wednesday Words of Encouragement

Luke 24:28-35 (HCSB) ~

They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther. But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.

It was as He reclined at the table with them that He took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Him, but He disappeared from their sight. So they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts ablaze within us while He was talking with us on the road and explaining the Scriptures to us?” That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem. They found the Eleven and those with them gathered together,  who said, “The Lord has certainly been raised, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they began to describe what had happened on the road and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

It is the day of the resurrection and two of Jesus' disciples are walking and talking of the events that have happened.  Suddenly, a stranger comes alongside them.  He engages in conversation with them and asks them why they are looking so sad.  They proceed to tell him all that has happened the previous few days. 

As they near the village, they ask him to join them, and share a meal.  After spending quite a while with this man, it amazes me that they were so wrapped up in their grief and dismay of Jesus' death and disappearance from the tomb, that they didn't even recognize their friend. 

It was only has he took the bread, broke it and blessed it that their eyes were opened.  It was as he reached forward with his hands to give it to them, that they see the nail prints on his wrists.  It was in that physical and familiar act of breaking bread that he was revealed to them.

When I read these accounts, I often think these disciples were dense!  Yet, my faith is weak too.  I pray and ask God for faith to believe that He will act in my life yet, deep down, I doubt.  The Lord is gracious to me in my unbelief and will often give me something physical and tangible to hold on to when I struggle to believe. 

In Mark 9, Jesus tells the father of the demon possessed boy that anything is possible for the one who believes in Him.  The father then responds, "Help me in my unbelief!"  That is my prayer.  I often doubt with my finite, human mind.  I want to believe that God will do what He says.  I often have to ask God to help me in my disbelief of what He promises. And He is faithful and does this on a regular basis. 

However, I want to be able to grow in my faith.  I want to be able to trust even when I don't see immediate answers.  I want to step out in faith even when there isn't a physical, immediate sign.

I want to encourage you today to pray and ask the Lord to expand your faith vision so that you can see what is before you.  Ask Him to help you see His hand in whatever you face today. 

Let's ask God to help us see despite our weak faith.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Broken Hearts

Haughty eyes.  Pointing fingers.  Self-righteousness.

It's so easy to feel this when others sin. We feel morally superior to others.  When we do feel guilt for our own sin, we justify our own unrighteousness by statements such as, "At least I'm not as bad as those people."  "I messed up, but if you hadn't pushed my buttons..."

The reason we do this is because our hearts are broken and damaged with sin.  Our cure is to often slap a band aid on it and ignore the surgery that is needed to extract the sinfulness in our own hearts.

I love the story of Job because it points this out so clearly.  Job is afflicted with major disaster - the destruction of his property, the death of his children, and then physical ailments.  It's interesting that God never gives Job any answers to the evil that befell him. 

Job and his friends never know why such misfortune is on Job's life.  And yet, his friends are very good at speculating that it must be because Job committed some sin.   It's also interesting that they never once look at their own hearts.  They are too busy pointing out all the things Job must have done wrong.

Jeremiah 17:9 ~

“The heart is more deceitful than anything else and mortally sick. Who can fathom it?"

Perhaps one of the reasons God doesn't always answers is because he knows our hearts can't handle it.  They are broken and sick.  We feel righteous.  We think we know all the answers.  Yet, our hearts are ill.  We twist and turn things and put a spin on our sin.  The moment we get answers, we try to become like God.  

We know, and so believe, we are powerful.  Powerful enough to give people pat answers to their struggles.  Powerful enough to think we understand why bad things happen.  Knowledgeable enough to play at being God.

I fall into that trap.  I can become self-righteous in a flash.  I know that I have the answers to why someone is in the position they are in.

The only one who can cure my sickness is the Lord.  I need to decrease so He can increase.  I need to get my eyes off others and put it on Jesus.  When I'm busy looking at other people's sin, I can't see my own.

My desire is to be so in tune to the Lord that I don't have time or energy to worry about others' lacking.  When all is said and done, the Lord is going to ask me about my life and the things I did. 

Let's ask the Master healer to heal our sick and broken hearts.  Request surgery so that he can cut out all that is evil.  Our hearts can be healed from this, but it requires the desire to change these behaviors.  As we walk in the light, let's ask the Lord to bring to light those things that need to be changed.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Reflections for Easter: What Happens the Day After?

Yesterday was Easter and Christians all over the world celebrated the resurrection. They had on their new clothes and shiny, smiling Easter faces. But what happens the day after Easter?  How many show up for church just for that day, thinking they have done their duty until Christmas?  How many continue to go to church, yet, the wondrous miracle of this event in history does very little to change them?  

What happens the day after resurrection Sunday, when monotonous Monday hits?   

  • Various concerns and situations still face me.
  • I have a to-do list that is longer than my arm.
  • I still have to deal with the same crisis that was there before Easter.
  • I'm still the same person with the same ongoing struggles.

What happens when the normality of life keeps marching on day, after humdrum, day?  

Does the resurrection still hold the same meaning when facing a painful illness, a pile of dirty laundry, and a stack of bills?  Does the joy of the Risen Savior transform our attitudes when all we want to do is complain about our petty problems?  Does the fact that Jesus didn't stay in the grave change my thought-life that often keeps me wallowing in depression and discouragement?

If nothing in my life changes, then what is the point of serving a risen Lord?  If my actions, attitudes, and words don't change, it seems that His resurrection is meaningless.  If I'm not living a changed life, then it's as if he never came down off that cross.

I want to live my life in such a way that I am reliving the resurrection of Christ on a daily basis, not just once a year.  I want to keep the memory of this miraculous gift before me each moment.  I want to remember it when I would rather complain.  I want to reflect on it when it is easier to rant and rave.  I want to feel that joy when all I feel is discouragement.

I want to live a changed life.  I don't want to keep Jesus in the grave.  I want to remember the empty tomb so that I will live my life as if I truly understand the implications for the day after the resurrection.

The resurrection means that that I can have victory over sin in my life the day after.  I can have control over my thought life.  I am able to face my fears and disappointments.

Because of the resurrection, the day after I have the ability to do all things!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Reflections for Easter: A New Label

Gut-wrenching grief, anxiety, fear, loneliness, despair. 

These are all emotions that may have washed over the women as they made their way to Jesus tomb that Resurrection day. It was their tradition to anoint the body with spices. It was a way to bring closure to death.

They must have walked with heavy steps and dread. Their eyes were red and swollen from weeping. All of their hopes had pinned on this one man who claimed to be the Son of God. They had seen him die one of the most horrendous deaths known to man. And now he was gone. Their hopes died with him. How could they go on without him?

Imagine their shock when they reached the tomb and saw the heavy stone rolled away from the entrance. Time stood still. What was going on? Was this another ploy of Herod and the Jewish leaders to trap Jesus’ followers. Would there be Roman soldiers inside ready to arrest them? Would Jesus body be disturbed because of grave robbers?

When they finally looked inside the empty cave, two men in gleaming white stood there. In their terror the women fell to the ground and heard the words, "He is not here." "He is risen!" "Why are you looking for him here?" "Didn’t you understand what he said?"

One of these women was Mary Magdalene. She had been a woman cursed and her life before she met Jesus was one of sheer torture. She was afflicted with the possession of seven demons. Who knows what their affect was on her life. It could have been physical, mental, emotional, moral, or all of these combined.

Yet, Jesus had looked at her and delivered her from this oppression. From the moment of her deliverance, she was a devoted follower of him. However, she still carried that label. Even after her deliverance, she was known by the disciples as Mary, of the seven demons.

People know us by our sin. They shun us, talk about us, judge us, ignore us. Jesus knows our sin, but he also knows us by what we can become. People see our impossibilities. Jesus sees our possibilities.

Let’s see the labels of those that God chose to be part of his story while here on earth.

"Unwed, teenage mother"
"Poor blue-collar worker"

In Luke 4:17-19 Jesus says, "The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor."

Jesus came to set the captives free and his ministry on earth was to those he came to set free. He also used them to share in His ministry.

The point of the resurrection is that death, which is finality and the ultimate prison was broken when Jesus rose. He was set free from the confines of death and in so doing, he broke the chains that enslave us all. As a result, your labels are gone. When you turn to follow him, you are no longer known by the label that imprisoned you.

I love the words of the song, Cry out to Jesus by the group Third Day.

Because the tomb is empty, we have hope. 

Because he is not there, we have grace and forgiveness.

Because of the resurrection, there is rest for the weary.

Because of the risen Savior we have mercy and healing!

Because of God’s love we have a new label – beloved, chosen, forgiven, renewed, precious, and wanted.

He is risen!  Alleluia!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Reflections for Easter: Preparation Day

Luke 23:50-57 (NIV) ~

Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man,  who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God.  Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.

The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

Jesus called out, "Father, into Your hands I entrust My spirit." and then breathed his last.  It was over, and I'm sure for his family, friends and disciples the grief overwhelmed them.  They knelt, lay on the ground, tore their clothes and wailed with grief.

As time passed, one by one they got up and left.  However, there was one man who remained, a member of the religious elect, Joseph.  He had believed Jesus' words when his friends had not.  He had followed Jesus and sat under his teaching.  He knew that he had to do something with the body.  He could not bear to see what normally happened to those crucified - decomposition on the cross and the corpse eaten by birds.

He approached Pilate and asked for the body.  After Pilate made sure that Jesus was really dead, he gave permission.  Joseph had to lift the body of his teacher down from the cross, remove the nails and then wrap him in the finest linen he had.  He carried the body to a tomb he had purchased with his own money and gently laid him on the rock. I'm sure his own grief overwhelmed him.

Sabbath was about to begin and the preparation had started.  Ironically, this man who was called the lamb of God was being prepared just as the sacrificial lamb was prepared before death.  I often wonder if Joseph understood the symbolism?  Would he understand the sacrifice that had been made for him?

Even while the rest of the disciple had left the cross to grieve in their own homes, the women stayed and followed.  They wanted to make sure that the preparation of the body was properly done.  They prepared spices and perfumes to place on the body, but observed the Sabbath rest before coming back to do so the next morning.  What a surprise would greet them!

In today's modern world, this day between Good Friday and Easter generally goes unnoticed.  We are usually busy preparing for Easter Sunday.  I know for myself, I will be working at a community Easter egg hunt our church is having this afternoon, as well as prepping food for Sunday.  I don't always stop long enough to reflect on this in between day. 

But I wonder how much we lose the importance of preparing our hearts to receive the message we will hear on Easter Sunday.  We get so caught up in Saturday fun day that we forget to spend time in prayer and reflection so that we can hear from the Lord on Sunday.

Today is preparation day.  Slow down and spend some time in prayer and reflection today. Prepare your hearts for the joyous message that will happen tomorrow! 

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday Reflection: The Long Day

Mark 15:27-47

It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”

Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,  he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Unending sorrow.  Cries of pain.  Shouts of hatred and anger.  Weeping women.   A wail of despair from Jesus.  Moans.  Evil.  The smell of death.

The air must have been heavy and thick with darkness.  Not just physical darkness but spiritual. Satan and his demons were there, cackling with victory.  Even as his final breath left his body, mocking words followed his dying ears, "Let him call on the prophet Elijah to get him down."

I'm saddened and sickened at the treatment this man who never did an unkind thing received.  He was killed by evil men.  It was not just, nor was it fair.  It was horrible and horror-filled.  It was sickening.

Yet, it was part of God's plan.  Jesus took on the weight of all our sins and evil.  He endured the most evil device of death in order to be the ultimate sacrifice.  His body hung naked on that cross all day.  A totem pole of our sins.  A beacon of what the evilness of men could do. 

When Joseph asked for the body of Christ, Pilate's response was callous surprise and indifference that he died so quickly.  As quickly as this man pronounced judgment, he forgot all about Jesus.

Joseph took the body, wrapped it in linen and laid Jesus in the tomb.  As the boulder was pushed into place, the finality of his death must have felt like another blow to Jesus' mother and friend.

It was over.  It was finished.  God's Son was dead.

The small band of people at the grave may have forgotten or not quite believed Jesus' words that he would rise again after three days.  In their finite and human minds this was an impossibility that would not happen. 

The long day was over.  Night was upon the earth.  Darkness was in their hearts.  They were crushed and broken.  Sorrowful and sickened.  The death of Christ brought the death of their hopes and dreams. 

When I think of this sacrifice made and the fact that sin, others and my own, caused him to go through this, I feel saddened.  But I also feel grateful for this gift.  A gift freely given so that I may live with Him one day.  A sacrifice made so I can have a changed life.

But how often do I take it for granted?  I stumble and sin on a regular basis.  I go through my days and barely think about it.  I toss the gift aside when I continue to live any way I want to without a thought of how indifferent I am to the giver.

I don't want to take the sacrifice for granted.  I don't want to be careless and thoughtless about this gift.  I want to treat it as the precious act it was.  The sacrifice was made for you and for me.  Let's make sure we live our lives in a way that doesn't make that sacrifice meaningless.

Lord, help me to truly understand the sacrifice and that long day of pain and suffering you endured so that I may live a life worthy of that sacrifice.