Out of the ordinary

 

Do you ever wonder why Jesus performed certain miracles for certain people? I don’t think it was so much that he was selective about whom he did things for, I think he performed miracles for those who went to the trouble of getting his attention.

Once Jesus’ ministry took off, he was in high demand. People followed him everywhere he went. And, let’s face it, if you knew he was going to feed you, you’d probably show up, too. There were always crowds around him. He healed a lot of people. I’m sure the Gospels only list a small portion of what he really did. But the ones that stand out are those who took the extra effort.

In Luke 18, there’s a blind man. He discovers Jesus is nearby.

He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Luke 18:38-39 (NIV)

There was no way this man was going to let Jesus go without getting his miracle. And he did. All his hollering got Jesus attention.

Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.”

Luke 18:42 (NIV)

This blind man wasn’t the only one to take extra effort in getting Jesus’ attention. Remember those four crazy friends who tore a hole in a roof to lower their paralysed friend down in front of Jesus (Luke 5:19)? What about the sinful woman who came into the Pharisee’s house and dumped a bottle of expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet (Luke 7:38)? Or the woman with the issue of blood who crawled through a crowd just to touch the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:44)? Then there were the ten lepers who stood at a distance yelling at Jesus to heal them (Luke 17:13).

It seems to me that those who want something from the Lord, really want something, will do whatever it takes to get it. And here we sit and pray a little prayer once and assume it’s not God’s will if it doesn’t happen immediately. Have we really done all we can to get Heaven’s attention? Have we, like the blind man, called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” until he has no other choice but to acknowledge our cry?

Those who received the most from Jesus are the ones who couldn’t care less what society thought of them. They were the ones who shoved social and cultural norms aside and said to themselves, if Jesus is able to do this, I’m going to make sure he does.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t see the signs and wonders we want to see because we’re not really asking for them. What have you done lately to capture Jesus’ attention? Have you done anything unusual or out of the ordinary?

Read: 2 Samuel 4-6, Luke 18:18-43

The profession of Christianity

Let us try not to join the profession of Christianity, with seeking after worldly advantages.

Matthew Henry

“You’ll never have to worry about anything again!”

“God wants you to be rich!”

“This is the best life ever!”

“Everything is good!”

All of these claims have been touted by Christians, preachers, and televangelists. They have brought untold millions to their knees to pray a prayer that they’ve been conned into reciting. While they all contain a partial truth, they are not indicative of the Christian life.

Jesus had some choice words for some who wished to take care of business before taking up the business of following him.

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my Father.”

Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

Jesus replied, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:57-62 (NIV)

In order to “close the deal” when it comes to leading someone to salvation, we are often apt to spout the benefits while making light of the cost. The truth is, there are many, many benefits to giving your life to Christ, but there is also a great cost—one that cannot be ignored.

Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Luke 9:23 (NIV)

The benefits come as a result of us doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:33 (NIV)

It is a difficult road to walk, this life in pursuit of God. On one side, we can be easily distracted by the thought of a reward and, on the other side, we can be so focused on our call that we deny the existence of any reward at all.

Our purpose in serving God should be just that—to serve Him and Him alone. If the reward is all we seek, our hearts are in the wrong place. But that does not mean that we should not be prepared to receive a reward or blessing.

If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Luke 11:13 (NIV)

If is with a pure heart and pure motives that we must seek after God. Yet, as His children, we must not deny Him the joy of blessing us.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

Read: Judges 12-14, Luke 9:37-62

Nothing more, nothing less

Gideon, for all his faults, had a few redeeming qualities. While he was not the leader Israel expected for their army, thanks to his obedience, Israel’s army of 300 routed the Midianites. That same army chased Zebah and Zalmunna, two kings of Midian, and killed them. Though Gideon was instrumental in leading his own family astray, there was some wisdom yet in the man.

But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The Lord will rule over you.”

Judges 8:23 (NIV)

Some rules were bent or broken, but in this situation, Gideon stood firm. At the very least, he understood that his victory in battle was due only to the fact that the hand of the Lord was on him. His place was to lead the army where God told him to. Nothing more, nothing less.

It is important that we learn to keep to the purpose God had set out for us. Where would Gideon have ended up had he chosen to go against God’s orders and take the entire army of thirty-two thousand men into battle. Would they have been victorious? Maybe. Would they have given all the glory to God? Probably not.

It is only in the will of God that we will find our greatest success—not necessarily according to worldly standards, but certainly heavenly ones. And in that success, it is important to give glory and honour where it is due. To the one who calls us. To the one who makes mighty warriors of the least likely.

Read: Judges 8-9, Luke 8:22-56

Mighty warrior

If you have to go into a fight, who are you taking with you? Who is going to lead you and your army into battle? You’re going to pick the biggest, strongest, meanest guy you can find. The guy who inspires (or terrifies) people to follow him. He’s the guy who can flip your car. He’s the guy who simply whistles and everyone falls into line behind him. That’s the guy you’re taking into a fight with you.

Israel has a big fight ahead of them. God needs to pick the guy who will lead them. Gideon was that man.

When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Judges 6:12 (NIV)

This guy must be something special if an angel of the Lord is calling him a mighty warrior. Gideon must be big and strong and well-able to lead an army.

“But Lord,” Gideon asked, “how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”

Judges 6:15 (NIV)

So… Gideon isn’t a big, strong leader. He’s the runt of the litter.

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”

Judges 6:16 (NIV)

Many of us disqualify ourselves from our calling saying that we’re not enough. We’re not big enough. We’re not strong enough. We’re not smart enough. We don’t have what it takes. But that’s the point.

Not only did God pick the least consequential person from the weakest clan, he took an army from thirty-two thousand down to three hundred and won the battle. God isn’t nearly as interested in brains and brawn as He is in obedience. He is not looking for greatness, but humility.

Then [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all—he is the greatest.”

Luke 9:48 (NIV)

When God takes the least and leads them into victory, there is no doubt as to whom it belongs. If we were capable of accomplishing the will of God on our own, He would never receive the glory. But because He calls the weak and the wounded, His glory shines through. No one is disqualified from the call.

Gideon wasn’t a mighty warrior on his own. It was because God was with him that he became a mighty warrior. Maybe you’re not called to lead an army into battle, but God has called you to do something great. Don’t count yourself out because of what you can or can’t do, but rather count on God because of what He can do.

Read: Judges 6-7, Luke 8:1-21

You of little faith

Read: Genesis 46-48, Matthew 14:22-36

Most of us know or have at least heard the account of Jesus walking on the water. He’d had a busy day. Lost his cousin to beheading. Healed a bunch of people. Fed a bunch of people. He needed some time alone. So he sent his disciples ahead of him across the lake in a boat. By evening, the boat was way ahead of him and a storm had blown in. So he does what any sensible person would do and walks to the boat. On the water. Eventually the men in the boat see him and, after deciding that he isn’t a ghost, Peter calls out to Jesus over the sound of the wind and waves.

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “Tell me to come to you on the water.”

Matthew 14:28 (NIV)

Jesus does and Peter does. Of the twelve, only one decides it’s worth it to get out of the boat. He does okay for a while, but soon realises where he is, takes into account the storm around him, and begins to sink.

Matthew 14:31

We can have one of two responses to this story:

  1. Discouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—yet he still began to sink. This point of view would likely prevent any one or all of us from ever pursuing the miraculous. If all we’re going to do is fail, why bother, right?
  2. Encouragement. Peter did exactly what Jesus told him to do—step out of the boat and on to the water—and he did! I don’t know if Peter was brave or stupid, but whatever he was, we could use more of that in our Christian circles.

What I find most encouraging about this account is that Jesus told Peter that he had little faith. Most of us would see that as an insult, but I would take it as a compliment. If a little faith is all it took to get out of the boat to stand on the waves, I’ll start with that. Oh, that we would all have the little bit of faith Peter had. His only mistake was to take his eyes off of Jesus.

Jesus hasn’t told me to do anything like that. Oh, but he has!

I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14 (NIV)

Every miracle Jesus performed while he walked the earth is an example for us. Through our faith in him, we should be doing what what he did and even greater. Even if your faith is only enough to get you out of the boat, it’s a start. And once you start, don’t take your eyes off of the One who called out.

It’s okay to be of little faith—to begin with. Don’t let one failure stop you from getting out of the boat again and again. Keep your eyes on Jesus and soon, you’ll be living on the water.

It doesn’t matter

In a world where everyone wants something to matter, there are a few things that don’t matter at all when it comes to our Commission as believers.

1. It doesn’t matter where you are.

Matthew 14:13

Bono had it right when he penned these words:

You’ve got to get yourself together
You’ve got stuck in a moment
And now you can’t get out of it

We can get so caught up in our doing that we don’t notice that Jesus has gone somewhere else and we’ve failed to follow. The crowds that followed knew that Jesus had something they needed. It didn’t matter that he was in a boat and they were on land. They followed.

There are times that we may be hesitant to leave what we’re doing because we have so much time, energy, and resources invested. But is it really worth missing Jesus? We must all learn to keep our eyes on him and follow at a moments notice.

2. It doesn’t matter how you feel.

Matthew 14:14

Jesus had just received news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded in prison. He wanted to be alone. Yet the crowds followed him and, even in his grief, he had compassion, ministered to them, and healed the sick. Whether we feel like it or not, our call to minister doesn’t go away or get put on hold. Jesus didn’t say, “When you feel like it, maybe go across the street and tell someone about me.” He said, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

How we feel is not included in our call. In the following verses we will see that, even in one of his darkest moments as a man, Jesus was able to perform a great miracle and reach thousands of people. Perhaps by going ahead, especially when we don’t feel like it, God is able to accomplish more through us.

3. It doesn’t matter what is (or isn’t) in your hands.

Matthew 14:19

If you’re a pastor or a leader in your church and 10,000 people show up one Sunday and want to stick around all day, what would you do? Feed them or send them off with an invitation to return and hope they’ll come back? If the disciples had their way, they’d have sent away the crowds. Their hands were empty. Jesus had been performing miracles all day and the men who were closest to him still didn’t see that just because their hands were empty, it didn’t mean they had nothing.

Whether we feel qualified or equipped to fulfill the Great Commission is irrelevant. What’s in our hands doesn’t matter. It’s probably even better if our hands are empty because then we have no other recourse than to depend on what’s in Jesus’ hands.

When Jesus handed off the bread and fish to the disciples, they then handed it off to the people. And then it came back—far more than what they’d started with. Every hand that touched the food was a part of the miracle and as more people handled it, the greater it became.

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.

1 John 4:4 (NIV)

The message of Jesus is completely counter to our culture. We cannot maintain popular ideals and still be effective in ministry.

He must become greater; I must become less.

John 4:30 (NIV)

Irrevocable

Read: Genesis 29-30, Matthew 10:1-23

A story came out in the news this week about a pastor of a large church. He, like many of us, has a past. And, like many of us, he dealt with it and left it where it belonged. Until recently, he had been enjoying the success of marriage and family and ministering to his congregation.

Before I go further, let me clarify that the situation in question happened when he was a young man working in a church. The actions were of a sexual nature and involved a 17-year-old girl. By all accounts, he was immediately remorseful and admitted his transgression to those to whom he was accountable in the church. He apologized to all involved and was removed from his position. Nothing has been brought forward to say that such actions took place on any other occasion.

Now, with the #MeToo movement bringing all sorts of people out of the woodwork, this pastor is having to relive his shame. I in no way condone his actions, nor do I belittle what happened to the woman involved. There is no place in society for any sort of sexual misconduct. But, with all of the very public accusations and shaming, what seems to be missing is the greatest component of all: grace.

When Jesus began his public ministry, the people he brought alongside him were far from what society would call blameless. He called the blue collar workers. He called the tax collectors. He called the sinners. And then he walked with them. He ate with them. He taught them. Then he empowered them and sent them off into ministry.

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Matthew 10:8 (NIV)

Some scholars believe that Jesus’ instructions here did not only reference the physical needs of the people, but were also representative of their need to be healed and revived spiritually. The men Jesus called had all been healed and brought to life in one way or another. The greater their sin, the greater the grace they received. And who better to extend grace than the one who has already received it?

If we demand that this pastor, because of his past sin, is no longer fit for ministry, then we must throw away the entire Bible. We can no longer sing our worship songs. We must seclude ourselves for fear of being infected by the sin that runs rampant in our churches.

Paul’s sole purpose in life was to kill Christians. Matthew was a tax collector (the very worst kind of evil). David, the man after God’s own heart, was a sexual predator and a murderer. Yet all of these men, and more, made invaluable contributions to the Book that we hold so closely to our hearts.

Romans 11:29

Who are we to stand in judgement of someone who has asked for, and received, forgiveness? Who are we to say who is and is not fit for ministry? David was guilty of far worse than most of us and yet we still sing his songs in church every Sunday, thousands of years after they were written. Paul himself should have been put to death for his crimes against Christianity, yet he made some of the the greatest contributions to our faith.

If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7b (NIV)

Without grace, we are all guilty. None of us should be fit for ministry. But if we do as Jesus told the woman described in John 8 and leave our life of sin, there is no condemnation. But for the grace of God we should all be buried under a landslide of stones.

For I am the least of all the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.

1 Corinthians 15:9-10 (NIV)

God has called us all. No one, not even He, can revoke that calling. And it is only through His grace that any of us are able to walk in the purpose He has set out before us. What I give should be only from that which God has given through me. Judgement is not a gift from God. Grace is.