The least of these

Read: Leviticus 7-9, Matthew 25:31-46

Last May I had the opportunity to join seven other members of my church on a missionary trip to Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico. Our week was planned out ahead of time by the leaders at the missions base there. We’d go visit some migrant camps, men’s and women’s rehabilitation homes, and minister to the homeless who live under the city bridges.

The day came for us to head to the bridges. We arrived, cleaned up an area that was known to bring many people, brought out chairs and a guitar, but no one came. A local man who’d worked with our mission before came by and explained to us that the Bridge People, as they’ve come to be known, wouldn’t be coming. They’d been burned out of their camps, rounded up, and taken to prison all in preparation for the Baja races which would run through the dry ravines in the city.

This presented a bit of a problem. We’d prepared to meet these people on their own turf, feed them, bless them, pray for them. No connections had yet been made with the local police to reach out to the incarcerated. But the gentleman who found us at the ravine had an idea. He paced away with his phone in hand. Less than an hour later, we’d packed everything back up and were parked outside the city’s 48 hour holding facility.

If you’re imagining a North American holding prison, get that image out of your head. This is not a well-lighted place with concrete benches, let alone padded cots. There is no stainless steel toilet in the corner nor is there a phone with which to call a lawyer or a relative to come get you (if you even have a relative with a phone of their own). You don’t get your one phone call. You get concrete and bars and a hole in the floor that serves as a communal toilet.

I don’t mean to be gross, but I need to be real.

In the parking lot across from the barred entrance, we could already smell the sharp odour of stale urine and who-knows-what-else. After a quick chat with the officers on duty, we were permitted to unload our coolers, bags, and boxes. Two by two we were allowed in with the guards to present each inmate with a dry sandwich, a juice box, granola bar, and second-hand blanket. They filed passed offering quiet thanks and blessings. To those who were considered to violent to let out of their cells, team members went to them deeper in the prison. They set aside their own discomfort to offer a small comfort to someone else.

As we sat in the van afterward, our pastor brought to mind a portion of scripture from Matthew.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you have me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

Circumstances prevented the people we planned to minister to from coming to us, but God made a way for us to go to them. Doors were opened and even the locals were amazed at what we were able to do. People were fed, given something to drink, clothed, looked after, and visited in prison—all by complete strangers.

Several days after our prison visit, a man approached our van at while we sat at a red light. He was selling candy bars. Our pastor purchased several. As he walked away, we noticed something. Aside from the candy, he carried only one thing. Tucked tightly under his arm was one of the blankets we’d handed out in the prison.

Matthew 25:40

Let the well alone

Read: Genesis 25-26, Matthew 9:1-17

Every year on Christmas Eve, my mother and I watch White Christmas. We’ve seen it so many times that we can pretty much quote the entire movie and sing along to every musical number, which is why today’s reading reminded me of a song from this classic film.

I know of a doctor

Sad to say, one day he fell
Right into a great big well

He should have attended to the sick
And let the well alone

The Minstrel Show

Like the song, it’s sad to say, but many Christians have unknowingly found themselves at the bottom of a deep pit. Instead of attending to the sick, they stayed too close to the well.

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13 (NIV)

In 2005, John Burke published a book called No Perfect People Allowed. Since then, many churches, including my own, have adopted and promoted this phrase. In no way are we discounting that, though Jesus’ sacrifice, we are being made perfect, but we are tending to the spiritually sick by letting them know that they are welcome as they are. For too long, the church in general has acted like a quarantine for the spiritually “healthy”. And, in doing so, we have become just like the Pharisees who scorned Jesus for breaking bread with the tax collectors and sinners.

C.T. Studd

If we want to avoid the bottom of the well, we need to stay away from it. Though we need the fellowship of other believers, we are not called to close our ranks, but rather to go out and find those who most need what we have. Like Jesus, we are the doctors and nurses who need to go out onto the battlefield and pull in those who are sick and dying. It’s time for us to attend to the sick and let the well alone to do the same.

12 Years

12 years, if you’re 12, is just a short while. Life is just beginning. You’re just starting to experience real life. But 12 years, if you’re sick, can be an eternity. Every day stretches on and on without relief and, though you’re alive, you never really live at all.

In Mark 5 beginning in verse 21, we are first made aware of a little girl. She’s 12. She’s dying. Before she’s ever had a chance to really live, she’s on death’s door. Her father, Jairus, is convinced that Jesus can solve this problem.

While Jesus and his followers are on their way to see to the little girl, we meet another girl. A woman. She’s been sick for 12 years. Since the time the little girl’s life began, this woman’s has been miserable. She’s suffered at the hands of doctors to no avail. While the little girl’s life was beginning, the woman’s life was literally draining out of her.

But, like Jairus, this woman knew that Jesus was the answer. If only she could get close enough to touch him, her days of suffering would be over.

I believe that, in the moment the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, the little girl died. One life was restored while the other was destroyed.

When Jesus felt the healing power leave him, he didn’t have to stop. The woman already knew that she’d been healed. I like to think that this was Jesus showing off a little. He made a point, while being crushed by a crowd, to single out the one person who’d touched him with enough faith to draw the power from him.

Side note: When you approach Jesus, do you just bump up against him like the rest of the crowd or do you go after him, like the woman, intent on pursuing him until you get what you need?

The woman presented herself to Jesus and he announces to the crowd—remember, she already knew she was healed—that this woman’s faith has made her well. Jesus made sure that everyone had stopped and was listening. They all heard his announcement that the woman’s faith had made her well.

When Jesus got to the house, he booted out everyone who had no faith. This left himself, the girl’s parents, and three disciples—considering this man went around healing people all the time, the faith of the crowd was weak.

At Jesus’ word, what had died the moment the woman with the issue of blood was healed, was revived. The little girl got up and walked around.

We would understand the gravity of what Jesus accomplished if we didn’t know how long the woman suffered from her illness or how old the little girl was at the time of her first death. So why is 12 so important?

Jesus’ first recorded words were taken when he was 12 years old. There were 12 tribes in Israel, 12 disciples chosen by Jesus. The number is referred to 187 times in the Bible. So what does it mean?

12 is considered a perfect number symbolising God’s authority. It’s a picture of completeness or perfection as well as the authority given to man by God.

Jesus showed the fullness of his authority by healing a woman who’d been living with illness for 12 years and by raising to life a girl who died after only 12 years. He proved to be the God of the living as well as the God of the dead. It was a display of perfect, complete authority. The same authority he gave to us.

Daily Bible reading: Numbers 11-13, Mark 5:21-43

Do it again

Yesterday, we discussed knowing Jesus’ voice. That, even if we don’t recognise him in appearance, we should know his voice and trust in it.

But what if we don’t recognise him or his voice?

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

John 21:4 (ESV)

Here were men who had just spent the better part of three years with a man and, even though he was only a hundred yards off, they did not recognise him.

Then the man on the shore tells the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat – this after they’d been fishing all night and caught nothing. Does this sound familiar? A strangely similar situation happened back in Luke 5 when Jesus first called his disciples to follow him. Now here he is again telling them to cast their nets one last time. And, as with the first time, the nets came up full of fish.

When the disciples experienced something at the command of Jesus that they’d already seen before, they recognised him for who he was.

That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

John 21:7a (ESV)

So if you don’t recognise Jesus by his appearance or by his voice, at least know him for his works.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday today, and forever.

Hebrews 13:8 (NCV)

If Jesus is the same, don’t you think we’ll see the same things happen again and again? Are not sick still being healed? Blind being made to see? Lame being made to walk? Dead made to live? All of the things Jesus did in the Gospels are still happening today. We can still see his fingerprints on the miraculous.

So if you’re not in a place where you can see his face. If you can’t hear his voice, look for the things he’s doing. If you look for him, you will find him.

Daily Bible reading: Ezra 6-8; John 21

The Voice

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a lot of bad news this week. Not in the media. Personally.  I’ve heard enough.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10 (ESV)

Don’t make the mistake of believing that God sends these trials to His people. Every bad report I’ve heard this week is the work of an enemy working to destroy the people of God. If the church is full of hurting, broken people, it’s ineffective.

When that same church of hurting, broken people stand up and say NO MORE! the world will have to take notice.

My question for you today is simple: whose voice are you listening to? The voice that tells you that your marriage isn’t worth fighting for? The voice that tells you the cancer is back and there’s nothing you can do about it?

Or do you listen to the voice that says love is a choice. That God is love and where ever He is, love is. Do you listen to the same voice that made the blind to see, the lame to walk, and the dead to live again?

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do no know the voice of strangers.

John 10:2-5 (ESV)

When I was a kid leaving the house for school, my mother would give me a song to sing all day. If you’re old enough to remember this one, keep it in mind today:

Whose report shall you believe?
We shall believe the report of the Lord
Whose report shall you believe?
We shall believe the report of the Lord

His report says I am healed
His report say I am filled
His report says I am free
His report say victory

Daily Bible reading: 1 Chronicles 17-19; John 10:1-21