Sunday, February 16, 2020

The Hand in the Glove



We use gloves for a number of different reasons. We may wear gloves when we work with tools like a shovel or rake so that we don’t get blisters or splinters; we may wear gloves when we work on our cars to keep our hands clean; we may wear gloves when we work with raw meat so that we don’t get sick. Many professionals wear gloves—mechanics, surgeons, crime scene investigators, burglars. OK, maybe that last one is a bad example. 

As useful as gloves are, they are worthless on their own. Just because I own a pair of gloves doesn’t mean that the gloves will rake my leaves or change my tire. On their own gloves are just material. Once I put my hand inside the glove it seemingly comes to life, and the glove is limited only by my own abilities. I like to think of the Holy Spirit as being the hand inside the glove. We are the glove, and even though there are a lot of jobs for us—a lot of ways in which we can minister—on our own we are powerless. Once we are saved and filled with God’s Spirit there is no limit to what we can accomplish; we are entrusted with a spiritual gift, and we are empowered to use that gift for the kingdom of God. On our own we can do nothing, but through Him all things are possible. 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus told the disciples, “You will receive power after the Holy Ghost has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses..” When the Holy Spirit comes on us, when the hand enters the glove, we get power. Notice that it is a power that does something. The Holy Spirit does not enter us just for something to do, but because He has something for us to do. Jesus mentioned being witnesses for Him, and that can be accomplished in a number of ways. We can be witnesses through preaching and teaching, through showing mercy, through helping others, through giving, and through living the everyday Christian life. The fruit of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit help us to do just that. 

Is there a hand in your glove? Is God’s Spirit giving you the power to do something for Him? If the answer is no, you need to give your life to the Lord and allow Him to use you. If the answer is yes, then I hope you are using your gift, letting the Spirit use you in order to make an impact in God’s kingdom. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

The Pain of Rejection



Emotional pain is real. As children we were taught that, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” I don’t know who wrote that little jingle, be he shouldn’t quit his day job. We have all lived long enough to know that words can hurt us. In the same way, we can experience emotional pain when people betray us, lie about us, walk out on us, and let us down. 

Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a fascinating study on emotional pain. Participants in the study played a video game in which they simply tossed a ball to other players. They were told there were people in other rooms controlling the other players, but that wasn’t true. The video game was programmed to slowly exclude the person being studied. In other words, the ball was being thrown to everyone except the person holding the controller, which made that person feel rejected and left out. 

The study showed that once the person began to feel rejection, it activated the anterior cingulate and insula parts of the brain where pain is registered. Ornish concluded, “Subjects’ brains responded the same way as if they experienced physical pain. Rejection doesn’t just hurt like a broken heart; your brain feels it like a broken leg.”  

We’ve all been there. We have all felt the pain of rejection. In Psalm 27 King David prayed, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me (v.10).” We don’t have any reason to believe that David’s parents ever forsook him; his mother’s name is not found in the Bible, but in Psalm 86:16 David said he served God just as his mother did, and in I Samuel 22 David asks Saul for permission to let his parents come stay with him. It is believed that “When my father and my mother forsake me” was a common expression to refer to the hardships of life. 

David felt his share of rejection, even to the point where his own son led a mutiny against him, and many people chose Absalom over David. That had to hurt. I’m sure anyone reading this has also felt the sting of pain from rejection. That is why I love how David finished verse ten, saying it was the Lord who helped him through the pain of rejection. Let that be the same for you. If you are experiencing a broken heart that feels more like a broken leg, call out to God, that Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

The Camel and the Needle

  

“It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus famously said those words in response to the rich young ruler choosing to walk away sad rather than wholeheartedly following Jesus. The thought of a camel going through the tiny eye of a needle is humorous, but is that really what Jesus said? Let’s face it, that is impossible to do.

I remember being taught that there was a gate in the wall around Jerusalem called the Needle’s Eye. The point of the illustration, according to this theory, is that the only way a camel could fit through the Needle’s Eye was if someone unloaded whatever burden the camel carried, and then the camel would have to essentially scoot through it. Difficult, yes, but not impossible. There is one problem with this theory, though, and that is this: there is no evidence of there ever having been a Needle’s Eye in the wall. It is not mentioned in the Scriptures, the Talmud, the Mishna, or any ancient writings. It is purely a fabrication. In fact, in the Jewish New Testament the phrase is actually “through a needle’s eye.” If there was any such Needle’s Eye Gate, surely the Jews would have translated the verse accordingly. Wuest’s Greek New Testament says “through the eye of a sewing needle.” 

Another explanation is that there is a scribal error here. The Greek word for camel is kamelos; kamilos, on the other hand, is the word for a large rope or cable. Perhaps Jesus was saying it is easier to thread a needle with a rope than for a rich man to be saved. This sounds good, and would even be a clever play on words from Jesus, but that cannot be the case. All three Synoptic Gospels contain this line, and all three say camel. This would require not one, but three scribes making the same error. It would probably be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for that to happen. 

So where does that leave us? Taking it exactly as Jesus said: this is impossible. We really understand that by looking at what He said next: “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God (Luke 18:27).” My belief is that people want to water down the language of Jesus because they do not like the thought of wealthy people being unable to enter the kingdom. The point Jesus is making, however, is not about wealthy versus poor people, but about the general impossibility of mankind being saved. It is impossible for anyone to be saved because we all are born as sinners, and as the Bible says, as enemies of God. 

But the good news is seen in the next phrase. With man, salvation is impossible, but with God, all things are possible. All who call upon the name of the Lord can be saved. We cannot come to God on our terms, in our strength, or with our resources. We must come to Him bankrupt, asking Him to do what only He can do. And He will. We cannot buy our way into heaven or work our way there. That is as impossible as a camel going through the eye of a needle. 

Sunday, January 26, 2020

A New Puppy



Our children have been asking to get a dog for a while a now, so yesterday we got them a puppy. She is eight weeks old, and a beautiful Aussie/Winnie mix. Since we are a Star Wars family we named her after the iconic Princess Leia. My wife and I talked through all the pros and cons of getting a dog before we made the decision, but there was something I overlooked. I forgot how hard the nights are with a new puppy in the house. It has been a few years since we had to get up with our babies during the night, so we weren’t used to having to get up and take out a whimpering puppy. 

We got her on a Saturday, and that night from about 1:30-4:30 we were up with our new dog. Even when she was asleep I was still worried about her. I felt like a zombie trying to preach the next morning. While I have never considered myself to be a lazy person, I do require a certain amount of sleep in order to function, and that first night I didn’t get it. Some people toss and turn at night, and it isn’t because of a puppy. Some haven’t slept well in years. There may be a medical condition, but it also may be spiritual. The Bible seems to associate restful sleep with being at peace with God. 

In Psalm 4:8 David said he could lie down in peace and sleep because the Lord allowed him to dwell in safety; in the previous psalm he said could lie down and sleep because the Lord sustained him (3:5). Proverbs 3:24 says the person who keeps God’s commandments can lay down and sleep in peace. Even Job’s friend Zophar encouraged Job to repent of his sins (even though Job was innocent) so that he would be able to once again sleep in peace (11:18-19). Isaiah had a similar thought, saying that God gives peace to those who trust Him: “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you (26:3).”

I believe that is why Jesus was asleep in the boat during an unusually violent storm. The disciples—many of whom were professional fishermen—were terrified, but Jesus was sleeping peacefully. It was His way of showing those young men that He was at perfect peace with the Father. We too can be at peace with God. Many can’t sleep because of the guilt they carry over their actions. Many can’t sleep because they know deep down they need to make some changes. Many can’t sleep because they know they aren’t right with their Maker. But those who are living right, who are at peace with God and man, can sleep soundly. I hope Leia allows us to sleep better tonight. Maybe your better sleep will come if you make peace with God. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

On A Mission



Most Christians are familiar with the name D.L. Moody. He was a famous preacher and evangelist in the 1800s who also started the Moody Bible Institute and Moody Publishers. Today people are still trained in his schools and read books published through his organization. Before Moody came to Christ he was making good money in the shoe business, but all that changed one day in his shoe store. 

A man by the name of Edward Kimball, a Sunday school teacher at the local church, went in to talk with young Moody. D.L. had recently visited his Sunday school class, and Kimball wanted to follow up. That day in the shoe store Kimball put a hand on Moody’s shoulder as he told him that the wages of sin is death, and he begged the shoe salesman to repent and trust in Christ. Kimball even shed tears as he pleaded with Moody. Years later Moody confessed that he could not remember all the words that Kimball spoke that day, but he said, “I can still feel his hand on my shoulder.” It struck Moody that, although he had never shed a single tear over his own sin, this man was so compassionate that he was weeping over Moody’s. 

Part of what makes that such a good story is that Kimball wasn’t out looking for shoes and he happened to bump into Moody. He knew that was Moody’s store, and he left his house with one thing in mind, and that was to talk to that young man about his sin. He left his house and ended up at the shoe store on purpose. That reminds me of Jesus, who said of Himself, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save those who were lost (Luke 19:10).”

Jesus came to earth on purpose, with one thing in mind, and that was to save sinners from their sin. He didn’t just so happen to be on earth and bump into sinners; we are the very reason He left His home in heaven. He was motivated by compassion and love for us. He had no desire to be in heaven without us, so He came to earth on a rescue mission. If you ever question the love that God has for you, look no further than that old rugged cross on that hill far away, for it was there God’s love was demonstrated (Romans 5:8). His death was no accident, and His life wasn’t taken from Him. He willingly laid it down in obedience to the Father in order that sinners might be saved. 

As believers, we should follow the example of Jesus and Kimball and intentionally take the Gospel message to those who need to hear it.  

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Flight of the Bumblebee



During World War II on Air Force bases around the nation the United States put up posters that bore the following inscription: “By all known laws which can be proved on paper and in the wind tunnel—the bumblebee cannot fly. The size of his wings in relation to his body, according to aeronautical and mathematical science simply means that he cannot fly. It is an impossibility. But of course, the bumblebee doesn’t know about these rule, so he goes ahead and flies anyway.”

I’m not sure about the truth of that information. In fact, snopes.com has fact checked that tidbit as being false. The validity of the words on the poster is not what I am concerned with though; I just love the thought of the impossible being achieved. As Christians we know that what is impossible with man is possible with God. 

In Matthew 9 there are five people that come to Jesus needing something impossible. Like fat bumblebees with tiny wings, they flew to Jesus and found exactly what they needed. In this chapter there is a woman who has been sick for twelve years, two blind men, a mute man, and a young girl who had passed away. In each of those situations Jesus did something impossible: He opened the eyes of the blind, opened the mouth of the mute, healed the woman, and even raised the dead. 

The woman who had been sick for twelve years had suffered greatly. Luke, who was a physician by trade, tells us there was no human cure for her bleeding issue. Mark tells us she had spent all of her money in vain seeking a cure. Obviously medicine was quite primitive back then, but we know some of the remedies prescribed in the Talmud. There were eleven prescriptions, but they are superstitions more than medicine. One of the remedies was to carry a corn kernel that was fished out of the dung of a white female donkey; another was to carry around the ashes of an ostrich egg, using a linen bag in the summer and cotton bag in the winter. This is the kind of treatment this poor woman spent the last of her savings on. 

Her condition was impossible, especially considering her medical options. “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God (Mark 10:27).” I’m not suggesting that God gives us everything we ask for or want. He is not a genie and you are not Aladdin. But He has the ability to do all things, and our prayer life should show we believe that to be true. He is the God who makes impossible things possible.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Jesus’ Healing Ministry



Charlatan faith healers have been around since the New Testament when Simon Magus tried to buy the Holy Spirit in order to make money as a healer. When we turn on the TV and see people blowing healing power on audience members, or even doing things like throwing their suit coats into the crowd or praying over handkerchiefs in order to spread their healing powers on people, we realize this is nothing new; it is just the next chapter in people pedaling the gospel for their own gain. These kooks are crooks, giving Christianity a bad name while making a name for themselves. 

Jesus, on the other hand, was no trickster. He was a genuine healer who ministered to the masses without charging a dime from them. He never tried to heal someone and failed, and then blamed that person’s lack of faith (or lack of financial seed being sown) for the lack of healing. Jesus was a healer because He is God in the flesh. The disciple and gospel writer Matthew really wanted his readers to understand this about his master. Early in his gospel Matthew generically wrote that Jesus healed all who came to Him (4:23), but the first specific healings Matthew mentioned come in chapter 8. These event are written out of order, so Matthew chose to highlight these three on purpose (by the way, ancient biographies were not concerned with chronology; Matthew’s anachronistic account of the ministry of Jesus does not mean he is in error). Let’s briefly look at those first three healings in Matthew.

The first person healed is a leper. Leprosy was basically a death sentence, although some survived the painful condition. Once a person was diagnosed as a leper, he became ceremonially unclean, and any person with whom he made physical contact was likewise unclean. For that reason, a person living with leprosy was living without human contact. In addition to the physical pain, lepers also lived with emotional pain as they were literal outcasts from the community. Jesus could have healed the leper with nothing more than His words, but I’m so glad that Scripture records, “Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him (8:3).” This man had not been touched since the day of his diagnosis, and then Jesus laid a healing hand upon him. 

In the next passage Jesus heals the servant of a military leader. The Roman centurion was not only a Gentile, who was unclean to the Jews, but he was also a high-ranking soldier for the nation that oppressed the Jews; he was doubly disdained by the Jewish crowd. Furthermore, the servant was a minor slave, making him among the least important people in society. This time using only His words, and with a considerable distance between them, Jesus simply announced that the servant was healed, and he was. Finally, Jesus heals a lady. Peter’s mother-in-law was sick, and again Jesus made physical contact to bring about her healing. Women were second class to men in that culture, and touching this woman would have been considered scandalous. 

I believe Matthew brought these three healings together for a reason. Together, these events give us a microcosm of not only Jesus’ healing ministry, but also of the love and compassion of God. It didn’t matter to Jesus if the leper was unclean; it didn’t matter that the centurion was a Roman; it didn’t matter that women were viewed as being inferior. God is no respecter of persons, and He didn’t favor one class or group over another. It doesn’t matter to God if you are male or female, black or white, young or old, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, and so on. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight.