RICH AND HEALED

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. [Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)]

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. [Matthew 19:29 (NIV)]

white peacock butterflySo, since God wants us to be prosperous, we’ll get 100 acres of land for every acre we give up or a return of $10,000 for every $100? Sounds too good to be true and it is. Logic tells us Matthew 19:29 can’t be taken literally—we can’t have one hundred fathers and none of us want one hundred children or wives! To make sure the disciples understood, Jesus made it clear that God is not our heavenly banker who dispenses gifts (especially monetary ones) to the most deserving with His parable of the Gracious Landowner. “Do I not have the right to do what I want to do with my own money? Does your eye make you want more because I am good?” asked the landowner. Jesus explained: “So those who are last will be first and the first will be last.” [Matthew 20:15-16] His message was clear: God’s grace can’t be earned or controlled. Moreover, the word often translated as “prosper” in Jeremiah 29:11 is shalom, meaning completeness, soundness, welfare, and peace rather than wealth. Biblical prosperity and prosperity theology are not the same!

Nevertheless, the health and wealth/name it and claim it/prosperity gospel movement would have us believe otherwise. Their distorted version of the gospel asserts that our words and actions can influence God with some sort of faith force so that we’ll get the health and wealth supposedly promised in today’s verses and others like it. Things like illness and financial troubles result from a lack of faith. If we just picture what we want, have enough faith, and ask for it in Jesus’ name, it’s ours! Thinking that we can somehow manipulate God to do our bidding, however, denies His sovereignty and God becomes more a heavenly vending machine than the ruler of the universe. Our hope is not in the power of our words or size of our faith; our hope is in the power of God alone!

 While we’d like the think that all we need for health and wealth is faith, Scripture tells us otherwise. Not everyone who deserved healing got it while some who didn’t deserve it did! Out of all the sick, blind, and lame people by the pool at Bethesda, Jesus asked just one man if he wanted to get well. Instead of answering the question, the man complained. Nevertheless, when Jesus told him to get up, pick up his pallet, and walk, the man was healed instantly. Censured by the Jewish leaders for carrying his mat on the Sabbath, he explained that he’d been told to do so by the man who healed him—a man whose identity he didn’t know! This sinner, who didn’t know Jesus, have faith in Him, and never asked for healing, was restored to health while the “thorn” in Paul’s flesh remained in spite of his faith, service, and devout prayers!

The gospels and epistles give us more guarantees of suffering and persecution than promises of health or wealth. Rather than a get rich plan, our sovereign God offers a plan for salvation. Our relationship with God is not a business transaction and giving us stuff or taking away our illness is not what makes Him good. God is good because He alone is God. He’s good whether we’re sick or healthy, in debt or flush with money, out of work or gainfully employed, infertile or pregnant, struggling in school or on the honor roll, have a child in rehab or one in seminary. God is good because, in Jesus, we are both rich and healed!

If you have everything but you don’t have Jesus. You have nothing. If you have nothing but you have Jesus, you have everything. He’s worth it. [Costi Hinn]

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. [2 Corinthians 8:9 (NIV)]

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19 (NIV)]

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FEED THEM

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep. [John 21:17 (NLT)]

squirrelJohn 21 records Jesus telling Peter to feed His flock three times. The word translated as “feed” in verse 16 is poimaino which refers to the entire process of tending the sheep: feeding, leading, guarding, doctoring, and bringing them into the sheep fold. Although the food of which Jesus is speaking appears to be the word of God, in verses 15 and 17 the word translated as “feed” is bosko, which exclusively meant to feed. Jesus gave Peter these instructions immediately after He’d fed the disciples a breakfast of grilled fish and bread. Could He also have been speaking of providing actual food?

The people of Palestine were spiritually hungry for the message of the gospel but, on at least two occasions, they listened to Jesus so long that they were physically hungry, as well. In those instances, when Jesus told His disciples to feed the people, He meant to give them something to eat! Sometimes, feeding His flock is as simple as that.

Stately oaks line the streets in our community. Since autumn is acorn season, I’ve been thinking of Jesus’s command to bear fruit. Acorns are the fruit of the oak and come from the tiny flowers the trees produce in the spring. Within each acorn is a seed with the potential of becoming another oak tree. It’s been a good year for acorns and, if those oaks were followers of Jesus, our Lord would be pleased at the abundance of fruit they produced.

Next spring, any acorns cached away by an absent-minded squirrel or chipmunk could send up shoots, become seedlings, and eventually grow into trees capable of producing more fruit. Oak seedlings in our community, however, don’t stand a chance since the landscapers will pull them up or mow them down. Even though our acorns won’t grow into trees, they’re much appreciated by the squirrels, rabbits, ducks, crows, jays and woodpeckers who feast on them. The animals often congregate in the middle of the streets to take advantage of the nut-cracking capabilities of car, truck, and bike tires. If those oaks were believers, even without producing more of their kind, I still think our Lord would be pleased by them because they are feeding the hungry!

I apologize for mixing metaphors in my examples. If we bear fruit, as do the oaks, sometimes the seeds in our fruit will take root and grow and, if we tend the flock as a good shepherd, sometimes, the flock will increase. But, other times, like the oaks in our community or the disciples as they passed out loaves and fish, we simply provide physical nourishment for His flock.

This pandemic has exacerbated the inequalities and vulnerabilities suffered by many throughout the world. As the economy spirals downward, the number of hungry rises. The United Nations has warned of “multiple famines of biblical proportions” resulting from COVID-19. They anticipate the number of people in crisis level hunger rising to 270 million by the end of the year (an 82% increase since 2019) and warn that more people may die of coronavirus-driven hunger than those who will die from the virus itself!

Like the oaks, let us be generous with our fruit and, as the shepherds of His sheep, let us feed His flock.

But Jesus said, “You feed them.” [Mark 6:37 (NLT)]

Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions. [Matthew 7:20 (NLT)]

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IT’S YOUR MOVE

If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. [Matthew 5:41 (NLT)]

To feel sorry for the needy is not a mark of a Christian—to help them is. [Frank A. Clark]

white powderpuff

In His “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus gave four illustrations from everyday life about the Christian heart and non-retaliation in the areas of personal attack, legal disputes, forced labor, and financial requests. Although His examples were hyperbolic, His point was abundantly clear—rather than get even, we are to have a generous and compassionate heart toward others.

While personal attack, legal disputes, and people asking for money remain common occurrences today, most of us haven’t encountered an issue of forced labor (although my children might have disputed that back when I made them do chores around the house.) In the 1st century, however, a Roman soldier could commandeer a Jew to carry his armor or other burden for a Roman “mile” consisting of one thousand paces (about 4,854 feet—just a little less than our modern mile). This sort of impressment is what happened to Simon of Cyrene when he was forced to carry Jesus’ cross.

Since we’re not likely to be forcibly impressed into duty, what does Jesus’ exhortation in Matthew 5:41 mean to us today? The idiom “go the extra mile” is rooted in His words and has come to mean making an extra effort or going above and beyond what is necessary or expected. What’s missing in the idiom is the completely voluntary, almost sacrificial nature, of Jesus’s directive. Although a Jew could not refuse to carry a Roman’s load those first thousand steps, he could not legally be made to take one step more. Yet, Jesus instructed him to freely offer that second mile without being asked.

I found the perfect example of Jesus’ directive in two letters recently written to our local newspaper. The first was written by a woman well into her eighties who’d gone to the community center to vote. Turnout for early voting has been enormous and more than 75% of the eligible voters in our county had cast their votes by last Friday. All of that early voting (along with social distancing and sanitizing between voters) meant for some very long lines at the polling places. Having arrived fifteen minutes before the polls opened, this woman hadn’t anticipated a long line and, at first glance, it didn’t look too bad. After parking, she walked toward the line’s end but was stopped by a man near the front of the line. Seeing her cane, he inquired if she was in pain and able to make the walk and endure the wait. Assuring him she was fine, she continued toward what she believed was the end of the line only to see that it extended further than she’d originally thought. Realizing she couldn’t stand that long, the woman turned around and started back toward her car. The same gentleman stepped out of the line, approached, and asked if she was leaving because of the line. Acknowledging it was too long a wait, she said she’d try again the next day but the man insisted she take his place. After walking her to his spot near the front of the line, he went “the extra mile” and took his place at the end of it. The second letter was from another elderly woman who uses a walker. She told how a young man walked across the parking lot just to help her fold and stow her walker in the car after she’d voted. I don’t know whether these men were followers of Christ, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were. They certainly understood the real meaning of going the extra mile.

Jesus summed up all of his exhortations about a Christian’s heart with what we know as “The Golden Rule.” Dr. Frank Crane, an early 20th century Presbyterian minister, had this to say about that golden rule: “The golden rule is of no use whatsoever unless you realize that it is your move.” Like those men at the polling places, let us remember—it’s always our move to take that extra mile!

He who sees a need and waits to be asked for help is as unkind as if he had refused it. [Dante Alighieri]

Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

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HALT

Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:35 (NLT)]

chicoryAlthough they were twins, Esau and Jacob were as different from one another as oil and water. Esau, the first born, was impulsive. An outdoorsman and hunter, he was his father’s favorite. Jacob was the quiet (and cunning) stay-at-home mama’s boy. Esau would have watched the Outdoor and Sportsman Channels while Jacob would have watched Food Network and HGTV.

Returning exhausted from one of his adventures and claiming he was starved, Esau asked for some of Jacob’s stew. Exploiting his brother’s hunger, Jacob offered to trade the stew for Esau’s birthright. The stew must have smelled delicious because Esau, who should have been outraged at the idea, accepted his brother’s offer. Foolishly, he relinquished his double share of their inheritance along with all the privileges and responsibilities due the eldest son simply to gratify his hunger.

Esau’s story reminds me of the acronym HALT which stands for hungry-angry-lonely-tired. Halt is what we should do before making a decision if we’re feeling any of those things! Esau was both tired and hungry when he made that life-altering decision. Granted, Jacob’s insistence on making a bargain before feeding his own brother was both sly and selfish of him. Still, the fault for that decision falls solely on the shoulders of Esau.

Esau wasn’t starving; his empty stomach may have been growling but he wasn’t malnourished or wasting away. Nevertheless, he was far more interested in immediately gratifying his hunger with a bowl of lentil stew than the ramifications of his choice. Like Esau, when we’re hungry, angry, lonely, or tired, we look to quickly meeting our needs without thinking about the consequences. In short, we’re blind to the enemy’s tactics and vulnerable to sin.

Our hunger may simply be for food, as it was for Esau, but it also can be for things like money, fame, attention, understanding, or acceptance. Simon the Sorcerer, for example, was so hungry for the power and authority of the Holy Spirit that he tried to buy it from Peter and John.

The time to make decisions is not when our emotions are on high alert. Acting in anger is dangerous and can lead to name calling, broken relationships, criticism, belittling, destruction, and even violence. Anger is what caused Moses to rashly smash stone tablets that had been written on by the hand of God! When insulted by Nabal, an enraged David immediately set out to kill every man in Nabal’s household. Fortunately, Abigail stepped in, pled for mercy, and cooler heads prevailed.

Making decisions when we’re lonely isn’t a good idea either. Feeling abandoned and alone, Elijah wanted to lie down and die. Being lonely, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being alone. We can feel isolated and disconnected even when surrounded by plenty of people. Perhaps, in spite of his wives and concubines, it was that sort of loneliness that caused David to desire Bathsheba. Halting helps us remember that God always is with us.

Being tired can be physical exhaustion, as it was with Esau, but it also can be a sense of being overwhelmed and drained. For forty years, Moses faithfully led the Israelites but it was his weariness and exasperation at their constant rebellion that caused him to disobey God and strike the rock at Kadesh. Sadly, his impulsive act meant the weary man never entered the Promised Land.

It’s been said that the difference between school and life is that, in school, you’re taught a lesson and then take a test but, in life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson! Let us learn the lesson about halting without having to make a mistake like Esau’s. As the old saying goes, “act in haste, repent in leisure.” Poor decisions come when we’re hungry, angry, lonely or tired. When you’re in one of those situations, halt and pray instead!

We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. [2 Corinthians 4:8-9 (NLT)]

Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes. [Psalm 37:7 (NLT)]

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CHALLENGING CIRCUMSTANCES

How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! “Violence is everywhere!” I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery?” [Habakkuk 1:2-3 (NLT)]

bougainvilla

In Pearls Before Swine, a comic drawn by Stephen Pastis, the gentle, sweet, and somewhat dim-witted Pig has been struggling to maintain his cheerful disposition during the pandemic. He tried ignoring it all with a good book and a bucket of cheese while sequestered in his “comfy corner” of pillows and then attempted to erase the year entirely by throwing out his 2020 calendar. In the belief that “the only way out of these difficult days is to hug our way out!” Pig recently went door to door offering hugs. After being told that hugging wasn’t allowed because of the virus, he lamented, “These are merciless times.” Indeed they are and we can’t change them with a bucket of cheese (or a bottle of gin), denial, or hugs.

It’s a bad situation and may well get worse before it gets better. We could do as Pig did in one comic—close our eyes, cover our ears, and sing “lalala” whenever there’s bad news but ignoring bad news won’t help. Eventually, we have to face reality and hear what it has to say. Recently, the naïve Pig asked the wise one on the hill, “When will things get better?” His response was, “When you decide they get better.” Pig questioned what he meant and the man answered, “That you can’t control events, but you can control your reaction to those events.” Disappointed, Pig said, “I was hoping he’d just say Tuesday.” Yes, the answer is disappointing but it’s true. The naïve Pig was told what we, as Christians, should know: circumstances do not have to determine our mindset!

This isn’t the first time life has presented us with circumstances beyond our control and it won’t be the last. The book of Habakkuk begins with a complaint much like Pig’s. Wanting to know when things will get better, the prophet cries, “How long, O Lord, must I call for help?” Looking at the troubles surrounding him, he wonders if God has everything under control and questions God’s goodness. God’s answer is to wait patiently and trust Him.

Like Pig, Habakkuk doesn’t completely understand. Nevertheless, he chooses to look beyond the difficult times and focus on God. His words conclude with a psalm of faith, trust, and triumph. The situation is still as bad at the end of the book as it was at the beginning and yet the prophet’s words go from those of gloom to ones of glory. The only thing that changed was his mind! Like us, Habakkuk still didn’t know why or when, but he knew that he would rejoice in the Lord regardless of his circumstances.

Rather than focusing on our circumstances—circumstances not of our choosing or liking—let us focus on the God who is with us in these circumstances. As Christians, we must remember that we’re not defeated by loss, pain, worry, grief, injustice, or insults and we’re not overpowered by trials, difficult people, or even a pandemic! Things will get better when we decide they will: by accepting what we can’t control, controlling what we can, and trusting in the Lord!

Since we cannot change reality, let us change the eyes which see reality. [Nikos Kazantzakis]

Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights. [Habakkuk 3:17-19 (NLT)]

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TAILOR-MADE

When the sun went down, everyone who had sick people – all kinds of sicknesses – brought them to him. He laid his hands on each one in turn, and healed them. [Luke 4:40 (NTE)]

paper kite butterflyThinking of Jesus’ first miracle caused me to consider His other miracles. Along with general accounts of Him healing people in Capernaum, Gennesaret, and Jerusalem, the gospels mention 35 specific miracles He performed. When we consider the way Jesus healed the blind, His miracles seem almost tailor-made for the people blessed by them. John tells us that Jesus healed one blind man by mixing His spittle with dirt, rubbing the resulting mud over the man’s eyes, and telling the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. Mark tells of another occasion when Jesus took a blind man by the hand and led him out of the village. Surely, they talked but we don’t know about what. Jesus then spit on the man’s eyes and laid His hands on him. Although the man regained his sight, he didn’t understand what he saw so Jesus did it again. Was that one miracle done in two parts or could it have been two miracles: one to restore the man’s sight and the second so he could comprehend what he saw? Another time, Jesus skipped the spit and merely touched two blind men to restore their sight. Then we have the healing of Bartimaeus: Jesus immediately restored His sight without spit, mud, washing, or touch.

Like Bartimaeus, many were healed just by Jesus’ word while others were healed by His touch or by touching His robe. Some, like the woman with the blood disorder, spoke with Him and others, like the Syrophoenician’s daughter and the Roman officer’s servant, never even saw Jesus. Some miracles, such as the raising of Lazarus were done quite publicly while others, like the raising of Jairus’ daughter, were done in secret. A deformed hand was made normal, a paralytic walked, a severed ear was restored, lepers were made whole, a storm was calmed, and demoniacs were freed of their demons. When we compare His miracle at Cana with the feeding of multitudes, we see that Jesus transformed in the first instance but expanded in the others. No two miracles were quite the same and no two lives were touched in quite the same way.

The gospels tell of Jesus healing many people in Capernaum. They’d waited until evening, when the Sabbath was over, to carry the sick to Jesus and gather around Him. Faced with a crowd of hurting people, Jesus didn’t wave His hand over them and do a mass healing. Luke specifically mentions that Jesus laid hands on each person in turn. He had a personal concern for each one and the healing received was a healing designed specifically for him or her.

As a petite woman, I hate “one size fits all” clothing; even the more honest “one size fits most” apparel never seems to fit. In a perfect world, I’d have a personal seamstress design and custom make my clothes. The world, however, isn’t perfect so I settle with good enough. Although the world isn’t perfect, our Lord is and His miracles tell us that ours is not a “one size fits all” God. Because he designed and created us, He knows us more intimately than a seamstress fitting us for a form-fitting gown or a tailor for a custom suit. Coming right into our lives, Jesus gets up close and personal and we never have to settle for good enough. Knowing our unique situation and needs, His answers to our prayers are tailor-made just for us.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. [Psalm 139:13-14 (NLT)]

What is the price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Luke 12:6-7 (NLT)]

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