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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THE BRIDEGROOM (Cana – Part 3)

You yourselves know how plainly I told you, “I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for him.” It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the bridegroom’s friend is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at his success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less. [John 3:28-29 (NLT)]

wedding - 1939That Jesus chose Cana for His first public miracle and turned water into wine may not be as random as it first seems. By providing wine for the wedding, Jesus took on the bridegroom’s role which foreshadowed things to come.

John the Baptist described Jesus as a bridegroom and himself as the groom’s friend, much like today’s “best man.” In Jesus’ day, the groom’s best friend might have served as master of the banquet. The master of the banquet, however, knew he wasn’t the one hosting the party and the celebration wasn’t about him. By calling Jesus the bridegroom, John accepted his secondary role.

The bridegroom imagery continued when Jesus explained why his disciples didn’t fast. Fasting was for a time of mourning but weddings were a time to rejoice and Jesus compared his relationship with the disciples to that of a bridegroom and his guests. It would be inappropriate for the groom’s guests to fast during the celebration while the groom still was present. The time for fasting would be when He no longer was with them.

At another time, Jesus likened His followers to bridesmaids who were waiting with lamps for the groom to come and collect his bride. Some weren’t prepared with enough oil and, since the groom was a long time coming, their lamps went out. Without the light, they couldn’t accompany the wedding party back to the groom’s house for the celebration. This parable warned Jesus’ followers to be prepared for His return.

We find a bridegroom again when Jesus compared the Kingdom of Heaven to a wedding feast given by a king for his son. Two invitations were sent to such a celebration: the first asking them to attend and the second telling them it was ready. When the guests who initially accepted the king’s invitation refused to come, he sent out a third invitation but the people refused and his messenger was killed. With his invitation rejected, the king extended his invitation to everyone.

In Ephesians, we find Paul continuing the metaphor when he says the way a man and his wife are united is “an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.”[5:31-32] It comes full circle in Revelation when Jesus, the Lamb of God, is called the bridegroom and His church the bride.

Let us not be like the guests who reject the King’s invitation or the foolish bridesmaids who weren’t ready for the bridegroom’s arrival. We want to join in the celebration. We are, after all, the bride of Christ!

Let us be glad and rejoice, and let us give honor to him. For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself. … And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.” [Revelation 19:7,9 (NLT)]

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WHY ASK HIM? (Cana – Part 2)

The wine supply ran out during the festivities, so Jesus’ mother told him, “They have no more wine.” [John 2:3 (NLT)]  

low bindweed - ILWe know from His encounter with the rabbis when he was twelve that Jesus was wise beyond His years but He’s not associated with any miracles until that day in Cana. The lack of wine at that wedding created a crisis and a solution was urgently needed but I wonder why Mary went to Jesus rather than the master of the banquet or host with the problem. Did she expect her son to perform a miracle? Whenever she ran short of wine at home in Nazareth, rather than going to market did she simply ask Jesus to make it? Like the widow of Zarephath, did Mary have an endless supply of oil and flour? I think not. Although Jesus was fully God, He also was fully man and, for the most part, lived within the restrictions of humanity. Moreover, not one of the miracles He performed was done for convenience.

If Jesus hadn’t acted as Mary’s personal 7-Eleven in Nazareth, why did she bring the predicament to Him? That she didn’t fully understand Jesus’ identity or mission was demonstrated later in His ministry when Mary and His brothers expressed fear that He’d lost His mind. Nevertheless, Mary knew Jesus was different and a man of wisdom, assurance and authority. Intuitively, she knew to turn to Him when things went wrong. Mary, however, never asked for a miracle; she simply stated the problem. While her words were a polite Middle Eastern way of implying that He should do something, what she expected is not clear. Perhaps she thought that He and His disciples knew where more wine could be obtained. Leaving the decision to Jesus as to whether He’d do anything and not knowing how it would be done, she told the servants to do as Jesus said.

Are we as upfront with Jesus concerning our problems as was Mary? Are our prayers as straightforward? Do we simply bring our concerns to Jesus and leave it at that or do we tell Him what we want Him to do and how He’s to do it? Are our prayers confident ones? Are we as sure as was Mary that Jesus can and will resolve the situation, answer the question, or provide what’s needed? She gave Him the problem and then walked away. Are we as willing to hand Him our concerns? Is Jesus the first one to whom we come with our problems or is He more like the 911 operator we call only when all else fails and the situation is dire?

When we come to Jesus do we come with a willingness to obey Him? “Whatever he says, do it,” said Mary. Remember, Jesus wasn’t the host; He was just another wedding guest. His instructions to fill ceremonial jugs with water and take some to the master of the banquet for tasting didn’t make much sense. Yet, we don’t read of the servants questioning Him. We don’t know at what point that water turned into wine but had I been one of those servants, I would have been shaking in my sandals. What if it still was water or, worse, sour wine? Nevertheless, they immediately did as they were told.

Let us learn from Mary’s faith in Jesus to solve our problems and the servants’ willingness to obey His instructions!

The Bible recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, nor does it recognize any obedience that does not spring from faith. The two are at opposite sides of the same coin. [A. W. Tozer]

“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.” [Matthew 17:20 (NLT)]

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UNFAIR

And the Lord’s anger was kindled against Israel, and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until all the generation that had done evil in the sight of the Lord was gone. [Numbers 32:13 (ESV)]

Begonia - Binos soft pink

Although my high school grand lives in a state where COVID-19 has necessitated remote schooling, I was pleased to learn that her school found a safe way for their students to take the SAT this week. On-line school would be cancelled that day, the school building would open, volunteer teachers would serve as proctors and monitors, desks would be safely spaced, and only ten students would be in any room. It seemed like a perfect solution. The reckless actions of my grand’s fellow students, however, changed all that when over 100 classmates attended an unsupervised house party over the weekend. Unfortunately, that massive gathering of teens created both a police situation and a public health nightmare. Since many of those attending were signed up for this week’s SAT, the test was cancelled. The school principal wasn’t going to put volunteer teachers and other students at risk because of the foolhardy and selfish actions of a few. Because several of those attending the party also were athletes, all sport team practices were cancelled for the next two weeks, as well.

Complaining that it’s unfair, many parents are angry at the police, school, health department, and governor when they should be mad at the thoughtless teens and careless parents who allowed such behavior. This took place in a state where COVID cases have more than doubled this week and the state is facing a public health crisis. Sadly, the students who followed the rules, abided by the protocols, and accepted the restrictions are suffering. Yes, it seems terribly unfair but it’s what had to be done.

When my daughter talked with her teen about this situation, I wonder if she mentioned Joshua and Caleb. They didn’t deserve any punishment when they returned from scouting Canaan. The two men pled with the Israelites to trust God and go forward into the Promised Land but the people rebelled and refused. As a result, the Israelites were sentenced to years of wandering the desert until the last of the rebellious adults died. Even though Caleb and Joshua weren’t sentenced to die from the plague as were the scouts whose words caused the people’s rebellion, having to wait so long when they were so close (and did nothing wrong) must have seemed incredibly unfair. Did the two men wonder why they and their families should be punished for the sins of everyone else? There’s no record of Joshua and Caleb arguing with God: “Hey, don’t punish us; we didn’t do anything wrong!” They didn’t question God saying, “Hey, what if we die in the meantime? Where’s our reward then?” They simply accepted God’s decision. Even though they were punished for the sins of others, they eventually got to the Promised Land.

Of course, Caleb and Joshua weren’t the only ones in the Bible to be unfairly punished. Think of Jesus! Completely sinless, He endured the punishment for our sins without complaint! He didn’t just miss the SAT and volleyball practice or spend forty years in the wilderness. He suffered on the cross, died and was buried for our sins. He didn’t endure that punishment so He could enter the Promised Land; Jesus did it so we could!

There was nothing fair about Jesus taking our punishment and us getting the reward! He was, however, God’s love and grace in flesh and blood. Jesus didn’t die to appease an angry God but to reveal a God who loves us enough to suffer for us. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking our punishment and giving us the gift of salvation and everlasting life in return.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. [1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)]

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. [Romans 5:6-8 (ESV)]

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NO PITY PARTIES (Elijah – Part 3)

But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied, “I have zealously served the Lord God Almighty. But the people of Israel have broken their covenant with you, torn down your altars, and killed every one of your prophets. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me, too.” [1 Kings 19:9b-10 (NLT)]

paper kite butterflyWhen God asked Elijah what he was doing, the prophet’s answer should have been, “I’m having a pity party!” Having experienced the high point of life on Mt. Carmel, the prophet now found himself at an all-time low. Feeling abandoned, Elijah was bitter that, after serving God so zealously, he’d been rejected by Ahab and was running for his life.

Elijah was underestimating the power of God and over-estimating the power of his enemy; as long as God had work for him to accomplish, the prophet was invulnerable to Jezebel’s attacks. Moreover, when Elijah complained that he was the only faithful person remaining, he wasn’t. In his self-pity, he’d forgotten about meeting Obadiah, the man who’d hidden and protected 100 of God’s faithful and God told him that 7,000 others in Israel had not bowed to Baal.

Deep valleys of testing often follow our mountaintop experiences as they did with Elijah.  When life throws a curve ball like a pandemic or when it hits us directly with a bean ball like stage-4 cancer or paralysis, our first response often is a pity party like Elijah’s. He seemed to think the world revolved around him and that he was the only one encountering difficulty; we tend to do the same thing. Elijah wasn’t alone and neither are we.

Like Elijah, we don’t think we deserve our troubles, but we’re no more deserving or undeserving than the next guy. Difficulty, disappointment, adversity and disaster are inevitable in our fallen world. Despair, pessimism, gloom, and complaint, however, are not; they are a choice.

Elijah’s faith in and service to God did not protect him from hardship nor will ours. Living for Jesus will have both peaks and valleys. Let us remember: everything that touches us, whether we’re having a mountain top experience or trudging through a dark valley, has passed through God’s hands first and has a purpose. It’s only when we stop wallowing in self-pity, however, that we’ll find His purpose.

God told Elijah to get up and get to work. He was to anoint Hazael to be the next king of Aram, Jehu to be the next king of Israel, and Elisha to be his successor. Elijah had a purpose and so do we. When God asks us what we’re doing, as He did with Elijah, our response should not be one of complaint and self-pity. It should one of acceptance and joy that we are serving God and doing His work!

I must learn that the purpose of my life belongs to God, not me. God is using me from His great personal perspective, and all He asks of me is that I trust Him…. Self-pity is of the devil, and if I wallow in it I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. [Oswald Chambers]

And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. [Romans 8:28 (NLT)]

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. [Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)]

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LISTEN FOR THE WHISPER (Elijah – Part 2)

And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. And the hand of the Lord was on Elijah, and he gathered up his garment and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel. [1 Kings 18:45-46 (ESV)]

dawn - apple canyon lakeWhen Elijah and the Lord proved triumphant over Baal, the man must have felt like he’d won the gold medal in the prophet Olympics. Rain stopped when he called for a drought, returned when he promised it would, fire poured down from heaven at his call, and the people had slaughtered Baal’s prophets. Fresh from his extraordinary victory at Mount Carmel and thinking that Ahab and Israel would return to Yahweh, Elijah ran all the way to Jezreel.

Although Ahab had witnessed the defeat of Baal’s prophets, Jezebel had not. After the king related all that had happened, the incensed queen vowed to kill the prophet. Neither Ahab nor Jezebel understood: it was God’s power that defeated Baal, not Elijah’s! They might be able to kill the prophet but they couldn’t defeat the one true God.

When Elijah sped to Jezreel, he probably expected a hero’s welcome rather than the death warrant that sent him fleeing into the wilderness. Doing God’s work doesn’t mean we won’t be frustrated or disappointed by the results; it certainly doesn’t mean we’ll be free from opposition or trouble. Let’s remember that all but one of the disciples died a martyr’s death and the hero’s welcome given to Jesus by Jerusalem’s population was replaced by calls for his crucifixion less than a week later.

Forgetting that God (not Jezebel) was in charge, the disheartened prophet prayed for death and fell asleep. He awakened to an angel who fed him and sent the man on a 200-mile journey to Mt. Sinai. Once there, Elijah found shelter in a cave where he once again complained to God. Having served the Lord in such an extraordinary way, he didn’t expect to be rejected and alone. God responded by promising the depressed man that He soon would pass by. After a wind so powerful it loosened the rocks raged, there was a terrifying earthquake followed by a fire. Although wind, earthquake and fire were signs of God’s arrival, the Lord was not found in any of those impressive phenomena. Finally, it was in the sound of a faint whisper that Elijah heard the Lord’s voice.

Sometimes we see or hear God in the impressive and spectacular but, more often than not, He makes Himself known in ways we least expect: the seemingly insignificant—like a hushed voice. God doesn’t have to shout because He always is near. Let us silence our complaint and draw close to Him so we can hear His gentle whisper.

God operates in the great and small, the remarkable and the ordinary. While He may call us to do spectacular things, as He did with Elijah, most of the time, He calls us to do ordinary mundane tasks. Those tasks won’t bring us honor or glory (nor should we expect them to). What they will do is glorify God! As Mother Teresa so wisely said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.”

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. [Isaiah 55:10-11 (ESV)]

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