HE’S NOT A MISER

zebras - great migration -serengetiWhat shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31-32 (NLT)]

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. [James 4:2b (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, I thought of an exchange between her parents while the girl was being operated on for the removal of the near fatal bullet. The words “the patient may die,” had been on the papers consenting to her surgery and Malala’s father was deep in prayer. Making bargains with God, he prayed aloud, “Even if she is injured, just let her survive.” Malala’s mother, a devout Muslim, stopped him in his prayers with these words, “God is not a miser!” She confidently added, “He will give me back my daughter as she was,” and then returned to her non-stop prayers for a full recovery.

Her dissatisfaction with her husband’s prayers and her confidence in God’s ability to do great things reminded me of something said by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. Calling us “half-hearted creatures,” he compared us to “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” While Lewis was writing about wanting things of the world when the splendor of God could be ours, I think his words apply to prayer, as well. Our prayers often are half-hearted and, like Malala’s father, we are far too easily pleased. We forget that, rather than a miser, God is our generous loving Father.

Pint-sized prayers suggest that we doubt God’s love for us and yet God is love; He loved us enough to give His only son to die for us! Small prayers imply that we think God is puny. A 97-pound weakling God could not have created man from dust and woman from man, made walls collapse and the sun stand still for Joshua, provided both drought and rain to Elijah, or given sight to the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead. Nothing is impossible for Him.

Perhaps we ask far too little of God because we’re afraid that He will think we are asking too much. Yet, without asking, we won’t receive. Malala’s mother said that God isn’t a miser and, with 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone, creation tells us that’s true. A miserly God wouldn’t have given us nearly 10,000 different species of birds, 950,000 species of insects, and even 16,000 species of mushrooms. He’s a “more than enough” God who loves to give gifts to His children. Why are we so easily pleased asking for a little bite when He’s waiting to give us the whole cake?

Mark’s gospel tells of a man who brought his demon-possessed, deaf and mute son to Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus just to stop the convulsions or only to give the boy hearing or speech; he asked Jesus to heal him, but added, “if you can.” Assuring him that, “Anything is possible if a person believes,” the father’s reply was, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” [9:23-24]

Knowing that nothing is impossible with God, and remembering that God is not a miser, let our prayers be bold ones. Let us also pray that He helps us overcome our unbelief!

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. [Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)]

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LEADING WITH LOVE

For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. [John 1:17 (NLT)]

mouse-ear hawkweedLegend had it that an angel of the Lord occasionally would come into the pool at Bethesda, stir up the water, and that the first person to enter the pool would then be healed. Jesus, however, simply said to the crippled man lying there: “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” and the man did just that. Since it was the Sabbath, the man later was stopped by the Jewish leaders and condemned for carrying his mat and working on the day of rest. According to the law, either he should have stayed and watched his mat or left it behind and walked away. When he explained that the man who’d healed him told him otherwise, they wanted him to identify his healer. Their curiosity, however, had nothing to do with knowing who had performed this amazing miracle; they wanted to know who’d broken the law!

It was on the Sabbath that Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. Out Lord spit on the ground, made mud with his saliva, applied the muck over the man’s eyes, and told him to wash himself in the pool of Siloam. After the man did as directed, he could see. Stunned by the change in him, people who’d known him as a blind beggar took him to be questioned by the Pharisees. Again, Mosaic Law had been broken, not just by the healing, but also by the spitting (considered digging or plowing) and mud making (combining wet and dry was kneading). Sure that a healer who so flagrantly broke the Sabbath could not be from God, the Pharisees wanted to know who it was.

On another Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the temple when He saw a woman so misshapen by her disease that she couldn’t even stand up straight. After calling her over, He touched her and told her that she was healed. Instantly, the woman stood erect and praised God. The synagogue leaders didn’t have to question the woman as to who healed her that time; they saw it for themselves.

In all these instances, the synagogue leaders believed Jesus had broken the law by healing on the Sabbath. Unless it was a critical life-or-death situation, healing was considered work and was to be delayed until after the Sabbath. Since the crippled man had been that way for thirty-eight years, the blind man sightless since birth, and the woman’s body bent and broken for eighteen years, there was nothing urgent about their conditions. After Jesus healed the woman, the Pharisees indignantly told Him to come some other day to do His healing! Another day meant nothing to the Pharisees. Of course, they weren’t the ones suffering! When in pain or distress, even an hour can feel like an eternity.

When questioned by the Pharisees, Jesus reminded them that the main principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law was tza’ar ba’alei chayim: preventing the suffering of living creatures. Even though a donkey or ox could not be untied to go out to work, it could be untied and taken out to be fed and watered so that it wouldn’t suffer all day. Moreover, an animal was to be relieved if it was suffering from carrying too heavy a load. The load those hurting people were carrying was exceedingly heavy and stopping the suffering of God’s creatures was all Jesus was doing when He healed! In their obsession with keeping to the letter of the law, the Pharisees seemed to forget the spirit of God’s law: that we are to love the Lord and love our neighbor. That wasn’t a legendary healing angel of the Lord standing right in front of the Pharisees, it was the Lord himself! Sadly, instead of recognizing Him, they persecuted Him.

So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God. [John 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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PRAYERS FOR HEALING

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [Isaiah 53:5 (NLT)]

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

rabbitWe know Jesus was capable of big miracles: twice He ended up with leftovers after feeding thousands with only a few scraps and He brought the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus back to life. Nevertheless, when Jesus was at the pool of Bethesda and surrounded by a crowd of sick, paralyzed, blind and lame people, He healed only one man before disappearing into the crowd! That crippled man didn’t even ask for healing. From his later encounter with Jesus, we know he was a sinner so he couldn’t have been more deserving than anyone else gathered at that pool! Jesus could have healed, not just everyone at that pool, but every malady in all of Palestine. Why just that one man?

Recently, three people, all with serious health concerns, gathered around the pastor and we prayed with them for strength, courage, wisdom for their doctors, and healing. I will rejoice if God provides healing for those people and I have no doubt that He can. We have a God of miracles and nothing is impossible for Him.

Last year I prayed equally diligently for two people facing stage 4 cancer. Neither was more deserving of life but, today, one is cancer free and the other is dead. When our prayers for healing are unsuccessful, does it mean we didn’t pray hard enough or with enough faith? There are some who would say so but I disagree. When we look at the Apostle Paul, we see a true prayer warrior: a man of deep and abiding faith. If anyone had a direct line to God’s ear, it would have been Paul. Yet, in spite of his prayers, his infirmity (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) remained and there was no relief for him.

People often claim that Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:28 are promises of God’s healing. Indeed, they are; but a look at their context tells us the promised healing is spiritual rather than physical. The verses are about sin, righteousness, forgiveness and salvation rather than sickness or disease. It is our troubled souls, not our ailing bodies, that will receive the promised healing.

It is never wrong to pray for healing but we should remember that physical healing is not promised. Some people will have healing and others will have an opportunity to share Christ’s suffering. If our prayers fail to bring healing, it’s not because our faith isn’t real enough, our requests not earnest enough, we’re not righteous enough, God isn’t big enough, or that He doesn’t love us enough. It’s simply because it’s not in His plan to offer healing on this side of the grass. Let us remember our hope in not in physical healing; it is in salvation.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced that fiery furnace, they knew the God they served was fully able to save them but they also knew that He might choose not to do so. Their faith was not limited to a God of miracles; their faith was in a sovereign God and they trusted their destiny, whatever it would be, to His hands. We must have that same kind of faith.

All physical healing is temporary—the crippled man from the pool eventually died, as did the man born blind, the woman with the bleeding issue, the ten lepers, Peter’s mother and even Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. Whether or not the three people for whom we prayed receive healing, at some time or another, they also will die. It only will be then that they truly receive God’s healing along with new bodies that are designed to last for all of eternity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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RETRIBUTION THEOLOGY CONTINUED

The Lord curses the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the upright. [Proverbs 3:33 (NLT)]

The godly eat to their hearts’ content, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry. [Proverbs 13:25 (NLT)]

Backsliders get what they deserve; good people receive their reward. [Proverbs 14:14 (NLT)]

blue flag irisWhen writing about the faulty theology of Job and his friends, I thought of when Jesus’s disciples questioned why a man had been born blind. Showing their belief in retribution theology and never considering that sin might have nothing to do with it, they asked whether the man’s blindness was because of his sins or those of his parents. Jesus’s answer, however, makes it clear that no one’s sins were the cause: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” [John 9:3] After Jesus restored his sight, the man testified before the Pharisees that, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” [John 9:33] Disliking that answer, retribution theology reared its ugly head again when the Pharisees accused the once blind man of being born a sinner and threw him out of the synagogue.

People made wrong assumptions about the Apostle Paul’s troubles when he was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. A snake bit him as he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire. Seeing the viper hanging from his hand, the islanders automatically assumed he was an escaped murderer and that dying from a snake bite would be exactly what he deserved. Paul shook the snake into the fire and, when the snake’s venom didn’t kill the Apostle, he proved their first assumption wrong. Then, because Paul survived unscathed, they assumed he was a god! Wrong on both counts: neither snake bite nor miraculous recovery indicate sinner or saint!

A quick reading of the blessings and curses in Proverbs can make us think that retribution theology is correct. Rather than God’s promises, however, Solomon’s proverbs give us wide-ranging wisdom on life. Generally speaking, godly living usually results in a good life and what goes around often comes around when it comes to wickedness, but there’s no guarantee of either on this side of the grass. That sightless man didn’t deserve to be born blind any more than Job deserved his suffering, Joseph deserved being sold into slavery, Jeremiah deserved getting thrown into a mud-filled cistern, Naomi and Ruth deserved widowhood, James deserved beheading, Stephen deserved stoning, or Paul deserved the snake bite, imprisonment, beatings, or the “thorn in his flesh.”

Although the concept of sowing and reaping is Biblical, we must be wary of being like the people of Malta, the disciples, and Job’s friends by judging people’s righteousness (or unrighteousness) by their external circumstances. There is no easy explanation for human suffering and we can’t possibly see into people’s hearts to know the depth of either their wickedness or righteousness. We must never presume guilt before innocence, assign blame without reason, assume people have caused their own troubles, or make presumptions based on stereotypes. Let us never forget that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to the bad. Someday, God will judge the world and there will be perfect justice. A day will come when every man will reap exactly what he’s sown but, until then, let’s be cautious in our assumptions about guilt and innocence.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

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EASTER: ALLELUIA! CHRIST IS RISEN!

monarch butterfliesThe next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it. [Matthew 27:62-65 (NLT)]

Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Sons of men and angels say, Alleluia!
Raise your joys and triumphs high, Alleluia!
Sing, ye heav’ns, and earth, reply, Alleluia!
Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia!
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia!
Once He died our souls to save, Alleluia!
Where thy victory, O grave? Alleluia! [Charles Wesley]

Billy Graham told of when an entertainment network was doing a story on highlights of Charlotte, North Carolina. Considered a point of interest, the Billy Graham Library was visited by the show’s co-host, Kristy Villa, and her film crew. Seeing the many crosses displayed throughout the property, Villa asked, “I see all the crosses, but where is Jesus?” Her library guide replied, “He’s in Heaven, and He is also present in the lives of those who believe in Him and follow Him as their personal Lord and Savior.” Villa exclaimed, “Oh, that’s right! Some worship a crucifix, but Christians worship a risen Christ.” The journalist added, “I have been in church my whole life, but I have never heard the emphasis put on an empty cross.” Our emphasis is on the empty tomb, as well!

The bodies of Bahá’u’lláh, founder of Bahá’í faith, and Báb, a central figure in Bahá’í and the founder of Bábisma, are buried in Israel. The grave of Confucius, the founder of Confucianism, is in his home town of Qufu in China and Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is buried in the Mosque of the Prophet in the Saudi Arabian city of Medina. The body of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, was cremated and his remains were sent to eight different royal families. The Patna Museum in India displays a casket containing his sacred ashes and a temple in Sri Lanka possesses what is said to be his right tooth. When he failed to resurrect, the body of Cyrus Teed, founder of Koreshanity was buried on Estero Island; two years later a hurricane washed his tomb out to sea. As for Jesus? His grave was empty!

Let us never forget that the story didn’t end with the crucified Christ! The cross couldn’t stop Jesus and the tomb couldn’t contain Him. Pilate’s best efforts to secure the tomb were worthless. A Roman seal, large boulder and a sixteen-man Roman guard were not enough to keep Jesus shut in His tomb! Both cross and grave are empty! With His death and resurrection, Christ triumphed over both sin and death! Alleluia!

Easter means you can put the truth in a grave but you can’t keep it there. [Anne Lamott]

But the angel said, “Don’t be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead!” [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

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ALL IN THE PLAN

“Lazarus’s sickness will not end in death. No, it happened for the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, he stayed where he was for the next two days. Finally, he said to his disciples, “Let’s go back to Judea.” [John 11:4-7 (NLT)]

gardeniaJesus was in Perea on the east side of the Jordan, about 18 miles away from Bethany, when he learned that Lazarus lay on his sickbed. Why didn’t He immediately return when told that his dear friend had taken ill? Although the timeline is unclear, it was a day’s journey for the messengers and Lazarus was probably dead by the time they reached Jesus with their news. Nevertheless, even though Jesus knew that He’d miraculously resurrect the dead man, He seemed strangely unconcerned. Why didn’t Jesus return immediately to comfort Martha and Mary and cut short their time of mourning by performing His miracle? Instead, He waited two more days before returning; by the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had been dead four days and was in his tomb.

Jesus never seemed to do anything by accident and this delay was deliberate. In fact, he told the disciples “For your sakes, I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe.”[John 11:15] The Midrash, an ancient commentary on Hebrew Scriptures, helps explain why Jesus waited before returning to Bethany. There was a Jewish belief that the soul remained in close proximity to its dead body, trying to reenter it, for three days. It was not until the fourth day, when the body started to decompose that the soul finally departed. 2nd century Rabbi Shimon Bar Kappara explained that, “Until three days [after death] the soul keeps on returning to the grave, thinking that it will go back [into the body]; but when it sees that the facial features have become disfigured, it departs and abandons it [the body].” [Genesis Rabbah 100:7]

Jesus had already raised two people from the dead. Both miracles, however, had been within that three day window when it was believed that the soul was still present and unbelievers had discredited His power. The resurrection of Jairus’s daughter was done privately and immediately after her death. The widow’s son was resurrected during his funeral procession which was probably within a day of his death. The raising of Lazarus, however, was going to be an in-your-face all-out undeniable miracle. A respected member of the community, Lazarus had been dead four days and, without a doubt, the man was dead and not coming back! His remains had started to decompose and the lingering soul would have departed. Not only would Jesus raise him from the dead, but Lazarus would be able to walk out of his tomb unassisted. All of this would occur in full view of the many people who’d come to mourn with the sisters when, according to Jewish belief, resurrection was no longer possible. By waiting four days, there could be no denying this miracle. Jesus wasn’t being cold or unresponsive when He didn’t come immediately. He had a far bigger and greater plan and deliberately staged this scene for “the glory of God so that the Son of God will receive glory from this.” Indeed, Jesus was the resurrection and the life!

John’s gospel tells us that after the raising of Lazarus, the Jewish leaders plotted the death of Jesus. How ironic that, by giving life to Lazarus, Jesus set in motion the very circumstances that would lead to His own death.

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” [John 11:25-26 (NIV)]

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