What Jesus DID: “The Seven Works of Jesus” (Part IV) – John 6:1-15

Overlooking Jesus

If you have been paying close attention to the habits of people in our time, you know that most of us spend much more time conversing electronically than we do face to face. Whether you are from the generation that sits in front of the news and commentary shows on the TV, or you have learned the skill of not walking into poles while reading your phone and traversing the street, you know we are growing to expect our human contact to come primary through machines, and not directly with humans at all. In her book, “Alone Together: Why we expect more from technology and less from one another,” Sherry Turkle offered some compelling and astute observations about modern life in “first world” settings. She wrote (p.279):

In the fall of 1978, Michael Dertouzos, director of the Laboratory for Computer Science, held a two-day retreat at MIT’s Endicott House on the future of personal computers, at the time widely called “home computers.” It was clear that “everyday people” …would soon be able to have their own computers…But what could people DO with them? …Some of the most brilliant computer scientists in the world…were asked to brainstorm on the question…tax preparation…teaching children to program…a calendar….games [all were mentioned].

She continued: “Now we know that once computers connected us to each other, once we became tethered to the network, we didn’t need to keep computers busy. They keep US busy. It is as though we have become the killer app…”We don’t do our emails; our email does US. We talk about spending hours on email, but we, too, are being spent.

For my students, I think that isn’t really true. The next generation doesn’t spend their time on email as my generation does. At the same time, the computer (or shall I say “cell phone” – which seems to be everything BUT an actual phone) has replaced much social conversation. Many of us complain that the simplicity of spending time together has been overtaken by a wave of unending, but commonly accepted interruptions. Anyone who knows me well, knows I HATE cell phones, because I prize uninterrupted conversation, and undisrupted time thinking. I cannot multitask, and being forced to try is honestly one of the things I find most annoying in modern life. Let’s soberly evaluate for a moment:

We live with changed expectations of social etiquette: We don’t pull up in a “drive through” and expect a greeting from the server – because he or she is busy speaking to the person behind us who is just giving their order. We will get a hand out for the money, and a bag for the food – often with little or no human interaction apart from the almost indiscernible voice from the loud speaker when we ordered. If we don’t get the proper order, WE feel like we are blocking up the assembly line of food orders. The customer is often made to feel now they have become the servant of the food server.

We create limits on communication with controls: Many prefer TEXTING over talking on the phone. If you ask them, they may not consciously understand why. For most, I dare say, they prefer to control the length and depth of the conversation – and avoid the time saving greetings and “niceties.” We can ask what we want, and get what we need – no extras. It serves the budget conscious communicator.

We seem bored with whatever we do, like we are missing something: Did you ever sit with someone who shouldn’t have a remote control in his hand, because he can’t stop looking for something better to watch? Sitting at the airport you will notice people contacting others via computer, but often they are checking email or Facebook in the background while “conversing.”
• We learn how to build an image that isn’t whole: We construct avatars and selective profiles, and many wrestle with how to “say enough to be included in the conversation and judged an interesting person.” Many who respond aren’t the people we were intentionally addressing.

We routinely give away privacy in favor of convenience: We have accepted that everything we watch, buy or show interest in can and is tracked – because we see the value of the convenience – even if the ads are numerous and distracting. At least they are tailored to our interests!

We live with a false sense of urgency and importance: Vacations have become a change of location, because our instant connection goes with us. Technology speeds up expectations in our boss and our co-workers. Clients expect faster response time, and it is hard to maintain a true sense of what really matters – over what seems urgent right now.

We set aside the need to plan well: We rush off to the grocery store, and then call our spouse to get an accurate list of what we went there to grab. Fewer and fewer people walk through a grocery store without a cell phone at their ear or the “ding” of a cell message.

The outcome of this lifestyle is that we are losing the ability to talk uninterrupted to the people in front of us, and always feel the need to be in touch with someone who may want to reach out to us. It is as though we favor the possible over the actual – the distant over the present.

In an effort to be more efficient and more productive, we may have lost something in the quality of daily life.

We search for what we want, and we don’t seem to be getting it in what we have. The unending blaring light of technology has fed constant adrenaline as a reaction to immediate boredom. We KNOW life isn’t supposed to run non-stop, but many of us feel “out of the loop” if it doesn’t.

We have become the most technologically advanced AND the most exhausted and easily bored generation of human beings ever on the planet.

I think that may affect believers who have been “fully marinated in American juices” when they attempt to meaningfully stop for an hour on Sunday morning at church and worship. We explore the Word and we seek truth, but some are fighting the urge to stay off their phone right now.

We feel the guilt of being bored with a time to reflect, pray and hopefully even think deeply about our lives and our Savior.

The tendency of our lifestyle leads even worship leaders to CRAM church meetings with sound, thought and challenge. We struggle to find new ways to keep people engaged. Constant hunger for connection has left a stress fracture. Constant stimulation has made us hunger for more constant stimulation. Technology is the new sugar.

Here is the heart of our problem – we were designed for CONSTANT CONNECTION – but not to our fellow man. We were designed to get the depth of fulfillment from our Creator.

His network is ALWAYS ON. In short, what we NEED isn’t what we think we WANT, and what we WANT isn’t what will WORK. We think we want ACTION and CONNECTION to EACH OTHER to feel important and affirmed… but that WILL NEVER SATISFY. Our problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is willingly walking separate from God.
Look at the beginning of John 6 and watch Jesus train His first followers in this powerful lesson…

Key Principle: Believers aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to become their solution.

The Background (6:1-3)

The passage begins…

John 6:1 After these things Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or Tiberias). 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick. 3 Then Jesus went up on the mountain, and there He sat down with His disciples.

Pay attention to the fact that Jesus LED the disciples to the place where a problem uncovered issues within them. They were in the place east of the Jordan River’s entrance, north of the Sea of Galilee, where no “kosher deli’s” could be found. The nearest cities were the Gentile holds of Julias and Gergesa – neither of which Jesus would ever visit. People there ate ham sandwiches and didn’t like Jews much. The bottom line is that Jesus took His followers to a place that was uncomfortable, and didn’t seem to have all they would need. Jesus knew what they needed, but they didn’t know, and this place would make evident the problem.

They needed to trust His power and sufficiency, especially in areas where they normally felt perfectly capable and sufficient. Inviting Jesus into what we think we have mastered and become “good at” is a necessary part of daily inviting the Savior to lead us.

Notice when the boys followed Jesus, they looked back and saw a big crowd coming after them. I don’t know what the men felt, but I will bet some of their hearts dropped a bit when the “private time with the Master” became another service for which they had to usher people, print bulletins and set mics up. Even those who love to serve get wrung out. Yet, I have found the times when Jesus speaks loudest to me are often when I am worn to the bone. It is often our weakness that summons the Savior’s strength!

The Set Up (6:4-9)

Go back to the story…

John 6:4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was near. 5 Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?”

Don’t gloss past verse four. If you were Jewish, you would know bread was on the minds of the people as Pesach (or Passover) approached. This is the time of removing “chametz” or yeast, leaven or dust bunnies from every part of one’s house. On the street in Jerusalem today, when Passover arises, people burn little piles of dust outside their house to mark the “spring cleaning” in preparation for Passover.

Exodus commanded:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.

Even today observant Jews spend nearly a month cleaning out their houses after Purim in Preparation for Pesach. They clean every room in the house and get ready to remove all chametz from the place. That was the time of this story. People were thinking about bread, for the time of matzah was drawing near.

Back to the text…

John 6:6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.

This is a great verse, because it is an important reminder of how God works in us. If you go back to the very first test God ever gave man, it was in the Garden of Eden before sin came. It was even before Eve was created. The text of the story revealed that God KNEW man was alone, so He commanded him to name all the animals. Man concluded that he was alone AFTER the work God gave him. God’s command was also God’s test of Adam. Isn’t that often the case? The command offers us an opportunity to learn, not JUST in disobedience, but even in obedience.

Adam obeyed and God got his attention, gave him holy anesthesia, knocked him out and took out some bone to give him a companion called woman, because she was taken from man. God didn’t need Adam to name the animals or to take a test to know what he needed. All of God’s tests are designed to teach US; He never learns anything from the results.

Sometimes LACK is the device God gives us to test us, so He can fulfill that sense for us. Sometimes God has to make us hungry through a test so that we eat well from the provisions of His table! Listen in on the conversation as the boys answered:

John 6:7 Philip answered Him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little.” 8 One of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to Him, 9 “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are these for so many people?”

The test was to see if the disciples could grasp that with Jesus, every need could be met. The bread wasn’t really lacking if the Savior’s power was present.

This is the sadness of living in a world of relative values presented by the teachers of “situational ethics.” They ask, “Is the man really wrong for stealing if he and his family are starving?” The problem with implying that wrong isn’t wrong in these circumstances is it leaves out the power of God! Ask George Mueller who prayed when his orphans were hungry, only to discover the bread truck that broke down outside and offered them plenty to eat.

The answer of the godless is to re-write the rules out of what seems like compassion but ends up licensing sin and normalizing wrong. It posits “an aloof” God that isn’t the One True Creator. It reduces the options to the ones WE can pull off. That is what is at the heart of the lesson for the disciples.

Philip saw the limited resources (purse) of the disciples and concluded it was not possible. Andrew saw the limited resources (lunch box) of the crowd and concluded it was not possible. Neither disciple factored in the power and presence of Jesus to fulfill the needs.

Jesus’ question included HIMSELF. He said, “Where are WE to buy bread?” It is incredibly easy for the disciples to set aside Jesus and NOT include Him – and we still do it all the time. Jesus cooperates with His disciples, but never leaves them fully responsible to care for needs without Him.

What the people needed wasn’t to eat bread to live, but to embrace the very “Bread of Life” and watch Him work!

The answer to their problem wasn’t in a lunch box, it was standing in a tunic beside them. HE was the answer. Yet, it was the tendency of the disciples to LEAVE HIM OUT, not His desire to be excluded. Without Him we can do nothing; through Him we can do all things.

The Example (6:10-15)

Watch Jesus make the lesson plain…

John 6:10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and having given thanks, He distributed to those who were seated; likewise also of the fish as much as they wanted. 12 When they were filled, He said to His disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments so that nothing will be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves which were left over by those who had eaten.

The first thing Jesus told the disciples was not to walk away and watch, but to participate with Him and organize the people to receive from Him. God loves working through us and with us. He could do it Himself, but relationship is at the heart of God (and participation is the key to relationship). He wants US to want HIM to work in and through us. Frankly, anyone who works in a church today will tell you a lot of rewarding ministry is just organizing the people and watching Jesus work through and around us.

Next, Jesus took the loaves the crowd gave to Him, and multiplied it to care for the need. I am certain He expanded the loaves as they were broken, but the first of what He used is what they handed Him. He started the miraculous with that which was willingly offered and humbly submitted for His use. Everyone who ministers in Jesus’ name knows what that is. We aren’t superstars for Jesus – we are carriers of God’s broken loaves of provision to those in need. We bring what was touched by our powerful Master’s hand. If someone said, “Thank you!” to Andrew as he passed them food, he probably felt like an idiot, since he knew the food came from Jesus – not him.

Jesus needed no plan from His disciples to do the Father’s work – only submission to His direction. When they DID exactly what He asked, He took what they had and made it more than they ever could!

Did you notice that Jesus gave sufficient to fill all that were gathered there? Even more, did you see that He even gave enough to care for the needs of the disciples! When they finished passing the baskets, Jesus made sure they got what they needed as well.

Yet, the Master wasn’t done. He taught His disciples through the reaction of the crowd in front of them – for the problem provided an opportunity to learn something!

John 6:14 Therefore when the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, “This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone.

Jesus wasn’t unaware the people really didn’t grasp Who stood before them. Later in the passage He said of the crowd:

John 6:26 … Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

At the same time, John included this work of Jesus because it really helped underscore a lesson the earliest Jesus followers learned… The problem wasn’t a material lack – it was a spiritual one. It wasn’t BREAD; it was TRUST.

Sometimes we think our problem is a STUFF problem (don’t have enough, don’t have the right stuff). Sometimes we think our problem is a connection problem (we feel isolated and long for connection and affirmation).

Our real problem isn’t material, social or moral. At its root, our problem is to intentionally, willingly, openly invite Jesus to walk with us to solve life’s confounding issues.

The separation anxiety many believers feel is from God. It is easily masked by other symptoms, but that is the root. We aren’t called to solve problems for Jesus, but to invite Jesus to be the solution. It is our walk with Him that gets too little attention.

When Benjamin Franklin wished to interest the people of Philadelphia in street lighting, he didn’t try to persuade them by talking about it—instead, he hung a beautiful lantern on a long bracket before his own door. Then he kept the glass brightly polished, and carefully hung it at the approach of dusk. People wandering about on the dark street saw Franklin’s light a long way off and came under the influence of its friendly glow with grateful hearts. To each one it seemed to say, “Come along, my friend! Here is a safe place to walk. See that cobblestone sticking out? Don’t stumble over it! I shall be here to help you again tomorrow night, if you should come this way.” It wasn’t long before Franklin’s neighbors began placing lights in brackets before their homes and soon the entire city awoke to the value of street lighting and took up the matter with interest and enthusiasm. Example is always a strong motivation for doing the right thing in life. (Pastor Steven Sheppard, sermoncentral.com).

If you want people to trust Jesus as their Savior, perhaps hanging a lamp of your own trust is the best place to start.

What Jesus DID (Part III): “Growing People of Faith” – John 5

In my middle and high school years, our family used to leave our little town in south Jersey for much of the summer, and head down to Cape May, New Jersey, at the very bottom of the state. We had a camper, some tents and a large screen room (our Smith dining hall) where we would camp out for a couple months at a time. I have many good memories of that time, including the smell of burned sneakers placed too close to the campfire to dry, the hours spent out on the sand dunes near our campsite, and friends I made in those years. For a job, I worked some of that time at a farm near Higbee Beach baling hay and cleaning horse stalls. That is as close to farming as I have ever come.

When I recount my days, over the fifty-seven years of my life, I haven’t spent much time actually growing plants. I don’t cultivate, plant, water and harvest much of anything now, because much of my life has been centered on “city living.” I travel extensively as part of the ministry entrusted to me and that isn’t ideal for keeping a garden.

Yet, I have learned a few things about growing people, and some of those critical lessons have come from the text of today’s lesson in John 5. Today we want to see Jesus heal a man, and then watch how tempting it was for that man to become religious while losing faith.

Today we will learn…

Key Principle: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not people of RELIGION.

That may sound strange, but it happens all the time. What begins with a move of God in the heart can quickly get covered in the ice of rules and regulations and become a religious exercise – with little heart remaining in the mix.

To look forward properly, let’s set the text in the series we have been studying. We are following “What Jesus DID” by looking at the collection the Apostle John put together and sent to the churches of the first century. When he wrote the Gospel, he was a pastor of a local congregation that was sourced from two different kinds of people. Some of the congregation came from the sons of Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. They were Jews that had committed to follow Jesus. They didn’t leave Judaism; they found completion in Jesus as the promised Messiah.

The other part of the congregation came from what I term the “pig eating pagan” crowd of Gentiles. They heard the message of Jesus and decided to follow Him as their Savior, but knew much less about the promises God gave to the Jewish people generations before. They learned of these things after the came to Jesus.

Jews looked for the actions of a man to determine his real belief. Gentiles, influenced by Greek teachings, listened more carefully to self-claims of a public teacher to frame his belief system. In short, Jews cared more about what someone DID, while Gentiles hungered to know what self-claims they made in what they SAID.

John collected seven “I Am” statements of Jesus and paired them with seven “I Do” works, so that everybody in his congregation would be able to identify the truth about Who Jesus is, and why they should follow Him.

In the first two lessons of this series on what Jesus DID, we have observed these principles:

• In the story of the water into wine at Cana (found in John 2), we saw that Jesus transforms what is yielded to Him for His use.

• In the long distance healing story (found at the end of John 4), we saw that Jesus expects our firm trust in His Word.

In the third lesson of the seven works in John’s Gospel, the writer selected a tender moment between Jesus and a hurting and lonely lame man.

The book, up to that point, seemed to feature many “face to face” encounters or even interviews with Jesus. These included:

• A dialogue between Jesus and His cousin John about His identity (John 1);

• An exchange between Jesus and His mother during a crisis (John 2);

• A theological interview of Jesus by Nicodemus the Pharisee (John 3);

• An engaging conversation between Jesus and the “Woman at the Well” in Samaria (John 4).

The “face to face conversation” of John 5, then, wasn’t out of keeping with the book, but became like its connective tissue: one of the series of personal interviews with the Savior recorded to expose His true identity.

At the same time, the story in John 5 is unique among these personal encounters in its moral or lesson. This account vividly illustrated how some people seem to love the rules and want to make everyone around them do them, but don’t really seem to care as much about the people for whom the rules were made. They don’t appear to care as much about intimacy with God as they appear to desire controlling the actions of men. In short, they seem to be great at religion and lousy at faith. It is also a cautionary tale to warn us not to become what they were. Remember:

• Faith is about seeing things as God says they are, and becoming what you know God made you to be.

• Religion is about making people conform to what you believe they ought to be.

Faith has rules, but they are based on true caring. At their core, religious impulses are based on the control of another’s behavior.

Our text will push us to ask, “Which one are we trying to build? Will people around us be able to tell?”

Don’t forget: Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION. People of faith love struggling people and want to walk daily and deeply with God. Let’s look at the story:

It opened with notes about “The Setting” (John 5:1-7).

John 5:1 After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.2 Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. 3 In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, [waiting for the moving of the waters; 4 for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.] 5 A man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” 7 The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.”

Look closely at the detail and you will see three setting points:

• First, John set the scene at the point in time (John 5:1). The event appeared to be after some initial outreaches among the Samaritans (John 4) and the Galilee “long distance healing” (John 4:46ff) – if the events were intended to be in order. At that time, Jesus headed with some followers to Jerusalem. The feast was not specified, but is likely either Passover (Pesach), Pentecost (Shavuot) or Tabernacles (Sukkot) as attendance was required for observant Jews in Deuteronomy 16:16.

• Second, John supplied the place in Jerusalem for the event (John 5:2-4). North of the Temple Mount where the ridge sets higher on the former property of the Zatha family, there was a pool cut into the solid rock of the mountain several hundred years before this story. The water entered by both the surface and some submerged vents that periodically caused the stirring of the water. The “probatic” pools were beside a well-established sheep market, and for a time the area was apparently dominated by a pagan Greek shrine from which the healings were reported in a superstitious way. Many Jews were part of Greek speaking communities, and some adopted strange practices as part of their eclectic experience of living among pagans. Some of these even made their way to Jerusalem.

• Third, to color in the whole event, John focused on a particular man who became the participant in the work of Jesus there (John 5:5-7).

He included three truths about the man Jesus encountered:

• The man was sick for a long time (5:5). The man appeared to be ill with a long term effect of suffering the inability to walk (the word for his ailment was as-then’-i-ah: a feebleness of mind or body). According to Jesus’ conversation with the man after his healing, the illness was because of some sin in his life that the man was fully aware of (So Jesus told him in John 5:14: “sin no more” using the term may-ket’-ee: no further — any longer).

• The man was quiet – not begging (John 5:6).

• The man was largely un-noticed by others around him, and felt alone, lonely and despairing (John 5:7). Crowds surrounded him, but few ever saw or acknowledged him.

The notes about the setting gave way to the record of the Miracle (John 5:8-9a).

John recorded:

John 5:8 Jesus said to him, “Get up, pick up your pallet and walk.” 9 Immediately the man became well, and picked up his pallet and began to walk

Notice how Jesus spoke to the man. Here the hold of the physical need was broken (John 5:8-9).

• Jesus didn’t promise to lower the man down a rope into the pool when an angel stirred the water.
• Jesus didn’t give him someone to help him.
• Jesus called the man to take responsibility for his own life, and follow Jesus. He didn’t get attached to another. His allegiance was to Jesus and His Word alone.

Clearly the man expressed he had NO ONE, but was able to obey Jesus ON HIS OWN.

The sin that bound the man had crushed his life and left him alone and broken (cp. John 5:14). The man knew what caused the problem – we don’t need to know. When Jesus encountered the man, He asked the man if he was ready to surrender yet. When the man cried, “I will, but I need help!” Jesus offered the only thing he needed to be helped – the Word of Jesus. The man added obedience and the deal was complete (John 5:9).

After the Setting and the Miracle, John noted the Problem (John 5:9b-16):

John 5:9b …Now it was the Sabbath on that day. 10 So the Jews were saying to the man who was cured, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not permissible for you to carry your pallet.” 11 But he answered them, “He who made me well was the one who said to me, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk.’” 12 They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Pick up your pallet and walk’?” 13 But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place.14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.” 15 The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. 16 For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath.

The man followed the Word of Jesus, but that word was not the common idea of the day. Their understanding of Sabbath-keeping was that of the popular rabbis of the day, not from the text of the Law.

Here is the remarkable thing: People who had tripped across the man for thirty-eight years, not offering to assist him when he needed help, suddenly became interested in him when he didn’t do what they thought he was supposed to do.

That was a display of the worst of religion at work.

Remember John 5:14 made clear the lame man got that way because of some willful sin in his life.

John 5:14 Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

According to the text, the disturbed people who complained of his apparent Sabbath violations were not just religious leaders… they were people nearby. His sin didn’t get addressed before his illness. Help and assistance didn’t come IN his illness. That makes me wonder…

How many sexually confused young men will grow up in our churches and no man will ever take them under their wing and teach them to be a man of God until one day when in confusion they declare themselves gay?

I wonder why it is that many a young woman seeks desperate approval by allowing men to misuse her body that God loaned her, as she cries out for love, and few seem to say a word until she is pregnant and alone. The words they say then are more often condemnations than extensions of grace.

We have a lot to say when someone sins. Even believers are tempted to light up the phone line when moral failure is apparent, but what about when their insecurities are displayed before…

Do we take the time? Do we even know the names of people who are demonstrating deep insecurities and needs BEFORE their public humiliation?

Let’s remember these people thought they knew what God wanted, but misjudged God’s heart for the man who was sprawled out on the porch in front of them.

If you look carefully, you will see the man wasn’t told to break the Sabbath according to the standard of the Torah (the Law of Moses).

Genesis 1:1-2:3 offered the “story of the seven days and the Sabbath.” In 2:2-3 God stopped his creative labors, but He continued to maintain the life of the creation He built. Planets still were spun, solar systems still turned. God wasn’t creating anymore, but He wasn’t completely passive either.

Later, in Exodus 20:8-11, God told the people not to work in a way that would add to their wealth and comfort. What the people were referring to is specifically in Jeremiah 17:21ff. The people at the time of Jeremiah reasoned that they could carry burdens and make deliveries on the Sabbath as long as they weren’t actually working. They were skirting intimacy with God, trying to “pull a fast one on God.” The first twenty verses of the chapter dealt with the issue of deceit, and that is exactly why God addressed it through Jeremiah.

This man wasn’t violating the Sabbath. He was removing an obstacle in order to make the path safe, and then heading to the temple to worship and be declared clean! (John 5:13-14).

Only after the man encountered Jesus again did he become aware of the One Who healed him, and readied himself to share that with others (John 5:15-16). All attention left the man as the leaders went after Jesus. The man became INVISIBLE once AGAIN. Why? They weren’t asking him about the healing out of wonder or fascination – but out of a desire to CONTROL the actions of people.

Even those of us who have walked for a long time with God must face the fact that we may deeply desire to control the behavior of others. It is the religious spirit at work.

Some believe that the ethical commands of the Bible are license to do become the judge of everyone around them. Do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that all rules are bad things. I am saying that God shared His ethical and moral standards that we would always speak of them with the deep desire to help the one we direct them toward (“speaking the truth in love” – Eph. 4:15, though there the original context appears to be believers who need instruction).

In contrast to these men, Jesus addressed what PEOPLE OF FAITH must recognize:

The remaining section contains several lessons about being people of faith (John 5:17-47).

If you take the time to read the remaining part of what John recalled from Jesus’s words that day, you will see several important truths about being a people of faith – and not a people dominated with a religious spirit.

Go to John 5:17 and 18. It is clear that people of faith understand the unique place of Jesus. Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath, claimed that He had the right to make the man carry his things, since God ALWAYS WORKED on Sabbath (5:17-18). This was an overt claim not missed by those who heard it! The Bible repeatedly made the overt and specific claim that Jesus is the eternal Son of God who was the agent of Creation (Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3ff) and had specific conversation with His Father about coming to earth prior to His arrival (Philippians 2). He wasn’t presented simply as a Prophet or Healer, but rather as God in human skin.

Remember, that is the fallacy of “What would Jesus do?” You and I aren’t called to do what Jesus did, but rather what Jesus instructed US to do.

The text also reminds us that people of faith follow God’s Word closely, and must always be careful not to equate their preferences and deductions as equal to GOD’S STANDARD. They thought He was “breaking the Sabbath” while Jesus made clear He was following God, not fighting God’s standards. That is the point of John 5:19.

People of faith understand that direction comes through intimate connection with God. Out of love God showed Jesus what He wanted Him to accomplish, and promised even greater demonstrations (5:20). Jesus spent time with the Father and taught His disciples to spend time with Him in prayer.

A relationship of following edicts is not intimate; it is sterile.

Drop down a few verses as we close…Jesus said,

John 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.

People of Faith are convinced there is only one path to walk upon. They aren’t “Plan A” and “Plan B” spiritual journeys; there aren’t “many roads leading to Heaven.” They understand the one and only formula of eternal life is this:

• Hear (Listen to and conform life to) My Word.
• Believe my Father sent Me (trust the source of my message as from the very Creator).
• Bypass judgment and LIVE NOW! (5:24).

Don’t miss that Jesus offered three witnesses to His identity and veracity:
• His cousin John (cp. John 5:31-35)
• His works (cp. John 5:36)
• The previously disclosed Word of God (cp. John 5:37-47)

People come to Christ because of our testimony – something that only happens when we love and engage Jesus and other people. Jesus’ cousin, John, did at Jesus’ baptism and five men decided to follow Jesus. Following Jesus, His disciples watched what He did in the lives of people around them. They watched His works, and felt His warmth. They marveled at His power and gazed at His greatness. Finally, they tested Jesus against the prophetic Word of the Living God.

Others religious leaders were busy studying that same Word, but because of the spirit of religion, they were transfixed with controlling people – not throwing them a life-line.

Jesus called His followers to be people of FAITH not RELIGION.

People of faith love lost and struggling people. They want to walk daily and deeply with God. They work at allowing God to control them, and pay little attention to trying to control others.

A preacher named Derrick Tuper told a story a few years ago I found interesting:

In Atlanta, Georgia an 84-year-old widow started to become restless and bored watching TV and reading the paper, but she couldn’t drive anymore. A friend sat with her and she told them she felt the Lord calling her to DO something. Her friend asked her what she loved to do. She simply said, “I like to play hymns on my piano.” After a few days of thinking, praying and reflecting on that conversation, she decided she would use her ability to minister to others if God would allow her. She put a small add in the local newspaper which read, “Pianist will play hymns over the phone to shut-ins.” Within three days of issuing the advertisement, she received three hundred phone calls requesting her service. She worked out a schedule, and began to play her favorite hymns for people. In a short time, she began to connect people and listened to those who were alone, getting them a “buddy.” In a few short years, she grew her ministry to over 12,000 people. When asked why she did it, she replied, “My church taught me… to love people.”

I am hoping we are teaching that too. We need to set aside religion to gain Jesus’ view of “real faith.”

Habits of Healthy Disciples: “Getting there Together” – Romans 15

About a month ago, after 86 years of life, Johnny Kline died in Tennessee.

If you don’t know who Johnny was, you aren’t somehow deficient. He was famous, but not as an individual. He was part of a famous team. Johnny was once a Harlem Globetrotter.

If you never got the chance to see the Globetrotters back in the day, you really missed a treat. They were hilarious, talented and worked like a well-oiled basketball playing (and sometimes goofing off) machine. Individually, each man was a highly skilled black man, at a time in American history when opportunities for men of color were few and prejudice was even more bold than now. These men broke molds. They crashed through barriers. They made us laugh – but they did it as a team. People don’t recall each of the individuals, they think of them as one identity. That is what good teams produce.

You might think team sports are exciting to watch, but it is much harder than it appears to coordinate a vibrant team! It was never easy to get people to work together well. Getting people to think in tandem, let alone work in tandem is very difficult.

Did you ever see a team take on a group-oriented obstacle course? They include some very interesting group building exercises. On the better courses, there is a high wall over which each member must pass. They attempt to climb to the top of the wall, and toss their legs over the wall, and then descend the other side without getting hurt or getting hung up in the netting over the wall. Such obstacle courses offer teams a visual opportunity since dealing with obstacles is what a team must learn to do. These courses are all about building teamwork, and they can be very effective.

Today, we want to return to a discussion from Romans about living out our faith together. We want to think about teamwork while we look at Paul’s words to an ancient church that was “on mission.”

We have been studying Paul’s words and we have been looking closely at his teaching on how they should practically care for one another as team members. In Romans 15, his instruction includes a big idea about how to think as a team. In essence…

Key Principle: In Biblical terms, “I” don’t go to Heaven, “we” do.

Romans 15 isn’t about a new subject, but a continuation of the discussion Paul had from the previous chapter.

If you look back, you will note that he was already writing to them about stronger believers and weaker believers from the opening verse of the last chapter.

In Romans 14:1 he admonished the strong believers to invite into the fold the weaker, but to be careful with them as it regarded their convictions. Their ideas may not have been well-founded, but they were deep – and caring for them took precedent over some harsh form of “crash training.” It wasn’t that Paul wanted the weak to remain so; it was because he knew that people don’t care what you know until they know that you care about them.

The areas of conviction cited by Paul were two: consumption and celebration. Some believed consumption of certain things violated Biblical principles. They thought abstaining was the only godly response, and all who partook were of a lesser spiritual quality.

I find the verses comforting because the same tendency exists centuries later among believers. There have always been believers who defined spirituality by what they DON’T do, rather than intimacy with Jesus.

As we keep reading from this letter, we will also find another tendency that has traveled with the church down through the centuries – the tendency to think of Christianity in individual terms. Paul sought to make clear that in many respects Christianity is a team sport.

At the core of his teaching was a word to the strong believers of his time: Believers are intended to be intentional about progressing together as a team.

Look at the opening in Romans 15:

Romans 15:1 Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.

The verse offered two instructions:

  • First, the strong were to lift, bear and carry the weak who were unable to carry themselves.
  • Second, the strong were to put their own pleasure behind the needs of those who needed their help.

Our faith is not a competitive race, where we each line up and launch out at the sound of a starting gun, breezing past one another in pursuit of Jesus. It is a team endeavor. We only win when we all break the tape together.

Baby Christians celebrate (rightfully) that Jesus saved THEM. They think in terms of their own growth… in the same way a physical CHILD does. The point is, believers must GROW UP.

The first growth point is when believers learn why “together” is important.

If you keep reading, it becomes readily apparent WHY the instruction was issued.

Romans 15:2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” 4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Did you notice there were three reasons why this focus on the “other” was marked out as very important:

First, believers are commanded to seek to please our brother in a way that builds him up.

Second, believers are called to remember the example of our Savior. If Jesus put our needs first, we are to put the needs of others ahead of our own. We pale in comparison to His importance, and He did it willingly for us, and for the glory of His Father.

Third, believers must follow the pattern that was outlined for us in the Scriptures, in order to navigate this world successfully, applying well the Word that brings hope.

Don’t miss the caution here. It is easy for a believer to feel as though they have gained strength, and they are ready to “go it alone.” Individualism seems responsible, but our call is to slow down and bring those who cannot make it alone with us.

If we put other people before us, we demonstrate maturity and care. We act like Jesus. We model the lifestyle of someone who both HEARS the Word and LIVES the truths found in it.

At this point in the narrative, I can’t help feeling like Paul seemed to break into a song. I keep picturing in my head a musical praise interlude. He dropped in words of praise in verses five and six:

Romans 15:5 “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can’t you picture Paul stepping out of the scene on a stage and breaking into song?

It may take a moment to get past the “break out in praise” appearance of the passage (at least it did in my mind). Go on and you will grasp the underlying truth here…

Believers may gain most when “forward progress” seems least.

Did you notice how Paul shared that God gives perseverance? He also made the point that God gives encouragement. He even hints that God gives unity that leads to the blended sound of harmonious praise.

At the risk of sounding obvious, let me caution you about requesting perseverance from God. What generally builds muscle really hurts in the process.

At the same time, I think there is something more here. There are things that we cannot rush through in life.

I have a confession: I have a tendency to walk fast, and I find myself often having to stop and wait for Dottie to catch up. I don’t know why I do things quickly, but I am finished a plate of food before my wife has finished her first few bites. I walk quickly, I eat quickly – I live like I am in some kind of race to accomplish more. I honestly don’t know why. I have thought long and hard about it, but I just cannot understand where it comes from.

What I know is that it is an impulse that must be fought when I am with other people. There is no prize to the guy who finishes eating first at the banquet.

Think about Paul’s exclamation of praise for a moment. Take a moment to grab a truth. Essentially, when we make our faith about individualism, we rob it of its essence.

God intended the strong believer to focus attention on getting the weak over the wall with the rest of the team.

In a sense, the weak were a GIFT to the strong – because they forced the strong to slow down and help others who can’t get over the wall without assistance. The teamwork that results from the strong helping the weak is part of the design of the body of Christ.

At our core, we are to learn that getting there together is more important than getting there first. “I” don’t go to Heaven; “we” do. “I” don’t run the race;
“we” do.

Deeply rooted in the Christian life and experience is a team making its way through an obstacle course.

Have you ever considered how some of the best lessons come from hurting people in the grip of tough experiences, even when they aren’t getting the team to move ahead in profound ways?

Consider Mary’s story for a moment. In the book “It’s Not Fair” she wrote:

While battling my first bout of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, my treatment was like rafting down an unknown river. As a Long Island gal, Billy Joel’s “River of Dreams” seemed to be the sound track of my life during that time. Despite the hair loss, chemo, and keeping an Excel spreadsheet of my kids’ schedules and sleepovers with friends and relatives, the lunacy of it all did not escape me. As I rode the rapids toward my bone marrow transplant, I could not get over the sheer comedy that comes from trying to live a typical life in such an atypical way. Morbid humor is truly something that must be embedded in one’s DNA, because it can seem really inappropriate at times. Not to mention, people really don’t know how to react or treat you when, well you know, you have no eyelashes, eyebrows, head hair, and just look like a freak.

In my case, nearly 100 percent of the time, most people, when totally surprised or unguarded, responded with kindness and genuine compassion.

This was most evident in two cases. My neighbor Jim, a sixty-five-year-old former Marine from the Greatest Generation, opened the door to find me in my gray hoodie, sloppy warm-up pants, scruffy sneakers, red bandana covering my cue ball head of no hair, red eyes from crying crying out of frustration, and a face mask. I had just waved good-bye to my children, who were being parceled out to loving friends for a few weeks as I prepared to go to Johns Hopkins for my transplant (twelve-week stay). Unfortunately I was locked out of my house. When Jim opened the door, his face went into shock. Without a word, his face clearly said, “I am being mugged in broad daylight by a druggie gang member!” Once I saw that he didn’t recognize me— why not?— I quickly said, “Hi, Jim, it’s me, Mary, from across the street, and I am locked out. Can you help me?” His demeanor changed in a nanosecond. Without skipping a heartbeat he said, “Oh, Mary, [cough, gulp], I am so sorry. I didn’t recognize you there. Must be these glasses [as he wiped them].” His graceful save made me smile, as did his breaking-and-entering skills using a credit card.

Not one week later, as I lay in my hospital bed, I felt another ripple of gallows humor. The female doctor, clearly practicing her bedside manner, sat on my bed, leaned in to tell me how my treatment was progressing, and the whole time had an angelic look and a purposeful calming cadence to her voice. All were useless. Once seated, I looked at her navy blue monogrammed name that was embroidered on her crisp white doctor’s coat— Dr. Maggot. Whatever she said, I couldn’t hear, as my insides were busting and I was trying ever so gallantly not to cry from laughter or pee my pants (bedpan optional). It made me wonder about so many things, most notably how a person with the name Maggot would go into medicine. When she asked if I had any questions, I fought the urge to spit out, “Have you ever thought of using an umlaut with your name?”

From that point forward, I knew that funny, illogical, and nonsensical stuff happens every day and will continue to be there even when you are thrust into a gushing river of unfair stuff. You just need to keep looking for it and finding it.

-From: Dale, Melanie (2016-08-16). It’s Not Fair: Learning to Love the Life You Didn’t Choose (Kindle Locations 286-288). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

It was in the pain of another’s experience that we all heard the possibility of finding humor in the circumstances.

Maybe it isn’t clear to you, but the Bible teaches that we can move so fast, we rush past God’s best lessons…because they often come from weakened people. Look around the room. Those who may be weakest physically may be a special gift from God to all of us. Those who hurt are a treasure planted in this place to teach all of us important lessons. It isn’t all about speed and progress – it is about the whole team moving ahead in spite of the hurting.

They aren’t a problem; they are a blessing. They aren’t a distraction; they are an opportunity to put others first.

In a sense, slower progress can mean more God. No individual on the team may become a superstar in this scenario, but the whole team can become more healthy, more balanced and more secure when they learn to work together. Progress may be less dramatic, but it will be more lasting.

Believers will struggle with our differences – but that is part of the learning process.

Paul argued that because God intended us to pull together, both the weak and the strong, we must fight the pull to reject one another because of our differences. He wrote:

Romans 15:7 “Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.

In short, Jesus accepted US – so we can learn to accept EACH OTHER.

When we consider what we are compared to Who He is, we see it clearly. We are flawed; standing beside the One Who is perfect. We are selfish; standing beside One Who gave His very life for those who mutinied. We are no bargain.

With the truth in mind that I am not a superstar, not the key to the future of the movement, not the greatest thing to happen to Christianity since Christ…. I can look with tenderness to the one who is struggling behind me to get over the wall. I can help them with their obstacle. It may slow me down, but the point is to get there together.

Paul drove home the point of acceptance by mentioning that Jesus accepted both Jew and Gentile, while he quietly called them to accept each other. He wrote:

Romans 15:8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “Therefore I will give praise to You among the Gentiles, And I will sing to Your name.” 10 Again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.” 11 And again, “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, And let all the peoples praise Him.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “There shall come the root of Jesse, And He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, In Him shall the Gentiles hope.”

Jesus served the Jewish people and fulfilled the promises God made to their fathers. Yet, He also served the Gentiles and fulfilled some promises that were more cryptic, but nevertheless included in the Scriptures. The Savior DID the things God promised. He did them for all of us. He accepted both Jew and Gentile, and didn’t decide He would do for one what He would not do for the other.

Here is the truth: We see differences more easily than we see similarities. We pick out what distinguishes one person from another more often and more deeply than we attempt to see each other as the same. That won’t build a good team.

We all have days that fall apart. We all make mistakes. We are all wrestling dragons of our own making. We are all facing frailties that come with living in a fallen world. Stuff breaks on all of us. We could all use a decent dose of hope.

Did you notice the ending verse of our section sounds like Paul broke out in song again?

Romans 15:13 “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Few Words about Hope

I cannot leave the passage without mentioning that if you read the first thirteen verses of the chapter, you will note four times the word “hope” falls off the page (15:4,12 and twice in 15:13). Obviously, running beneath the teaching of the passage was another theme – God wanted to make plain how hope could change the Roman believers and where they could find it.

The Greek word for hope is “elpis” – taken from elpō, “to anticipate or welcome”). It means simply the “expectation of what is certain to happen.” It is used to denote how the experience of “pre-savoring” a taste as the dish you love is being plated in front of you, after you have snuck a taste from the serving tray.

Hope in the Bible is more than a glancing wish for the future – it is an expectation based on a taste of experience already attained.

Hope of Heaven is rooted in the taste of the Spirit – the presence of the Holy One in this life. Our hope is in the Lord Himself, and the expectation comes because we have, in some small way, already engaged Him in this life. What we expect in His arms is based on what we have received while touched by His Spirit.

Don’t overlook that in the text, there are four sources of hope found tucked within the passage:

First, there is the record of God’s work in the people of the Book. The Scriptures are designed to give us hope as we follow the contours of the lives of believers who went before – each with their own set of challenges and pains. The story isn’t about how good they were, but rather about how good God is in spite of how fickle they were. That should encourage us: Our future doesn’t depend on our ability to pull off life well.

Second, the promises found in the Scriptures were designed to bring us hope. We can gain important insights from the past, but hope is about a certain future. Paul grabbed four passages from the Bible to emphasize that God promised (and was now keeping His Word) to plunge those who followed Jesus from the Gentile world into an ocean of hope. He mentioned God doing it for Jews, but he drove it home repeatedly in the case of Gentiles, because it was something harder for the people to believe.

Third, hope comes from the presence of God Himself, as is clear in the first part of verse thirteen. The God of hope can fill you with resolute assurance and the sense that all things are coming to be what they should be as you trust Him more. That is the careful rendering of the verse.

Finally, hope is driven deep within by the powerful impact of the Holy Spirit. It grows by the Spirit’s expansion with you. The term “abound” in the end of verse thirteen demonstrates that hope is something the Spirit inflates inside of you by His own power, like a compressor fills a tire. Hope floods in and fills up space left uncomfortably empty by the assault of troubles.

Records, promises, the presence of God and the inflating work of His Spirit are all at work to fill us with hope – when we don’t fill our lives with fake answers, false memes and platitudes. When you need real hope, you need to come emptied to the One Who alone can offer it.

God’s Word, when lived, will birth hope within His people. The hope isn’t for one of us – it is for ALL OF US.

In Biblical terms, “I” don’t go to Heaven, “we” do.

Christianity isn’t an individual thing – it is a team thing. I am supposed to be heading toward the goal, arm in arm, with my team mates. This isn’t about ME as much as it is about US.

There are certainly aspects of my walk that are individual.

The yielding of my heart to Jesus is my responsibility. The authenticity of my desire to know and follow Jesus is a personal matter.

Yet, if I forget that is paired in the Word with the sense that I belong to others and they to me, I turn family into footrace and replace team with individual super-stardom. That isn’t the plan – it never was.

Think about your faith this way:

Play for the team and don’t hog the ball. You see, ball hogs don’t trust the team. They have an inflated view of themselves, and a cynical view of team mates.

Would you be offended if I noted that many Christians look like spiritual ball hogs?

Habits of Healthy Disciples: “Transformed Focus” – Romans 14

Recently, Dottie and I had the delight to travel to Ireland. When we arrived in Dublin, we got a rental car. I admit driving on the other side of the road is a bit of a challenge, so I insisted we get an automatic. I didn’t think I could shift with my left hand while driving on the left side of the road.

The hardest part of the driving were the one hundred and fifty “roundabouts” (or circles), because the driver must access them in the opposite direction from what we do here. It can be confusing. In order to drive effectively, we have to be able to re-train our focus. We have to look right when we would naturally think to look left. We cannot keep our old focus and drive effectively under the new rules.

In Romans 14, Paul moved into a set of instructions with the believers that pressed them to focus on a different way of looking at each other, and the traffic of believers merged into the church body. Here is the central truth of the passage…

Key Principle: Believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

As you may recall, the letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in His trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we continue with in our study today.

We have spoken about care for and appreciation of other believers and their gifts (Romans 12), as well as submission to authorities outside the church (Romans 13), but now we turn our attention to a n issue of contention among believers:

How should we handle other believers with whom we may fundamentally disagree on some life practice?

Romans 14:1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.

Because we are to be inspected by God and transformed in thinking, as well as the fact that we are to regard others as more important (whether brothers or authorities outside the church), we must seek to bring in those who, for reasons of their own, may be unable to handle a personal liberty to which we have subscribed. We must not be hard-hearted toward them when they cannot separate their own preferences from absolute truth. We must handle their opinions with care.

Paul offered two test cases:

Test One: Consumption – Some believe it acceptable to consume something that others believe would be wrong to consume.

Romans 14:2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.

Skip down a few verses and you will note a second test case issue…

Test Two: Celebration – Some believe following a certain calendar of celebration to be that which honors the Lord, while others find no reason to do so.

Romans 14:5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.

John attends a monthly cigar club. As a group, they get together each month to try out a new cigar as they sit about and talk. He doesn’t smoke as a rule, but doesn’t feel twelve cigars a year will hurt him, since he keeps good oral hygiene and doesn’t inhale. Suzie thinks that tobacco in any form was grown from the garden of Satan, but she drinks flavored coffee that contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar every morning. She struggles with her weight, but she can’t face the day without her coffee.

Alex drinks a beer with his lunch, while his friend Brian thinks that alcohol is intrinsically evil. He has searched the Scripture and acknowledges that alcohol wasn’t avoided by the ancients in the text, but he regards principles of purity in consumption to such a degree he honestly cannot see how it isn’t clear to Alex.

Lisa believes the celebration of the birth of Jesus has been terribly tainted with commercialism and overladen with ancient pagan practices like tree decorating and gift giving. She believes every aspect of the celebration of the season has been marred. When she showed up at church and saw a Christmas tree, she protested. She cannot be a part of a group that won’t follow Jesus with their whole heart! She is thinking she should leave and visit other churches, but all the other churches have them as well. She is hurt because she feels the church of her time is going apostate.

All of these people are believers. They are trying to follow Jesus as He has taught them. None of the issues is specifically commanded or forbidden in Scripture. They are trying to follow principles of the Word, but the way they see an issue is complicated by their personality, their experience and their perception of what is essential and important. None of them oppose any verse of Scripture openly to the best of their knowledge. Each has a strong view about what they do.

Let’s be clear: The issues under consideration are NOT a reference to things God carefully outlined in His Word.

Sabbath for Jewish believers is not in view in regards to celebration, because Jews were commanded by God specifically for “all their generations, forever” to celebrate that day. Those who came to Jesus from such a background learned the benefits of keeping the Sabbath as a Jewish Jesus follower. They experienced something wonderful. The problem was not their obedience to that command; it was the application to others who did not come to Christ from the same background. They carried their heartfelt celebration into the assembly and disdained those who didn’t follow suit. They assumed that anyone who didn’t keep Sabbath just wasn’t willing to give it all to Jesus. Sabbath, commanded to the Jewish believer, was never subscribed to by the believer from Gentile background. Some got on board and learned to keep it after they were saved, but others didn’t – because they didn’t see it as a necessary thing. They saw it as something God told the Jewish people to do.

Meat knowingly and publicly consumed that was offered to idols is not in view here since there was a specific command regarding that. Apparently, some concluded the best way to avoid the problem was to simply become a vegetarian. The problem is they carried that conviction into the assembly as the standard of truth, when the private consumption of such meats was not forbidden (see 1 Corinthians 10).

The point is, the issues of consumption and celebration were not issues of debate when the text of Scripture was clear. We aren’t talking about some who feel that lying to their boss may be acceptable. That isn’t a judgment call – it is simple sin. It is a violation of the text in its simplest terms. For instance, Jews were not allowed to eat pork – and that was specified. Coming to Jesus didn’t lift their restriction, despite some who have tried to say otherwise.

• In a debate in the Gospel of Mark over the washing of hands, some have read “by this Jesus made all foods clean” to mean that Jesus approved ham for Jews. That wasn’t the issue under discussion – the way to wash hands was the debate.

• There is another story in the New Testament where Simon Peter has a “vision of a sheet filled with edibles” dropping from Heaven in Acts 10. God told him, “Arise, kill and eat!” Peter objected because some of the sheet contained acceptable foods for Jews (called kosher) while other items were unacceptable animals that were commanded by God not to be consumed. Peter declined to eat what Scripture said was unclean. Some concluded that God was adjusting His Laws, given long before at Sinai, because Jesus had come. Yet, Jesus made clear He didn’t come to uproot the Law. The point of the story was about the men who were about to knock on the door down below the roof Peter was on – and he noted a lesson from the sheet that God showed him “PEOPLE God says are clean, are clean.” Peter was learning about people, not receiving a change of dietary restrictions.

By the way, Gentiles who came to Jesus never had such restrictions, and were not commanded to sign on to all of the restrictions that belonged to Jewish people when they came to Jesus. The differences between them, though one in Christ and saved by the identical way, still meant they lived out God’s Word differently.

Nothing in the teaching of Romans 14 is about undoing Scripture. If God commanded it specifically, it was not in view in this passage.

Add to that, the heart of the teaching is not to settle the issues on their face, since they are subjective matters of conviction and conscience and not objective matters of truth. Rather, the teaching is about how to get along in a divided atmosphere where all cannot agree and each has deep-seated reason.

Paul offered several essential instructions to the church:

Instruction One: It isn’t our job to make everyone agree with our view, but it is our job to regard each other with love and care.

Romans 14:3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.

Look closely at the verse. The central issue isn’t about who is right at all. The issue is how we treat one another – the one who consumes and the one who abstains. The consumer must not “regard with contempt” the abstainer, nor should the abstainer judge the consumer. God can and will work in the heart of both – if we don’t hinder Him by wounding another trying to help out God in the process.

Here are a couple questions: How do we disciple people if we can’t take deduction and application of passages of Scripture to help them know right from wrong? Since we are attempting to equip them, how can we do that if we don’t teach them to go beyond the letter of the Scripture to apply its principles? Those are fair and mature questions.

Paul isn’t silent about discipleship. His letters are filled with the application of Hebrew Scriptures to early church issues, and how to get the timeless principles into contemporary life. At the same time, he acknowledged that God gave each believer His own Spirit, and is willing to work within each of us to convict of sin, direct in lifestyle and work with each of us over the long haul of life.

The central teaching here shouldn’t get buried in detail: Don’t think that because you are certain you shouldn’t do something, that everyone else who doesn’t see it your way is somehow smaller in the eyes of God. You may be right – but your view may not take into account other things that go beyond your culture, your life experience and your personal connection to God.

God put you in the body, but reserved the right to run the lives of His people without your approval.

This idea leads right into the second instruction…

Instruction Two: It isn’t our job to decide if the other’s convictions are warranted for them, but it is our responsibility to recognize we all serve the same Master, Who alone is the proper judge of each of us.

Romans 14:4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

Paul made clear a central truth we must re-emphasize and remember: We don’t work for one another. We all work for Jesus. He is the Judge,

When we make it our business to check out the liberty of others beyond the obedience to the text of Scripture, we set ourselves up to become haughty and judgmental. It is worth remembering this isn’t the only place Paul offers instruction on this (see 1 Corinthians 8-10) but it is the tenor of everything he taught.

There is a tendency in many of us as we mature to believe we have been placed in the lives of others as God’s interpreter of Law.

The fact is: Beyond living out the principles ourselves, many of us have had to learn to project those principles into decisions we made as a family. We may have decided our children couldn’t participate in some activities with some other children, because our conviction was solid on our lifestyle, and the other family did not regard the issue we felt strongly about in the same way. It was our responsibility to take the conviction of the Spirit and make a judgment for our children. That is called parenting.

Here is the caution, however.

While we should be open about why we concluded from the Word that participation is wrong for our family, we must also teach our children the principles of GRACE.

We must teach them that, even though it seems clear to us, it isn’t “the truth” as much as it is “our heartfelt conviction” with which others had the right to disagree. We wouldn’t attend the event, but we wouldn’t quietly condemn them in our hearts as “less than obedient” and whisper gossip about them to each other.

God will grow the people to whom we aren’t commanded to take responsibility. We have to offer grace and let Him do it.

Instruction Three: It isn’t our job to focus on what is right for others, but we are called to focus on Jesus’ ownership of us all.

Romans 14:6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8 for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Don’t overlook two simple caveats:

• We aren’t talking about the expressed command of Scripture.
• We aren’t talking about someone in a leadership position of responsibility for others.

We made clear before that all the things in the passage regard subjective thinking: personal judgments. This ISN’T about whether pornography is “ok for me” since sexual purity is made clear in the text. It may regard how one looks at a Baroque nude sculpture of Gian Lorenzo Bernini in an art museum, but it certainly isn’t about porn.

In addition, the teaching here does not take into account one who is given charge of others to set standards for the whole group.

For instance, if a worship leader was given the directive to decide what standard of dress was appropriate for those in the team, they have the right to make a judgment regarding the dress of those on the team when they are participating. That isn’t being judgy; it is leading in a given setting. If they determine a certain length of dress is too short for those leading worship, they are to be heard because they were charged with leadership in that area.

At the same time, that doesn’t make them the “dress length sheriff” for the church. They don’t get to show up at the youth swim night and measure bathing suits. That isn’t their job.

What Paul made clear in verses six through nine are these three ideas:

• People may decide differently regarding personal issues of conscience, but the Lord will teach each of them individually to yield to Him (14:6).

• Believers grow to understand who the Lordship of Jesus affects our daily lives over time (14:7).

• Ultimately, our lives are in His hand, not in each other’s hands (14:8-9).

Instruction Four: It isn’t our job to become “life fruit inspectors” of one another, but rather we must learn to focus on the “gaze of Jesus” on our practices and behaviors.

Romans 14:10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” 12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

Scripture isn’t silent about the fact that even believers will answer for our choices when we stand before Jesus. Everyone faces two judgments: one over sin and one over works. For believers, sin was judged at the Cross of Jesus. Yet, our works will still be evaluated as Jesus gazes at what we bring Him as the prized accomplishments of this life.

The simple fact is that we live for Jesus, not for self. If that is true of each of us, we need to focus much more on living with Him and for Him – and spend less time figuring out His call to everyone else around us.

Paul offered this final analysis:

Stop trying to fix other people and start cleaning up things that can cause them to trip over in YOUR life. He said it this way:

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

Stop worrying about being the teacher over those God didn’t give you responsibility and let other people grow and develop without playing Holy Spirit for them. Paul personalized this:

Romans 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

Paul recognized that God gave a conscience to each of us, and life experiences shape that conscience. We don’t see everything the same way, and we shouldn’t expect to. Let others have convictions in areas you don’t. Allow God to convict you about things others are allowed to do – but YOU aren’t.

In all things, keep your eye on whether your liberty and conviction will lead another to walk away from obedience and intimacy with Jesus. Don’t deliberately do what will offend and hurt them, because it hinders their walk. Love them enough to be careful as God leads you. Don’t let your testimony take a beating out of your own carelessness.

Romans 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

To those who are tempted to judge everyone, stop making trouble. Stop the gossip. Grow up and be truly mature. You don’t know everything, and your judgmental spirit isn’t helping to equip people. Maybe you believe something strongly, but the other person doesn’t. God will grow him in His time. He will grow YOU as well…

Romans 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.

Ultimately, don’t do what will cause another to fall into sin. He doesn’t say, “Don’t do anything other people won’t like.” Rather, he restricts his comment to those who are so deeply impressionable that your participation will license their wrong choices. He wrote:

Romans 14:21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. 22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.

Finally, Paul said, “Make your choices wisely and honestly.”

Romans 14:22b “…Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Let me be clear here: Some of us have chosen to participate in things that violate our conscience. We have a nagging sense gnawing inside that we are engaged in something we shouldn’t be, but we hide it under the liberty bell. If that is you, drop the pretense and remember that you will give a report to Jesus concerning that thing.

Believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

John can have his monthly cigar. I don’t smoke them and I don’t like them. I have had two in my life, and enjoyed neither. I don’t need the distraction, but I am not going to tell him he can’t because it will harm him unless I am willing to cut all the sugar out of my diet.

Suzie can think that tobacco is rolled sin. She just needs to live according to that and still show care to John.

Alex can drink his beer with his lunch if Jesus said to him it is ok. I won’t join him, because I cannot afford the calories. Brian’s objections about alcohol should be taught in his home to his children, but he should also teach them to have grace to those who see it another way.

Lisa must stop believing she is the only one with the Spirit at work in her. She needs to get off Facebook and stop condemning others over whom God has not placed her. She should promote Christmas celebrations that offer a way to magnify Jesus, rather than trying to correct the rest of us with long diatribes on the history of the Christmas tree. The rest of us need to hear her heart. She loves Jesus, and she doesn’t want Him disrespected in our methods of celebration.

In the end, believers have to learn how to “stay in our assigned lane of conscience” while we offer great care to others around us.

What Jesus Said: “The Expectations of the Master” – Matthew 5-7

If you breeze quickly through social media like Facebook, you may see how little has changed over the centuries in regard to what gets people “wound up.” Imagine if there were social media outlets at the time of Jesus. What would you read about? I suspect posts would have highlighted concerns, and perhaps even voices of outrage at the following realities:

Economic Inequity: The world seemed very economically divided between those who possessed the best things this life could offer and those who had hardly enough to survive, or were living paycheck to paycheck. In the shadow of Tiberius’ residence in Rome, starving Romans passed through the streets. Among those scratching out an existence in daily labor, many felt their efforts were being sucked off into the purses of the rich and they itched for a justice they couldn’t seem to get through the economic system in place at the time.

Political Intrigue: Political leaders flopped from one crisis to another as they fixated on the head of state and his personality. How Tiberius felt and whether or not he slighted some Senator would have been all the rage. Politicians jockeyed endlessly through a never ending series of internal divisions to gain or hold some sense of power. They weren’t sure what the Emperor would “tweet” next. They didn’t know who was “in” and who was “out” on a daily basis. Rumors swirled. All they could do was align themselves with strong political allies and hope their party would gain or hold power long enough for them to build a successful political career. They cared about their world, but they were much more invested in holding onto their place than standing firmly on big issues – since those who stood on principle often ended up floating in the Tiber River.

Theological Incoherence: Religious leaders were vastly separated into different “faith” groups, and they didn’t really attempt to venture out of their little “kingdoms” and encounter one another. There were no great conferences to bring together the long established cults of the Capitoline Triad (Jupiter, Juno and Minerva) and blend them with the more “contemporary cults” (like that of Isis). Off by themselves in corners of many cities were the followers of the God of Abraham, and many of their leaders were clinging to arrogance and steeped in minutiae of their own theological debate, while their culture spun out of control around them. Add to that, many of the followers of the God of Abraham could be found to living quite differently than the ideals they taught.

Does this sound like things have changed all that much? I didn’t think so either.

One day truth came like a piercing light into a pitched dark room… When it flashed, it hurt the eyes of people who had grown used to cynicism and dark thinking. Jesus came. He walked among men. He looked humble, but possessed the greatest of wealth. He sounded plain-spoken, but offered the richest truths of mankind’s Creator.

The Gospel according to Matthew followed the saga of Jesus pressing against the political power machine, the confused religious establishment and the raw demonic attacks as the light of truth pushed into a well-fortified castle of darkness. Many were captive there, and God wasn’t content to let darkness prevail. Consider what Jesus did:

• He came to bring truth that would settle people in times of crisis.
• He came to fill the emptiness with real substance.
• He brought satisfaction to those who longed for deep truth.

In this lesson, we begin a short memory of the story unfolded, from its beginning to the first sermon of Jesus recorded in its pages. There is a truth that will become clear:

Key Principle: Jesus’ message made clear his expectations for the character, the commitments and the choices of a true follower.

To grab that truth, we should set the first sermon, found in Matthew 5-7 in the context of the book.

Look for a moment at the opening of Matthew’s Gospel. What do you see? It is a long list of names, a genealogy. In your mind, or in your Bible, write the word “Promise.” The opening verses should remind us that Jesus came in response to a long-revealed promise, and part of a long-blessed family line. His coming included God’s use of unexpected people, as in a group of Gentile women like Rahab and Ruth are found on that list – and none of us would have made a plan that included them. God isn’t like us! (Matthew 1:1-17)

Go to the last part of chapter one (Mt. 1:18-25) and add in your margin or mind the word “Miracle.” It took Divine intervention to bring a child to a womb without a father, but God knows how to make an entrance and enjoys dropping surprises into His story. This was a child born of miracle.

Move on to chapter two, and place beside the narrative the word “Dignitaries” to remind yourself of the story of the arrival of the Magi from the East, when they brought unexpected honor to a meager couple because they recognized the significance of the Child’s arrival (Mt. 2:1:12). At the same time, you may write the word “Reaction” beside the last part of the chapter because His come coming was met with a violent, bloody reaction from those who clung to the power of darkness (Mt. 2:13-23).

Turn to chapter three, where John the Baptizer was preaching from the Jordan, and mark the word “Announcements” because the arrival of Jesus was publicly broadcast by John even as a thundering voice from the Heavens by God Himself proclaimed His satisfaction on His Son’s coming (Mt. 3:13-17).

Now drop your eyes to Matthew 4, and write the word “Temptation” as you note how Jesus stared down the enemy face to face in a direct contest (Mt. 4:1-11). I would add a second word, “Message” beside the summary where He fired a warning shot in His message of life change (Mt. 4:12-17), and mayb e a third word “Disciples” at the point in the text where He gathered close companions (Mt. 4:18-22) to charge into the small villages of the Galilee encountering the sick and demonically abused (Mt. 4:23-25).

We have the story of a fulfilled promise, a miraculous birth, powerful dignitary visitors and brutal political reaction. Jesus emerged from the shadows with the endorsement announcements of a godly man and God’s voice. He faced His enemy, gathered His first followers and began His ministry… now, what did He teach first? That is our lesson…

Matthew chapter five opened the preaching message of Jesus beyond the summary words “He preached repentance and the arrival of the Kingdom” from chapter four.

We shouldn’t be surprise that Jesus knew the kind of followers He was looking for, both then and now. Though the Gospel of Matthew is thematically arranged, this sermon of Jesus was clearly offered early in His earth ministry, and had these three major parts:

• The Expected Character Traits of a True Disciple (5).
• The Expected Commitments of a True Disciple (6:1-7:12).
• The Expected Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-29).

This first major sermon offered the truths about what Jesus expected from His followers.

First, He expected “Character Traits” (Matthew 5)

The first part of the message can be grouped generally into four major character traits Jesus pressed His disciples to exhibit to be a true follower:

His opening remarks offered this: “You cannot be about YOU and ME (5:1-12) at the same time!” Jesus expected His followers to be “other person centered.” Let’s take a look.

Jesus began with words that separated those who were ready to fulfilled and blessed from their countrymen. Promises of blessing were woven into the lives of people who followed His teaching (Mt. 5:1-12). These opening words are called the “Beatitudes.” The setting was a hillside on the north of the Sea of Galilee, where Matthew noted:

Matthew 5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and [began] to teach them, saying…

A rabbi normally stood for the reading of Scripture, but they sat down when they were about to offer their key teaching. Jesus sat, and the disciples gathered close to hear. He said:

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when [people] insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

In essence, Jesus said He expected His followers to run from self-reliance into His arms, depending on His strength, not their own. He said: I am seeking one who is:

• Look at the word POOR and read: bankrupt in their own spirit, and not self-dependent (3),
• Look at the word MOURN and see one empty enough to mourn their own insufficiency, not self-secure (4),
• Look at the word GENTLE and see one worn enough to lose a sense of self-reliance (5),
• Hungry for a righteousness denotes they don’t have, and are not self-satisfied (6),
MERCY reflects an attitude that is caring enough not to be unduly self-focused (7),
PURE IN HEART suggests an openness that is vacant for God’s use and not divided into other loyalties (8),
PEACEMAKERS show someone kind enough to release self-serving agendas (9),
PERSECUTED set them apart as patient enough to endure hardship and not become easily self-defensive (10),
INSULTED shows they were compassionate enough to be patient while unfairly taunted (11-12).

We fire back at people when we aren’t Jesus centered, but feel the need to protect our own weakness. Jesus isn’t weak. He doesn’t require my feeble voice to protect His strength.

In short, a Jesus follower must become “other person centered.” Paul later said it this way (when addressing Jesus followers):

Philippians 2:5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus wasn’t done. In addition to relying on HIM, they would need to grow to rely on ONE ANOTHER. He said His followers needed to act in concert and not plan to stand ALONE (5:13). This emphasized the loyalty of the believers together in their “salt”. He said:

Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again?

In the Near East, the salt was a symbol of loyalty. Mark 9:50 finished the saying this way: “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Add to that Jesus’ expectation that we would not come to Him and then hide it. He said: “You cannot remain anonymous!” (5:14-16). You will not be hidden, for you are not called to be hidden! His expectation was this:

Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.

Jesus then, made clear He wanted God-reliant, team-oriented and openly outreaching people to be His followers. He expected that.

The Manual of Behavior for a Jesus Follower

It is important that we also understand where the standards of discipleship that Jesus set before the crowd originated (5:17-48). The Law of God was His given standard, (5:17) but only when truly understood with His true intent (5:18-48). Listen to what Jesus said about the Law:

Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”

Jesus had no desire to render the Law void, neither by “keeping it and thereby retiring it” nor by cancelling it. He wanted His followers to recognize the intent behind it. That is why we teach the principle approach to the Scriptures. All Scripture is profitable, but much of it was written NOT TO ME but rather FOR MY BENEFIT. Let me explain:

Jesus offered a series of six “You have heard it said…” type quotes ranging over five issues. Most of them were “word for word” lifted out of the Hebrew Scripture (though not all). He included sayings about:

• Murder
• Adultery
• Divorce
• Revenge
• Enemies

They heard ‘You shall not commit murder’ – but Jesus argued that His original intent was not to limit the scope of harm to a knife or a club, but to include “murder by mouth” and other kinds of wounds to the heart. The Law appeared to say you were not in violation as long as they were still breathing – but that wasn’t the point of what God intended. As Jesus explained, the point of “Do not murder” was to place the weight of another person’s well-being on your shoulders, and make us care about what we say and do to hurt or hinder one another.

They heard ‘You shall not commit adultery’ and thought God wasn’t upset until they were caught in the sack together. Jesus said God’s real intent was to keep our eyes from roving and our thoughts from fantasizing about physical rendezvous with another that was not our spouse. Adultery occurs in the head, not just the bed. That was God’s point.

They heard ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’ and thought God was fine with them making a covenant of marriage and then finding an excuse to walk out on that covenant. Jesus argued forcefully that our words before God matter, and the covenant promises we made in marriage matter. He went on to press the case by saying, Don’t make complicated arguments to get out of things you promised. Just say what you mean and mean what you say.

They heard ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,’ and thought God was legalizing revenge. The law of the scales was intended to establish that a punishment was to fit the crime, not license revenge at all. Jesus turned that desire upside down and told His followers to hunger to be helpful instead to hungering to get even.

At that point, Jesus left the words of Scripture and moved to the words of some rabbis who had influence on the crowds, but weren’t accurately reflecting God’s intent at all. He said they heard: ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Jesus made clear that wasn’t even what God SAID, let alone what He INTENDED.

What God DID say was this:

Leviticus 19:18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.

Exodus 23:4 “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, you shall surely return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of one who hates you lying helpless under its load, you shall refrain from leaving it to him, you shall surely release it with him.

Proverbs 25:21 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.

Here is the point: Jesus said the standard for His followers was His Word, set properly in its context and filled out with the principles behind what was written.

It wasn’t just a set of memorized rules – the Law provided a mindset, an understanding of the bigger things God cares about.

Without the Law, Jesus followers will seek other standards to follow Jesus. They will either get used to walking without the knowledge of what pleases Him, or they will fill in the blanks with things they care about and make it sound like Jesus had the same cares.

List what Jesus said He cared about. It will sound like this:

• I care about people – their feelings, their needs, their success.
• I care about purity – our heart, our inner integrity, our authenticity.
• I care about promises – keeping our Word, particularly when promised before God.
• I care about passion – letting how I feel govern what I do when others hurt us.
• I care about practice – showing love to others and not keeping account of wrongs of others.

Jesus offered eight areas of commitment (Regular Practices) in which His Disciples would regularly engage (6:1-7:12)

We can’t look deeply into these in this lesson, so I am dedicating the next one to these eight intimate practices of a Jesus follower. Here is what we can say to help hold the message together…

The first three practices all focus on ONE VALUE, that of a personal, intimate authenticity that avoids SHOWMANSHIP. Our faith isn’t a public show – our heart is connected to God on the most intimate level.

• Giving for God’s eyes only (6:1-4).
• Praying for God’s ears only (6:5-15).
• Fasting for God’s attention alone (6:16-18).

Next Jesus turned to issues of our genuine trust in God. This second set of practices focused on the temptation we all have to operate life apart from resting in God’s power. He said:

• Save for your “Heaven account,” not just retirement (6:19-24).
• Trust God for things we don’t control and things we THINK we do (6:25-34).

The final set of teachings show our confidence must be in God’s power, not ours. In practice, we should so value the Word, that we guard the truth of it in our daily practice. We should be people of grace, looking to help a neighbor but discipline our behavior as an example to others.

He offered these three more practices…

• He called His followers to judge people properly (7:1-5).
• He called His followers to guard carefully truth vigiliantly (7:6).
• He called His followers to seek God’s provision regularly (7:7-12).

We will take more time here, but don’t miss the key points.

Jesus told us to avoid the temptation to put on a show with our faith – because in the loss of authenticity we become acting hypocrites.

Jesus told us to intentionally place our lives at His command and disposal, and not see ourselves as “un-coached free agents.”

Jesus told us to deliberately seek God’s blessings of provision, and be neither presumptuous nor ungrateful.

Do you see what ties them all together? They are about attitude and they are intentional. Let me say it plainly, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, you won’t be able to think like everyone else, and you will need to deliberately open yourself to allowing the Spirit of God to deal with your attitudes. All of us must make the effort, and our attitudes will show how effective we are becoming at following Jesus. It won’t be our service alone, because we can put on a show. Our following of Jesus will show up in the inner attitudes of the heart that we know we won’t let go, and let God change. It comes down to active choices…

Four Choices of a True Disciple (7:13-27)

When it came down to it, followers of Jesus were, and are measured by our choices to do the unlikely and often unpopular thing – we follow Jesus. We make daily choices:

• He told of two gates (7:13-14): A true disciple must choose the path less traveled, opting to forego the way “everyone else” seems to be going! You have a choice!

• He told of two fruit trees (7:15-20): A true disciple will be careful to watch the fruit of a teacher before following their message (7:15-17). He will recognize the fruit exposes the type and usefulness of the tree (7:18-20). You must evaluate my teaching as true!

• He told of two confessions (7:21-23). A true disciple won’t just speak as though they know me, but will live according to My teaching (7:21). Some will even be self-deceived into thinking they experienced My power in places where My presence was not even found (7:22-23). You must submit to obeying My words!

• He told of two foundations (7:24-29). If you hear and then follow My word you are building well (7:24-25). If you hear my teaching but don’t allow it to transform you – you are setting yourself up for a future collapse (7:26-27). My teaching must be transforming you!

Jesus ended His message with four choice statements. Will you choose to follow Him even if it is not popular? Will you choose to follow a world that is killing the fruit that was so abundant when we took His Word more seriously? Will you pretend to know Him, but not obediently listen to Him? On what will you build your life.

Jesus expected us to choose His way over the way of the crowd, the way of convenience, or the way of casual acquaintance. He doesn’t want fans – He wants followers. He made clear the character, commitments and choices He expected in a true follower. It shouldn’t surprise us to know that Jesus knew what He was looking for in a follower. The question is: Are you truly seeking to be one?

Dr. Haddon Robinson writes: “Some people are attracted to Christianity because they have a leaky faucet that they want God to fix. Perhaps they struggle with a destructive habit and they would like to tap into God’s power to help them break it. Or maybe they have broken relationships that they want God to mend. But they learn from this Sermon on the Mount that God is not a plumber. Leaky faucets are minor league stuff to Him. God wants to tear the plumbing out entirely and deal with the well from which the water flows. He wants to change what comes out of the faucet, not merely stop its leak.” – The Solid Rock Construction Company, pg.122

Jesus wants to go deep inside of you, and change who you are. He has the power to do it, and the expectation that you will let Him.

What Jesus DID: “Seven Works of the Master” (Part II) – John 4:46-54

Most of what happens in life is well beyond my comprehension. I don’t really understand how my microwave works. I get the basic concept, but I cannot (for the life of me) figure out how someone worked out all the mechanics.

Honestly, I am still trying to figure out how someone put together the string of information that invented the first pasta! Think about it! How did someone actually figure out that if you take the grain head from the wheat, let it dry thoroughly, take off the husk of the grain, grind the head into flour, add water, knead it, cut it into small strips, lay it out in the sun to dry, take the dried material and boil it for a brief time – you will have “al dente” pasta?

These things amaze me. Think about it. Men and women can blast other men and women to the moon or up to a space station. We can engineer the combinations of DNA strands in a “Petrie dish” to change physical characteristics of our offspring. We can store 100,000 pages of text on a silicon chip the size of a finger tip. We can dive deeply enough to explore the depths of the ocean with an unmanned submarine and fly a mission thousands of miles away from an unmanned drone to shoot a missile at a small group of men hiding out near a cave. Much of what we can do most of us cannot truly understand. So I need to ask you…

What does “faith” really mean in a time like ours?

Does it mean that someone knows how it works, and I should just accept it and keep learning? Ever since I was young in my faith, I have heard people say that I just needed to “accept some things by faith” as if that was supposed to satisfy the curiosity of all, and be the end point of the discussion
when something could not be readily explained. Yet, I kept asking, “Is that really what God intended me to do?” Is faith a last refuge, a “cop out” for things that Christians don’t know or haven’t searched out? Am I supposed to turn off my mind and simply trust whatever I am told about God that cannot seem to be explained? I know now that is not at all the case.

In the Bible, faith is not about whether you can explain the “how” of something or not. Faith, in essence, is the absolute trust that the world is not how it appears, but how God says it operates in His Word. It is a “Biblical world view.” When I accept Jesus by faith, I accept that God’s record of Who Jesus is and what He did was both correct and accepted by the Creator. When I walk by faith, I walk in the light of His Word and see the world as He proclaims it to be. Yet, my belief isn’t without evidence at all.

I believe in a Creator because I see the product of organization all around me, and I know that billions of years won’t create structure and organization exacting enough to make a strand of DNA morph into an aardvark while another morphs into a zebra. The heavens proclaim organization, color, beauty and design. Design requires a designer in every area I can grasp.

At the same time, we are called on to “believe” and “have faith” in our God, so I ask: “What does it look like to truly believe?”

That is our subject for this lesson, “What Jesus Did.” In John 4, we are going to encounter a man who modeled belief because he trusted the word of Jesus so fully that he rested when others would have run. In the verses of John 4:46-54, the writer revealed a second miracle performed by Jesus. Part of that group of events John collected in his account. Remember, John’s gospel included seven miracles, each recalled so that a reader might know more of Jesus, believe in His claims, and have life through that belief, according to John 20:30-31. John offers us a lesson that is unmistakable, if understood in context. He taught:

Key Principle: I demonstrate true faith when I change my life to conform to what God said.

The story recorded in John’s Gospel (4:46-54) is a profound and yet simple story – but it requires you know something of the geography of where Jesus lived and traveled. The key to the entire story is contained in the details of time and distance between two ancient villages, set in the hills of lower Galilee. I have walked the path between these villages, and though neither is a living town today, the ruins can be identified and still mark the places. The ancient roadway is still a trail along the edge of the hillside, since roads tend to remain in place for millennia. People purchase and cultivate both sides of a roadway, but no one owns the road, so they tend to stay in the same place.

In the case of this path, the steep incline rose from Capernaum (a village that was in the Jordan Rift Valley north of the Sea of Galilee) up through the Arbel Pass to ancient “Khirbet Cana.” To walk up the path is no less arduous than can be traversed in an eight hour journey (plus or minus a few minutes). That same path in reverse direction is a mere five and one quarter to five and one half hours journey (because it drops downhill).

Jesus was around the Sea at Capernaum, and people knew Him there, but it wasn’t YET a big part of His ministry. In the early part of the ministry, He was in Nazareth, went to John’s preaching by the Jordan, made His way to Jerusalem for a time, and then began to announce His ministry throughout the towns of the Galilee region.

Let’s drop in as an observer to the happenings in Cana some two thousand years ago…

John 4:46 Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death. 48 So Jesus said to him, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” 49 The royal official said to Him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” 50 Jesus said to him, “Go; your son lives.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off. 51 As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living. 52 So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” 53 So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, “Your son lives”; and he himself believed and his whole household. 54 This is again a second sign that Jesus performed when He had come out of Judea into Galilee.

Look closely at the text. There are two things you should note before you take a “deep dive” into the scene:

First, the places are mentioned. Cana was the location of Jesus, but Capernaum was the location of the sick boy.

Second, the time of the healing was given. Did you notice the “seventh hour” in verse 52 was the hour that Jesus healed the boy according to verse 53?

The text can be broken into three simple parts:

1. A desperate man came to Jesus (4:46-49).
2. A believing man trusted Jesus (4:50-52).
3. A household demonstrated faith and belief (4:53-54).

First, we need to examine the account of the man that came to Jesus (4:46-49).

It is clear in the account that a man who lived in Capernaum heard the reputation of Jesus based on His previous works or in some way knew Jesus casually, but now found himself in desperation because of his sick son (4:46-47). Though Capernaum means “village of comfort,” in this story the man was nothing close to comfortable. Let’s summarize the things we know about him based on the account:

• He knew of Jesus and what others claimed He could do (John 4:46a).
• He was faced with a heart rending problem beyond his ability (John 4:46b)

Note that his “problem” led him to seek Jesus, and meeting Jesus met more needs than he anticipated.

That is often how it works. Ask people who walk with Jesus how they met Him. They may tell you about a background problem that led them on the path to the Lord. Problems can break down our sense of self-sufficiency. They can unmask our true vulnerability.

Desperation opens our hearts to make us willing to take our need to Jesus and abandon self-reliance. Giving up my falsely constructed sense of control is at the heart of accepting Jesus.

Before we skip past the detail, look at the identity of the man who came seeking assistance. He is called “a royal official” as the English translation for the Greek word basilikos. Basileus is the term for a king. This related word is the term for something or someone from a royal line. The weight of the word is not in reference to their job, but rather their “standing” in the community. This guy was a “somebody” in the celebrity category.

Though deemed important in rank, the man didn’t send one of “his people” to Jesus. Rather, he climbed the steep path some twenty miles from Capernaum to Cana. With the pictures of his son playing like a video loop in his mind, the man cared little about any humiliation of asking for help, nor was he fixed on any social difference in status between Jesus and himself. His son was facing death. He couldn’t stop it any other way. There was nothing else more important on his mind.

When you read the nobleman had to lower himself to seek help from a humble Jewish villager and itinerant preacher, don’t forget this truth: There is no home into which sickness and sorrow cannot enter – and when it does it reduces our man-made social divisions. Stand in the hospital and watch. Rich and powerful break down just like poor and needy when sickness strikes and death nears.

Crisis led him to Jesus. Crisis reduces arrogance and allows a man of standing, wealth and power to humbly kneel. For some of us, that crisis was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Notice how the man reached out for Jesus and begged Him to have mercy and deliver him from the clutches of the terrible need (John 4:47).

If you read the Scriptures thoroughly, you will note the man’s humility is part of what led Jesus to help. God resists the proud, but gives undeserved help to the humble. Jesus responded in two ways:

First, Jesus told those around Him that Galileans only seemed to believe what they could SEE (John 4:48).

We need to consider these words carefully. Jesus’ reaction (on first reading) does not seem loving at all – it sounds almost heartless and cold. It sounded like He said (apparently to the crowd around Him): “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you don’t believe.” Why take a seemingly desperate man and “hold out on him” like that? The answer is not as complicated as it may appear. Remember, this is another story to show that Jesus knows the heart of man (as John noted back in John 2:24-25).

This man was far from home. He couldn’t see his child. Jesus could claim to heal him, but the man wouldn’t be able to immediately check. Jesus was stating there was an opportunity there, not rejecting the man’s request. He was going to heal the boy, but the key to the story is what happened NEXT.

At the same time, Jesus DOES understand how manipulative people can be. We will move heaven and earth to achieve what we want. We ask desperately for the healing of our child, but when it’s done no commitment to Him or His message remains. We will use God to get what we want rather than allow the struggle to lead us to submission to God.

Consider the forces at work when people say: “If God is a healer, then why are there sick children in the world? If God is peaceful, then why do wars happen? If God loves, then why do bad things happen to good people?”

Behind these questions there is the desire to see God prove himself by taking these evil things away so that we will all believe in him and live happily ever after.

The problem is when God removes these problems it usually doesn’t end with the whole room following Him. The problem is based on a false premise: that people would believe and kneel if God did something about our troubles.

Think about it: There are plenty in our world who have enough to eat, aren’t struggling with the effects of war, plenty who have food on the table and a roof over their heads. Yet plenty of those people do not have a relationship with God. There have been many good times in our lives that did not yield surrendered lives.

Our relationship with God must not be simply based on his ability to heal us or perform other miracles for us. Our faith must leave this world’s way of thinking and take on a Biblical world view, solely based on surrender to the Word of Jesus.

Why didn’t Jesus make it easy for the man?

In our modern American lifestyle, we often act as though life should be easy. Ease, in fact is not always what is best for us. A faith that doesn’t challenge us is a faith that is not worth having. True faith requires of us a change. Real faith comes from God, as Ephesians tells us – and not from within ourselves. Yet, it results in surrender to Jesus’ role in our lives, not simply the solution to the immediate crisis.

A new king sits upon the throne only after a pitted struggle to remove the old king!

Second, Jesus told the man that he could trust in His Word alone.

He said: “Go, your son lives,” (John 4:50a). He didn’t even say He healed the boy! He merely said, “Go home. He’s ok!”

Yet, the man changed when he encountered Jesus:

At first, he was clearly panicked by the delay and distance (things he could observe with his eyes and heart) and tried to get Jesus to understand the immediacy of the need when he said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” (John 4:49). After Jesus spoke, the man clearly believed the word so thoroughly, that he exchanged panic for trust (John 4:50b). How do I know? Let’s take a closer look…

Next we need to examine the man and his apparent “trust in Jesus” (4:50-52).

Jesus spoke to the man at one o’clock (the seventh hour of the daylight according to John 4:52) and yet did not return home the same day. The text is clear the man encountered his slaves “the next day.” How could this be? He came with panic in his heart and yet stayed from one o’clock in the afternoon until the next day to journey down the five and one half hour path to his home? The key to the change is the word “BELIEVED” in verse 50.

The man believed. The man trusted the word of Jesus. He exchanged SEEING for what Jesus TOLD HIM – “Your son is alive and well.” He rested in that promise overnight. He ceased striving to find a way to care for the need because he believed the need was already met.

It was in his going, not in his arriving that he received the assurance that his faith had been rewarded.

A single act of faith led to a life of faith. In Genesis 12, God called Abraham to follow Him from his home to new land that he had never been. His decision is described in Hebrews 12:8, “he went out, not knowing.”

Here is the key: I truly believe God’s Word only when I accept the Word as it is stated and change my life to conform to what it says I should do and become. I change my behavior. I rest in the words and see life through them. I don’t keep seeing as others see!

That helps us understand the “full grasp of belief.” The man’s household believed by the end of the account (4:53-54). What does that mean?

Notice two important changes that occurred in the heart of the man after his initial trust was confirmed by the facts on the ground:

• The man trusted in Jesus’ words, but that trust was confirmed in his life as he walked in those words (4:53). He didn’t require proof, but he got it as he believed.

• The seed of that man’s belief became a testimony that when shared sprung up in a tree that sheltered the whole family, and they all believed together (4:53b).

A profound testimony can produce great faith in those who observe your changes. It is hard to refute a life surrendered and changed by Jesus.

C.S. Lewis wrote: “I have to believe that Jesus was (and is) God. And it seems plain as a matter of history that He taught His followers that the new life was communicated in this way. In other words, I believe it on His authority. Ninety-nine percent of the things you believe are believed on authority… The ordinary person believes in the solar system, atoms, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Spanish Armada. But we believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

As we examine the story then, what is faith? It is seeing the world as God says it is, not as my eyes say it is. It is accepting HIS WORD as the authority on what truly happened and what will happen.

It begins when I admit my need. The truth is that my senses are limited and can produce a faulty conclusion.

The other day I was driving and I wanted to make a left on Thunderbird Road coming from The Home Depot. My wife was in the car and it was raining. I looked first to my left – no one was coming. I looked to my right – no one was coming… or so I thought. I began to pull out and my wife said, “Stop, stop! There’s a car!” Blocked by a blind spot on the car at that angle and by my wife’s lovely head, I totally missed the view of the car. I was responding to what I saw, but not what was truly there. I was boldly proceeding as if I knew what was there, but I did not truly see things as they were.

That is how many of the people we know live today. They are proceeding confidently and ignoring blind spots.

Faith is the ability to see the truth. Since Jesus is the truth, and speaks the truth – it is the ability to see “through His eyes.”

Akin to faith is the Biblical word “BELIEVE” (επιστευσεν from pisteuo: to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing), to entrust. Belief is only truly seen in change (as James notes). It is “the convincing of the mind and heart that leads to a willful surrender to the conditions of that truth accepted.” When Abraham believed that God would send him a son — he built a nursery. The belief was not complete until the actions accompanied the faith confirmed the change in authority over the life of the man of faith.

Sometimes, it even takes time to find out if the surrender is real:

A young woman had become critically ill and her prognosis was grim; she would likely die within the year. Her family had a nominal “Easter and Christmas” commitment to the church, so the discussions in the hospital between this young pastor and the family always ploughed new ground. The woman challenged him – if Jesus healed in the Bible, he should be able to heal me today. If not, what use was He? So she begged and bargained. “If only” God would show mercy, the family urged, they would completely recommit themselves and come to church every Sunday. This earnest young pastor prayed with all his heart. He refused to join the ranks of those who said, “If it is Thy will.” It was God’s will that she be healed, he concluded. Then to his amazement, God healed her—completely. And with the physicians shaking their heads, she was sent home from the hospital. Next Sunday, the entire family was there in the front pew, dressed and sparkling. The young woman gave her testimony, praising God for his goodness. The following Sunday, the family was there again. In four weeks, it was only the woman and her husband. And after that, attendance was sporadic until they dropped into their previous pattern. Before long, the woman rationalized the entire incident. She had experienced the most dramatic sign God could give her: healing, bathed in prayer and surrounded by the church. But after only two months, its power dimmed to nothing. (Sermon Central Illustrations)

Her surrender was not real, though her amazement was. She was amazed at first that God could and would act on her behalf. If our encounter is with amazement alone, it will fade.

God isn’t looking to amaze you if it doesn’t change you.

If our encounter led us to true surrender – we will ever be changed and marked by our walk with Jesus. Jesus is looking for surrender to Him, not an applause line from an amazed admirer.

Jean Francois Gravelet, also known as “The Great Blondin,” was the first tightrope walker to appear at Niagara Falls. On June 30, 1859 the rope was fully in position to cross the falls. It was five o’clock in the afternoon and Blondin started the trip that was to make history. As he began his ascent toward the Canadian shore, he paused, steadied the balancing pole and suddenly executed a back somersault. Never content merely to repeat his last performance, Blondin crossed his rope on a bicycle, walked blindfolded, pushed a wheelbarrow, cooked an omelet in the centre and made the trip with his hands and feet manacled. And then, he announced that on August 19 he would cross the gorge carrying his manager, Harry Colcord, on his back. (Source: http://www. niagarainfo.com/historic.htm)

Harry Colcord demonstrated what we are referring to as “Biblical belief.” He didn’t just have the faith to know that Blondin could make the trip; he acted on that faith in allowing it to change HIS future.

In that same way, Jesus invites us to crawl upon His back, and to surrender control to Him for our lives and future. He will walk us through Heaven’s gates. Nothing less than crawling on is what He seeks.

Here is the truth: I believe God’s Word when I change my life to conform to what it says. His Word isn’t meant to inform me; it is meant to change me.

What Jesus Did: “The Seven Works of the Master” (Part One) – John 2:1-11

Unless you have been living under a rock or away on an isolated island vacation with no TV broadcasts, you are probably aware that the U.S. has been alight and buzzing with recent testimony before our Senate Judicial Committee as it met in session for the purposes of presenting or declining a candidate for the vacant seat on our Supreme Court. As powerful lobbies and political factions collided before our eyes, Americans saw the worst attributes of power players seep out in a drama that captured some of the largest ratings on American TV. At the heart of the issue are accusations from decades past, and deep concerns of many who, in unrelated personal stories, have sadly faced criminal abuse in their lives that was not resolved justly. To get to the heart of the facts, a few selected testimonies were paraded in front of us, while much happened behind closed doors and we were left without enough to bring a factual conclusion, but got enough to tarnish everyone who was involved. Toss enough slop around a room carelessly and the whole room will end up covered – and they did.

This isn’t a political seminar, so relax. I don’t have to take a side here, and the truth is: my vote doesn’t count in this exchange.

It is fair to point out the Bible requires “corroboration of testimony” before any public accusation against leaders without such evidence. That protection has been historically enshrined in our civil laws – but the idea clearly emanates from the Bible itself (cp. 1 Timothy 5:19).

With the very same voice, I want to say without qualification the Bible supports real tenderness for those who have been victims, and every attempt should be made to be sure we care for the hurting as best we can (cp. 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

In the end, I simply argue that one cannot find the truth in a process that is not specifically designed to get to it, and one will not find the truth when power players are at work to bend the information in different ways for pre-determined causes. In short, we’ve been set up to fail here.

We won’t know for sure (this side of eternity) what happened long ago between these people (if anything) by the methods used in this process. I would suggest that by looking deeply into the hurting eyes of a victim as they pour out their fragmented memories on TV you will learn little of certainty. Conversely, we will not ascertain facts solely by judging the full-throated defense of a professional judge who is a trained lawyer, since he argues for a living.

What seems very much at the heart of the main issues of our day is how we can find the truth… and why truth really matters!

That is what we need to talk about. Where and how do we find truth?

If these proceedings have shown us anything, they clarified a weakness in teaching people to distinguish between deeply held “gut-level opinion” and carefully “cross-checked” evidence.

Some honestly believe they can tell if someone is telling the truth by their demeanor as showed on a flat screen TV; but I think that is at best naïve.

• I want to examine evidence. I want to know truth based on verified evidence – just like everyone else.

• I want every victim of crime to be consoled that one day, even if not in this life, every abuser will stand before God, and the Lord will not decide based on their demeanor. “He Who is the Truth” will speak definitively in judgment.

• At the same time, I want every person who has faced false and stinging words employed to harm their reputation to remember, God said not to bear false witness, and those who speak lies will also stand before the Judge of truth.

What a great setting to introduce a subject we will be following for the next few months. The title of our series exposes the simplest part of the idea: “What Jesus did,” but it doesn’t offer the richness of the texture to what we are going to deep dive into. We are going to look at the evidence of what Jesus DID to offer testimony and substance to what He claimed about Himself. We are going to go back into things that happened in the past and gather the testimony of verified deeds.

We are going to follow the evidence that has been combed over for centuries, and listen to the words of those who saw Jesus in action, and judged His character and personal claims by His deeds.

As with every search in our modern times, we should also anticipate there will be much distraction. An anonymous Amazon book reviewer offered this on a book about Jesus. He wrote:

Each year as we approach Christmas and Easter, we are inevitably greeted at magazine racks by news journals trumpeting the “latest scholarship” on the “historical Jesus.” The fact that very little of what appears ever has lasting scholarly value seems of little concern to the journals in question. The attraction of the sensational and the scandalous governs media coverage in our age and any “scholar” who claims things about Jesus Christ that ordinary Christians would find disturbing is enticing to a cynical media looking for a “story” – even if the views promoted lack any credibility with the vast majority of experts in the field…

That reviewer nailed the sentiment that we have a hard time getting to the truth in an age where people value their presuppositions and conclude as much based on flimsy opinions as they do by carefully entertaining the eyewitness testimony.

Long ago, the work of a pastor at Ephesus (today in western Turkey) named “John the evangelist” offered a series of testimonials about Jesus’ activities in the first century. His account gave selected events with a specific stated purpose that he included near the end of the work. John recorded that purpose and wrote:

John 20:30 Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

Listen to his words carefully. He selected events to help us truly see, believe and have life.

John was interested in his readers. He wanted them to know what Jesus said (so he included seven “I Am” sayings of Jesus in the work) and he wanted them to grapple with what Jesus DID (so he included seven miracles of Jesus) as well.

Recently we listened to a series of teachings on what Jesus said. Now we examine the accounts of what He did. These are seven miracles including:

• Changing water into wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11).

• Healing a child long distance between Cana and Capernaum (John 4:46-54).

• Restoring the legs of a lame man at the Pools of Bethesda in Jerusalem (John 5:1-11).

• Multiplying the resources of the loaves and fish for a hungry Galilee crowd (John 6:6-13).

• Shutting down a storm on the Sea of Galilee that brought fear to His disciples (John 6:16-21).

• Giving sight to a man born blind at the Siloam Pool in Jerusalem (John 9:1-7).

• Raising up the dead body of His friend Lazarus at Bethany in Judea (John 11:1-45).

Each of these seven events were recalled to offer clear evidence that Jesus is Messiah, God’s Eternal Son and sole door to God. Don’t forget what is at stake! John also wrote:

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.

If that record is accurate and Jesus was speaking the truth, we are forced to conclude that knowing Him provides the one and only door to our Father in Heaven. In that case, Jesus isn’t one of many paths, He is THE WAY. John wanted us to know that truth by knowing accounts of His works.

Let’s start our investigation early in the account…

Here is what I think you will see:

Key Principle: Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

Look with me at the first of these seven stories found in John 2:1-11. See if you can pick out what the account tells you about Jesus that will change you.

John 2:1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus *said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus *said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother *said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone water pots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the water pots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

Put on your detective hat and let’s look at this account from a wedding at Cana to see what we learn about Jesus and how He can give us life.

Don’t skip the details, because the Word of God didn’t:

The Setting:

The opening two verses provide both the cast of characters at the event, as well as the specific setting of it.

First, the text opened with a timing note: “on the third day.” There is an old Jewish wife’s tale that Tuesday was the best day to get married. Many in Jewish circles still echo that. It wasn’t actually part of the Bible or of the Talmud, but some held the “ideal day to get married is Yom Shelishi (Tuesday, or the “third day”) because in the Creation story, the phrase “ki tov” (for it is good) is used twice on that day. Halachot (Jewish laws) and common customs existed regarding getting married on particular days, months, seasons and even parts of the month, but there was no specific law regarding marriage on any day other than Shabbat (the Sabbath). At the same time, this account is often quoted in an historical way to show the old custom. Here is the bottom line: It was likely a Tuesday the events unfolded. The idea that this follows “days” from chapter one doesn’t seem to really fit the time.

Second, the text offered a place: Cana of Galilee. This was no small town (like Nazareth) but it was a town along the rim of the Beth Netofa valley system in lower Galilee, in a low lying place where reeds were (at one time) probably harvested for the making of roofing materials. (The term Cana is “reed”.)

Third, the text offered a list of people: the mother of Jesus (2:1), Jesus and His disciples (2:2; we presume the five He got from John the Baptizer in the previous chapter which were: John, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and Simon Peter). Included in the account were also servants of the master of the house (2:5), a headwaiter and a bridegroom (2:9). I take it the list of people to corroborate the events, then, was at least ten people, perhaps more. It was a public party, and the disciples clearly learned of all the background events according to their response in verse eleven.

The Problem:

The story recounts more than an embarrassing moment – it records a disaster.

Obviously, Mary was (in some way) linked to what could seem to us as an embarrassing faux pas, but it was much more than just a slight to the guests in that time and place. This problem had deep and powerfully enduring consequences. Middle Eastern society, both then and now, is steeped in a culture that expects certain social obligations to be met in the community. One of them is the notion of “reciprocal hospitality.”

Let’s say last year because you celebrated a feast at my child’s wedding where we fed you lavishly and had all the wine you cared to drink, you are expected to do the same for me when I attend your son’s marriage feast. Failure to respond in kind comes with severe social consequences. The marriage will be labeled a disgrace, and there could well be a lasting social stigma on the couple and even the children of that union. In some circumstances, such a breach of hospitality could have brought a lawsuit for damages by the family of the bride, since this part was in the hands of the groom’s family. The hired steward of such a disaster would probably never work another celebration in that community again.

This was no small incident, and when the wine ran out early, Mary called upon Jesus to address the problem (2:3).

Don’t miss that Near Eastern culture is also quite a superstitious culture in many ways. Even though God gave His Word to the Jewish people, if you know their history and writings, there is no shortage of reference to what amounts to “omens” and “signs” that move them. Paul referred to that tendency when he wrote:

1 Corinthians 1:22-24: For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Bear in mind that marriage feasts were intended to be the most joyous of community occasions for a village. In the Hebrew world, wine personified joy, plain and simple. In the poetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures, wine is most often a symbol of God-given joy:

Psalm 104:15 And wine which makes man’s heart glad, So that he may make his face glisten with oil, And food which sustains man’s heart.

Judges 9:13 But the vine said to them, ‘Shall I leave my new wine, which cheers God and men, and go to wave over the trees?’

Isaiah 55:1 Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.

The point is that wine represented JOY and the lack of it stood to condemn this couple and their new home. You don’t want to be the couple that started marriage with the omen of joy that ran out. It doesn’t bode well for you or your children. If the local crops fail next season, plan on getting blamed.

Now look again…

The phrasing isn’t completely clear, but I want you to consider a reasonable way to look at the detail of the text. There is an indication in verse one and two that Mary was already at the feast, at the time when Jesus and His disciples arrived on the third day. Since wedding feasts were often seven day events, John may have recalled that Jesus and the disciples (who were in fact invited) didn’t get there until the end of the week long feast. The point is, the wine seemed to be a sufficient amount until additional people showed up. The steward made a judgment call and didn’t get additional resources during the week, because he thought they had enough to get through the end of the feast. With more people, the lack of supply quickly became apparent.

Part of the text recalled a personal interaction between Mary and Jesus.

John 2:4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Obviously, the discussion was truncated. We don’t know all they said to one another. If the words recorded were the whole conversation, it was just plain weird. We assume John cut off the unnecessary parts of the interaction, but it is interesting he included Jesus’ objection. He did it, I believe, to show that Jesus was being pressed to do things to confirm what Mary was told about Him at the time of His conception by the angel Gabriel,
and at the times when God intervened on Jesus’ behalf as a child. Mary seemed sure that Jesus could fix the problem because Mary believed Jesus was the Promised One.

Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to make sure that He was not going to be “outed” by the agenda of anyone beside His Father. This was part of His objection when Satan wanted Him to jump off the southwest pinnacle of the temple in the temptation (Mt. 4).

In any case, out of respect for His mother and her faith in Him, He apparently agreed to deal with the crisis. Mary left the scene with two great statements:

• First, she gave the servants the best words offered in the New Testament: “Whatever Jesus tells you to do, do it.”

• Second, she left apparently totally trusting Jesus, and didn’t return to add additional input. She trusted Him, and she rested in His ability. That is a wonderful reminder to all of us who have wrangled with Jesus after we have prayed.

The Heart of the Miraculous Account: Water was changed into wine.

Verse six shared the scope of the miracle by offering us the vat size and number of containers. There were six stone pots, each containing between twenty and thirty gallons. One hundred twenty to one hundred eighty gallons of wine seemed like a lot of libation to get through to the end of the feast – but that wasn’t the KEY DETAIL that changes your thinking. Obviously, Jesus provided enough for all that they needed to celebrate, and what they needed to start their own label for the next year!

Yet, don’t neglect to look at WHAT KIND OF POTS they were.

If you believe the detail of the ritual purification pots was just incidental, it is because you aren’t looking at the story the way a Jewish person would. Ritual purification was, and is, at the heart of observant Jewish life. The
elaborate rules regarding ritual purity and impurity are deeply embedded in the Hebrew law.

The noun “ṭumah” (defiled or unclean) is used some forty times in the Masoretic Text of the Hebrew Bible to denote ineligibility for different services. The adjective tamei (טָמֵא) (impure) is all through the text of the Hebrew Bible.

These were people that wanted to please God by collecting the rain water in the required stone vessels, so that every impurity of life could be symbolically washed away. Do they seem like the kind of people who CARE about symbolic things? Of course, they do.

Consider the volume of the pronouncement of what Jesus did when He took THAT WATER and transformed it to wine. The account ended with a commentary:

John 2:11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

We see in the story that Jesus wasn’t so “other worldly” that He wouldn’t celebrate a wedding with two people starting a new family. He knew family was important, since He established the family to begin with. Yet, remember our key truth…

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

• Jesus didn’t offer them INFORMATION on where to get more wine.
• Jesus didn’t give them an EDUCATION on why they should plan better in the future.
• Jesus didn’t pull the crowd in and offer EXPLANATION of why the steward could not have known His boys would arrive late.

Jesus solved a crisis with transformation power.

He understood the longing of that family to have their impurity washed away – so God brought them Jesus. What He brings is more than they could understand, ask, think or expect.

• If you are reading today for scintillating information (something new you hadn’t heard before) – you are willing to settle far too low for what Jesus can bring you.

• If you would be satisfied with more education about the Word today, you are far too easily pleased.

Jesus wants to take your longings and completely, utterly, entirely and unreservedly transform them by His touch. He can make plain His GLORY and offer you something from Heaven.

He transformed their longing into something far beyond what they could have expected.

He made the ordinary into the extraordinary when it was set aside for His exclusive use. The water put exclusively under the control of Jesus was transformed into something greater than it could be without His Word.

Don’t miss that. Don’t overlook that many people will file into a church today looking for Jesus to fix the plumbing leaks of their life. They had a break-up with one they love. The bills rolled in like a tsunami and they are under water. Their health is failing them. An injustice against them hasn’t been settled and unfairness seems to be winning. They will pull together their list, their tears, their pain – and they will file into a church and wait for God to fix their problem. Yet, what God wants to give them is so much more. He wants them to encounter the powerful transformation of Jesus’ Word.

He doesn’t want to wash them with their saved up water in their old stone pot – He wants to transform their water and satisfy their thirst with something they have never tasted before!

He wants to fill them with something made in Heaven – not a religious ritual cut from a stony hillside and carefully calibrated by men.

Jesus is the timeless transformer. He is so passionate to show you Who He is, He actually came in the flesh bringing transforming power to you.

As I close, I want to echo the words offered by Billy Graham a few years ago, before he entered the presence of the Savior on February 21, 2018:

• There is no doubt that our generation suffers from moral uncertainty. We have a great deal of levity, but little real joy. There is searching on the part of young people for fun, but little real happiness. There is a great deal of canned laughter on television, but it is empty and hollow.

• We are zealous for freedom, but we are weak in our worship of God. We boast over military strength, but our television screens show that it is brutal in application.

• We have everything, but possess nothing. We seek knowledge, but lack understanding. There is plenty of struggle upward, but we continue to sink lower.

• As John Steinbeck said, “Our civilization needs the panic of a great crisis to shock it out of its Pharisaism.”

It is time for you to take your stone pot, set aside for washing to find a sense of cleanness – and let the Word of the Savior transform it.

If you don’t know Him as Savior, today is the day you can ask Jesus to take your life from you and commission you to follow Him. If you DO know Him as Savior, you have tasted of the sweetness of His ability to transform your life. What pot hasn’t been given Him? That one is still just plain water…

The Gospel in Action: “Sunrise of the New Day” – Romans 13

Ask any nurse or care giver, and they will tell you: “Pain increases at night, but it seems to slowly relinquish some of its hold as the sun rises.” It seems that as a new day comes, the throbbing that came in with the darkness recedes back into the body, only to be prompted to strike out again when the sun goes down.

Sunrise helps ease pain. It is a well-documented notion.

I must admit that I love to watch the sunrise in the morning out back of my house! As the morning dawns the birds awaken, and the animals stir all around my house (and there are plenty of them!). The once formless dark forest beside our house begins to come into clear view. Shapes are defined because sunrise brings light, and light brings clarity.

This isn’t poetry; it’s a Scripture idea. Paul made note that the sunrise is coming soon, and that should change our sense of urgency about what we DO and our desire to be transformed to be more like Jesus. Think about it:

• In Romans 12, Paul made clear believers should act in a certain pattern within the church by using their gifts and appreciating others in the inter-connected nature of the church body.

• In Romans 13, Paul appealed to the believers to allow God to change them in relation to the way they handle people OUTSIDE THE CHURCH in their local community – especially in relation to those who were in charge of the society.

Yet, what sticks out to me is not simply the commands (though we will look at each) but the reason for commitment to the call to change. It is found near the end of the chapter…

Romans 13:11 Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. 12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Do you see it? Paul shared the central reason for following some of the instruction he gave in verses 1-10 of the passage. He said it was simply because the alarm clock was about to go off. A new day was about to dawn.

If you listen closely, you can hear the optimism in his words. He called the time believers live in the present age the word “dark,” but he also promised a soon coming light.

Did you happen to notice how he characterized believers in the darkness of this world? He noted it was a time when believers seem to be “dozing” a bit. Is that a fair characterization?

Actually, I think it is.

In some ways, even the most disciplined and mature believers among us spend far more time providing for the flesh in daily life than for the real world – the spiritual one. The effect of that fact is we tend to see the physical life as more important, and dare I say it, more real.

It isn’t more real; it is fleeting. It isn’t more important; it is temporary.

Yet things aren’t as they seem. Life in the here and now SEEMS more real and more permanent than any misty thoughts of Heaven and eternity. Talk to anyone who doesn’t believe in life beyond this one, and you will hear clearly that denial of self in this life is loss – even if it is because we know we have been called to do so with a greater life after in mind.

Listen again to what Paul said (in my own paraphrase):

Romans 13:11 “We obey these things, we make these changes, because the alarm clock is about to snap us awake from this sleepy existence (with its unreal and dreamy qualities). We are about to wake up to reality. That reality is our rescue from the world we have come to think is: “Oh so important.” The practices that go with the sleepy, dark and temporal world are about to be over. That fact presses us to unhand deeds that go with the darkness of this world and cover ourselves with the armor of light.

Our time on earth has temporary demand and temporary rewards. Someday, most of the things of this world will be as useless to you as a hair brush to a bald man. Because of that, Paul said it was time for the Roman believers to wake up to reality.

Stop and look for a moment, before reading the list of things Paul commanded them to DO in the chapter, at the final command found in the last line of Romans 13, at verse 14:

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Now ask, “What does that truly mean?”

The command has two parts:

• Put on Jesus Christ.
• Make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.

Are you hungry right now? If I hunger and get into my car to drive to a restaurant and order a meal, am I being disobedient to this passage? Am I letting my hunger determine my eating? Isn’t that why God gave me the impulse to eat anyway? What does Paul mean by “make no provision for the flesh” then?

Am I about to listen to a message that encourages me to look at a model Christian as the one who leaves church on Sunday in their car without using the air conditioner? Will they refuse a good restaurant for lunch and go home to eat bread, drink water and send the money they would have spent to missionaries? Will they avoid comforts through the week, and sleep on a hard floor rather than a soft mattress?

“You’re being silly!” some will protest. Maybe I am. Now, let me ask you, how does one make NO PROVISION for the flesh in regard to its lusts and walk through a buffet line?

There must be more to this! The passage appears to tell us what God expects from us, but not HOW God expects us to do what He told us to do.

I think, when it is all said and done, you will see the “how” more clearly. Let’s back out of the passage, set it in context, and then try to understand the truth. The big idea of the text is this…

Key Principle: I can’t put on Jesus until I actively seek to peel off self.

Now let’s unpack that.

First, let’s set this truth in the context of the letter Paul was writing, so we are sure that what we take away is consistent with its original message to its original audience. As you may recall, the letter was designed to answer five big questions:

What happened to mankind? Why is sin rampant and why is the world full of troubles. Paul answered with essentially one word: mutiny. Man’s rebellion caused his troubles (cp. Romans 1-3).

What did God do about man’s rebellious and languishing state? The second question was answered by a single word as well: gift. God gave His Son to remedy sin’s hold on man (cp. Romans 4-5).

How can I cast off sin’s hold on my life as a follower of Jesus? Through Paul’s quill, God instructed Jesus followers that the prison doors of sinful behavior have been unlocked by God, and we can be free to walk in God’s Spirit (cp. Romans 6-8).

Is God really trustworthy in keeping His promises? A large part of the Epistle deals specifically with the history of God and His promises to Israel, as a case study in Hi trustworthiness (cp. Romans 9-11).

What should a healthy walk with Jesus look like in practical and daily lifestyle? This is the section we again study today – the section that explains how a mature and healthy believer should appear, or how they should demonstrate Jesus in daily life (cp. Romans 12-16).

Next, look at the grammar of what Paul said God expected to fulfill the commands of the first part of the Romans 13.

Romans 13:14“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.”

Notice three things:

• In this metaphor, Jesus is One you can “put on” like you would put on new clothing. If you think of trying on new clothes, you can easily understand you cannot put on the new until you remove the old.

• Second, the term “flesh” is modified by the term “lusts” – making them one and the same. He isn’t talking badly about our physical bodies (nor our God-given nees like food, etc.) , but rather making the point that we cannot and must not pander to the fallen urges that he summarized by the word “lusts.” Lust, in this context, is a strong desire once imbedded into us by God, but torqued through the Fall. Most often in the New Testament, lust of the flesh is a description of an implanted hunger the enemy uses to draw us into fulfilling our felt needs without God.

A believer is not to make provision for the desire that leads us to fulfill a hunger without God and His provided plan as shared in His Word.

Four Instructions for Believers from Romans 13

Set in this context are the four instructions of the chapter. Go back to the beginning of the text and review quickly…

Instruction One: Believers are to learn to let God put people over us we wouldn’t always choose.

As a follower of Jesus, we accept that what is happening in the physical world is but a symptom of the spiritual world. We believe that behind the scenes are two competing agendas – that of a loving God and another of a deceiving enemy. Though God’s enemy has great power on our planet, he is limited to the realm God has set for him until the time that evil is brought to an end. Ultimately, all things happen under the authority of our Heavenly Father – even the things He is not pleased by. Yet, the underlying system, though at times suffering from later corruptions, is still a reflection of His original establishment. Paul put it this way…

Romans 13:1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. 3 For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil.

Romans 13:3b “…Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; 4 for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. 5 Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake.

If you follow the logic of his argument, you will see:

Paul told them the deliberately place themselves in subjection to authorities in light of the Author of their place of authority (13:1). In order to drive home Divine reasons, Paul had to press the case as to why subjection was so important. He enumerates several reasons:

God designed authority and placed people into it. (Romans 13:1) From the original call of man in the Garden, ruling and ordering were part of what God wanted man to accomplish.

Resisting the structures God put in place was often a proxy battle for resisting God Himself (Romans 13:2). We need signs and symbols of authority to remind us to obey – because we can get feisty or thoughtless and do what we want, even if it isn’t right. Authorities were designed, in some ways, to help deter wrong action.

Think of the police car you see when traveling down the road. What is the first thing you do? You look down at the speed limit. Why? Because if you are going the right speed, you anticipate he won’t stop you. He isn’t looking for more paperwork to do if he doesn’t need to do it. His presence slows people down and gets them thinking about obeying the signs.

Subjecting ourselves will most often put us in a place of peace and not fear. When the one in authority sees a clear demonstration that we understand their importance and function, they are far more likely to have a positive exchange with us (Romans 13:3b).

Resisting authority and violating law, even in an imperfect and fallen world, should make us afraid. Deterrence is a God thing. God has put within man a sense of the society in which they live. He has made us nervous when doing wrong from our earliest “cookie heist” as a child. That built in anxiety is called “guilt” and is part of our “conscience.”

We are, when all is said and done, to be in subjection because it can save us pain and trouble, but also because it helps us keep peace inside. When we do nothing to violate law, we move through life without hiding the guilt of our transgressions (Romans 13:4-5).

The battle with submission is a battle of the ego.

Let’s say it this way: We actively seek to “peel off self” when we set aside ego and learn humility and respect. It is an act of worship, especially when it is consciously done to obey the teachings of Jesus.

Do not be drawn into the trap of only respecting an authority after you make them prove they deserve it. That is another form of deep rebellion and arrogance. It is a popular notion, but one that assumes God is not behind authority structures.

But there is more…

Instruction Two: Believers are to learn to practice submission in demonstrable and practical ways.

God doesn’t want us to subscribe to a theory of obedience; He wants us to practice truth in life. This became very pointed when Paul connected the truth of submission to our use of money to demonstrate submission and honor. He noted:

Romans 13:6 For because of this you also pay taxes, for [rulers] are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. 7 Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax [is due]; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

Here is the truth: Believers must not embrace civil authority and then feel justified starving its ability to collect revenue necessary to perform its vital civil tasks. The passage requires that we openly agree to pay, honor and show respect to those in authority without compromise. Bear in mind Paul was a Roman, writing during the early years of Emperor Nero. Though he was not yet acting out, there were ample illustrations of inequitable rulers readily available at the time.

Don’t cynically read this as some kind of patronizing passage to keep the authorities off the back of the early church leaders – it is both their record and the breathed Word of God!

The instruction was clearly to respect, fear and honor civil authority based on their placement by God. This included paying taxes into a system that used the money for purposes we wouldn’t individually agree to as believers.

We actively seek to “peel off self” when we practice the theory of submission in something as physical as money. Even mature believers may find themselves negotiating terms of obedience when they don’t like the way the taxes are used. That is a distraction from the call to give to temporal rulers the temporary (but prized) bank balance.

There is yet a third instruction…

Instruction Three: Believers need to learn to see others through eyes of love and act in ways respecting them and their things.

It is important for us to note that when God calls for us to give honor, fear and treasure to civil authority, He has the right to direct my finances. All that I have has come into my life because of My Heavenly Father. Listen to what God directed:

Romans 13:8 Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled [the] law. 9 For this, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of [the] law.

Obviously, Paul argues that believers are to keep a ledger clear of debt as much as is possible, but recognize there is one part of the ledger that can never be clear: the part concerning our love. We OWE it to people to love them.

• If we violate the sacredness of another’s marriage – we steal from someone. We steal their special bond, violate the sacredness of their promises and covenant to each other, and potentially wound their children and family.

• When we murder another human being, we steal their right to more opportunities for forgiveness, more chances to find love and experience grace – we take from them what is not ours to take.

• When we take from another the things that are justly theirs, we remove from them the fruit of their labors, and we show ourselves discontented with what God has placed rightfully in our hands.

All these are sins: adultery, murder, theft. We must not take, but we are equally commanded not to withhold – or we also sin.

• We are not to withhold our deliberate action to meet the needs of those around us, without the expectation of any specific return on our action.

• We are to love, because we were commanded to by God. That alone is reason enough.

Love is about the other person, not about you. The battle inside is about placing other people first, when our default is about making ourselves first. We deliberately “peel off self” when we think of the needs of others over our own needs.

There is one final command…

Instruction Four: Believers are to learn to put on Jesus’ character and choices.

In putting others before me, I must also put Jesus before me. I put on Jesus when I deliberately take off my right to choose and put on His choices. The end of the text calls for us to deliberately change our appearance…

Romans 13:11 [Do] this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.

Paul warned the hour was later than they thought. We don’t have time to put this off. We have to get busy.

Paul also warned that we can be sleepy when we should be vigilant. We can easily get the idea that important things are not that important.

Paul anticipated that our rescue from this life was about to happen, any day. He wasn’t depressed. He wasn’t disgusted with this life. He was acknowledging a truth we must ponder to stay on track: We don’t belong here. We aren’t designed to live with the pain of death, the struggle with sin and the power of the enemy forever. We will be set free.

The night will pass. The pain will go away. The fog of putting hope in my body and its pleasures will be lifted. I will see the Savior. I will know peace. I will experience the delight of one-ness with God. I will have the eternal life Jesus promised…and it is coming SOON!

Paul continued:

Romans 13:12 The night is almost gone, and the day is near. Therefore let us lay aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave properly as in the day…

Paul told them to act NOW as we will act THEN. Believers are to bring Heaven into the room, not try to sneak darkness into Heaven when they go. Our values are to be transformed to eternal ones.

What does that look like? It includes separating ourselves from pandering to our physical wants and desires apart from an intimate walk with Jesus. He wrote:

Romans 13:13b “…not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual promiscuity and sensuality, not in strife and jealousy.

Note the areas: Partying to release us from responsible action, sexual indulgence to release us from the tensions of desire, sensual feeding to grow the fallen nature’s hold within us, fostering anger and division to feed our ego and the stirred broken spirit within us.

Each of these exalts OUR NEEDS over others. Each removes our conscious choice to follow Jesus and not make a god out of our belly – our hungers, our desires. Paul ended with clear words…

Romans 13:14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to [its] lusts.

Instead of indulging self I am to put on the actions and attitudes of Jesus in my daily choices. That is the Christian life. Some things are to be increasingly evident: My Christ-like thinking will cause me to focus on fulfilling the desires of my Father and enable me to put my hungers behind His desires.

If we took the time to read Paul description in detail of the works of the flesh that he wrote not long after, it would sound like this:

Galatians 5:19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Look at the WAR WITHIN YOU as a believer for a minute. In Galatians 5, God made clear the works of the flesh are all ABOUT ME taking care of ME (at least my perceived needs). Here we have a list of fifteen deeds we can be drawn into – all of which displease God and enslave us: (Note: The Greek words are defined below).

• Immorality: porneia; illicit sexual activity to use my body for self-pleasure without regard to the proper bonding use of the gift of sexuality.

• Impurity: a-katharsia; uncleansed living, living with unbridled desires that are not corrected. This is literally about living in a withdrawn state from God, because you refuse to yield to His cleansing and have the relationship restored. It is hiding in guilt and isolation from God, because you don’t want to stop doing what you are doing.

There is an old story about how a mountain lion felt so good after eating an entire bull, he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter tracked the sound and shot him… The moral of that story: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

• Sensuality: aselgia; shameless hungers for self-fulfillment.

• Idolatry: idolateria; shaping an ideal of value and bowing in allegiance to it.

• Sorcery: farmakia; using anesthetizing drugs for release from reality.

• Enmities: echthros; someone who harbors irreconcilable hostility, with actions prompted by envy or hatred.

• Strife: eris; someone who brings wrangling and dissention with gossip and trouble making.

• Jealousy: zélos; someone who burns for things that belong to others.

• Outbursts of anger: thoomus; someone who boils over and lashes out verbally or physically.

• Disputes: erithia; someone who manipulates for personal gain.

• Dissensions: dikhosetia; someone who forces a wedge between people to divide them.

• Factions: ha heresis; someone who labels people to keep them apart.

• Envying: fthonos; someone who plots another’s downfall out of jealousy.

• Drunkenness: methay; someone who refuses to take their pain to their Savior.

• Carousing: komos; someone who celebrates feeling in the here and now more than a sense of pleasing God.

All of these items are about ME. MY PLEASURE. MY HAPPINESS. MY STATISFACTION. MY NEEDS. MY WANTS… and they stand in direct contrast to the “other person centered” lifestyle taught in the Scriptures. They are the things we are to peel off to put on Jesus.

Paul claimed that ACTIONS AND BEHAVIORS could show the reality of a person’s true walk with God.

That is either true, or its not. If it IS, we may need a time of examination.

In a world centered on individual rights and liberties almost to the exclusion of community responsibility, this thinking challenges us to be transformed. The shocking claim is this: There is, in fact, a connection between how I live and whether or not I truly belong to Jesus Christ and His Kingdom. Let that soak in for a moment. Paul actually claims that people who truly have Jesus as their Savior make choices to walk a different path than they had when they came to Christ.

We deliberately “peel off self” when we recognize the lateness of the hour and snap out of the delusion of night. The battle with procrastination is fueled by the belief the hour is not as late as it truly is.

A recent article by two CNN reporters (Rachel Held Evans & Laura Sessions Stepp). Attempted to explain why many are leaving the American church. CNN decided to counsel churches on what congregations needed to do to start appealing to the upcoming generation. What was their conclusion? People were leaving congregations because the church wasn’t meeting their WANTS.

Throughout their descriptions of Americans they repeatedly shared what they “want.” CNN was saying: unless the church accommodated these WANTS they’d lose people.

Paul would completely understand that thinking. Jesus isn’t asking to join YOUR WAY, He is calling us to abandon our way for HIS.

The simple call of the believer is to put on Jesus and peel off self. I can’t put on Jesus until I peel off self.

We must be careful that you and I aren’t living two different sets of values – one for Sunday (a “quick slip on” version of a Jesus costume) and another for Monday (the self beneath). Let me offer a story about someone who tried it…

I heard about a farmer who was 2 hours late getting home. His wife questioned him about it and he explained that on his way home he saw his preacher on the road and picked him up. “What does that have to do with being late? The man replied, “Once that preacher got in the wagon those mules couldn’t understand a word I said!”

Fighting for Faith: “Standing on the Promises” Genesis 29-31

In the sixty-seventh year of his life, Russell Herman left this earth. That was back in 1994. In the “last will and testament,” this Illinois man claimed to bequeath the following:

• More than two billion dollars to the town of Cave-In-Rock
• More than two billion dollars to the city of East St. Louis
• About one and one half billion dollars for projects in Illinois

In a final act of what seemed like unprecedented generosity, he claimed he wished to leave six trillion dollars to the Federal Reserve to pay off the national debt (as it was at that time). His was a generous will. There was, however, a very significant problem. At the time of his death, Mr. Herman possessed only one actual piece of property: a “1983 Oldsmobile Toronado” automobile. He had no other assets to cover his bequests. He left this earth leaving us with a clear reminder: None of us can give away what we don’t possess.

His promises fell short because his resources couldn’t back up his desires. Does that sound familiar?

Today, Jesus followers will gather in churches around the world. Some will pass on platitudes like: “God is as good as His promises – and they can be counted on.” Yet, if you ask different believers, you will get a very different list of what God actually promised to do for us. Truthfully, in the years I have ministered to people, I have met a number who became deeply embittered in their lives because promises they heard from believers in the name of God didn’t come through for them. Some of these walked away from the faith for a time, believing that God was either unable (insufficient) or unwilling (cruel) to do what they were told He promised. The real problem was: Someone misrepresented (either intentionally or through error) what God actually said. That is a key reason why knowing the Word well is so tremendously important. The role of an ambassador is to represent the words of the leader properly – and, I suspect, the church has paid too little attention to our role as ambassadors.

Let’s make sure we understand the definitions of the problem. God’s promises are the assured assertions from His Word that He will act in a certain way. God’s commands are demands that press us to do what we should. While His promises are to be believed and trusted, they share with us something He will do. At the same time, His commands must be followed because they demand something from us. Some promises are conditional, but when understood carefully, God never over-promises or under-delivers. Sadly though, His promises can be misrepresented by His followers. That is to say, it is possible to falsely or mistakenly exclaim a “promise” in the name of God.

In fact, we can misrepresent the Word so badly that people will scorn God because He will appear to “let them down” – when someone offered promises in His name He never agreed to make.

Fortunately, we have God’s Word to clear up what He did and didn’t actually promise. In particular, we have in this lesson a good model we can trace inside the Biblical story of Jacob. Here is the truth that will become clear as you read the account in Genesis 29-31.

Key Principle: While God’s presence and promises won’t exempt believers from troubles, they will offer both a constant companion in troubled times and an ultimate understanding of the place of troubles.

Six things God didn’t promise:

In this lesson, we want to trace what happened after Jake began a walk with God. He met God on a journey, and God’s promised presence with Jake didn’t do six things that some people confuse as promises in God’s name:

First, the promises and presence didn’t remove all uncertainty about how to move forward; yet they did allow him to see God at work in his daily circumstances (29:1-14).

Take a look at Genesis 29 for a moment. It reads:

Genesis 29:1 Then Jacob went on his journey, and came to the land of the sons of the east. 2 He looked, and saw a well in the field, and behold, three flocks of sheep were lying there beside it, for from that well they watered the flocks. Now the stone on the mouth of the well was large. 3 When all the flocks were gathered there, they would then roll the stone from the mouth of the well and water the sheep, and put the stone back in its place on the mouth of the well. 4 Jacob said to them, “My brothers, where are you from?” And they said, “We are from Haran.” 5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban the son of Nahor?” And they said, “We know him.” … 9 While he was still speaking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel the daughter of Laban his mother’s brother, and the sheep of Laban his mother’s brother, Jacob went up and rolled the stone from the mouth of the well and watered the flock of Laban his mother’s brother. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel, and lifted his voice and wept. 12 Jacob told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and that he was Rebekah’s son, and she ran and told her father. 13 So when Laban heard the news of Jacob his sister’s son, he ran to meet him, and embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his house. Then he related to Laban all these things. 14 Laban said to him, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh.” And he stayed with him a month.

It happened that as Jacob followed the trail with the directions he was given, he ended up at the right well, at a perfect time to ask about his family. He came to the place just before the beautiful daughter of Laban (who would captivate his eyes for the rest of his days) happened to be walking up. For the one who doesn’t know God, such moments seem like a coincidence. For the one who does know God, there is providence.

Even a young believer like Jake couldn’t miss God’s hand in his life. He asked questions and watched the scene unfold. At the same time, you don’t get the sense that he knew where things were heading that day. The questions reveal there was uncertainty. He knew what he was supposed to be doing there, but he wasn’t sure this was the place, and these were the people.

From time to time I hear people say things like: “I knew it was the Lord, because everything dropped into place.” I know what they mean. When the Lord is working on something, often I find a “flow” that just overtakes the situation. As fast as a problem arises, a solution appears. I have seen it many times.

At the same time, that isn’t a promise of God.

While providence of God is a promise, a smooth ride is not. We must not infer that God has eliminated from a believer the sheer uncertainty of earthly life. The Bible doesn’t include absolute certainty about our next move, even in the pursuit of following Him.

You and I don’t know the next problem we will face, or obstacle that will challenge us, and we are misrepresenting God if we act as though He has promised to make our paths ever-clear. He has not. In fact, if you look carefully in the Word and consider the second mission journey of the Apostle Paul, you will note that before the Macedonian man vision, he didn’t know what direction he was going next in a mission journey! Even a mission trip isn’t promised to always go smoothly.

The promise God made us is that he would “never leave us nor forsake us.” The prize of His presence doesn’t accompany unending bliss and certain turns of the road in this life. God didn’t promise to remove my troubles, He promised to insert His presence into my life through all my troubles. The abundant life we have is wrapped in the delight of facing daily life with the powerful and loving Companion. We aren’t exempted from pain; He joins Himself to us and bears it with us. Our rest is in His goodness, not in life’s fairness.

Second, the promises and presence didn’t remove all the drudgery from life; they did provide a sense that God was working things out as Jake worked hard (29:15-20).

Providence isn’t an excuse for lying in a hammock and blaming God for your unemployment. Providence assures a companion while you labor, sometimes pushing twenty pounds of paper reports off your desk, or lifting heavy boulders and clearing them from your field. Look at what Jake did:

Genesis 29:15 Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my relative, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” 16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face. 18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” 19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

While we may all tempted to say: “Awwww” over the last sentence as we contemplate Jake’s infatuation with Rachel, that isn’t the whole point being made in the passage. Jake worked for seven years. He got up early, took care of the flocks and herds, and dropped on his mat at the end of a long, hot, day. Just because we read it in a simple sentence, didn’t mean it wasn’t arduous, sweaty work.

Was God with him? Yes! Did that mean he could sleep in and coast in life and still get ahead? No! The promise of God’s presence and even the promises of God’s specific blessing were not to be construed with some “get out of work free” card that Jake could play. Your promises aren’t either. From the moment God began speaking to Adam, the instructions sounded like a job – because we were created to find resolution and completion in work. It doesn’t matter whether it is manual labor or computer programming – the work may be long and tedious – but it is accompanied by God’s presence and His stamp of blessing deep within.

Third, the promises and presence didn’t exempt Jake from being cheated by those around him; yet God stayed beside him and worked in spite of it all (29:21-30).

It would be great if I could promise you that lightning wouldn’t strike your transformer and your back wouldn’t go out because you love and follow Jesus – but teaching that would also be a misrepresentation of God’s real promises. Add to that, you might work hard and be honest, and a lie by a jealous and conniving co-worker could still put you in the unemployment line. How do I know? Look back at our story…

Genesis 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife, for my time is completed, that I may go in to her.” 22 Laban gathered all the men of the place and made a feast. 23 Now in the evening he took his daughter Leah, and brought her to him; and Jacob went in to her. … 25 So it came about in the morning that, behold, it was Leah! And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served with you? Why then have you deceived me?” 26 But Laban said, “It is not the practice in our place to marry off the younger before the firstborn. 27 Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.” … 30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

This famous tale in the Bible offers us an easily overlooked point: Jake got played even though he did what was right and was following God’s plan. Let that sink in for a moment.

God never promised believers they would get full and complete justice here on Earth. He does claim that He keeps perfect score. He does promise to heal our wounds and to punish evil men and women. What He DOES NOT PROMISE is short-term satisfaction and a certainty of outcome before eternal judgment after this life. He promises ultimate justice, but not immediate justice.

God never promised believers a life of comfort provided by the conditions here on Earth. Though some believers may experience material prosperity and success, it is a terrible assumption that God will apply that to all and give us an easy life. We don’t all have the same call, even though we all have the same God. We differ in gifts and we differ in what God intends to do in and through us.

I think often about the words of Jesus in relation to my personal expectations – and I have to admit that I have a privileged life!

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

The peace I have is IN CHRIST, not in comforts of this world. If I get material prosperity, that is in addition to His presence! Our life was not offered a guarantee of temporal comfort, but it was promised a fulfilment based on our conscious walk with the Savior. Why doesn’t God deal with wrong right now? There are many reasons. One important reason is this: God is not only patient with us; He is equally patient toward those who may choose to oppress us.

Jake got played in spite of his walk with God. Paul got stoned by evil men. Most of the disciples were executed as Apostles. If we think we are promised material prosperity, we aren’t following the bread crumb trail of the first three hundred years of Christian history.

Fourth, the promises and presence didn’t insulate him from repeating mistakes learned in his family life; but even those mistakes became a platform for God’s blessings (29:31-35).

Most of the rest of Genesis 29 tells of the earliest children born to Jake by his “runner up” wife Leah. The story unfolds as Leah tries to win his love and attention by offering her body and producing a child. It is a sad story in many respects, but one thought jumps off the page reading verse thirty-one:

Genesis 29:31 Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

Jake, who should have understood the pain involved in favoritism, played the same game in his own tent camp (among his wives) that his parents played in his upbringing. He was only ON this journey away from home because of the dysfunction that came from “ranking” relationships and picking favorites in the home. Did God’s new relationship with him insulate him from falling back into old habits? It surely did not.

Believers get a new connection to God, but have to work deliberately to distance themselves from their old thinking and habits. It isn’t a passive process. It takes WORK. It requires growing in discipline. It isn’t JUST self-effort (it requires God’s Spirit) but it INCLUDES deliberate effort.

That is the work involved in sanctification – where the Spirit of God works in you to change you to become more like Jesus – and you actively listen and respond to make course corrections in life.

Jake reminds us of one of the biggest problems we face in our Christian life – our default settings from an earlier life were not set to “holy.” We came to our relationship with God with some of the settings requiring deliberate re-set to change from the default. Liars must learn to speak the truth. Gossips must learn to curb their impulses. It takes time, and it isn’t guaranteed to fall off of us because we now know God any more than our extra weight put on in living an excessive life before we knew Him.

Fifth, the promises and presence of God didn’t guarantee peace and quiet in Jake’s home life; but it did provide him a way to cope with people disappointments (30:1-43).

For time sake, let me simply mention that chapter thirty has two stories to illustrate this truth:

With his barren wife Rachel, Jake shared his newfound perspective that things on earth are initiated in Heaven (30:1-24). When Rachel complained to Jacob, he immediately made clear that he wasn’t the responsible party – God made babies. (Obviously, there is collaboration!) You cannot help but notice, particularly in Genesis 30:14ff, how his wives thought mechanistically about pregnancy, but Jacob knew the matter was ultimately in the hands of God. Jake’s answer wasn’t a “cop out;” it was the truth. He could participate in the process, but God had to make it chemically work.

In the case of Laban’s trickery later in the chapter, Jake clearly didn’t have an exemption from undergoing real tests by a man who was dishonest (see Genesis 30:25-43); yet the vices of his boss didn’t thwart God’s ability to advance Jake. Jake saw God bless him even when his boss was trying to stiff him from a prosperous future. Note the summary verse:

Genesis 30:43 So the man became exceedingly prosperous, and had large flocks and female and male servants and camels and donkeys.

It is true that Jake furthered in material prosperity, but the point I want us to see is that problems kept rolling in, despite his walk with God. There is one more…

Sixth, the promises and presence of God didn’t keep Jacob from facing jealousy about his life; but it did offer him God’s direction from His Word (Genesis 31:16).

Chapter 31 opened with:

Genesis 31:1 Now Jacob heard the words of Laban’s sons, saying, “Jacob has taken away all that was our father’s, and from what belonged to our father he has made all this wealth.” 2 Jacob saw the attitude of Laban, and behold, it was not friendly toward him as formerly. … 6 You know that I have served your father with all my strength. 7 Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times…

I count three things that were mentioned: lies, unfair attitude and wage cheating. Does that sound like Jake was sailing through life unscathed by the pain of others? No, it does not. Yet, let’s end with the positive. Let’s listen to how Jake framed his life after he got a walk with God. He said:

Genesis 31:7b …however, God did not allow him to hurt me. 8 If he spoke thus, ‘The speckled shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth speckled; and if he spoke thus, ‘The striped shall be your wages,’ then all the flock brought forth striped.

First, Jake knew Laban didn’t set fair contests, but didn’t control the outcome alone.

The table may have been rigged, but God still controls the laws of the physical world. Remember this: no matter where you are, no matter who thinks they are in charge, no matter how unfair the plot… God is still there. He hasn’t left you. He will do what He promised when it tells His story in the most complete way possible. That won’t guarantee you will always feel good about circumstances, but it will quench the burning within that injustice will prevail. It won’t.

Listen as he finished his words:

Genesis 31:11 Then the angel of God said to me in the dream, “‘Jacob,’ and I said, ‘Here I am.’ 12 He said, ‘Lift up now your eyes and see that all the male goats which are mating are striped, speckled, and mottled; for I have seen all that Laban has been doing to you. 13 I am the God of Bethel, where you anointed a pillar, where you made a vow to Me; now arise, leave this land, and return to the land of your birth.’

Second, God didn’t offer promises and walk off the set of the drama.

He stayed in Jake’s life, interacting with him and speaking into the dark moments. God’s providence is about His continual presence with us, not about a peaceful and idyllic journey through fields of bliss. You don’t always find God by peaceful streams. Sometimes He meets you in the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. The point is: If YOU are there, HE is there. He hasn’t lost track of you.

God’s hand wasn’t only obvious to Jake, but also to those around him. If Jake groused, complained, barked and fussed – they wouldn’t see that blessing. God let Jake know He was there, and Jake reflected that to those closest to him. Listen to what one of his wives said to him:

Genesis 31:16 Surely all the wealth which God has taken away from our father belongs to us and our children; now then, do whatever God has said to you.

Let me ask you if you reflect God’s goodness to you so that those around you can see it. I don’t always do it – but we need to work at it! We tell people we have a walk with God and then complain about the government and our boss and our conditions in life like God isn’t still there.

Let’s be clear about God’s promises and His presence. Let’s say it the way the Word does:

God’s presence and promises don’t exempt believers from troubles; they offer His constant companionship and an ultimate understanding of trouble.

There is a word quiz where someone created a rather clever puzzle. Let me share it with you:

• What is it that is greater than God?
• More evil than Satan?
• Rich people DON’T have it?
• Poor people DO have it?
• And if you eat it… you will die?

The answer: ABSOLUTELY NOTHING

• Nothing is greater than God.
• Nothing is more evil than Satan.
• Rich people don’t have nothing; they have much.
• Poor people have nothing.
• And if you eat nothing… you’ll eventually die – skinny and sad.

The puzzle makes sense once you know the answer, but until you hear the answer, it is very confusing. That’s the case with our lesson this morning. Without the answer, the problems will confound you.

Let me offer you the answer: His name is Jesus, and He offers you His constant presence and some incredible promises.

Beloved, believers don’t keep one eye focused on Heaven out of the need for sheer escapism. We dream about our future, because it is where our Savior will be clearly seen. It is where God’s true reign will be unmasked and God deep love will be thoroughly revealed.

We will not find consolation in the justice system of a fallen world filled with liars and broken people.

We will not find peace in families that are being whipped by false views of sexuality, submission and servant-hood.

We will not find sinlessness in the gates of the church of sinners, where secrets continue and sins are carefully covered.

We will not find ultimate truth on the internet of those disconnected from their Creator.

Justice, peace, sinless splendor and truth – these are Heaven things. These are our future in Jesus. That is where we will see Him face to face.

 

Fighting For Faith: “Stairway to Heaven” -Genesis 28

The Television Network CBS ran a report recently about a new show they are running on the air called God Friended Me. They wrote:

[The show] is a humorous, uplifting drama about an outspoken atheist whose life is turned upside down when he receives a friend request on social media from God and unwittingly becomes an agent of change in the lives and destinies of others around him. Miles Finer is intelligent, hopeful and optimistic, but he doesn’t believe in God. This puts him at odds with his father, Reverend Arthur Finer, a beloved preacher at Harlem’s Trinity Church for 25 years who is stung by his son’s strong rejection of his faith. Miles feels he’s found his purpose in life hosting a podcast where he’s free to speak his mind, but that changes when he receives the ultimate friend request. After repeated pokes by God, Miles’ curiosity takes over, and he accepts the request and follows the signs to Cara Bloom, an online journalist suffering from writer’s block. Brought together by the “God Account,” the two find themselves investigating God’s friend suggestions and inadvertently helping others in need. … Miles is set on getting to the bottom of what he believes is an elaborate hoax, but in the meantime he’ll play along and, in the process, change his life forever.

I don’t believe that description has enticed me to watch the show, but it is nice to see God on CBS Prime time, at least in some vague form. It is even nicer to be reminded that those who have tried to follow God have left a trail of good deeds behind them – like the founding of our nation’s greatest schools, hospitals, orphanages and many benevolent works. It is a nice break from the growing sense of national hostility concerning the notion of a Creator.

Today we encounter a story that CBS won’t run, but it has the extra virtue of being a true story about a man who heard from God and walked away changed. Prior to that meeting with God, he was for all practical purposes an atheist, but grew up in the home of a God follower. Like many who grow up that way, he knew all the right words, but, when alone, made very different choices than God would have wanted, or his parents would have appreciated. The text of Genesis made clear Jacob, the subject of our study, didn’t meet God as a reward for being good. Rather, his story up to this point was filled with lies and deception. He cheated his les clever brother, and deceived his nearly blind dad on his death bed. Yet, God met him as he attempted to flee the scene after he got caught in his lies and faced paying the penalty. Here is the truth our story will make very clear…

Key Principle: A real meeting with God changes us.

When Isaiah saw God, high and lifted up (cp. Isa. 6), it changed his life. When God set afire a bush in Midian, the encounter wasn’t just a curiosity; it was a life change moment for Moses…You see, God doesn’t desire to slowly nudge us; He desires to profoundly change our life direction by a meeting with us – a divine interruption in our path. It won’t be a “poke” or “text message;” it will be something we know was Him when it happens.

The opening word of the story

To see this truth at work, let’s pick up our account with the simple, but powerful first word of Genesis 28:1 So

What a loaded word! The “so” suggests the story we are about to engage was based on a timeline of events that preceded it – for good reason. The “so” reminds us that by this point in the story, it became perfectly clear to both Isaac (Jacob’s dad) and Esau (Jacob’s older brother) that Jacob and Rebekah (Jake’s mom) conspired and tricked the nearly blind and elderly Isaac to get a financial windfall in his will. Jacob took by clever deception what was originally intended for Esau, the double–portion of inheritance and the charge over the camp that came with his “firstborn” status. Now Jake had the legal writ, but his trick wasn’t accepted by everyone as a completed deal.

In fact, (if you check Genesis 27:41) it is clear that Esau intended to kill Jacob as soon as he possibly could, in retribution for what he had taken. Isaac was still alive, but wouldn’t be for long. One of the last scenes times in which he played a role in the Word was when he brought Jacob in to tell him to flee the scene and preserve his life. Ironically, Isaac the passive probably only did this to appease his wife, because she heard people around the tent camp claiming Esau was seething and plotting Jake’s death (according to Genesis 27:42).

Time for an exit

In any case, Jake knew it was time to hit the trail and get out of there. Momma Rebekah’s words to Jake were these:

Genesis 27:43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice, and arise, flee to Haran, to my brother Laban! 44 Stay with him a few days, until your brother’s fury subsides, 45 until your brother’s anger against you subsides and he forgets what you did to him. Then I will send and get you from there. Why should I be bereaved of you both in one day?”

Can you hear it? Rebekah felt she could manage the situation. May I make an observation for a moment? So far, about everything she did led Jake into deeper trouble.

When you have a friend that keeps suggesting things that land you in a hospital bed or jail cell, you may want to expand your horizons and find some new (and dare I say, safer) friends. If you got banged up in the last few exchanges, don’t fall for the “I know a guy who has this really cool, inexpensive “bungee jumping” place you will just love…

What is really interesting is that while Rebekah was pulling aside Jake to prepare him to go, she was also bending Isaac’s ear about “what to instruct Jake to do” in finding a wife. She didn’t seem “short on advice” but perhaps thought some things would come better from even a passive dad. Genesis 27:46 tells the story this way:

Genesis 27:46 Rebekah said to Isaac, “I am tired of living because of the daughters of Heth; if Jacob takes a wife from the daughters of Heth, like these, from the daughters of the land, what good will my life be to me?”

Let’s acknowledge that parents with adult children who have walked out in defiance of the family’s long stated values understand Rebekah’s comment: “I am sooo tired of this!” It IS exhausting to watch a grown child depart from right thinking and right living. Esau’s choices left momma tired of her life!

Well, the time came and Jake entered again into his dad’s tent – this time to hear his dad’s words about heading north. It couldn’t have been easy, since it was clear that he wasn’t honest with his dad a short time before. I am guessing this was rather awkward.

Not only that, but you shouldn’t miss the irony in the fact that Jacob was now on his way out of the Promised Land which was a key to the blessing God promised Abraham. The whole story is about a land and children being blessed to live in it. By cleverness, Jake got what amounted to a worthless blessing because he couldn’t peaceably inhabit the land simply because he couldn’t outrun his brother’s arrows. How could this be in the life of the “promised child” of Abraham’s seed?

Consider this: Jacob focused on getting material blessing in this life, not a walk with God for eternity. You never find the right things looking in the wrong direction.

He wanted to control his life now, he couldn’t waste time worrying about his life for the ions to follow this life. By his choices we can surmise he wasn’t really sure if there was a God, and perhaps he didn’t give it much thought. Jake’s thinking was more: “A man will get whatever his clever mind can grab from dullards around him.” When clever is a high value, integrity is a low one. When winning is all that matters, how you play the game just isn’t your focus.

Often God appears absent to one who is about to meet Him. Go back to Genesis 28:1 and pick up the story:

Genesis 28:1b …Isaac called Jacob and blessed him and charged him, and said to him, “You shall not take a wife from the daughters of Canaan. 2 Arise, go to Paddan-aram, to the house of Bethuel your mother’s father; and from there take to yourself a wife from the daughters of Laban your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and multiply you, that you may become a company of peoples. 4 May He also give you the blessing of Abraham, to you and to your descendants with you, that you may possess the land of your sojournings, which God gave to Abraham.”

Isaac tossed out a blessing that sounded like he may have been shaking his head and hoping for the best. This was the distance throw at the buzzer – there was no more time to put points on the board. Isaac used up his dad instruction time, and Jake was heading off to face the world. What he didn’t know was what Isaac knew – he was heading into the family of his wife’s relatives – and that was going to be an eye-opening experience for the young man. I cannot help but feel the possibility of sarcasm when Isaac offered: “I trust you get back… and “be blessed” dealing with your momma’s family.” 

Jake, confident in his clever mind, thought he knew where he was headed and who he would meet – but God interrupted his plan. Keep reading:

Genesis 28:5 Then Isaac sent Jacob away, and he went to Paddan-aram to Laban, son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau.

That was the summary of the journey. Now follow for a moment the detail of the journey that changed the young man – because in these verses the “big idea” becomes clear…

God Interrupted the journey

Skip down a few verses…

Genesis 28:10 Then Jacob departed from Beersheba and went toward Haran. 11 He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. 12 He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 And behold, the Lord stood above it and said…

When God touches your life, you see (perhaps for the first time) the reality of life. Things are much more than they appear to be on the surface. The text detailed:

• He went to sleep and had a dream (28:12a).
• He saw the connection between the two worlds (28:12b).
• He saw the Lord above those who operated in both worlds (28:13).

Jake knew cunning and cleverness. He knew how to plot. What he never really stopped to consider was the fact that there isn’t just a physical world; there is a spiritual world behind what we see at home, at work and in our community.

The Bible is full of stories of people who set the limits of their understanding of life on this world and neglect to consider the power of the spiritual world operating behind it.

• Job’s friends tried to make sense of life without taking into account there may be a spiritual reason beyond the “cause and effect” world of the physical.
• Moses heard God’s voice from the bush and realized it wasn’t just a bush on fire – it was a holy place to meet God.
• Joshua, the High Priest and friend to Zechariah (cp. Zech. 3) wasn’t just discouraged about the temple; he was under attack by Satan’s minions.

I am not trying to sound spooky, but it is clear that you are more than you appear. You are both physical and spiritual. If you have not really spent much time thinking about your life as part of two worlds, you are like many of those who entered the Biblical account trying to make sense of life solely on the basis of the five human senses. The problem is, if you are perceptive about life, your senses will lead you to see the broken world and its inequity. That happened to Solomon, the author-king who left us his diary in Ecclesiastes. He rightly concluded that life here doesn’t make sense – because the One Who holds the story together isn’t under the sun, but in the heavens.

The Bible opens with a simple idea it presents as fact: all things here were caused by One in a dimension different than ours. There is a spiritual world. The things we see here don’t, won’t, and can’t make ultimate sense without the rest of the picture.

The “rest of the story”

Some of us recall the name Paul Harvey. Beginning as a newscaster during the Second World War, Paul offered his own brand of story-telling which consisted of stories presented as little-known or forgotten facts on a variety of subjects with some key element of the story (usually the name of some well-known person) held back until the end. Each broadcast concluded with some variation on his tag line “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Think of your life this way: It cannot make complete sense until you set the physical world into “the rest of the story.”

Listen to what God told Jake when He appeared in the dream:

Genesis 28:13b “…I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. 14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. 15 Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

Perhaps it is already clear enough, but we should point out that knowing there is a spiritual world isn’t enough to cause you to change course in your life – and it wasn’t enough for Jake long ago. God spoke. He explained what He intended. He clarified where Jake fit in His plan.

For some who are encountering this story (maybe for the first time) with an open heart, this is the piece you have been waiting for. Perhaps you have already been open to the understanding there is a spiritual world. Maybe you have long believed (though it didn’t set the boundaries of your behaviors) that God exists. That’s great, but that isn’t enough.

Consider the six things God said to Jake:

• I am the Lord.
• I met your fathers before you.
• I made promises and you heard about them.
• I have things planned for you and your children.
• I am with you all the time.
• You aren’t finished here; I will be drawing you back here later.

These six revealed truths changed Jake. Think of how knowing each would change you:

• If the One you are meeting truly is Master of all things, it is time to consider the fact that you are not some anonymous being hidden in the cluster of creation; God knows you. He sees you. He is aware of where you are, who you are and what you have done with the life He has provided for you.

• If this God has been working with those before you, you have received the benefit of a life that should have taught you to consider how what you are doing looks to God. We can’t sing “God bless America” and then make law after law that ignores Him, marginalizes His Word and makes right something judgy and negative. Our fathers carefully structured our society because they held “these truths to be self-evident, that all men were created and endowed by their Creator certain inalienable rights…”

• The recorded promises of God have been dropped into our life through countless translations and illustrated Bible books. God hasn’t been silent or somehow elusive. In modern circles, there has been a deliberate attempt to marginalize His Word from our society (something that is causing us to shudder from our foundational documents) and to introduce any number of “counter-claims” of other gods and religious texts. The outcome has been confusion and distancing our modern behavior from the legal foundation of our fathers. We are building to a national moral disaster, but God isn’t done with His grace!

Get personal with the last part of what God told Jacob. God claimed that He was with Jake all through his life. The journey wasn’t happening alone. God was there, God was watching and God wanted Jake to know it.

Is that where you are? Are you living your life with the full awareness that you are never alone? Let me offer this simple truth: If you truly believe God is watching, it will change how you respond to the issues of your life from this point forward. If Heaven is a reality, and not just a distant story – knowledge of it will change how you judge things. If God is really engaged in your life, it will force you to consider how much of your life is intentional about following Him.

C. S. Lewis said it this way: “You don’t have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body.”

That is the observation of one who has encountered God. Now keep reading, for the last part of the story shows clearly that “a real meeting with God changes us.” Look at how Jacob responded to God revealing Himself to him.

Genesis 28:16 Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” 18 So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. 19 He called the name of that place Bethel; however, previously the name of the city had been Luz. 20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, 21 and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. 22 This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Jake got up and admitted that God slammed into his life without warning and that he was utterly unaware of God’s activities in that place before the dream – but he acknowledged that what he saw was real.

The beginning place for us is to hear the revealed truth of God and then respond as though it is true – because it is.

The two profound reactions in Genesis 28:17 were fear and awe. He recognized the Creator of all things took the time to encounter him, a fleeing trickster on the run from his own selfish pursuits. Is that you? Are you living for yourself? Is God using His Word to pierce into you self-managed life?

When Jake recognized God was truly speaking, in Genesis 28:18-19, he marked the place with signs of worship and surrender. He didn’t want to get back to his regularly scheduled life – this changed his perception. It gave him the “why” of his life. He couldn’t just pass it by. He stopped, set up a memorial stone and poured out oil, a sign of a place of comfort, of healing and of worship.

Pastor Wesley Bishop offered this is a sermon some time ago:

We didn’t think up the need for worship. Someone wasn’t sitting around one day and said, “Hey, I think we should worship God.” Worship is not a human innovation. Some of what we do in worship is born of human creativity. Humans, using their God-given creativity, wrote the songs we sing… Even though the MEANS may include human effort, the ACT of worship was a God made thing.

Jake made a vow that promised God something. He told God that if His Word is true, he would vow to follow God’s leading. He would listen to God’s further directions as life progressed. He would give back a portion of his income to God to thank Him for His protection and oversight. In effect, he would begin living daily with a knowledge that God is watching, God has a plan, and God has deliberate expectations He is making known.

Jacob’s surrender to God included the same elements we all must have in such a Divine encounter:

• Trust that God is able to keep His Word concerning our destiny. (28:20).
• Recognition of subjection to God as Master (28:21).
• Surrender of things I “own” to His use (28:22).

Sam Wrisley shared this touching example a few years ago:

Currently Rudy is locked up and locked up is what he deserves. I met Rudy 4 years ago. He was drunk at a bus station. He wanted a bus ticket and I bought it for him. It would not be the last ticket I’d buy for Rudy. Rudy was arrested for robbery when he was 17. The judge sentenced him to 10 years in prison. One can imagine what hard time does to a teenager…

He has spent most of his life on the wrong side of the law… in fact on the wrong side of society. I didn’t know why but God wanted me to continue to invest into [what at the time seemed like] this worthless person. It’s taken four years but I now see why. It’s because no one is worthless to God. He has a plan for his children. I received a letter from jail just this week from Rudy and I want to share his words.

“Sam, you can tell the church that I pray for them as much as they do me. I’m learning that I should pray for others. God will take care of me. He knows my needs. Also tell them to bring it, don’t sing it! Like you said what are you doing Monday through Saturday? Being a Christian to me is 24/7 365. And as the word says, Love, Love, Love. In here I am tested daily. different ways. One word comes to mind. LOVE! That’s how I’m doing my time. I refuse to give Satan any power over me. (i love this part) I’m locked up and happy 🙂 You tell everybody that once you FINALLY surrender they will enjoy peace and happiness that I’m experiencing and sharing with others. Well I miss everybody… Take care. God Bless. RUDY” “worthy is the Lamb:)”

Spiritually, freedom comes through surrender. God set an incarcerated man free like Rudy because he recognized the implications of life being greater than the world of his cell… Praise God for true freedom!

Remember: A real meeting with God changes us.

Are you ready to be changed?