Posted in Leviticus, Mark

The Healing Presence

“‘If I just touch His clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” Mark 5:28-29

In the Old Covenant, the immediate presence of a holy God was something to be feared by sinful humanity. God warned people to not get too close and those who were called to draw near had to be very careful or they could die.

Yet in Christ, the presence of God became a healing presence. So much so that this woman disregards the ceremonial law which demanded she stay separate from all around her. (Leviticus 15:25-31) Anyone she touched became unclean according to God’s law, yet she instinctively knew that if she touched Jesus she would be healed instead of Him becoming unclean.

In the Savior, the Holy Spirit is a healing presence. In 1997 I did a workshop for our youth camp in Minnesota on the topic of the Holy Spirit. When I was finished speaking, I asked any who wanted a fresh touch of the Spirit to stand. Although I went around and touched the head of each student while praying for them, I wasn’t aware of anything special happening.

Three days later, we were in our final evening service and were giving testimonies of what God had done. A ninth grade student from Duluth pulled me into a private room off the sanctuary to tell me what happened to him. He said he was too shy to speak in front of everyone but thought someone should know.

A few years earlier he had fallen down some stairs and hurt his back, but because his mom was so poor he never asked to have a doctor look at it. He had just suffered in silence and learned to live with the pain. “I was the first person you prayed for on Monday,” he told me, “and when you touched my head something went through me that took away all my pain. I’ve tested it for three days and the pain hasn’t returned. God healed me.”

He was now crying, and so was I. He hadn’t asked for healing and I hadn’t prayed for healing. Jesus just wanted to heal him, and in a way that he would know for the rest of his life that God is real.

Posted in 1Samuel, Luke, Mark, Revelation

Hear, and be Healed

“A great number of people from all over Judea came to hear Him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch Him, because power was coming from Him and healing them all.” Luke 6:17-19

Health care is a problem today. As we age there are more pains and blockages as well as the risk of external parts and internal organs wearing down and no longer functioning as they should. The medical community can help, and they do what they can, but for many things there is only a pill to treat symptoms and no real promise of healing.

Jesus is a healer. He can and does use doctors, but sometimes He acts apart from them, like in the text above. Two things grip me in this passage – one relates to humanity; the other to Divinity.

The people came to “hear Him and be healed.” There is a great tendency in our culture to want to be healed from God without listening to God. The idea that God might want to correct me is offensive in a culture which insists that any correction is being “judgmental.” God loves us and wants us to be healed but to Him the heart, the inner person, is more important than the body. When He sees us He looks through the outward appearance to what’s really going on inside. (1Samuel 16:7) He wants to speak to us. Jesus’ last recorded words are found in the book of Revelation where seven times He repeats the same phrase: “He who has ears let him hear what the Spirit says to the church.” (See Revelation 2 and 3)

The second thing about this text that amazes me is the Divine generosity. Divine power flowed from Jesus and it was “healing them all.” When Jesus is free to be who He is in our midst, healing power to restore and deliver is available to all. Oftentimes we restrict what He is able to do by our unbelief (Mark 6:5-6), or by our busy schedule which distracts us from ever stopping long enough to hear, or be healed.

Posted in Mark

The Privilege of Partnership

“After me comes One who is mightier than I, and I am not even fit to stoop down and untie the strap of His sandals.” Mark 1:7

John the Baptist led a nationwide revival in Israel where his preaching prepared the way for Jesus. Yet he didn’t feel like he was doing God a favor, but only that he was immensely privileged to do anything in partnership with the One who was mightier than he was.

Shortly after we moved our family to Montevideo, MN in the mid-nineties, I received a call from a woman in the church I was the pastor of. One of her favorite missionaries was coming to visit and she was hoping I would have him speak on the Sunday morning he was in town. I said I’d pray about it, but the truth was that I was a little miffed about even being asked. I was brand new and trying to establish myself in the pulpit, so I just didn’t want to give up a Sunday morning to someone I didn’t know, even if he was an established missionary.

One night shortly after my little tantrum I had a dream. A friend of mine was holding a huge missions night at his church and I was to be the “special speaker.” It even said that on the posters they had up advertising the event. But after the meal my friend turned to me and said, “Things have changed. We’re not going to have you speak tonight.” What struck me was that he didn’t even say he was sorry, in fact, I could tell he wasn’t sorry. That scene stopped and another started.

I was in the foyer of Lake City Church (now City Church) where I was holding a small workshop at a convention. There were only fifteen people there but I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit all over me. I spoke briefly and then asked if any wanted to receive Christ. Several hands went up and when I asked them to come forward they were so overcome by the power of the Spirit they fell on the floor on their way forward.

I woke up from the dream and a couple of things were very clear to me. The friend in the first scene represented the Holy Spirit and He wanted me to know that whether He uses me or not is His choice, and He doesn’t owe anyone an explanation if He decides not to use them. The second truth that filled my heart was that ministry is only special when the Holy Spirit is present. Whether there is one, fifteen, or a thousand – it’s His presence and His anointing alone that makes any opportunity meaningful and powerful. We should never care about being “special” in the eyes of people because it’s only what God thinks about us that matters.

Posted in Acts, John, Mark

The Authority of the Believer

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.”  John 14:12-14

One Monday morning I needed to meet someone for an early appointment, but I couldn’t leave without my cell phone and it was lost. I looked in all the usual places, but it wasn’t there. Everyone else was still sleeping and I certainly didn’t want to wake them up, but I could see no other alternative than calling my own number and letting it ring until I found it. I was stunned when after dialing l felt a vibration and heard a ring coming out of my own left pocket. 

Almost immediately after finding the “lost” phone in my pocket, I sensed the Lord whispering something in my thoughts: “This is how believers are with authority.” Think about it. We as believers are often looking for someone else who can pray for us. or deliver us or who can hear God for us, yet the authority to pray powerfully is already in us. Every believer already has the equipment connecting them to God’s voice and power in their hearts, it is God’s gift to us in Christ, but it doesn’t do much good if we don’t recognize that we have it.

God’s plan was that those who believe in Jesus would walk in the same authority as He did by using His Name. Jesus gave the first sign of those who believe: “In My Name they will cast out demons…” (Mark 16:17) Not the first sign following apostles, or pastors, or those who have walked with the Lord for at least 30 years; but the first sign following those who “believe.” The right to use Jesus’ Name is a privilege every one who believes in Him has been given.

Peter was very conscious of this authority when he replied to the lame man who begged him for money: “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” (Acts 3:6) Are you conscious that you possess the authority of Jesus Name, or are you still looking around the kingdom to find someone else who has it?

Posted in Mark

Embracing Our Cross

“And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?’” Mark 8:34-36

Jesus went to the cross for our salvation. We must go to the cross for our sanctification. This is a painful and difficult process that requires our participation. We must take up (embrace) the cross for God to do His transforming work in us. When we resist the cross, we change very little over time even though we are Christians. Maybe an illustration will help to understand this.

When my mom reached 80 she began seriously considering moving to an apartment which would require her to sell her house. To prepare the house for a sale she thought that a new dining room floor would be nice because the old one was visibly faded. This change would require minimal cost and could be done fairly painlessly.

Then she brought in a realtor and asked this woman, who was a trusted friend, what she thought needed to be done. Getting a new floor in the dining room would be a good start, this woman advised, but really, all the floors needed to be changed. And not just the floors, but the counters, the cupboards, the appliances and the lighting. All of this would be very expensive, but this woman, who was the professional, felt these things would be the minimum changes needed to get the house ready for a sale.

The realtor didn’t demand these changes, but only recommended them. The final decision belonged to my mom because she’s the one who would have to pay the price. 

God wants to change us for our good and His glory but He won’t do it without our participation. He brings difficult circumstances and difficult people into our lives so that they will help us see what is left undone in us. When we embrace the cross by trusting God and asking for His grace in the midst of our trials, His beauty begins to replace our ashes. We can’t change ourselves any more than my Mom could rip up flooring and lay tile, but we can invite Him to do whatever it takes.

Let’s embrace our cross and let Him do the difficult work of change in us. We’ll enjoy the results and so will everyone around us.

Posted in Mark, Philippians

A Habitat for Growth

“The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows – how, he himself does not know.” Mark 4:26-27

The seed of the kingdom of God is the Word of God. (Mark 4:14) When the Word of God is in us a change begins to happen from the inside out. Its miracle working power to change us only needs to be in the right habitat for it to complete its wonderful, transforming work. What does that habitat look like?

First, it is a habitat of grace. After the Word is planted, “he goes to bed at night…” We must rest in God instead of continually watching ourselves for growth. Could you imagine that seed surviving if every night the man went out and dug it up to see how it was doing? We need to rest in God and trust that the One who began a good work in us will also finish it. (Philippians 1:6) 

Second, it is a habitat focused on God, not man. Jesus said that some seeds dry up when “persecution arises because of the Word.” (Mark 4:17) When our focus is on people we try to live up to their expectations and time demands. When we’re seeking to follow the Word, God’s agenda and man’s agenda will come into conflict and then a choice needs to be made. Will we please God or man? 

Finally, it’s a habitat that is thorn free. Jesus gave three main thorns that will have to be continually weeded out of the garden of our hearts or the Word of God won’t grow to maturity in us. (Mark 4:19)

  1.  “The worries of the world…”  Worrying is the opposite of trusting God. If you find yourself anxious, stop, ask God to take control of whatever situation you’re anxious about and let go of it.
  2. “The deceitfulness of riches…”  Money and what money can buy promise happiness and safety but once you get them you find yourself empty and anxious after just a little while. Who’s in charge? Is it God or is it money? Choose this day which one you will serve.
  3. “The desires for other things…” Anything can choke out the word if it becomes the central focus instead of Jesus. Hold everything you have and want loosely while holding on to Jesus tightly, and you’ll find you can enjoy life to the fullest.
Posted in Acts, Isaiah, Mark, Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Romans, Titus

Getting Back on the Wall

“No longer will they call you Deserted, or name you Desolate. But you will be called Hephzibah (My delight is in her)…for the Lord will take delight in you.” Isaiah 62:4

Yesterday we gave several ways those God genuinely sets on the wall (in a place of authority to pray) fall off of it. Today we look at how to get back on it. “A righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” (Proverbs 24:16)

  1. Accept your calling. Romans 11:29 tells us that God’s “gifts and call are irrevocable.” Just because you don’t like the place God has given you, or feel like you’ve failed at it, doesn’t mean you get a new call. Our lives won’t work until we embrace God’s plan and flow with it. “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
  2. Forgive as you stand praying. “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive your transgressions.” (Mark 11:25) If we insist on justice, eventually God will have to give us the justice we want for others. (See Matthew 7:1-4) We don’t need someone to be sorry for us to forgive them. If we do, forgiveness will always be difficult. Here’s why – let’s say someone does say they’re sorry for the way they’ve treated you. How will you know if they’re really sorry? And even if they appear to be sorry, are they sorry enough? If they’re sorry enough, will that for sure mean they’ll never do it again? All we need to forgive is to remember that the greatest injustice didn’t happen to me; it happened to Jesus. The truly innocent Lamb of God died in my place – that’s injustice. Part of my worship is to lay my injustices at the foot of the cross and freely forgive those who hurt me. This is part of what it means to know Jesus “in the fellowship of His suffering.” (Philippians 3:10)
  3. Embrace your identity. The strength to stay on the wall is not in seeing your prayers answered; it’s in the fact that God’s delight is in you. We are favored sons and daughters not because of our works, but because of His great mercy toward us in Christ. (Titus 3:5-6) We don’t gain favor by praying; we pray from His favor. Our great reward is not in what He does for us, but in our relationship with Him. Until we grasp this reality it will always be hard to stay on the wall.
Posted in Luke, Mark, Psalms

Redemptive Abandonment

“Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I will never be moved.’ O Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong. You hid Your face, I was dismayed. To You O Lord, I called… ‘Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me; O Lord, be my helper.’ You have turned for me my mourning into dancing…O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” Psalm 130:6-8, 10-12

Whenever God favors us we can come to the wrong conclusion that we have life, and God figured out. When things are going well, we can easily assume we are strong, immovable, and in control, but all this is a dangerous deception. Because God loves us so much, He breaks the power of presumption in our lives through something a speaker I heard recently call, “redemptive abandonment.” God hides His face during seasons of our lives, not because He doesn’t care, but because He cares so much.

Peter declares, “Even though all may fall away, yet I will not… Even if I have to die with You, I will not deny You.” (Mark 14:29; 31) Peter has been favored as the top apostle and has come to the wrong conclusion. He believes he is strong, a veritable mountain of faith, immovable from his devotion. We can hear in his words, “all may fall away, yet I will not,” disdain for others who aren’t as strong as he presumes he is. His future leadership would be very limited if he continues with the false impression that he is somehow better than those he is leading, so Jesus explains to him the reality of prophetic abandonment.

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32) Before he falls, Peter despises the weakness of those around him because he presumes he has it all together. After he falls and is picked up again by God, he will see clearly that the plan is about Divine grace, not human strength. Peter will now be able to lead weak people with gentleness and understanding as a humble servant instead of as a know it all.

Because David (the author of the passage above) and Peter experienced the reality of how weak they were apart from God (abandonment), they were in a position to experience the favor of God (redemption) without becoming proud. Mourning can become dancing when the burden of presumption is broken off our lives.

Posted in John, Mark, Philippians

Embracing the Cross

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it.” Mark 8:34-35

Sometimes people refer to their difficulties as, “their cross to bear”, and assume that they’re bearing it just by going through the trouble. But the cross, to be a cross like our Lord’s, is something you must take up and bear of your own free will. Jesus said about His life, “No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down on My own initiative.” (John 10:18)

You and I don’t choose the trouble that comes to us in various forms, but we do choose how we will deal with it. When we grumble, complain, blame, and get frustrated, angry, or depressed it’s evidence that we are still very much on the throne of our lives.  God’s inviting us to embrace suffering like Jesus did, knowing that this identification will lead to knowing Him more intimately, and result in a deeper faith in us. (See Philippians 3:10)

Francois de Fenelon, one of the great spiritual leaders of the 17th century, gave this wisdom to a struggling disciple:

“I am sorry to hear of your troubles, but I am sure you realize that you must carry the cross with Christ in this life. Soon enough there will come a time when you will no longer suffer. You will reign with God and He will wipe away your tears with His own hand. In His presence, pain and sighing will forever flee away.

So while you have the opportunity to experience difficult trials, do not lose the slightest opportunity to embrace the cross. Learn to suffer in humility and in peace. Your deep self-love makes the cross too heavy to bear. Learn to suffer with simplicity and a heart full of love. If you do you will not only be happy in spite of the cross, but because of it. Love is pleased to suffer for the Well-Beloved. The cross which conforms you into His image is a consoling bond of love between you and Him.” (100 Days in the Secret Place; page 21)

Posted in 1Corinthians, John, Luke, Mark, Psalms

An Intimate Appearance

“Go, tell His disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him just as He told you.’” Mark 16:7

Jesus told His disciples at the last supper that He would meet them in Galilee after His resurrection. The angel is repeating what he overheard Jesus Himself say to them at this last meeting, but he has also witnessed the devastation of Peter. His instructions from heaven evidently include this special reference to the fallen leader who has denied Christ three times after promising to die for Him: “…tell the disciples and Peter.”

Jesus, Himself, appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not in Galilee, but in Jerusalem on the day He was resurrected. This appearance was unpromised and unexpected. He also appeared the same day to two men on the road to Emmaus. And then, that same night, as the two of them were retelling their story, He appeared to all of them (except Thomas), and the details of this visit are given to us in Scripture as well. (See Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20)

But there is one appearance that happened where we are given no details. Jesus appeared personally, on resurrection day, to Peter. Two different New Testament authors reference this appearance, but give us no specifics. In Luke 24:34, while the men who saw Jesus on the road to Emmaus were telling their story, the disciples respond by saying: “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon (Peter).” In 1Corinthians 15, Paul is referencing all the resurrection appearances to men, and says: “I passed on to you…that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the others…” (1Corinthians 15:4-5)

Why aren’t we told of this interaction with Peter? What did Jesus say to him? What did Peter say? Maybe there are some interactions with the Lord that are so intimate they aren’t for others to hear about.

Here’s what we know for sure: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) He loved Peter so much that He singled him out on the most important day in history. He took time to come close and restore one who was being crushed by his own sin and failure. Isn’t He amazing?