Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Matthew 9:35-10:22

     I'm going to rearrange the way I am doing this. I'm throwing the retelling in my own words down at the end for those who desire to stick around and read it. But first I want to get down to business. I find it amusing how often God allows delays in my life only to bring a portion of His word to bear at just the right moment. I had very seriously considered skipping this passage, which was the one assigned to last week. However, as I thought about what I had written for Matthew 14:13-33, I was troubled by the thought that my tone was complacent.

     Let me clear that up right now: I am certainly NOT complacent with my spiritual weaknesses, nor did I mean to imply apathy on my part toward them. My intent was merely to acknowledge my incredible, undeniable weakness and need for my Lord. It is His strength at work in me, not my own. I am not, however, content to sit on my laurels, discussing how I ought to change and not expending an ounce of effort toward that end. That is not me. Not at all. If I gave anyone that impression, I humbly beg your pardon.

     No, instead, I fully recognize that, like Peter, when I take my eyes off the Lord, I am quickly threatened with drowning. But also like Peter, I do not sit in the boat and asking God to do wonders while I sit. I ask, but I take that step of faith toward Him. Like homeschooling. Like writing to what are possibly imagined readers. The results are not up to me, but the action in that direction is.

     But back to the point of today: We open here with Jesus having compassion on the people who are weary and scattered. That certainly sounds like our culture, even more certainly like the children of this generation. Never have I seen or even read of a generation from whom so much is expected of in regards to their time and so little expected in regards to outcome. As a society, we run them ragged dabbling in this and that sport, hobby, or activity and we praise mediocrity. Spiritually, we give them the idea that the Bible belongs on a pew and not in daily life because we put a higher priority on hobbies than we do on fruit in keeping with repentance. We talk of conviction, but we do nothing but talk--and our children hear. They see us and they emulate what they see: Apathy in inaction, the hamster-wheel of activity that expends energy and yet gets us nowhere, holiness as a relic that is to be admired but not adopted, spiritual shortcuts that land us on the broad path to where we do not wish to go. And yet we do go along, sighing and speaking but not turning around and fighting the crowd to get back to where we can once more see and feel the presence of our Lord.  If we are not these people personally, than we should certainly have compassion on them when we do see them, not merely telling them but showing them the Way. If we are, well... Christ did not die to see us refusing to fight the current for Him. If we do not fight it, we will be swept away.
     We must be warned, however, just as the twelve were: This is no easy thing. I have been tempted, sorely tempted, to throw up my hands in defeat in my parenting, in my marriage at times, in my homeschool shamefully often. I must not. These are acts of obedience, and to give it up would be to give up the blessings of obeying my Lord fully. I know, too, that it is going to get harder. But when I plead for God to send workers to the harvest, He never fails to remind me that it is my part to not only be one of them, but to train my children to be, as well. He will send, but I have a part to play in that, as well. It is not enough to merely ask; I must also be willing to step out in faith towards that goal.
     I know, too, that I absolutely must urge my brothers and sisters in Christ not to be content with things as they are. Never be content with sin, with shortcomings, with the "cares of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth!" There is no point to that, no cheapness to the grace we have been offered. Make no mistake, the price was dear and it is brutally, heinously wrong to devalue it with careless nonchalance. I do not know what God is calling you to, my friends, but whatever it is you must do it. Now, not later. It will not do to wait until later. I have some urgency behind my plea, for as I wiped my kitchen counters tonight with aching fatigue eating away at my body, this one certainty struck me: If I allow myself to be lulled into complacency with sin, if I do not stand up and fight -- right now -- for my children's souls, if I say, "Well, today I am convicted and someday I will do something about it," my time is sure to run out.  I cannot say that I will stand for my Lord when faced with denying Him or accepting torture or death when I do not stand for Him when all He asks me to give up is my wants or preferences. If I cannot endure the petty annoyances that arise today of living counter-culturally and fighting against the social, religious, and political currents that are ruthlessly and insidiously working to sweep me off the narrow path, I will not endure actual perseverance when it comes. None of us will.

Lord, please send workers to the harvest. Teach us to be the workers, to train them, to love them, and to help them. Convict us of apathy and complacency and make us willing to fight the good fight. I ask for myself as well as all my brothers and sisters in Christ: Make us so uncomfortable in our sins, be they sins of commission or of omission, that we cannot stand to stay in them but are spurred ever and always to a closer walk with You. 

     Here we see Jesus going around from town to town, preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and healing the sick. When He saw the people, He had compassion on them because they were exhausted, weak, and scattered like sheep without a shepherd. He told His disciples that the harvest was plentiful but that the workers were few, commanding them to cry out to God to send workers to His harvest. 
     He then called His twelve apostles to Him and gave them authority to heal disease and authority over unclean spirits. He sent them out, not to the Gentiles, but to the Jewish people telling them to proclaim, "The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  They were instructed to heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse lepers, and raise the dead. He declared, "You have received for no pay; give for no pay," telling them not to acquire money or possessions on their way. 
     He further instructed them to enter each town and proclaim a blessing on it, staying with whomever had value (presumably in a religious or God-honoring sense). They were told to shake off the dust from their feet of any town that rejected God's message from them. "It will be more tolerable in the Day of judgement for Sodom and Gomorrah," He proclaimed, "than for that town."
     Following this, He warned them that He was sending them out as sheep in the midst of wolves, warning them to stay sharp and keep themselves innocent and clean. This was not going to be an easy job; men would drag them into courts and have them flogged. This would provide opportunities for them to speak the truth to governors and Kings.  He cautioned them not to worry about what they would say, for it would not be them who were expected to speak, but the Spirit of God would speak through them. In times to come, families would betray one another to the death, even, for the division that would soon be caused by the Gospel. He warned, "You will be hated by all for My name's sake, but the one who endures to the end will be saved."


Tuesday, April 23, 2013


Matthew 14:13-33

     In this passage, Jesus has just heard of John the Baptist's death by beheading. He gets into a boat intending to go off into an unpopulated place by Himself to pray, but when He comes ashore, the crowds had followed Him on foot. He had compassion on them and healed their sick. When evening came, His disciples implored Him to send the crowds away to buy food in the nearby villages, for they were in a desolate place. Jesus replied simply that they did not need to leave, but told His disciples to give them something to eat

     They replied, bewildered, "Lord, we only have five loaves and two fish," to which Jesus commanded them to bring them to Him. He told the crowds to sit down on the grass, then He took the loaves and fish, looking up to heaven and blessing them. Then He broke the loaves and gave them to His disciples to distribute among the crowd. When everyone had eaten their fill, twelve baskets of broken bits were picked up by the disciples. This occurred in a crowd of around 5000 men plus women and children--a tremendous number of people.
     Afterwards, the Lord told His disciples to go out in the boat before Him, and He dismissed the crowds after which He was able to go to the mountaintop alone to pray. By the time evening fell, He was there alone. Meanwhile, His disciples were having a tough go of it out on the sea, for the wind was strong. Late in the night, probably sometime between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., Jesus came to them, walking on the water. The men were terrified, sure He was a ghost. Jesus told them they didn't need to be afraid, for it was Him. Peter declared, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the waves," and Jesus did so. Peter then began walking to Him on the water, but when he saw the wind, he became frightened and began to sink, crying out to Jesus for help. 

     Jesus took hold of him and inquired, "You of little faith; why did you doubt?" When they climbed into the boat, the wind stopped and the men in the boat worshiped Him, declaring that certainly He was the Son of God. 

     Well, I have missed a week due to illness. I had originally intended to try to squeeze in both, but the time has been against me and so I reconcile myself to getting in just this one. Perhaps later in the week I will backtrack. Perhaps.

     At any rate, today's passage is very meaningful to me. I am challenged and convicted by the actions of my Lord. He sought some time alone to pray, but when He was followed by the crowds, He did not resent the intrusion but rather had compassion on them, healing their sick and providing food for them. This is an area of Christlikeness into which I have a great deal of personal growth to do. I am not so compassionate,
resenting the interruptions when I am trying to spend some time alone in prayer.

     We can also see that Jesus did not forsake that much-needed time, however, due to His compassion. He spent some time with the people, and after having provided for their needs, sent them home and still made room for His time in prayer. According to this passage, He took several hours, making a sacrifice of sleep to seek the presence of His Father, since He began "when evening came," and then walked out to the disciples at the fourth watch of the night (which, by Roman standards, is the last quarter of the night just before dawn).  Am I this dedicated? I fear not. Here, too, I have much room for growth. When things do not happen in the time frame I have decided they ought, I am afraid I am much less diligent in prayer than I should be. I have a lot to learn about dedication and priority.

      Toward the end of the passage, I can identify with Peter. He saw the Lord feed several thousand people with five loaves and two fish--overwhelming evidence of His power to make a little into an abundance. Mere hours later, however, Peter had faith enough to request that he could walk out across the water to the Lord and faith enough to take the first few steps. However, in moments he took his eyes off of Jesus and allowed his surroundings to stir up fear and anxiety and he began to sink beneath the waves.

     I must admit I am just as prone to this tendency as Peter. I have seen the Lord do amazing things in my life, and even had the boldness to step out into something vast and wild alongside Him. I, too, have also found my pitiful little faith flagging shortly afterward as I focus, not on the Lord who is my Guide and my Salvation, but on my situation or the ferocity of the winds around me. Times of doubt in the face of my Lord's power make me feel ashamed and bring to me the futility of my own weak and insufficient means. I also, however, take great heart at the ability of my Lord and King to use my puny faith as a backdrop to display the indescribable and endless majesty of His strength. I see His might take my flimsy love and turn it into enough to cover a multitude of sins, both for those who have hurt me as well as for those whom I have hurt. In times like these, I see the truth of His words, "Apart from Me, you can do nothing..."

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he uttered, 
Psalms 105:1-5
     Father and Provider of all things good, I thank You for the wonder of Your love, for the sufficiency of Your grace, and for the endless reach of Your hand. Nothing is impossible for You. Knowing this, I ask that You will increase my faith and make it into an abundance. I also ask that You increase my capacity for love, so that my love for You can no longer be contained but will spill out from me onto my family, my friends, and my world in a limitless torrent capable of providing refreshment to all who take without running out. May I ever be a conduit for Your love and grace, with You increasing all the while I decrease. Amen. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Read Mark 5:21-43

     In this passage, we find Jesus again surrounded by a crowd, this time after casting out a multitude of demons who called themselves, "Legion," out of a man who had been tormented by them for years. The Lord is approached by a synagogue official by the name of Jairus who falls at His feet and implores Him to come and lay hands on his little girl who is near death. As Jesus makes His way through the crowd to go with Jairus, a woman touches His garment. She is not just a woman, but a woman who had suffered for over a decade with bleeding. She had suffered at the hands of the physicians and spent all her money on them, but rather than being helped she had only gotten worse. She thought to herself, "If only I can just touch His garments, I will be made well," and so she managed to make this brief contact through the throng.
     Jesus felt that power had gone out from Him and stopped, asking, "Who touched me?" Incredulous, His disciples indicated the immense crowd and asked Him what He meant by that, since surely He was being jostled and touched on all sides in such a dense mass of bodies. 
     The woman, knowing that she had been healed, came forward in fear and trembling and fell down before Him, confessing what she had done and what had happened. Jesus looked upon her, calling her "daughter" and telling her to go in peace, that her faith had made her well. In the meantime, some people came from Jairus's household and told him that his daughter had died and they may as well not waste the Teacher's time. Jesus told Jairus not to fear, but only to keep believing.
     When they arrived, a crowd of mourners was wailing outside the house, and Jesus asked them why they were making such a noise when the child was not dead but only asleep. They mocked and ridiculed Him, but He sent everyone away except Jairus, the mother of the child, and three of His disciples. He took the twelve-year-old girl by the hand and said to her, "Talitha coumi," which means, "Little girl, rise up!" and she rose and began to walk around. He told them not to tell what had happened and also to give her something to eat. 

     This passage comes at an oddly ironic moment for my little town. Just a few short days ago, a young lady by the name of Halle Henderson died after suffering from violent complications of the flu. The amazing thing was truly to see an entire town rooting for this beautiful child, coming together in prayer and in faith and asking our Father to heal her. He did, but not in the way many were expecting. Halle has passed from this world and is now quite out of the reach of fear and pain.

     I do not know where Halle's family stands in the aftermath of this battle. I do know that my heart goes out to them, for even though their precious child is in a place where no pain or sorrow can ever touch her again, they are not and I know that the ache of her will fill their hearts until they draw their own final breath. I can only hope that they know my Savior and can be comforted by the assurance that they will see their sweet girl again once their race has been won. I can only pray that they will not grope blindly through the valley of the shadow of death, but that they will fasten themselves securely to the Light that will guide them safely through, trusting Him in the time when all the world seems filled with sorrow and clinging to Him when there is nothing else left to cling to. If you ever read this, Henderson family, know that I pray for you though I do not know you and that our Father is there for you even if you are too benumbed by grief to sense Him. Though there is pain, you can take heart that He, too, has experienced pain, suffering, and death and He is with you through it.

     Beyond that, though, the question that must resound through many homes and hearts right now is this: Why did God not heal Halle? Why did He, as we read in today's passage, restore this woman who bled, this official's daughter who died, and many others and yet not heal Halle? Why did He not answer the prayers?

     Friends, brothers and sisters, even readers who scoff and find all this "God stuff" silly, I have to ask you: Why do you think He did not?

     It is true that Halle will not finish fourth grade, will not swim in the pool this summer, will not have a myriad of experiences that other children her age will have. But does that mean that our God did not answer? I must present some hard facts. First and foremost is the simple and undeniable fact that all parents can vouch for and that is that "No" is a valid answer. Our Father may have simply said, "No, my children. Not this time. I have something greater planned for her and for you." God did not bring Halle out of the hospital for His purposes, and only He knows them fully. Sometimes He gives us glimpses of why, and other times we have to remember those glimpses and trust that this, too, has happened for a reason.

     Another child of God, Steve Saint, was fortunate enough to see how the death of his father, while earth-shattering to him as a young boy, opened the gates to bring the gospel of salvation to an until then unreachable people group. Years later, Steve's faith was strong enough, even, to believe that their deaths were not only allowed by God but planned by Him, so perfect and delicate was the timing of events on that fateful day, a fact Steve did not learn until he was nearing the end of his own parenting journey many decades later. Make no mistake, in the vast and perfect balance of God's economy, Halle's death serves a purpose. I could even speculate about what it may be, though I would like to address another point first.

     That secondary point is this: Perhaps--just maybe--Halle's removal from this world was an act of supreme mercy. How do we know that swimming in the pool or raising a family of her own some day was even a part of her future had she been left here to live it out? What if something worse than death lay ahead of her? I have more than one friend who has been a victim of sexual abuse at a young age, have read more than one story of beautiful little girls torn away from their parents to become the slaves of some sin-twisted sadist, have heard countless fates that are far, far less appealing than death besides these. What if it pleased God to spare this little one some nasty bit of suffering that our enemy had in mind in his efforts to ruin her? If that were ever the case case, she is now fully and completely healed indeed as well as being safely out of reach of the evil one.

     Now, however, I want to come back to the sovereignty of God that we touched on earlier. I have to state openly that I know full well this is easy for me to say since it is not my daughter who died. However, as a mother I can all too easily imagine that she was mine. Loss of a child has haunted my dreams, and greater than the fear of losing a child is the fear that I would dishonor God if I were tested that way. No, I have not lost my child, yet I have cried many tears in pleading that I would still do right by God and by my other children should I ever have to endure that sorrow. I would not wish it on anyone, and I am truly and deeply sorrowful for this family. I am in no way trying to diminish or belittle the pain they feel. It is genuine and deep and grief is no man's friend.

     However, I also know that God is in control, even of this. Why did He not bring Halle out of that hospital and back into the arms of her family? I do not claim to know. Perhaps someday her family will know, even if they do not know this side of eternity. What I do know is that her illness brought a community together in prayer. Her death has brought up many questions. This is a perfect opportunity for the enemy of our souls to point an elegant, accusing finger at God and state, "See! He is not good; He robbed the world of this little ray of sunshine!" He is equally eager, no doubt, to point back at the believers and accuse them of weak faith or of not praying hard enough or of any number of atrocities. Satan is an accuser at heart, but do not forget that he is a liar and the father of lies and therefore is not to be believed.

     Even though God did not bring Halle out of the hospital, He did do something wonderful through her trial. He brought a community to their knees and He has brought much attention to Himself. Now, at the denouement of Halle's story, many questions are raised; many are asking, "Why?"  Good, I say. Ask Him. He will delight to tell you, and He will delight to show you that He is ever and infallibly good. But to know Him we must talk with Him and we must learn that His goodness is shown primarily through obedience. He is gentle, too, and will walk you through it one little step at a time. No matter where you are, God longs for you to come to Him with your doubts, your fear, even your sorrow and fury. He is big enough to handle any and all things you will ask Him. He

     Weep to Him, implore Him, even rail at Him. It is still a part of the first step, which is to acknowledge Him, for to ask Him, "why" you must first believe that He exists. Beloved, He does reward those who earnestly seek Him. So ask--ask away. This is one good that may possibly come of precious Halle's demise. If one person begins a journey that will lead them to the heart of God, I can imagine Him taking her in His arms and saying, "Look! Because of you, this person walks with Me. He was standing on a precipice and was in danger of falling, and because of you, Dear One, he cried out to me. Rejoice with Me as we welcome another brother into My Kingdom!"

     There is another good that may come, if we will let it. Friends, we hit our knees for the life of this child but she is gone. Now is not the time to get up! Let's continue on our knees. Perhaps this, too, is part of the reason. Perhaps God wanted to get the idea in our hearts that we can come together as a community and pray hard, pray fervently, pray together. For Halle's sake and in her honor, let's continue.

     There is much to be healed still. There are many physical maladies, but there is also the more deeply rooted and insidious spiritual illness that wreaks havoc in all our lives. This world is still desperately sick in sin. Many of our churches have grown complacent and careless with the grace we have been given. Holiness is not often pursued so much as it is dressed up and paraded around as a mockery of what it is intended to be. Let's continue in prayer, brothers and sisters! Let's join together still and pray with greater zeal and deeper feeling, drawing nearer and nearer to our God even as we ask Him, "Why?" Let's pray for revival, for conviction, for repentance, for spiritual healing and renewal--let's pray for the ultimate and final healing that can only be had in Jesus.

     Why did Halle have to die? We may never know. But we can know the One who knows her more intimately than any of us and loves her more deeply than any human heart is capable. After all, it was through the death of His Son that we who are not Jewish by blood have a hope of salvation by faith. This One who gave of Himself reckons us to be Abraham's heirs according to the promise when we have faith in Him. He knows and loves us as well as He does Halle. We can know Him, love Him, and begin to trust Him despite -- and sometimes because of -- our "whys." 

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 
a time to be born, and a time to die; 
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 
a time to kill, and a time to heal; 
a time to break down, and a time to build up; 
a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 
Ecclesiastes 3:1-4