Blame

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:3-5

We live in a culture that is obsessed with blame. Everyone seems to want to blame everyone else for their troubles. Each political party blames the other. Each race blames the other. Women blame men for all their issues. Men blame women for all of theirs. The church is to blame for my lack of faith. My parents are to blame for my messed up life. There is a lie embedded in our culture that goes like this, “Either I am to blame or you are.” Under the lie is this: “To accept blame would crush me. So in an act of self-protection I will blame everyone else for my life being this way.”

When we blame others, as if they are the problem, then we must do something to control them. If other people are in control of my well-being, if they are to blame, then I must perpetually make attempts to control other people in order to manage my life.

Our main tools of control are usually manipulation or force. I will have to try to use manipulation and deception to control others either through flattery or by playing the victim. If that doesn’t work, I’ll need to use force either through violence or harsh words. These are the natural results of blaming others for the outcome of our life.

Can you see how unhealthy this is?

At the root of the lie is the falsehood that we have to blame someone. It is a false dichotomy that I either have to blame others or blame myself. The truth is that we neither have to blame others nor ourselves. We do have to own our own sin, failures, and poor decisions. But that doesn’t mean we have to carry the crushing weight of blame.

What if we embraced this novel idea: no one is to “blame.” We live in a broken world full of broken systems and broken people. Life is hard. Life is complicated. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Blame is the wrong word. Responsibility is the right word. We need to take responsibility for our actions, our own feelings, and our own lives. Jesus was clear with His disciples. We must look at the plank in our own eyes before we try to take the speck out of other eyes.

Paul said something similar about taking personal responsibility to the Galatians:

Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load.

Galatians 6:4-5

We can’t control other people, and our attempts to do so damage relationships. We can only control ourselves. We are only responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We should communicate how the actions of others affect us. We should figure out what is happening in our own hearts and learn how to articulate that. But we need to stop trying to control people into compliance. And we begin to stop trying to control people when we stop blaming everyone around us for our situation.

When we start taking responsibility for our own life and stop blaming others, our relationships begin to flourish. We stop making other people responsible for our happiness, and we begin to realize that Jesus alone is our true source of life.

Unnatural Wind

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 

Matthew 14:32

Jesus had just multiplied the fish and the loaves and then sent his disciples ahead of him on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus stayed behind and spent time with the Father. Then, in the middle of the night, Jesus walks out to them on the water. The wind was already blowing hard by the time Jesus walks out to them.

Once they realize it is Jesus, Peter tells Jesus to invite him out on the water, and Jesus does. Peter walks to him on the water for a few steps but then, seeing the wind, gets afraid. Jesus equates this fear with a lack of faith and escorts Peter back to the boat.

What I had never noticed before is that as soon as Peter and Jesus get in the boat, the wind dies down. If this was a natural storm, the wind wouldn’t just die down as soon as they step into the boat. We can’t know for sure, but this leads me to believe that the wind Peter was so afraid of was not natural. I believe it is possible that the wind was intentionally stirred up by the enemy in order to prevent the emergence of a boat full of faith-filled water-walkers.

I believe the enemy stirred up the wind to attack Peter’s faith (and anyone else who would dare step out in faith). I believe God allowed the wind as a test of Peter’s faith. The enemy was rooting against Peter, not wanting him to even attempt getting out of the boat. The Lord was rooting for Peter, wanting him to overcome his fear by faith.

This wouldn’t be the first time an unnatural wind came against Jesus and the disciples. A short time ago, Jesus was sleeping in the boat when a storm hits. The disciples freak out in fear. Jesus wakes up and speaks to the wind the same way he had previously only spoken to demons. Notice the similarity between how Jesus casts the demon out of the man in the synagogue and how Jesus commands the storm to be quiet.

And Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be quiet, and come out of him!” After throwing him into convulsions and crying out with a loud voice, the unclean spirit came out of him.

Mark 1:25-26

He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

Mark 4:39

The language used in both the deliverance and the calming of the storm is the same. Jesus rebukes both the demon and the wind. Jesus’s command is the same word, “Quiet!” I believe it’s possible that this indicates, when Jesus calms the storm, He was not just rebuking the wind but the demonic force behind the wind. He was commanding the enemy to stop using natural forces in ways that they shouldn’t be used.

So what does all of this mean?

It means that sometimes the storm is just a natural storm that we have to learn to navigate. But sometimes the storm is a targeted attack of the enemy meant to destroy your faith and keep you in the boat. Sometimes the enemy sends things at you that are meant to cause fear and keep you hunkered down. The last thing the enemy wants you to do is get out of the boat. And if you do get out of the boat, he doesn’t want you spending any time out there walking on water with Jesus.

The enemy will also sometimes reduce the wind as soon as you retreat to the boat. He wants you to feel safe and secure in that boat so that you never step out in faith again. We have to remember that when Jesus rebukes the wind, He’s enforcing the peace of the Kingdom. However, when the enemy reduces the wind, he’s just messing with your heart and mind. He’s trying to bring a false comfort, a false peace to lure you into passivity.

Don’t believe it. Jesus alone is the calmer of the storms.

So where do you need to get back out of the boat? Don’t let the fear from last time prevent you from stepping out again this time.

Not ashamed

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last…

Romans 1:14-17

Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. He was not ashamed of being a follower of Jesus. He was not ashamed of telling people about Jesus and about salvation. He was honored to get to be adopted into the family of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. He was honored to have the Spirit of the Living God dwelling in him. Talking about the gospel was as natural to Paul as talking about his shoes or his elbow.

When we talk about Jesus to those who do not believe, we don’t need to be timid about it. Talking to others about Jesus is like talking to your kids about sex. If you are ashamed and awkward and embarrassed about it then you nonverbally communicate that this topic is shameful, awkward, and embarrassing. But if you talk about it as it truly is – a good gift, normal, natural, a blessing – then your nonverbals will communicate the same.

To Timothy, Paul’s protege, Paul wrote this at the end of his life:

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. 

2 Timothy 1:7-9

We’ve been given a Spirit of power. We’ve been given the gospel which is the power of God for all who believe. We’ve been given a Spirit of love. So we don’t need to be embarrassed or timid or ashamed of the testimony about Jesus. Even if we get ridiculed for it, we can endure such a small bit of suffering by the power of God. After all, we have been saved, rescued, restored, redeemed and made a new creation in Christ. We’ve been called to a holy life, not because we were worthy, but because of God’s own purpose and grace.

Who are we to remain silent about such a gift?

Faithfulness Rewarded

“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:22-23

In the Parable of the Talents, the man who was given two bags of gold and gained two more was given the same response by the master as the man who was given five bags of gold and gained five more. The master’s response was based on faithfulness. The question for the master was not how much they had been given but what they did with what they were given. They were faithful servants who had been faithful with what they had been given, so the master rewarded them for it.

The other day our oldest son was asking about the difference between GT/Advanced classes, honors classes, and standard classes. My wife was a high school teacher for years before teaching at the college level, so she launched into descriptions of how they might be different.

One thing we both made clear to him was that when colleges look at a student’s grades, an A in an honors class is better than a C or D in a GT class. Likewise, an A in a standard class is better than a C in an honors class. We were trying to make the same point that the Parable of the Talents makes: Faithfulness receives a greater reward than giftedness. And the more we are gifted, the greater the responsibility is to be faithful.

This applies to so many things in our life. God wants us to be faithful with what we have whether it is a lot or a little. This is true for money, relationships, spiritual gifts, opportunities, etc. And, often, the more we have, the more difficult it is to be faithful with it. We all say we want more money, but God will be looking for faithfulness if we get more money. Faithfulness with a lot of money can be more demanding than faithfulness with a little, just like getting an A in a GT class can be more demanding than getting an A in a standard class. Jesus said it this way:

From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.

Luke 12:48

This is why James warns about being a teacher. The greater the giftedness, the greater the responsibility it is to be faithful with that giftedness.

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 

James 3:1

And this doesn’t just apply to the responsibility and gift of teaching God’s word. It applies to other gifts of the Spirit as well. Whatever gifts and anointings we ask God for, we need to remember that He’s looking for faithfulness not giftedness. We may want to be more gifted than we are right now, but we will also be held accountable for being faithful with the gifts we are given. The more gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given to us, the more anointings placed on our life, the more that will be required of us in order to be faithful.

This truth should sober us when we look at people who are incredibly gifted. It is great to admire them, but we need to admire them for the right reasons. Rather than just being enamored with the level of their giftedness, we should look instead at their character and be in awe of how they have stewarded these great gifts. We should be impressed with their faithfulness, knowing how difficult it would be to be faithful with that level of giftedness.

If we’re not faithful with the gifts that we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more? If we’re not faithful with the money we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more? If we’re not faithful with the opportunities and responsibilities we already have, what makes us think we’ll be faithful with more?

God is a Good Father so he loves for us to ask for more. But He also doesn’t want to crush us with the “more” that we’re asking for. As we ask for more, let’s also ask for the capacity to be faithful with it. As we ask for more money, let’s also ask for more wisdom in how to faithfully manage it. As we ask for more gifts, let’s also ask for a strengthening of our character so that we can be faithful.

Already – Not Yet

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33

The longer you live the more you come face to face with the enormity of pain and tragedy in this world. There is suffering and heartbreak at every turn. As a follower of Jesus, the only way to navigate the brokenness of the world is to have both a theology of healing and a theology of suffering. One without the other will be insufficient and will lead to despair.

A theology of suffering without a theology of healing leads us to believe we can’t have victory over sin, disease, or spiritual darkness this side of heaven. It leaves us trudging through this world of pain in a perpetual state of gloom and doom. It neglects our calling to bring heaven to earth. It never fully embraces all that Jesus accomplished on the cross and in the resurrection. It will likely lead to cynicism and attempts to escape this world rather than transform it. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be pastoral without being apostolic.

Likewise, a theology of healing without a theology of suffering has a difficult time facing tragedy and pain. It tends to avoid the reality of suffering. It doesn’t allow for people to be in process or in grief. It neglects the important disciplines of being joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in enduring prayer. It struggles to be down in the muck walking with people. In Ephesians 4:11 terms, it tries to be apostolic without being pastoral.

A healthy and robust Kingdom theology makes room for both healing and suffering. When Jesus arrived in the flesh, He inaugurated the Kingdom of God on the earth. “Inaugurated” is a term that speaks to the reality that the Kingdom is already here, breaking out among us, but not yet here in all of its fullness and glory. Scholars call this the “already/not yet” of the Kingdom.

We now live in the in-between. This means that our reality will bear witness to both the “already” of the Kingdom and the “not yet” of the Kingdom. Our theology of healing expresses the already of the Kingdom. Our theology of suffering expresses the not yet of the Kingdom.

We must hold the already and not yet in tension with each other. Leaning too far in one direction or the other causes problems. For instance, when it comes to physical healing, we must admit these two truths: 1) God wants to heal and 2) not everyone is healed this side of heaven. Likewise, we must admit these two truths about salvation: 1) God wants all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth, and 2) not all will be saved.

There are a number of variables that prevent the Kingdom of God from expressing its fullness. Sin has caused a general brokenness in all of creation. It’s the background noise of brokenness that seems to infect every part of the world. Not only that, but sin has caused a break down in the way people treat each other. It has also caused a break in the way we relate to ourselves and to God. Add to all of this a real enemy, Satan, who is actively employing the kingdom of darkness to work against God’s purposes in the world, and you can begin to get a picture of the real mess we are in.

So while God’s Kingdom has come and is breaking out out among us–seeking to restore, redeem, and renew–there are many factors that are pressing against the advancement of God’s Kingdom in the world. The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43) gives us a picture of this reality. God’s Kingdom is growing in the world, but so is the kingdom of darkness.

A healthy theology of healing acknowledges things like our victory in Christ, that sin and death have been defeated, that we are seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, and that all things have been placed under His feet. A healthy theology of healing declares that God wants to heal in the same way that God wants all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4), that healing is a mandate given to the Church by Christ, and that there is no sickness in heaven. This is why we pray expecting healing when we pray “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We have been given supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, and we are expected to use them to the glory of God. We aren’t waiting to get to heaven to experience the Kingdom of God. We are called to partner with God now in ushering in His Kingdom in increasing measure.

Likewise, a healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that, this side of heaven, not everyone will be miraculously healed, that God’s will is not always done on earth as it is in heaven, and that pain is a part of this broken world. A healthy theology of suffering acknowledges that in this world we will have trouble and that the enemy doesn’t play fair but is out to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10). A healthy theology of suffering will not blame God as the author of suffering, but will acknowledge that sin has stained all aspects of life and that we wade through a sea of brokenness as we live in this world. We are called to come alongside people and walk with people through their suffering. We are called to love others in the same way that Jesus loves us.

In the end, God is with us through it all. Sometimes we’ll be healed. Sometimes we won’t. Some aspects of God’s Kingdom are already here, and some have not yet arrived. But what is always available to us is the peace of Christ that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7). His comfort and Presence are always available to us. He will never leave us nor forsake us. His love for us is our unending source of strength even in the midst of brokenness. And we can take comfort in the fact that we serve a God of resurrection. He specializes in bringing new life out of death. We confess that whether in healing or in suffering, Christ is all in all. For we have died with Christ and our life is now hidden in Him.

Burdens to Blessings

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability.Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.”

Matthew 25:14-18

The other day I was reflecting on the fact that so few people in our circle have had to do what my wife and I have had to do in the last year. She and I work full-time and have had three kids in school (two in elementary school and one in middle school). Our kids have, until recently, been 100% virtual for their schooling. So that means, on top of both of us working full-time, we’ve had to juggle being each of their at-home teacher/tutor for a year.

Add to this the fact that I am a pastor and have had to help lead my church through a pandemic while we’re in the middle of buying a church building and changing our leadership structure. Oh, and we bought a new house and moved last May, right in the middle of the pandemic. Not to mention that in the midst of all of that my brother died suddenly and tragically in a car accident.

Needless to say, it has been a lot. And as I scan my community for people who can relate, there aren’t many. Most families in my church have one parent not working or put their kids in private school. Most haven’t had three in virtual school all year. Most haven’t had to juggle grief and moving and two full-time jobs and leading an organization through the pandemic.

I was lamenting this reality. So I sent a text to a friend about it, one of the few friends who has a life that comes close to resembling mine. I texted him that so few can understand all that we have on our plates. So few have had to manage what we’ve had to manage in this last year. His response was perfect.

He texted back, “How did we get to be so fortunate?”

He didn’t mean this sarcastically. He really meant it. How did we get so fortunate to have so many kids? How did we get so fortunate to have two jobs? How did we get so fortunate to be entrusted to lead organizations? How did we get so fortunate to be able to afford a new house? How did we get so fortunate to be responsible for so much?

His response immediately shifted my perspective. What I was viewing as “a lot of weight to carry” his comment shifted to “a lot of responsibility that we are blessed with.”

My response to him was, “I guess God thought we could steward it.” And I really believe that to be true. In the Parable of the Talents, the man with 5 bags of gold didn’t complain that it was too much to handle. He went at once to be a good steward of what he was given. And this is what we must do.

Self-pity is from the enemy. Self-pity is a person swimming next to a drowning victim who is thrashing around and then complaining to the lifeguards that they are getting water in their eyes. Self-pity is one of the most disempowering lies that one can believe about themselves. Self-pity is the lie that you are a helpless victim of your circumstances and are powerless to do anything about it. Self-pity turns “blessings to steward” into “burdens to carry.”

What blessings are you viewing as a burden? Where has self-pity seeped into the cracks of your heart and mind? Be sure to pull that weed before it pulls you under.

Repentance

…your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 

2 Corinthians 7:9-10

When we sin, we often feel bad for sinning. We feel regret and conviction. Paul calls this “Godly sorrow.” Sometimes it’s worse and we feel guilt and shame. Paul calls this “worldly sorrow.” We might even ask for forgiveness for our sin, our mistake, our wrong words or actions. But none of this is repentance.

The word in the Greek translated as “repentance” is the word metanoia. It means “a change of mind.” But even if we feel bad about our sin, we still haven’t had a change of mind yet. We likely knew what we did was wrong before we did it. The changing of the mind, or repentance, is not about the wrong words or actions we did. Repentance, or “a changing of the mind” isn’t directed toward the action, but, instead, is directed toward the lie that we believed that led to the wrong action.

At the root of sin is a lie we are believing. The fruit of sin then is the wrong action or wrong words. We may feel worldly sorrow (guilt, shame) about the action. We may even feel Godly sorrow (regret, conviction) about the action. But all of that is at the surface level of the fruit. Real repentance gets to the root, to the lie.

So even if you’ve asked for forgiveness and felt terrible about your sin, it is possible that you still haven’t repented! Yes, you read that correctly. Even if you feel bad about your sin, it doesn’t mean you’ve repented! Paul instructs Timothy about leading people to repentance and not just sorrow for their sin.

Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

2 Timothy 2:25-26

Notice that repentance isn’t about feeling bad. Repentance is about spotting the lie, rejecting it, uprooting it, and replacing it with the “knowledge of the truth.” Repentance is about people “coming to their senses.” If you haven’t discovered the lie about God, the lie about yourself, or the lie about others that you believed that was at the root of your sin, then you haven’t repented yet.

Only after we have discovered the lie and replaced it with truth have we “changed our mind.” And only after repentance do we experience the transformation that we seek. This is what Paul was getting at when he wrote, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind“(Romans 12:2).

Jesus always paired “repent” with “believe.” The message was “Repent and believe..” In other words, change your thinking, reject the lies, and believe the truth. This is the heart of repentance.

Worldly sorrow (guilt, shame) is just a tool of the enemy. It leads to more death. Godly sorrow (regret, conviction) is useful insomuch as it leads us to repentance. Repentance is a discovery of our faulty thinking, an examination of the lies we are believing, and a rejection of those lies in favor of believing the truth about God, ourselves, and others.

Repentance is what begins to set us free from bondage of sin. Repentance leads to life! (Acts 11:18).

So, next time you’re dealing with your own sin, don’t stop at the level of the fruit. First, don’t ever buy into the lies of guilt and shame. But also, don’t stop at the level of conviction and Godly sorrow. Dig down to the “why” of your sin. What lies were you believing? Uproot those lies and replace them with truth. You may need the help of a trusted, mature follower of Jesus to help you with this. Repentance is what leads us to full life, and that can only happen when we’ve experience a change in our mind about the lies we have believed.

Normal Christianity

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues,proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Matthew 4:23-25

Imagine that you’ve never heard anything about Jesus. So you open the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, and you read all the way through it. What would you encounter there? A Jesus who just preached sermons? A list of “dos” and “don’ts?” No.

If you weren’t contaminated by western culture’s preconceived notions of Jesus, you’d encounter a Jesus who proclaimed a message about a new kind of kingdom on the earth. You’d also encounter a Jesus who was constantly healing people everywhere he went. You might expect that followers of Jesus would heal people everywhere they went.

Physical healing was central to Jesus’s ministry. So was setting free those who were bound by demonic darkness. These were not side ministries for Jesus. They were two out of the three main ways that Jesus demonstrated the Kingdom of God coming to earth. The third was His teaching/preaching about the Kingdom.

Jesus did not come to bring a disembodied gospel. Jesus came in a physical body and cared about physical bodies. It wasn’t about spiritual truths that help us escape the world. It was about the truth that His Kingdom came to transform this world, including physical bodies. Jesus did not bring a Gnostic gospel. He brought an embodied one.

Over and over again we see that healing physical sickness was central to the Kingdom of God. Besides story after story of Jesus encountering an individual and healing them, we get passages of scripture that seem to summarize mass healings as if there were too many to name. And we learn that this healing ministry wasn’t a side show. It was central to the fulfillment of prophecy about the coming Messiah.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

“He took up our infirmities
    and bore our diseases.” [Isaiah 53:4]

Matthew 8:16-17

When Jesus wanted to assure John the Baptist that He was, in fact, the Messiah, the message Jesus sent to John was all about healing. Healing physical sickness was one of the main signs that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecies about the coming Messiah.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.

Matthew 11:2-5

Physical healing wasn’t just something Jesus did on the side. It was one of the main things Jesus did with His limited time here on earth. It was central to demonstrating that God’s Kingdom had invaded the kingdom of this world. The light was breaking through the darkness.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 

Matthew 9:35-36

It was also something He empowered His disciples to do. In other words, healing wasn’t just a ministry of the Messiah. It was something expected of every disciple of Jesus. Seeing people get healed by the power of God and seeing demons get cast out of people was always meant to be “normal Christianity.”

Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness…

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “… As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”

Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Healing the sick was something Jesus did everywhere He went. Healings were physical demonstrations of the truth of His Kingdom. They were evidence that He really was the Messiah and the Kingdom of God really was being inaugurated on the earth.

And the early followers of Jesus picked up this mantle and continued to carry it. They continued to proclaim the message of the Kingdom and continued to demonstrate the Kingdom through healings, deliverance, signs, wonders, and miracles. We see this reality all throughout the book of Acts.

Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.

Acts 2:43

The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.

Acts 5:12-16

The prayer of the early believers was, “…enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30). They simply wanted to continue the ministry of Jesus. They wanted to boldly proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and then demonstrate the Kingdom through signs and wonders. This was “normal Christianity.”

In the West, many churches have denounced physical healing and deliverance ministry. Or, if it is believed at all, we have relegated them to side ministries. How could something so central to the gospel, so central to the Kingdom, so central to Jesus and the early church get shoved aside? Church, we have to do better than this!

Our culture is tired of hearing about Jesus and the gospel. They are crying out, “Show me! Prove it! Demonstrate it!” And two of the primary ways Christians are meant to demonstrate the Kingdom of God coming to earth is through physical healing and deliverance. It was never meant to be a “special” ministry reserved for “elite” Christians or the “crazy charismatic” Christians. This was meant to be normal Christianity.

Normal Christianity looks like every church member praying for their co-workers and seeing them get healed right there in the office. Normal Christianity looks like having dinner with neighbors and, for dessert, praying and seeing them set free from the demonic oppression they’ve experienced for years. Normal Christianity looks like delivering a prophetic word to your boss that then shapes the future of your company. Normal Christianity looks like getting a word of knowledge for the person in front of you at Walmart, giving the word, and then leading them to give their life to Jesus. Normal Christianity looks like getting a prophetic dream for a family member that ends up encouraging them about their true identity.

Normal Christianity looks like every person in the church doing this all week long so that it becomes such a regular occurrence that there is no need for any fanfare about it. There’s no arguing over the legitimacy of these things because everyone experiences them daily. There’s no need to debate when it is just normal life. This is normal Christianity.

We need to return to the Bible’s definition of normal Christianity once again!

In The Arena

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Luke 24:13-21

These men walking to Emmaus had dared to hope. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, the one who was going to redeem Israel. Yet, their hopes here dashed. Jesus had been crucified.

What they couldn’t have imagined is that Jesus not only redeemed Israel but the whole world, and He did so not despite His death but through His death. They couldn’t have imagined that Jesus was resurrected, He was the Messiah, and He was the one they were talking to in that very moment.

In other words, God didn’t fulfilled their hopes because their hopes were too small. God did much more, so much more, just not in the way they had expected. And they were right to hope. At least they were brave enough to hope. Too often people don’t want to get their hopes up. They don’t want to be disappointed as if disappointment is the worst suffering in the world. It’s not. Hopelessness is.

We should get our hopes up. We need to practice the spiritual discipline of hoping even in the midst of the impossible. We need to stop guarding our disappointment as if it will mortally wound us if we get disappointed from time to time. Even if we don’t see our hopes come to pass, God might be doing something better or bigger than we could even hope or imagine.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us…

Ephesians 3:20

My friend just ran a long race to raise money for a good cause. He ran over 30 miles on Saturday to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (yes, 30 miles). Pretty amazing! But when he stopped running, he was a little disappointed because his goal was 41 miles that day. He did not reach his goal of that many miles, yet he did so much more.

Did I mention that he has MS himself? He inspired so many people with his run even though he felt that he fell short. He raised money and awareness but, more than that, he raised hopes!

Thirty miles with MS. Astounding! He reached for the stars and got the moon. He was willing to take the risk. He was willing to go after something big and even face disappointment. That kind of courage is inspiring. That kind of heart is contagious.

Don’t you want to be that kind of person, even if you fall short? Me too. It’s time to get our hopes up.

I left the following quote on my friend’s Facebook page. I couldn’t think of a better quote that captured the moment. It’s from a speech given by Theodore Roosevelt and has become known as “The Man in the Arena.” My friend was the man in the arena. He dared greatly and will never be among those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in a Republic

Wineskins and Wine

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”

Matthew 9:16-17

Sometimes, when we begin to pray for new wine, the Lord begins a process that will allow Him to answer that prayer. But He doesn’t start with the new wine.

First, the Lord will begin to remove old wineskins. Then, He will begin to create new wineskins in your life. This takes time. New wineskins take time to craft. Then, when they are ready, He will pour out the new wine.

Most of us struggle to stay in the process long enough to experience the new wine. But the Lord takes us through this process because He wants to preserve both the wine and the wineskin. Without this process, He could do damage to both.

We sometimes think that the answer to the prayer is the new wine. That is what we are asking for after all. But the answer to the prayer for new wine has been the whole process–the removal of the old wineskin, the creation of the new skins, and the pouring out of new wine. If we can see that all of it constitutes God’s answer to our prayer for new wine, we’ll be able to hang in there. We’ll be able to “not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Do you not know?
    Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
    and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
    and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
    and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31