Tag Archives: Mark

The Relationship Plan, Part 5

I know you’ve heard of Paul — he wrote most of the epistles in the New Testament. And I know you’ve heard of Mark — he wrote one of the four Gospels. But have you ever heard of Barnabas? He’s mentioned in the New Testament, primarily in Acts. He’s not that well known, but if not for him you would probably have not heard of Paul or Mark. As we discussed in our adult education class last Sunday, he did an excellent job of implementing Jesus’ relationship plan of evangelism.

In Acts 4:36-37, we learn a little bit about the character and background of Barnabas:

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

This passage shows Barnabas’ generosity, but it also reveals probably the most important aspect of his character — He was an encourager. This is shown repeatedly in his relationships with both Paul and Mark.

Barnabas was also filled with the Holy Spirit and had wonderful spiritual discernment. After Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, he began preaching the gospel. However, because Paul — also known as Saul — had a history and reputation for persecuting Christians and having them tortured and thrown in jail, many of the believers in Jerusalem were afraid of him. But not Barnabas; he could see that God had really changed Paul and that he was a true believer.

When he [Paul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. Acts 9:26-28.

Later in Acts, when the Good News was being preached in Antioch to the Gentiles, Barnabas was trusted by the apostles to be sent to check it out and make sure the Gospel was being preached correctly and that the people there had good leaders. When he arrived and found that all was well, he encouraged those who were preaching. He also went and found Paul and brought him back to Antioch to teach and preach.

[M]en from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. Acts 11:20-26.

Up to this point, when Barnabas and Paul are mentioned together, Barnabas is always mentioned first. That was intentional on the part of Luke (the author of Acts) to show that Barnabas was the leader on these occasions. This is seen also in the beginning of Acts 13 when they went on a missionary trip to Cyprus. But later in chapter 13 they are referred to as Paul and Barnabas. This indicates a shift in leadership. Throughout their time together Barnabas has been discipling Paul, teaching him to be a disciple and to lead others. Barnabas taught him well, as the Lord Jesus would have wanted him to, until Paul was ready to make disciples of others. As we learned in the study of The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert E. Coleman, that was Jesus’ Great Commission to His disciples before He ascended into heaven.

But what about Mark? The scriptures reveal that Mark (also known as John Mark) was a cousin of Barnabas. Colossians 4:10. He accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey, but in the middle of the journey he left them and returned to Jerusalem. Acts 13:13. Later, when planning another missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again, but Paul objected because he thought Mark had deserted them and would not be useful.

Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. Acts 15:36-40.

Barnabas clearly saw something in Mark that Paul did not. He had a closer relationship with Mark and because they were related he likely had a wider range of experiences with Mark from which to reach his conclusion that Mark was worth discipling. In the long run, this disagreement between Paul and Barnabas was likely God’s will for them so that they might cover more territory and bring more people to Christ than they could if they continued to travel together.

Barnabas’ trust in Mark also paid off. As mentioned above, Mark is believed by most Bible scholars to be the author of the Gospel of Mark. In addition, he later became a trusted companion even of Paul, who wrote to his friend Timothy: “Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:11. Because Barnabas saw something in Mark that was worth cultivating — some quality that was spiritually discerned, such as humility and a willingness to follow Christ — he was willing to spend time with him, teaching Mark all that he knew about our Lord and the means of salvation through faith.

As we have concluded this study on leadership and discipleship, I look forward to the opportunity to be like Mark and to learn more from those who are more mature in their faith than I am; and I look forward to being more like Barnabas, being able to spiritually discern the potential for discipleship in others. I am excited about seeing the Master’s plan of evangelism and discipleship implemented in my own church and in my own life outside the church. It’s all about the relationships we make; it’s about investing time and energy in making disciples of those we are in relationships with. This is Jesus’ plan and that’s good enough for me.

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Overcoming Doubt and Unbelief

Last night I read John 15. It’s not next on my Bible-in-a-year schedule, but a woman of God named Ruth Handy told me I needed to read it, specifically John 15:16. But she said I should read the whole chapter and truly believe it. Speaking to His disciples, Jesus said: “You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.” John 15:16 (NLT). This passage holds true for not just the first 12 disciples, but for all who follow Him when He calls.

As I read this I felt so blessed that Jesus would choose me. I wondered if I am really producing the lasting fruit He has appointed me to produce. I want to, and I call on Him to help me produce lasting fruit through the sharing of His wisdom each day. I am very conscious of trying to produce this fruit in my life for Him. I have, in comments to this blog and in other ways, seen evidence of the fruit I have produced by the power of His Holy Spirit.

But the thing this woman of God focused on, when she was talking to me, was the last part of this verse. She was reading to me from the Amplified Version, which translates the second half of the verse as: “so that whatever you ask the Father in My Name [as presenting all that I AM], He may give it to you.” She told me there are people I have been praying for, asking that they come to know the Lord or have a closer walk with the Lord, and that I need to believe that when I have prayed for them in Jesus’ Name, God has heard my prayer and will answer.

Believing is so important. Next to being sure what you are praying for is within God’s will, believing is key, really, to receiving that which we pray for in Jesus’ Name. James said:

But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does. James 1:6-8.

And yet when I pray for others, especially for their salvation, I know that they have freewill. Even if Jesus chooses them, like He chose me, their ability to reject Him because of their freewill leaves me with just a tiny bit of doubt. Perhaps that is why the answers to those prayers have so far been “not yet.” I am reminded of the account of when Jesus healed the boy afflicted by an evil spirit recorded in Mark 9:

“How long has this been happening?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

 He replied, “Since he was a little boy. The spirit often throws him into the fire or into water, trying to kill him. Have mercy on us and help us, if you can.”

 “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” Jesus asked. “Anything is possible if a person believes.”

 The father instantly cried out, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” Mark 9:21-24.

And so like this father I will pray, “Lord Jesus, I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

On the way home from the meeting at which I spoke with this woman of God, my friends and I were talking and one of them said a little rhyme that fit well with this post. I said I would turn it into a poem for today’s post, not realizing how well it would fit with the rest of what was on my heart today. So here is another of my lame attempts at poetry to fit the occasion:

He and me

If He and me
Could just agree
Oh what wonders
I would see

Less of me
More of He
Will overcome
The doubt you see

Prayers all answered
For friends in need
When we agree
He and me

I do realize this poem is not grammatically correct, but it’s poetry and so poetic license has been taken. Anyway, I’m trusting and believing in answered prayers. How about you? Have you been praying but doubting He can accomplish what you have asked? Join me in asking our dear Jesus to help us overcome our unbelief and doubt. If the Father could raise Jesus from the dead, surely He can do whatever we ask in Jesus’ Name.

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Is Servant Leadership an Oxymoron?

Are you in a leadership position? Do you administer a ministry in your church? Do you manage a group of employees for your job? Do you have kids that you are called to lead and train? If you think about it, most people are in a leadership position of some sort, whether it be large or small. We may not all be CEOs of multi-billion dollar corporations, but most of us are in charge of directing someone else at one time or another.

The Bible provides some great insight for effective leadership. Last night I was reading the story of when King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, became king of all Israel after Solomon’s death. The people came to King Rehoboam complaining of the heavy burden King Solomon had put on them and asking that he lessen their burden, saying they would always be loyal if he did. Before he answered the people, King Rehoboam sought the advice of his father’s wise elder advisors.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.” 1 Kings 12:7.

King Rehoboam also sought advice from his younger advisors.

The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’ -tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist.  My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’ ” 1 Kings 12:10-11.

Ultimately, King Rehoboam took the advice of his young friends and did not heed the advise of the wise elders. The result was that the people revolted and he lost all of the kingdom of Israel except Judah. After King David had served the people of Israel so well for so long, “only the tribe of Judah remained loyal to the house of David” after King Rehoboam took the throne. 1 Kings 12:20b.

Servant leadership is a hard concept to grasp. As one in power, it is easy to be filled with the pride of leadership and seek to succeed on the backs of those one leads. This is often seen in industry and business in our society, as CEOs get rich while the pay and benefits afforded to the workers is slashed.

But servant leadership is exactly what Jesus modeled. Although He was God incarnate and clearly their superior, Jesus became the disciples’ servant when He washed their feet at the last supper before His death. See John 13:1-17. Even after His resurrection, Jesus continued to be a servant leader to the disciples. As they hauled in a miraculous catch of fish, He was on the shore building a fire and cooking them breakfast. See John 21:1-14. It seems that the disciples should have been making breakfast for their risen Lord, but Jesus was the kind of servant leader who turned such thoughts on their heads.

When He knew that the disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus said something to them that has always intrigued me:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:33-37.

To be first, you must be the very last! Not just towards the end of the line, but the very last. You must put others, including children who you teach and lead, ahead of you. This can be a particularly difficult concept to put into practice with kids. My son has complained several times over the years that adults who are supposed to be his teachers or youth leaders at church don’t listen to him or take him seriously. These adults have failed to grasp the concept of servant leadership when it comes to the kids who cross their path on a regular basis.

In the various capacities in which I lead others, both adults and kids, I try to keep this principle of servant leadership in mind. Being a servant leader serves both to encourage others to follow and to allow them to succeed in the endeavor you are asking them to embark on. I don’t always succeed in putting this principle into practice, but because of my servant leader Jesus I am improving in my efforts to do so.

Think about those you lead, and be creative in making that list. Then think about how you have treated them. Have you acted as a servant leader to them, or have you, like Rehoboam, made their burden heavier just because you have the power to do so? If the Creator of all things can humble Himself to be a servant so that He might be a better leader, perhaps His example is worth following.

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Liar, Lunatic, or God?

There are people and even religions in the world that regard Jesus as a great prophet and an example to follow, but they do not believe that He was the Son of God. These people and religions do not consider Jesus to be God as true Christians do. C.S. Lewis did a great job in his book Mere Christianity of refuting this position that Jesus was just a great moral teacher and example. As Lewis put it, the scriptures allow for one to believe that Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or who He claimed to be. He did not leave open to us the option that He was just a good moral teacher.

If you have never read the Gospels and the words that Jesus said, then you might be able to hold onto the notion that Jesus was a great man and nothing more. You might be able to dismiss Lewis’ argument out of hand. But if you consider the things Jesus said and did, you will see the truth of Lewis’ argument quite easily. Because if Jesus is not who He claimed to be — which is God incarnate, the great “I AM” — then He was truly a liar or a lunatic, and no one in their right mind would follow the moral teaching of a man who was either of these things. At least, I know I would not.

The religious leaders of His day clearly understood Jesus to be claiming that He was God. When Jesus said that He was the Christ, the Anointed One, and that He and the Father were one, they were furious. “We are not stoning you for any of these [miracles],” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” John 10:33. But if Jesus was not actually God, as He claimed, and if He knew that He was not God, then He was a liar.

But what if He was not God and didn’t know it? What if He was delusional and mistakenly believed He was God? Well, then He was a lunatic. If a person does not believe in the existence of the supernatural and of the devil, then other things Jesus said would prove Him to be a lunatic as well.

 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” Luke 10:17-19.

What’s that? Jesus saw Satan fall from heaven? Either He was the Almighty and really did see this heavenly event occur, or He was a delusional lunatic. If He was the latter, then how can He also be a great moral teacher?

Sure Jesus said to love your neighbors, and to love your enemies. He said to be peacemakers, to not commit adultery, to not murder and not be angry, to forgive as we are forgiven. He did teach some great moral truths that were already part of the Jewish law. But He said and did so much more that simply does not leave open the option of “just” a great moral teacher.

If you are still holding tight to this notion, I encourage you to read the Gospels, particularly the book of John, and then honestly ask yourself whether it is a valid option. The words recorded in John were written by the apostle John, who walked with Jesus on this earth, and then followed Him in faith for the rest of his life. What John wrote was only part of what he saw and heard.

 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31.

So who do you believe Jesus is? Liar, lunatic, or the Son of God?

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The Priesthood of All Believers

Yesterday was Pentecost, considered the birthday of the Christian Church. The events of the first Christian Pentecost are recorded in Acts 2. However, Pentecost was a Jewish celebration of the Festival of Weeks, which is why the first disciples were gathered together on this day.

In church yesterday, our visiting pastor preached on the priesthood of all believers, which is a teaching that comes out of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all the believers of Christ at the Pentecost gathering. He pointed out that although the early church did have apostles, there were no pastors, bishops, priests, or cardinals mentioned in the Acts 2 account. The Holy Spirit came upon all who believed — upon each the same as on the apostles. This was something new and different from what occurred in the Old Testament.

In the Old Testament, the tribe of Levi was set apart as the priests, and only they could sacrifice the lamb on behalf of the people for the forgiveness of their sins. But when Christ came, that changed. When John the Baptist first saw Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. No longer would the priests sacrifice the lambs for the people’s sins, for the sacrifice of the Lamb of God would take the place of the repeated sacrifices by the priests.

Interestingly, on the way to church yesterday, I was listening to a song that fit the sermon topic perfectly. It’s by a band called The O.C. Supertones and it’s called “The Shepherd is the Lamb.” The chorus is:

The Shepherd is the Lamb
Do you understand
That God became a man?
The Shepherd is the Lamb

I wonder, do you understand? God is both Shepherd of the flock and the Lamb that is slain to atone for our sins. In the background of the song, at the beginning and in the middle, is a person speaking, and he says:

The incarnation is God’s grace made evident and obvious. People matter. Life is sacred. Men, women, and children are worth the greatest sacrifice, the supreme effort, the ultimate gift.

It is the amazing manifestation of His unshakeable love for the unloved and the unlovely, the weak, the base, the unworthy and the unwarranted, the rebels and the sinners. . . . You and me.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had to go through the priests, the Levites, to communicate with God. In the temple, God resided in the Holy of Holies, the inner chamber of the temple where the Ark of the Covenant was stored. Only the High Priest could enter there and there was a curtain several inches thick that hung in front of the opening to the place where God was. The unclean — the unloved and the unlovely — had no access to God because they could not even approach the temple courts.

But when Christ died, the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn in two, as recorded in Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, and Luke 23:45. The barrier between all believers and God was ripped away so that we became the priesthood of all believers. We are all called to show others the Way to forgiveness and reconciliation with God. We are all, whether pastor or lay person in the church, called to serve one another in love. No longer are we separated from God and in need of another, of a priest or pastor, to do something to atone for our sins. We need only Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away all our sin. Like John the Baptist, we are called to point to Jesus and say to others, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

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God’s Right Hand Saves

Some Christians never read the Old Testament, preferring to read the New Testament stories of Jesus and various epistles. Some may venture to read a few Psalms, but otherwise some Christians think that the Old Testament is not relevant because Jesus replaced its rules and laws. But truly these Christians are missing out on a fuller understanding of their faith.

The Old Testament tells of the messiah who is to come. The New Testament tells of the messiah who has come. They are two parts of the same story: The story of God’s love for and redemption of His creation. A number of years ago I decided that I wanted to read the entire Bible, so I downloaded a Bible-in-a-year schedule from Biblegateway and read through the Bible in an organized fashion by checking off each chapter as I read it. I must confess it took me 2 1/2 years instead of 1 year, but it was well worth the effort. By not skipping anything (not even Leviticus or Numbers) I gained a broader understanding of the whole of scripture.

One thing that I discovered by reading the whole Bible was the ways in which Jesus is portrayed in the Old Testament and how that portrayal is connected to the accounts of His ministry in the New Testament. In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus saves those who believe in Him. “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. Jesus defeated our enemies, death and the devil. We are also told that after His ascension Jesus was seated at the Father’s right hand. “After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.” Mark 16:19.

But one need not get to Matthew to find talk of being saved. Redemption and salvation were also themes in the Old Testament. We learn that it is God’s right hand that saves His people and defeats their enemies.

“Your right hand, O LORD, was majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shattered the enemy.” Exodus 15:6.

I call on you, O God, for you will answer me;
       give ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show the wonder of your great love,
       you who save by your right hand
       those who take refuge in you from their foes. Psalms 17:6-7.

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Psalms 20:6

In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness; let your right hand display awesome deeds. Psalms 45:4.

Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness. Psalms 48:10.

Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered. Psalms 60:5.

Your arm is endued with power; your hand is strong, your right hand exalted. Psalms 89:13.

Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. Psalms 98:10.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10.

These are some, but not all, of the Old Testament references to God’s right hand, His mighty hand, doing great things. God’s right hand does in the Old Testament the same things Jesus accomplishes in the New Testament. I know it doesn’t fit neatly into the idea of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit being individual persons that make up the one Godhead, but it has occurred to me that Jesus IS the right hand of the Father. They accomplish the same things.

My Vine’s Theological Dictionary says that the word translated “right hand” in the Old Testament is sometimes used to anthropomorphize the power and might of God, who is spirit. Since God the Father is spirit, He does not literally have a right hand in the same way that we humans have a right hand. This supports the idea that Jesus is God’s right hand.

The nature of God is difficult for us finite humans to understand, but I think it behooves us to not try to put Him into a theological box. The scriptures seem to clearly indicate that Jesus is at God’s right hand. To get from there to the idea that Jesus is God’s right hand is to me not much of a stretch. I may not completely understand it, but if I completely understood the nature of God then He would be so simple as to not be worthy of worship and praise.

But He is worthy of all my worship and all my praise, even though I do not completely comprehend all that He is. I am humbled that I am saved by God’s right hand, and to Him belongs all the glory for my salvation and yours.

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Gratitude for Family

Gratitude is a wonderful antidote for sadness. If we look  to what others have and compare our possessions with theirs, often we will feel sad and ungrateful for what we have been blessed with. We have a tendency to only see the good things that  others have – big house, fancy car, nice clothes – and not to see the struggles that they go through.

But if we focus instead on the blessings we have, peace and joy abound. If we focus on the fact that we have a roof  over our heads, food on the table, and clothes to wear, we will realize we have all we need.

But the best blessings are often the people in our lives. Family can provide us with an abundance of  happiness and support. Rejoicing in the blessings our family members enjoy can bring a smile to our face. Yesterday, we attended the college graduation of  a beloved nephew, and it was such a blessing to see what a successful young man he has become. Spending time with family to celebrate was wonderful.

God has blessed my family, and it is good to be able to share with each other how He has blessed each of us. This is something Jesus would be pleased for us to do.

Jesus . . . said, “Go home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” Mark 5:19.

I am grateful for my family and for all that God has done to bless us. On this Mother’s Day, it brings me joy to focus on such blessings of family. I hope you will see your blessings today, too.

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Faith: the Miracle of the Open-Minded

Christians are often accused of being closed-minded by the world. I suppose this is because we have chosen to believe Jesus is the only way to God. But when you think about it, Christians are probably the most open-minded people in the world. There is a song by MercyMe called “One Trick Pony,” and the second verse is:

If I hear just one more time
That I should try and be more open-minded
I think I just might scream
The world says this is all there is
Yet I believe the One who says there’s life after this
Now tell me how much more open can my mind be?

As a Christian, I consider myself quite open-minded because I am willing to believe things I cannot yet see. I believe in God even though I cannot see Him, and I believe in Heaven even though I haven’t been there yet. An intellectual atheist will tell you that neither exist because you can’t prove by physical evidence that they exist. To me, that is the more closed-minded approach to the potential of the supernatural.

I also consider myself open-minded because I believe in miracles I cannot replicate. For example, I believe Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. I know that scientifically speaking, a woman who is a virgin cannot become pregnant and give birth, but I believe completely in the miraculous incarnation of our Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, even some who claim to be Christians have given up believing in this wonderful miracle.

Another example is the parting of the Red Sea by Moses so that the Israelites could cross over on dry land. I saw a documentary once in which scientists tried to explain how this happened by a change in the tides or some other means of the water level lowering. But I accept and believe that this miracle could have and did happen. I believe that God is that big and powerful. I don’t need to try to explain it by the scientific method.

There are many other miracles in the Bible, which many closed-minded people reject as impossible because they defy the laws of nature. But these miracles are possible if one believes God, who created the laws of nature, has the supernatural power to override those laws when He sees fit to do so. During His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered the doubters, those who couldn’t believe what they didn’t see with their own eyes.

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Mark 15:31-32a.

The chief priests didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, the greatest miracle ever. Many refuse to believe this even today because they can’t see Him. “‘Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’” John 4:48. When Thomas doubted that Jesus was raised from the dead, Jesus showed him the nail scars on His hands. “Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’” John 20:29.

Jesus said the open-minded will be blessed for believing what they cannot see. Faith requires an open mind because “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1. So how open-minded are you? Enough to put your faith in the One who claimed to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the only way to God?

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Where Do Seeds of Faith Grow?

One of my favorite parables that Jesus told is the parable of the sower, which is recorded in all three of the synoptic Gospels. The account in Luke states the parable like this:

“A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds of the air ate it up. Some fell on rock, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” Luke 8:5-8. See also Matthew 13 and Mark 4.

Jesus later explains what this parable means, because apparently many, including His disciples, did not understand the point He was trying to make. In this parable, the seed represents the Word of God and the different types of soil on which the seed falls represent the hearer of the Word. When I first read this parable, I prayed and asked God to make me like the good soil.

I don’t want to be like the path and have the Word snatched away from me by the devil. I imagine that the people this refers to are those who hear the Word with skepticism, those who see themselves as extremely intellectual. If what they hear in the Word can’t be proven by what they see in the physical world, they cannot believe. Although I consider myself somewhat intellectual (I did, after all, graduate cum laude from law school), I think I have always believed in God to some degree and I was never concerned that I would be like the path.

I don’t want to be like the soil among the rocks and have the Word wither in my heart for lack of moisture. This soil refers to people who believe the Word when they hear it, but they don’t do anything to help it grow in their hearts. I think that any Christian can be in danger of being like this soil. If we do not continue to feed on the Scriptures and water our faith in prayer, the Word has less strength in our lives. I have struggled with this, but continue to pray that God’s Word will not wither within me.

I don’t want to be like the soil full of thorns and have the Word choked out in my heart. The thorns refer to the worries, riches, and pleasures of this world. The person who is like this soil hears the Word and believes, but they are distracted by worries of the world, rely on the riches of the world, and put too much emphasis on the pleasures of the world. I used to be a huge worrier and think that making more money was the answer. But for the grace of God, the Word could easily have been choked out in my heart by these things, but God has taught me to trust in Him and not to worry.

I want to be like the good soil and have the Word grow in me and yield a crop to glorify God. I believe that God has answered my prayer. The Word of God has taken root in my heart. He has taught me to keep it watered with prayer, Bible study, and Christian fellowship. And most of the time I do not worry about tomorrow or trust in wealth or earthly pleasures for my happiness.

But sometimes I feel like the good soil that is right next to the field of thorns and adjacent to the rocky soil. Life can be difficult at times and maintaining focus on God alone is a challenge. Sometimes I forget to pray or read my Bible, and then my faith feels a little dry. I hope I am yielding a crop that glorifies God, but I can do so only by His power and grace.

So what kind of soil are you? I hope and pray you will be like the good soil, that faith will not be snatched from you or wither for lack of deep roots or be choked out by the worries and riches of the world.

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. Ephesians 1:17-19a.

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A Psalm of Prophecy

Many people find inconsistency in the Bible. They nit-pick any little thing that isn’t stated exactly the same in one place as in another. But I am always amazed by the coherency of the whole story set forth in the Bible. I am amazed by the ways in which prophecy of the Old Testament was fulfilled in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Today is Good Friday, a day on which much of Old Testament prophecy came true. One of my favorite passages of the Old Testament is Psalm 22.

Psalm 22

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
       Why are you so far from saving me,
       so far from the words of my groaning?

Jesus quoted this passage while on the cross, in His darkest hour, as the sin of the world was upon Him and he felt all the darkness within us all. See Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34.

 2 O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
       by night, and am not silent.

 3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
       you are the praise of Israel.

 4 In you our fathers put their trust;
       they trusted and you delivered them.

 5 They cried to you and were saved;
       in you they trusted and were not disappointed.

Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we are all saved. When God’s people have cried out to Him, He has not disappointed them.

 6 But I am a worm and not a man,
       scorned by men and despised by the people.

The chief priests and Pharisees scorned and despised Jesus, and the people chose the murderer Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus because they despised Jesus so. They called out for His crucifixion because of their hatred. See Matthew 27, Mark 15, and John 19.

 7 All who see me mock me;
       they hurl insults, shaking their heads:

 8 “He trusts in the LORD;
       let the LORD rescue him.
       Let him deliver him,
       since he delights in him.”

As Jesus hung on the cross, it is recorded that He was mocked by the people. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself.” See Matthew 27: 41-44, Mark 15:29-32, and Luke 23:35-37.

 9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
       you made me trust in you
       even at my mother’s breast.

 10 From birth I was cast upon you;
       from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

 11 Do not be far from me,
       for trouble is near
       and there is no one to help.

There was no one on Earth to help Jesus. All of His disciples had deserted Him.

 12 Many bulls surround me;
       strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

 13 Roaring lions tearing their prey
       open their mouths wide against me.

 14 I am poured out like water,
       and all my bones are out of joint.
       My heart has turned to wax;
       it has melted away within me.

 15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
       and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
       you lay me in the dust of death.

On the cross, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” John 19:28. The physical result of crucifixion is that it causes suffocation and drains all the strength from the one being crucified. After His death, Jesus was laid in a tomb, in the “dust of death.”

 16 Dogs have surrounded me;
       a band of evil men has encircled me,
       they have pierced my hands and my feet.

Death by crucifixion involves nailing the hands and feet of the person to the cross, and so Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced by the nails.

 17 I can count all my bones;
       people stare and gloat over me.

It was customary for the Romans to break the legs of those who had been crucified in order to hasten their death by suffocation. But Jesus died before they came to do this. John 19:33. As a result, all of His bones were unbroken and could be counted.

 18 They divide my garments among them
       and cast lots for my clothing.

The Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus divided up His clothing, but they cast lots for His undergarment. John 19:23-24.

 19 But you, O LORD, be not far off;
       O my Strength, come quickly to help me.

 20 Deliver my life from the sword,
       my precious life from the power of the dogs.

 21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
       save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

 22 I will declare your name to my brothers;
       in the congregation I will praise you.

 23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
       All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
       Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

 24 For he has not despised or disdained
       the suffering of the afflicted one;
       he has not hidden his face from him
       but has listened to his cry for help.

Though it may not have seemed so on this Good Friday, God did hear Jesus cry for help. He did not hide His face from the Afflicted One. No, instead He gave Him life again. See John 20.

 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
       before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.

 26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
       they who seek the LORD will praise him—
       may your hearts live forever!

 27 All the ends of the earth
       will remember and turn to the LORD,
       and all the families of the nations
       will bow down before him,

 28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
       and he rules over the nations.

 29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
       all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
       those who cannot keep themselves alive.

 30 Posterity will serve him;
       future generations will be told about the Lord.

 31 They will proclaim his righteousness
       to a people yet unborn—
       for he has done it.

It is God who has done this glorious thing. He has sacrificed Jesus for our sins, and brought Him back to life for His glory! He has defeated sin, death, and the devil. He has won the great war for the souls of mankind. We are the beneficiaries of His great work, and we proclaim His righteousness to the people as yet unborn, to the generations to come.

I don’t know that David was conscious of the fact that he was revealing prophecy when he wrote Psalm 22. But I do believe that he was led by the Holy Spirit to write what he did. I am thankful for the whole of scripture and its coherent story of God’s creation, love, and redemption of His people now and forever.

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