Faith and Healing

Most people who know anything at all about healing in the Bible associate faith with healing in some way or another.  That idea has even been ingrained into our culture – most of us have heard of “faith healers” or “faith healing” or some other variant on the same idea.

The truth is that faith DOES play an important role in healing.  There were times that Jesus was amazed at peoples’ faith and healed in response to their faith.  There were also times that Jesus was amazed at the lack of faith that people had.  In fact, in His own hometown of Nazareth, Jesus either could not or would not do many miracles because of their lack of faith, depending on which translation you read.  (You can read about it in Matthew 13:53-58 or Mark 6:1-6 if you’d like.)  In the story of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof to Jesus, we are told that Jesus forgave the man’s sins and healed him when he saw “their” faith – the faith of the man’s friends.

Now, of course, God is all-powerful.  He doesn’t need our faith in order to heal anyone.

He doesn’t even need us to pray in order to heal anyone.

But since He’s committed to growing us and sanctifying us, in many cases God has chosen to partner with us.  And although He’s God and can do what He wants, He sometimes waits for us to show faith.  Or to pray.

So faith is pretty important.  In fact, Hebrews 11:6 tells us that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”

Which is why we’re going to direct our attention to the issue of faith this week.

Last week, we focused on God as our Father and His willingness to heal.  This week, as we continue to consider healing, our focus will shift to Faith.

But one warning before we dive in – although faith is important, it’s not an end in itself.

Faith isn’t the issue.  In fact, healing isn’t really the issue.

The issue is Jesus.

He’s the One we’re pursuing.  He’s the One we want to be like.  He’s the One who is our model.

The only reason we’re talking about healing and trying to learn about it is that it is something that Jesus did fairly regularly, and that He told us to do.

And the only reason faith is important is that us brings us closer to Him.

So as we read and think about faith this week, as we consider passages that build our faith in Jesus as our Healer, as we join with the disciples in praying “Lord, increase our faith” remember that while faith is important, it’s only important in that it brings us closer to Jesus.

This Week’s Readings:

  • Monday – Matthew 9:1-8
  • Tuesday – Matthew 15:21-28
  • Wednesday – Luke 4:14-44
  • Thursday – Luke 17:11-19
  • Friday – Isaiah 53:1-8

Romans 10:17 tells us that faith comes from hearing the word of God.  As we read and hear what God says to us this week, may our faith in His Son Jesus increase.

He’s A Good, Good Father

That’s the title of a great song by Chris Tomlin.  It’s also an accurate theological statement.

God is many things – Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Faithful, Holy, Righteous, Just.  That’s a mini-list that just skims the surface.

He’s also good.

And for some reason, when we talk about that quality of His character, it tends to anger some people.

Some people are much happier with an angry, righteous judge than they are with a compassionate, forgiving Father.

That’s one of the reasons the Pharisees hated Jesus so much – He violated their understanding of God.

He hung out with sinners.

He forgave people.

And He often healed indiscriminately.

The purpose of this post is not to go into a long theological dissertation on God’s character, but to focus in on that one specific quality of Goodness as it relates to healing.  But let me just note this before we dive in to that – God is absolutely righteous, just, and holy, and He will one day judge sin completely and finally.  But in the meantime, we live in the time of God’s favor – God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus at the cross.  So we can unashamedly proclaim the message that God is good, that He loves, and that He gives good gifts.

Including healing.

Let’s look at our readings from yesterday and today (Matthew 8:5-17):

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.” 

Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.  I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.  But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.”  And his servant was healed at that moment. 

When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him. 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.”

So what do these incidents show us about God’s goodness and His heart of compassion?

A lot, actually.

To begin with, you have Jesus healing the servant of a Roman centurion – a slave.

Jesus had been sent to “the lost sheep of Israel” – His own words – and yet, He takes the time and effort to speak with a centurion and then, amazed at the man’s faith and understanding of authority, He heals the man’s servant.  He does the miraculous for a Gentile – and one who is part of the armed occupation of Israel.  Politically, an enemy.

One other thought on this healing – Jesus healed a slave.  Granted, the man was “paralyzed and suffering terribly.”  But still, a slave.  Maybe Jesus should have lectured the centurion on the evils of slavery and told him to set the man free?  I don’t know.  But I know this – Jesus responded to a Gentile’s faith, an occupier’s request, and healed the man’s slave.  In doing so, He relieved the slave’s suffering.

Then you have the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law.  She had a fever.  There’s no mention that anyone asked Jesus to heal her.  Perhaps everyone simply expected that He would, since He had healed others, and this woman was related to Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers.  We don’t know for sure.  But what we do know is this – really, Jesus had no obligation to heal her – or anyone else, for that matter – except His own compassion.

His expression of His Father’s heart.

Finally, we’re told that when evening came, Jesus set free many who were demonized.  And then this:

He healed all the sick.

We read that about Jesus and don’t give it much thought.  But pause for a moment and think about it now.

What would it look like if Jesus walked into downtown Ridgway and healed ALL the sick – every single person who had anything – from colds, to allergies, to cancer, to degenerative diseases, to emphysema, to high blood pressure, to hypertension, to…well, everything.

Here’s the thing about healing “all the sick” – when we talk about “all” we talk about EVERYONE.

Including “sinners.”

Including people whose sicknesses are their own faults.

I’m not saying all sickness is caused by personal sin.

But here’s a truth – sometimes, we contribute to our own sickness.

We eat poorly.

We don’t exercise.

We don’t get enough rest.

We don’t take care of our bodies.

And stuff starts to break down over time.

But Jesus healed “all the sick.”

That includes everyone who suffered from preventable things.

It also includes people who had done – or might in the future, do – illegal things.

Don’t you think that, in that town, there were people sick who were thieves?  Zealots?  Cheats?

Perhaps there was a murderer who had covered up their crime.

Perhaps someone who was extorting a neighbor.

I don’t know.  And I’m not excusing any of those things, nor encouraging them.

All I’m saying is this – Jesus had enough compassion that He healed all of them.

He didn’t have to.

But He did.

And why did He do that?

Because His Father told Him to.

Oh, we’re not told that specifically.  But we know from John 5:19, for example, that Jesus only did what His Father told Him to do – what He “saw” in His Spirit that His Father wanted Him to do.

The point is this – when we pray for the sick, we know God is willing.  We saw that in our readings on Monday through Wednesday.  We also know that God is gracious and compassionate – we see that in yesterday’s and today’s readings.

So don’t be afraid to pray for the sick.  Don’t struggle with thoughts like “is this God’s will?”

The Father is perfectly capable of revealing how we should pray, if we are listening.

But we don’t need to wonder if God is good, or if He is compassionate, or if He will heal people who maybe don’t deserve it.

None of us deserve it.

None of the people in that village deserved it.  But Jesus healed them all.

Because He did what His Father told Him to do.

And because His Father – our Father – is good.

God Has a “Yes” Face

Fairly early in our ministry, Jewel and I had the opportunity to attend a Leadership Conference that was led by Dr. John Maxwell.  At the time, we were living in Florida, and Dr. Maxwell was pastoring a large church in San Diego, California.  He was, to us, a well-known pastor, author, and “leadership guru” who was an entertaining speaker.  We soaked up his stories, principles, and teachings over several days.  To this day, I still remember and apply several of the things that I learned at that conference.

One of the sessions that stuck with me from that conference was about influencing people in leadership in order to move your organization forward.  Dr. Maxwell was teaching on the importance of interpersonal relationships, communication, casting vision, and building a team among your organization’s leadership.  He spoke on the importance of dealing with different personality types and learning to connect with different kinds of people.  And then he said something I’ve never forgotten:  “Some people just have a ‘yes’ face; and some people have a ‘no’ face!”

His point was this:

  • Some people have a “yes” face – they smile a lot, they’re generally positive and happy, and you’re never afraid to approach them with something because their attitude is welcoming and positive.
  • Some people have a “no” face – they’re sour, they frown a lot, they generally have the attitude that people are a bother, and they project “don’t disturb me” – in other words, you just expect a “no” from them, whatever you may ask or need.

Over the years, I’ve found that to be very true.  (Disclaimer here:  of course, sometimes the truth runs much deeper than that.  Sometimes “no” people have been deeply wounded; sometimes “yes” people are hiding insecurity.  Sometimes “no” people are actually “yes” people who are just intense.  But in general, most of you know what I’m talking about.)

As a kid, I learned pretty quickly that there were some things that I wanted that I needed to ask my Dad for.  And there were some things that I wanted that I needed to ask my Mom for.  Because they were different, and there were times Dad would have a “no” face, and there were times Mom had a “no” face.

In my first pastorate, as a young pastor of a tiny church in a tiny community that was ruled by a governing board that was 1/4 of the entire congregation, most of them married to each other, and most of them in positions that they’d held for several decades, I dealt with a lot of “no” faces, no matter what I asked or posited.

I don’t know about you, but I find it a lot easier to approach people with “yes” faces.

Where am I going with this?  Well, it’s been my experience that often, we assume God has a “no” face.

Oh, we talk at great length about His goodness, His love, His sacrifice of Jesus.

But when it comes to prayer, and when it comes to praying for healing, we approach it with an assumption that God has a “no” face – that He doesn’t really want to be troubled, that we need to talk Him into this, and that if we just pray exactly the right words or in the right way or some combination of the two, if we quote enough Scripture and remind God of how good He is and what He has promised, then maybe, just maybe, we can convince Him to put on “yes” face for a moment and actually answer our prayers.

Now, when you read it, it sounds pretty ridiculous, but the truth is that most of us at some point or another in our journey with Jesus have approached prayer that way.

But it’s just not true.

In the story we read Monday from Matthew, Tuesday from Mark, and Wednesday from Luke, Jesus demonstrates His compassion by healing a leper – and He demonstrates God’s willingness in His response that “I am willing.”

Jesus-Laughing

Remember – Jesus is the exact representation of the Father.  He is the image of the invisible God.  If you see Jesus, you are seeing the Father.

So if you’ve ever wondered if God is willing to heal, willing to answer prayer, compassionate – the answer is “YES!  I AM WILLING!”

Despite what our circumstances may tell us, despite what things may appear to be, despite the times that we haven’t seen God answer in ways that we want Him to, the truth is that God is willing.  God has a “yes” face.

We’ve got to get that truth right before we can ever get serious about healing the sick.

We’ve got to stop thinking that God loves us, but only grudgingly, and answers prayer in the same way – only because He has to.

He wants to.  He is willing.

Let that truth sink in.

Today, ask God to help you see Jesus saying “I am willing.”

He Is Willing

One of the struggles that comes with moving into healing ministry of any kind is the fact that in this world right now, not everyone we pray for gets healed every time.    This causes problems for us on multiple levels:

  • It can create pain for people who aren’t healed, or even pain for those who are close to people who aren’t healed.
  • It can create a place in our lives for us to become disappointed with God or discouraged with our circumstances.
  • It can lead to doubt and disbelief.
  • It can can cause us to fear failure and disappointment, and avoid taking courageous risks.
  • Any of the above can lead us eventually into anger and bitterness towards God, if we dwell on them and focus on what God hasn’t done instead of focusing on what God has done for us.

One of the ways that we can deal with all of this is to ground ourselves in the truth we find in God’s word.  There is much in God’s Word on the subject of healing, from specific statements and truths to a revelation of God’s identity as “The Lord Who Heals”, to the compassion that Jesus displayed and the many healings that He performed, and even the numerous healings we find in the book of Acts.

As we begin this week, I want to draw your attention to one particular incident of healing in Jesus’ life:

When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.  A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.  Then Jesus said to him, “See that you don’t tell anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”  Matthew 8:1-4 (NIV)

(Note – if you follow the reading schedule for this week at the end of this post, you’ll read Mark’s account of this story on Tuesday, and Luke’s account on Wednesday.)

This seems so similar to so many of the healings that Jesus did throughout His lifetime.  Encountered with a leper, someone that nobody wanted to have anything to do with, Jesus responds by reaching out, showing compassion, and healing him

There’s one really important thing, though, that sticks out in this story.

The leper says to Jesus, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

And Jesus responds, “I am willing.”

If you’ve ever struggled with the whole “is it God’s will to heal” issue – there’s your answer.

Jesus – God in human flesh – the exact representation of the Father, the image of the invisible God, the One in Whom all the fullness of God dwells – the Word made flesh – THAT Jesus, when asked if He was willing to heal, responded with “I am willing.”

When you are confronted with illness in your life – remember, God is willing.

When you are confronted with illness in a family member or close friend – remember, God is willing.

When people try to tell you “it may not be God’s will to heal you…” – remember, God is willing.

When you feel discouraged and ready to give up hope, when your family and friends feel the same, when medical science offers no hope and you wonder if God even sees or God even cares – remember, God is willing.

The fact that He is willing doesn’t answer all the questions, all the doubts.  It doesn’t answer the “why not this time” that has been asked, cried out, countless times.

But it’s an important truth.

God is willing.

He is always good; He always loves; He is always willing.

Remember that the next time you pray for a sick person – God is willing.

Let that thought build hope and faith within you.

Let that thought stir your mind over the next few days.

God is willing!

NOTE:

This week, we’ll begin our experiment with a new format – a list of 5 week-day Scripture readings on our subject for the following Sunday, and 3 devotional – Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  (I would appreciate any feedback on how you feel about the format.)  Here is the reading list for this week:

This Week’s Readings:

  • Monday – Matthew 8:1-4
  • Tuesday – Mark 1:39-45
  • Wednesday – Luke 5:12-16
  • Thursday – Matthew 8:5-13
  • Friday – Matthew 8:14-17

What’s In A Name?

Lou Bierbauer was a pretty decent second baseman.  He began his minor league career in his hometown of Erie, PA as a catcher.  He was picked up by a Canadian minor league team and quickly established a reputation as a solid player with great potential.  Scouts brought his name to the attention of the A’s, who invited him to spring training, looking for their catcher of the future.  But circumstances led to a move to second base, where he proved himself the best in their system.  He was promoted to the A’s and became their regular second baseman.  He did well with the A’s and was considered a desirable acquisition for many teams, but the A’s weren’t interested in letting their talented second baseman go.

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Lou Bierbauer – Philadelphia Athletics

But a clerical error led to Lou Bierbauer’s becoming a free agent.  The Pittsburgh Alleghenys jumped on the opportunity to claim him as a player.  The Philadelphia A’s owners were furious, and accused the Alleghenys’ management of “piratical practices.”

The Alleghenys’ owners were never found guilty of any wrongdoing in their actions.  However, they decided to embrace and make light of the A’s accusations.

And so, in 1891, the Pittsburgh Alleghenys baseball club were renamed the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Now you know!

A name can have incredible significance.  Biblically, that is especially true.  In Jewish culture, to name someone was to prophesy something about their lives.  To reveal a name was to reveal something of yourself, of your character.

That’s especially true of God.  Wherever a name of God is revealed in Scripture, a new revelation of His character occurs.  Think of some of the names of God you may know, and what they say about Him:  The Lord, The Lord our Shepherd, The God Who Sees, Savior, the Most High God, Sovereign Lord, King of Kings, King of Glory, Jesus.

Here’s the story of God revealing one of His names:

Then Moses led the people of Israel away from the Red Sea, and they moved out into the desert of Shur. They traveled in this desert for three days without finding any water.  When they came to the oasis of Marah, the water was too bitter to drink. So they called the place Marah (which means “bitter”).  Then the people complained and turned against Moses. “What are we going to drink?” they demanded.  So Moses cried out to the Lord for help, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. Moses threw it into the water, and this made the water good to drink.

It was there at Marah that the Lord set before them the following decree as a standard to test their faithfulness to him.  He said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in his sight, obeying his commands and keeping all his decrees, then I will not make you suffer any of the diseases I sent on the Egyptians; for I am the Lord who heals you.”  Exodus 15:22-26 (NIV)

“The Lord Who Heals You.”

As we move into the weekend and as we begin our new series on being Naturally Supernatural, I’d like to submit this idea for your consideration:

Healing isn’t just something that God sometimes does.  Healing is part of God’s very character.  Healing is part of God’s identity – He is God, the Healer.

Healing isn’t something God does – it’s part of His nature.  It’s Who He Is – the Healer.

We’ll talk about that on Sunday.

But in the meantime, why not spend some time talking with Him about it?

Perhaps a simple conversation like this:  “Lord, what does it mean that you are my Healer?  How can I know you in a greater way as my Healer? What would you like to teach me about yourself as Healer?”  And then journal what God is saying to you.

What’s in a name?  Some pretty powerful truths.

Just ask Lou Beierbauer.

“Doing The Stuff”

When I was in college, I had a missionary friend named Ted Sauve who began feeding me stuff to read and to listen by this guy named John Wimber.  I didn’t know who Wimber was other than he had started a movement of churches called the “Vineyard.”  Sounded pretty cool to me at the time as someone who had mostly only known of the Alliance (sounds like mafia branch, doesn’t it???), the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church and the United Church (I grew up in Canada), the Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, and a few others.

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John Wimber

In my reading of Wimber’s writings, I came across a true story from his early days of walking with Jesus.  I’ve heard John tell the story at a conference in Atlanta, and seen it in print in several different places.  Here’s one simple version of the story:

John will be remembered for many things, one of which was his unrelenting commitment to “doin’ the stuff,” as he often put it. As John told the story, he and Carol visited a church early in his spiritual journey, immediately after he had spent considerable time reading the gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. Following the service, John approached the pastor and asked him: 

“So, when do we do the stuff?”

“The ‘stuff’,” said the pastor. “What’s the ‘stuff’?”

“You know,” John replied, “the stuff in the Bible, the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick and casting out demons. The stuff!” 

“Oh,” replied the pastor. “We don’t do the stuff. We believe they did it back in biblical days, but we don’t do it today.”

With a rather confused look on his face, John could only say: “And I gave up drugs for this?”

I love it!

“When do we get to do the stuff?”

That question propelled me on a journey that has taken over 3 decades.  It’s been a journey that’s had ups and downs, highs and lows, questions and answers and more questions, moments of joyous excitement and breakthrough as well as great frustration.  It’s been a journey that’s had more than its fair share of rabbit trails and distractions.  But no matter where I’ve been, what I’ve done, what my major focus has been in the moment, there has always been an underlying search for me – “when do we get to do the stuff?  How come the stuff doesn’t happen more often?  What do I need to do to learn how to do more of the stuff?  How can I help others grow in doing the stuff?”

Doing the stuff is, in my opinion, one of many ways that we can follow Jesus and be more like Him.  It’s also one of the most important, one of the most misunderstood, one of the most difficult, and one of the most controversial.

It’s also one of the most biblical ways that we can be like Jesus – doing the stuff that He did.

So that’s the next leg of our journey.

It’s a journey that’s some people aren’t willing to take, I know.  It’s also a journey that stirs up a lot of emotions and hard things – it’s a journey that reminds every one of us of the friends and loved ones who were lost because the stuff didn’t happen – because we prayed and others prayed and people weren’t healed.

What do we do with that?

That’s part of the journey.

It’s also a journey that I believe the enemy doesn’t want us to take.

(Personal note here – I have bronchitis.  I started getting sick the day after I began planning this “naturally supernatural” series.  Seems it always happens that way.  When we move to take a step forward in the Kingdom, our enemy moves against us to discourage us, defeat us, disappoint us, dare us to give up in fear.  So I’m taking all the prayer for healing that I can get – and I’m doing my part, taking my antibiotics and fluids, too.  But I can’t and I won’t let my experience keep me from pursuing and leading towards what God’s word clearly teaches.)

Logistically, here’s what I would like us to do over the next several weeks:

  • I don’t have a devotional reading guide planned for every day as I did for our Walking With Jesus series, but I will put out a short list of readings at the beginning of each week for those who are interested.
  • I will continue blogging, but at a slightly reduced rate – 3 weekdays instead of 5.
  • And let’s agree in prayer for increased faith to believe in what God says, in what Jesus has already accomplished for us, and in God’s goodness to answer our prayers.

So here we go!  Let’s do the stuff and see what happens

Just Imagine…

Yesterday, we read about His commission to the disciples – and to us – and His ascension back to His Father in heaven.

To summarize, as we’ve tried to consider “now what?” we’ve looked at how the disciples were facing that same issue after 3 years of living with Jesus, then witnessing His death and resurrection.

We’ve discovered that following Jesus is a continual journey.

We’ve discovered that being a follower of Jesus can really be boiled down to doing 3 simple things consistently in our lives:

  • Living our lives Centered on Jesus;
  • Living our lives in community, Connected to supportive friends; and
  • Living our lives with purpose, Contributing to God’s mission in the world around us.

But that still leaves us – or at least, it leaves me with a couple of questions.

  • HOW do we do that?
  • What will happen if we do that?

The answers are found in Acts 2.

HOW?  This is how:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.   All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.   When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans?  Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?  Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Acts 2:1-11 (NIV)

 

We do it with God’s power and strength, not in our own.  On the day of Pentecost, Jesus, who had ascended back to His Father in heaven, poured out the Holy Spirit for all of His followers.  If you are a follower of Jesus, if you have placed your trust in Him as your Savior – then you have access to being filled/anointed/baptized with the Holy Spirit.

(It really doesn’t matter what you call the experience.  What matters is that you humbly surrender all of your life to His leadership, and ask Him to fill you completely and powerfully with the Holy Spirit.  And you wait patiently and expectantly for Him to do just that.  And when He comes upon you, you will know it!  You may or may not speak in tongues; you may or may not experience some other manifestation of God’s Presence and Power; but you will know peace beyond what you have ever experienced, and you will have confidence and consistency in hearing God’s voice, in boldly sharing His Good News, and in seeing Him do the impossible in and through and around you!)

WHAT will happen if we do that?  These kinds of things:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.  Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles.  All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts.  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.  Acts 2:42-47 (NIV)

Wow!

Can you just imagine that?  Can you imagine what your family might look like, how its dynamics might change, if life were like that?

Can you imagine your workplace?  Your church?  Your community?

You know what?  God hasn’t changed.  He is still the same.  He can do it again.

And that’s the whole point.  That’s what we want.  That’s what we want to go after.  More of Him, more of His Presence, more of His power, more of His works through us – more of what He has already promised us.  More of our inheritance from Jesus.

As we wrap up this series on Walking With Jesus, we’re going to move into a new series – Naturally Supernatural.  We’re going to consider the promises of Jesus and what it means to live a Kingdom life – what it means to see the miraculous as a regular, consistent part of life.  We’re going to go after what God has promised us.  It’s going to stretch us, I can promise you that.  It will probably push some buttons for us, reveal some “stuff” that’s been hidden away in us.  It might make some of us cringe; people might think we’re a little crazy.

But what price would you be willing to pay to be a part of a community of believers experiencing Acts 2:42-47 consistently?

Just imagine…

Following Jesus Throughout Your Day

As the end of our final walk of “Walking With Jesus” approaches, let me review just for a quick moment what we’ve covered so far this week.

We have been reminded that walking with Jesus is an ongoing, life-long journey for all of us.

We have discovered that an important part of following Jesus is living our lives centered around Him.

Yesterday, we discovered that another important part of following Jesus is doing in community – connected with supportive friends.

Today, we add one final piece to the puzzle.  Following Jesus also means being Committed to God’s mission in this world.

Jesus described God’s mission in this world in very simple terms in Luke 19:10 – “to seek and to save the lost.”

That’s God’s mission – to connect with His sons and daughters in this world who don’t realize that they are sons and daughters, and to love them by word, deed, or example into the Kingdom of God.  That’s what Jesus did throughout His ministry – proclaim that the Kingdom had arrived, that it was accessible to everyone, and to demonstrate its reality by acts of love and acts of power.

Here is today’s Scripture passage, in which Jesus commissions us to do what He did:

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.  After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”  Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. 

They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.   “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”  Acts 1:1-11 (NIV)

That’s what we are to be about as we follow Jesus in this world.

It’s far simpler than we make it out to be.

We are to:

  • Live our lives centered around Jesus, so that we are constantly being empowered by the Presence of the Holy Spirit;
  • Do our lives together in community – in the Presence of Jesus and alongside one another (the uses of “you” in this passage are plural – for a group of people, not just the individuals in the group);
  • Live our lives as witnesses to Jesus, wherever our lives may take us – and life takes us many places.  Into our workplaces, into family gatherings, into community events, into different geographical locations.

Today, wherever you will be, God will be at work around you – in your life, and in the lives of people around you.  Your commission is simple – watch for clues as to what God is doing, and listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  He may prompt you to demonstrate God’s love and Father-heart by simply doing an act of kindness for someone.  He may prompt you to hug someone who is having a bad day.  He may prompt you to ask someone if you can pray for them because of what they’re going through or some news they receive.  He may prompt you to share a brief story with someone that points to how Jesus has changed your life.  Or, He may simply prompt you today to watch and wait, and be like Jesus in whatever you are doing.

I don’t know.  And as your day begins, you don’t know either.

But He knows!

And cooperating with His mission is as simple as paying attention, listening to Him, and obeying when He directs.

Why not pause for just a moment right now and tell Him you’re excited about whatever He may bring your way today, and ask Him to help you hear His voice clearly as He speaks to you today?

You may be amazed at how your day ends up!

Another Next Step

Yesterday, we began our summary of “now what?” by looking at the idea that as followers of Jesus, we are to live our lives centered around Jesus – oriented towards Him in all that we say, think, and do.

Today, we add the second piece to that – a follower of Jesus lives life Connected to Supportive Friends.  In other words, even though no one else can choose to follow Jesus for me, even though it’s a personal choice and journey – it’s also a journey that was never meant to be taken alone, but a journey that was intended to be made in community.

Here’s our passage for today:

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” 

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”  Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”  The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” 

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” 

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”  Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)  When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”

Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”

This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.

Jesus did many other things as well.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.   John 21:15-25 (NIV)

There are a lot of important things packed into this continuation of yesterday’s passage – Peter’s restoration and forgiveness by Jesus, Jesus walking Peter through some inner healing by giving him the opportunity to affirm his love for Jesus 3 times after denying Jesus 3 times, Jesus’ commission of Peter, a little bit of rivalry between Peter and John, etc.

But the important takeaway for us this morning is simply this – all of this took place in the context of several of the disciples being together.  It’s true that Jesus pulled Peter aside briefly for a conversation, but overall, this story is a story about a group of men being together.

Going fishing together.

Failing at fishing together.

Seeing Jesus on the shore together.

Catching a bunch of fish together.

Having breakfast together, centered around Jesus.

Having conversations, perhaps separately at time, but overall – they were together.

In calling His original 12 disciples and having them follow Him for 3+ years, Jesus had not only trained them, modeled life for them, discipled them – He had built community into their lives, had molded them into a community that in the days to come would expand and be prepared to turn the world upside down.

Community doesn’t happen by accident.  Friendships, deep relationships – they don’t just happen.

If I want to be a part of community, I have to invest.

I have to invest myself, my time, my vulnerability, my love, my gifts and talents, even my flaws and weaknesses and failures – all of me.

Jesus did life in community.  He withdrew often by Himself to pray – as do we.  (That’s part of keeping our lives centered around Him.)  But He always came back to community – to the 12, to His closest 3 (Peter, James, and John), and to the “disciple whom Jesus loved” – His closest friend, besides Lazarus – John.

Jesus needed community.  Jesus made community wherever He was.  Jesus invested Himself in community with others.

As people who are walking with Jesus, we must also invest our lives in community with one another.

There are no “lone wolf” believers.

There are no followers of Jesus in the entire New Testament who decided to skip going to church, being involved in fellowship, doing life with other believers because they were just too busy.

God’s intention and Jesus’ example are that we follow Jesus in community.

What are you doing to intentionally be a part of community with other people who are following Jesus?  What may need to change in this area of your life?

Now What? Part 2!

Now What?

That’s our question this week.

Well, the simple, quick answer is “we keep following Jesus.”

But what does that really look?

Maybe a better question would be this – “how will our following of Jesus be informed by what we’ve learned and experienced over the past several weeks?”

Over the next few days, I hope to unpack that a little more for us.  For those of you who are a regular part of our fellowship at Awakening Alliance, the answers will be familiar (I hope!)  They come from Bill & Jill Randall’s “3-C Model of Discipleship.”  But I hope that the familiarity won’t mean you just rush through it.  I hope instead that with the perspective of the past several weeks, we will, together, be more deliberate and more intentional about how we follow Jesus and how we respond to Him.

Today’s reading comes from John 21:1-14 (NIV), and it’s one of the accounts of the disciples encountering Jesus after the resurrection:

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee.  It happened this way:  Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.  “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.  

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.  He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” 

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.  The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.  When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.”

So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.   Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.  Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.  This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

This short story gives us a beautiful picture of the first “C” of following Jesus – living our lives Centered around Jesus.

The disciples are aimless, unsure of what to do with themselves.  Jesus has risen; they’ve seen Him twice now, but they don’t understand what that means.  They don’t know what they should be doing.  They’re at a loss, because for the past three years of their lives, they have been following Jesus wherever He went, doing whatever He did.  Now, they have a problem.

It’s pretty hard to follow someone wherever He goes when He keeps appearing and then disappearing again.

So, Peter being the “A” type personality that he is, has had enough of waiting and doing nothing.  He decides that doing anything is better than doing nothing.  So he decides to do what he knows best – go back to fishing.  At least in the boat, surrounded by some of his friends and the waves and the seagulls and fish, away from questioning people, he’s comfortable.

So that’s what they do.  And end up having a long, frustrating, unfruitful night (kind of like the Panthers’ offense on Super Bowl night, but that’s another blog post in itself.)

Tired, frustrated, no further ahead than when they set out from shore, they finally turn back to shore early in the morning.  And are greeted by the sight of a man standing on the shore.  A man not in a boat, but who seems to know better than they (who are in a boat) what they should do with the boat and their net – simply put their nets down on the other side of the boat.  (I’ve been fishing, and I sure wish it was as easy as simply fishing on the other side of the boat when you can’t catch something!)

They obey, they catch lots of fish, they realize it’s Jesus, and the story ends with this amazing picture of the disciples gathered together – around Jesus and a fire that He has built for them.

What a perfect picture of the Christian life – we gather around Jesus.  And any fire we have has been provided by Him.

They began the account scattered; came together around an activity; but ended up far closer together around a Person.

What, or who, is at the center of your life?

Yourself?

Your spouse?

Your family?

Your career?

Sports?

Hunting?

Fishing?

Some other hobby?

Money?

Your future?

While all of those things may be important – obviously, some more important than others – none of them can hold as the center of your life.  None of them will hold your life together; none of them will provide everything you need, let alone provide eternal meaning.

Only Jesus will.

The first step in following Jesus is to come to the realization that it’s all – ALL – about Him, and to re-orient your life so that every thought, every decision, every action, every relationship, everything – is centered around Jesus.  Everything is oriented around and towards Him.

So as you begin this day; as you look over what you have to accomplish, where you have to be, who you have to see – at the center of all of that, do you find Jesus?

If not, why not?

And if not – it’s a simple fix.

It’s a simple matter of taking a few moments, praying through your day, submitting every part of it to Jesus, and asking Jesus to help you remember throughout the day that He is the Center.  That when you keep Him at the Center, things won’t spin out of control.

Why don’t you take a few moments right now and do just that?