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(rewritten)

Proverbs 23:29-35

“Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks. Don’t gaze at the wine, seeing how red it is, how it sparkles in the cup, how smoothly it goes down. For in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper. You will see hallucinations, and you will say crazy things. You will stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a swaying mast. And you will say, ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’” (NLT)

Let me begin by telling you what I’m not talking about this morning. I am not talking about whether a Christian can or cannot drink alcohol in moderation. Christians can disagree about this and I have expressed myself on this before – see here.

What I’m here to do is to emphasize the line which the Scriptures draw quite clearly, which is that drunkenness is wrong. And as we will see, this certainly includes drug abuse as well.

But more than just make this point, I want us to look at why this is forbidden, to get some insight into this. Is God just not fun? What’s up with this?

First, we look at what is clear in Scripture

Drunkenness is forbidden

This is especially plain in the New Testament. Turn to 1 Peter 4:3. “The time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do . . . drunkenness . . . (and) drinking parties . . ..” Peter is saying, Stop doing these things! You are believers now. You know, haven’t you already wasted enough of your time with this?” Look at v. 4. He says, your friends may be shocked that you don’t do this anymore, but, as he says in v. 2, you are to live your live after God’s will from now on.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul says it quite simply, with 4 words, “do not get drunk . . ..”

Then he spells it out a bit in Galatians 5:19-21. “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality . . . drunkenness (etc.) . . .. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Here we learn that it is a work of the flesh, a sin like sexual immorality (and the other items on this list). And if you persist in it, you will be judged; you will be rejected by Jesus on that final day.

And then, just in case it isn’t clear enough already, we also have 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. “Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor drunkards . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” Whatever rationalization you might want to entertain, Paul is saying, “don’t be deceived.” It is wrong and it will kill you eternally. (See also Romans 13:13)

This is why this teaching is a part of our congregational covenant. A commitment to this scriptural standard is a basic part of the Christian life and it is a part of what it means to be baptized.

Now, let’s look at three reasons why drunkenness is forbidden.

1. It will destroy you

 When you’re drunk you lose control of your mental faculties and of your behavior in general. This is the definition of drunkenness or intoxication. You also lose control when you are “high” on drugs. The result of this is that you end up hurting yourself in very serious ways. Let’s look at some Scriptural descriptions of this sad reality.

It will make a fool of you. Proverbs 23:23 talks about having “hallucinations” when you are drunk. You lose touch with reality and this shows up in your behavior. This also comes out in Proverbs 23:35. The drunk person says, “They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up.”

You won’t even be able to walk. Proverbs 23:34 speaks of those who “stagger like a sailor tossed at sea, clinging to a mast.” Isaiah 28:7 talks about people who reel, stumble and stagger.

Drunkenness also makes you stupid. Proverbs 23:33 says, “you will say crazy things.” Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler” That is, you can become arrogant, obnoxious, overconfident and even violent when you are drunk (Proverbs 23:29 mentions “fighting”).

Related to making poor decisions, this year, 10,839 people will die in drunk-driving crashes; one every 50 minutes (MADD website)

Finally, we know the story of Genesis 9 where Noah is passed out, naked in his tent from drinking too much. As Proverbs 20:1 says at the end “whoever is led astray by (wine and strong drink) is not wise.” No, you become a fool for all to see.

It will lead you to degrade yourself morally. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery.” Debauchery means unrestrained self-indulgent immoral behavior. And that make sense. Once you’re drunk and lose control, who knows what you will do, or what will be done to you?

Alcohol is a sin magnifier. It amplifies whatever sinful desires you have and takes away whatever restraint you might normally have.

Long term, it will make you poor. Proverbs 23:20-21 says simply, “Be not among one who drinks too much wine or among gluttonous eaters of meat, for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and slumber will clothe them with rags.”

It will bring you sorrow. This is the result of what we have seen thus far. Proverbs 23:29-30 says, “Who has anguish? Who has sorrow? Who is always fighting? Who is always complaining? Who has unnecessary bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? It is the one who spends long hours in the taverns, trying out new drinks.” This is talking about reaping what you have sown, from all the stupidness of your drunkenness.

It will enslave you. This reality is described in Scripture. In Proverbs 23:35 the passed out drunk says to himself, “When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?” After all the pain, all you want is more.

Isaiah 28:7 speaks of drunkards, not as those who swallow wine, but as those who are “are swallowed by wine.”

Titus 2:3 says, older women are not to be “slaves to much wine.” The language of enslavement is explicit here.

It can kill you. To the one given to drunkenness, wine may look good, it may be enticing, but really “in the end it bites like a poisonous snake; it stings like a viper” – Proverbs 23:32. And, of course, alcohol can be literally poisonous. In the United States, roughly 50,000 cases of alcohol poisoning deaths are reported each year. (alcoholinformation. com)

2. It will destroy your relationship with others

When you don’t have control of your thinking and your behavior, you cannot love and serve others. You will lack the judgment and clarity of thought needed to do this. Rather than loving your neighbor as yourself, you will more likely be ignoring or harming others.

This is especially a problem for those that you have charge of, because drunkenness will cause you to forsake your responsibilities to them.

Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to take strong drink, lest they drink and forget what has been decreed and pervert the rights of all the afflicted.” There is a real theme in both the Old and New Testaments that leaders must not be those who drink too much precisely because they are responsible for many people. (Isaiah 5:22-23; 28:7; Ecclesiastes 10:16-17).

Paul tells us that church Elders are not to be “drunkards” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7) and Deacons must not be “indulging in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8)

This is certainly true for parents with children in the home. An estimated 6.6 million children under 18 live in households with at least one alcoholic parent (alcoholinformation.com). Just to give one indicator, alcohol is involved in half of the reported cases of domestic violence (Betty Ford center).

But even short of violence, drug and alcohol abuse brings untold pain to families. It is a sad reality when a parent loves alcohol more than their child.

You cannot both love and serve others and have a life given to drug and alcohol abuse. It is impossible.

3. It will destroy your relationship with God

When you don’t have control of your thinking and your behavior, you cannot love and serve God. You have to have clear thinking and self control to serve God and these are the very things you give up when you are drunk. Who knows what you will do? You certainly won’t be loving God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

And then when you’re enslaved, your god actually becomes alcohol. You live a life of idolatry, giving up everything for it and looking to it for peace.

Isaiah 5:11-12 says, “Woe to those who rise early in the morning, that they may run after strong drink, who tarry late into the evening as wine inflames them! . . . they do not regard the deeds of the Lord, or see the work of his hands.” In the context here it is a part of why the people went off into the judgment of exile. (See also Hosea 4:10-11)

Jesus said in Luke 21:34, “But watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness . . . and that day come upon you suddenly like a trap.” This is talking about when he returns. If you are given to drunkenness you will not be ready for Jesus.

You cannot both love God and have a life given to alcohol or drug abuse. It is impossible.

An encouragement

So these are three reasons why God forbids drug and alcohol abuse. But let me say, I do not share this to condemn anyone or to make you feel guilty (unless that guilt leads you to change). The reason behind these reasons is that God loves you. And God wants what is best for you and for those you love.

And the good news is that Jesus gives us the power to overcome. You can find new life. You can learn to love others. You can come to love God fully. It may not be easy. It may be the hardest thing you will ever do. But Jesus gives us the power to overcome.

William Higgins

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Today is Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus entered into Jerusalem. And it marks the beginning of holy week.

We are going to look at a story from the Gospel of Mark, sometimes called the widow’s mite, or we can call it the widow’s offering. This story is a part of the holy week drama. It is Jesus’ last public appearance in Jerusalem as a free man, a few days before he’s killed. And this is a story that will challenge some common assumptions that we have about giving.

I would like to acknowledge the middle school Sunday school class who studied this passage with me for the last few weeks and helped me with this message.

Alright let’s break down the –

The Story

v. 41 – “And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box.”  The “he” is Jesus. And he is in the Temple complex.

“The treasury” probably refers to one of the 13 trumpet shaped chests that were used to collect offerings (not a building; see also John 8:20). The box would have a trumpet shaped opening to receive the offerings. (Something like an old gramophone?) It’s called “the offering box” later in our verse.

These offerings were most likely free will offerings given for sacrifices and the upkeep of the Temple.

This scene took place in the court of women, or the outer precinct of the Temple complex. Jesus was in this area sitting and watching. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I like to sit in the Mall and watch people. And like a mall, there would have been crowds in this place moving about, doing various things.

In v. 41 it says literally that the people were “throwing” their offerings in the box. And this would have made noise as the coins went into the metal trumpet shaped opening of the chest. Maybe like the sound when you throw change into a toll booth receptacle.

vs. 41-42 – “Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.”

Jesus takes notice of the “rich” giving offerings. They were probably well dressed. And they put in a lot. He would have heard this by the sound made as they threw their coins in.

And then he notices “a poor widow.” Widows were typically poor. They relied on their children or charity for whatever they had. Her clothing would have reflected her poverty. She put in very little. Again, Jesus likely would have heard the slight sound of her offering.

How much did she give? The “two small copper coins” she gave were two Lepta. It was the smallest denomination of coins in Israel at this time.

  • Each Lepton = 1/64 of a denarius – or a day’s wage for a laborer.
  • Her two Lepta equaled one Roman penny.

Now admittedly it’s hard to do accurately, but to put it in our terms, based on the cost of bread then and now, if my math is right, she gave something like 8 US cents; eight of our pennies. In her day, she could have bought 1/3 of a loaf of bread. [A loaf of bread cost 8 Lepta. (1 loaf bread = 1 As; 4 quadrans = As; two Lepta = a quadrans). Today a loaf of bread is around $2.50.]

v. 43 – “And he called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box.’”

The disciples were probably close, but Jesus is getting their attention. He wants them to take notice of the poor widow. She is an example to them.

The phrase, “Truly, I say to you,” or it can be translated, “Amen, I say to you,” is unique to Jesus. He uses it 13 times in Mark.

First of all, no other Jewish teacher used “amen” like this. When it was used, it was used the way we use it. The “Amen” came at the end of statements or prayers. It means “yes,” “that’s right,” “so be it” or “truly.” You are making the statement or the prayer your own when you say “amen.”

The whole phrase “truly, I say to you” means something like, this is really important! It’s a way of invoking divine authority. It’s like in the Old Testament when the prophet said, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ but it’s more direct and powerful.

And then Jesus says something that is quite amazing. He tells us that she put in more than all the others combined. How much did all the rich people put in? Thousands and thousands of dollars? She only put in 8 cents. But it was more than the thousands and thousands. How can this be? Jesus tells us in –

v. 44 – “’For they (the rich) all contributed out of their abundance, but she (the widow) out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”

The contrast is clear. The rich gave out of their abundance. They gave much more in total, but it involved no sacrifice to them. They still had lots more left over. More for food. More for clothes. More for shelter. And good food, clothing and shelter at that.

She gave all she had. The repetition makes the point clear, “everything she had, all she had to live on.” Once she gave, she had nothing left for food, clothing or shelter; even lousy food, clothing or shelter.

[How does he know that this was “all she had to live on”? Not sure. He knew her; he asked her; supernatural knowledge; perhaps the attending priest asked her, “Is that all you have?” and Jesus heard this.]

Jesus teaches an important lesson here. It’s not how much you give that matters. It’s how much you keep that matters; how much you have left over after you give, that you keep for yourself.

The widow gave more because she gave sacrificially. In fact, she gave everything. She held nothing back from God. The others did not give sacrificially.

Now this widow is not just an example to the 12; she is an example to us. So let’s look at –

Some lessons for us

1. Our assumptions about giving are often wrong. In this story we have yet another example of how God’s ways are different than our ways. And how the coming of the kingdom turns things upside down from the way we naturally think.

When giving to the Lord, we think it’s all about how much you give. And we are quite impressed with people who give large gifts. We honor them and we name buildings after them. We say, wow, they gave more than anybody else!

But as we learned in this story it’s not how much you give, it’s whether you gave sacrificially. So when the person gives thousands of dollars to the church  out of their abundance – that’s great, don’t get me wrong – but the poor person who gives very little money, but gives sacrificially, has given more.

And, in contrast to our way of thinking, it is this one that Jesus takes special notice of and honors, just as in our story.

Connected to this we can ask 2. How generous are we? And what is your standard that you measure this by? Is it tithing or giving 10%?

Now there isn’t anything wrong with using the tithe as a guide. But if that is all we use we are missing the true Christian standard. We should measure our generosity by how much it costs us.

The problem is that most Christians don’t even tithe. Churchgoers give under 2.5% of their income (CT 2/11). So to tithe would be an act of faith for most.

But we can’t conform the teaching of Scripture to our failings; so that we lower the standard. We need to conform our behavior to God’s truth. The true test of generosity is giving sacrificially.

3. We can give sacrificially in other ways. Rightly understood, this woman foreshadows Jesus on the cross, a few days later. Just as she gave sacrificially, Jesus will give “everything he has.” He will do what this widow has done with his life.

This shows that this principle of giving sacrificially goes beyond just giving money. We can give sacrificially in many ways: our time, our homes in terms of hospitality, sharing other things we own, and our lives – serving God and possibly persecution or death.

Here are some examples mentioned in our Sunday School class:

  • Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son in obedience to God. Even the son of promise. He held nothing back from God.
  • Steve Kimes, who has a ministry to the homeless and mentally ill, and who invites them to live with him. He and his family have given up much to minister to them – time, privacy, their home, their lives.
  • Gary and Denise Williamson, who have given six years of their lives to go and live in Africa in a different climate, and culture and without most of what we take for granted in our country. They left family and friends behind. And it has been hard at times.

Finally, is God calling you to give sacrificially to him? Your money, your time, your possessions, your life? What might God be calling you to?

William S. Higgins

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We are looking at a familiar passage today – 1 John 2:15-17. And we’re looking at its clear word to us – Don’t love the world.

Now these verses can stand on their own; you don’t have to  go through the whole letter of 1 John to make sense of them. And so I want us just to take these verses today and work at understanding what the message is here for us.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

We begin by asking what “the world” means. It is used six times in our three verses.

Some background

In Greek the word is “Cosmos.” We use this transliteration in words like ‘cosmology’ or ‘cosmic’ or ‘the cosmos’ – as in the universe. It’s used 78 times in the Gospel of John and 23 times in 1 John, which is a lot.

It can mean several different things, but here are some that are more relevant to our passage, from the writings of John:

  • It can mean “the earth,” as in the natural world – John 11:9. Here Jesus talks about how the sun lights this world.
  • It can mean “the people” who live on the earth – John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son . . ..” Here it means all the people in the world.

But it can also have a very negative meaning, something like the world system that stands in opposition to God. This system is made up of people, spiritual powers, values, ideas, institutions and nations. And it promotes a way of life that is not submitted to God’s will or God’s values. And this is what we are dealing with in 1 John 2:15-17.

Here are some Scriptures that speak to this understanding of the world in John’s writings:

  • John tells us that, “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” – 1 John 5:19.
  • It is a place of “darkness” and “evil” deeds – John 3:19.
  • Jesus said that, “the world does not know” God – John 17:25. It doesn’t understand God or have a relationship with God.
  • “The world . . . has hated” Jesus – John 15:18.
  • And as John says, “do not be surprised, sisters and brothers, that the world hates you” – 1 John 3:13.

As we see from these last verses, there is conflict between God and those who live by God’s values, and the world and those who live by its values. The world can take two different approaches. It can persecute Christians. Or more commonly in our context it seeks to lure us with what Scripture calls ‘the passing pleasures of sin’ (Hebrews 11:25). Either way it’s trying to get us to walk according to its values and not God’s.

Now let’s look at –

The world in 1 John 2:15-17

We get a bit more specificity here. That’s because, when John says in v. 15 – “Do not love the world . . .,” he also says “. . . or the things of the world.” And then in v. 16 he says more about what he means by the things of the world. “For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.”

So we have three things highlighted here. 1) the desires of the flesh. These are the desires that come from within us; our fallen humanity. Things like greed, wrongful sex, excessive food, excessive comfort, revenge, a desire to be popular, rebelliousness – whatever can come out of hearts that are not submitted to God.

Here are a couple of Scriptures that talk about the desires of the flesh with examples: 1 Peter 4:3 – “living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry.” Galatians 5:19-21 – “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies . . ..”

When God is not giving us guidance, direction or a framework of values, we find it in these desires of our flesh.

2) the desires of the eyes. This refers to the same kinds of things. The difference is that these are the desires that come from what we see around us that tempts us. When God is not giving us guidance, direction or a framework of values, we find it in what we see in others in the world.

3) pride in possessions. This one is pretty specific. It has to do with our material possessions that we have accumulated. More broadly it has to do with our status in life. When God is not giving us guidance, direction or a framework of values, we find it in what wealth or social standing we have.

The world promotes all three of these. It tells us to follow these desires and goals. Because this is how you will find meaning; this is how you will be happy; this is how others will respect you.

What we’re talking about in all this is –

Worldliness

This isn’t a word you hear very much anymore. I was a part of what is called the ‘holiness movement’ for a while. The college I went to was a part of this tradition. And worldliness was a big topic. But frequently, as in other traditions (Mennonites), it meant doing things that stood outside of church culture. For instance going to a movie theater (even if it was a Billy Graham movie). Or a certain style of dress that was deemed unacceptable, even if it was modest. Or a certain kind of music that was different (usually louder).

But we trivialize the concept when we do this. Does not being worldly really mean just being a generation behind in styles, music and technology? Or stopping at a certain point in history and not moving forward anymore?

No. Worldliness has to do with values and attitudes and behaviors that go against God’s will. Things like we have seen already: sexual immorality, drunkenness, greed, and boasting in your possessions. You can listen to the right style of music, dress properly and still do these things!

Worldliness has to do with wrong values like craving power and control; always wanting to be better than others, or lording it over others (Mark 10:42-43). This is the goal of your life, instead of humbly serving others.

Also big in our society is seeking the praise of people. We are very concerned with what others think about us, but not too concerned with what God thinks of us, even though this is most important of all.

Another example from American culture is our worship of celebrity idols. We give them our offerings of money and time; we do what they say; we honor and worship them.

The world operates according to these values. And when we love these things; when we do them – we have been lured into worldliness.

Finally our verses speak to –

Why you shouldn’t love the world

There are two reasons. 1. Loving God and loving the world are mutually exclusive. John says this in v. 15 – “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” You’re not loving God if your loving the world. You can’t have both at the same time. That’s because the things of the world are a part of a system that opposes God. As John says in v. 16 – “For all that is in the world . . . (all that we have looked at) is not from the Father but is from the world.”

There is a conflict between God’s values and the values of the world. And let me say it again, when you choose to love the world, you show that you do not love God. You have forsaken God.

The great and fatal mistake of so many Christians is to not understand this. They think they can have both. And you cannot. You really do have to choose. One or the other. God or the world. If you try to have both, you have made your choice for the world, since God requires our complete commitment.

2. You will be doomed along with the world. John lays out a basic contrast in v. 17 – “And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”

The world’s time is just about up. It doesn’t have a future. So if you make yourself a part of the world system that opposes God; if you follow its desires, you will perish with it in God’s judgment.

But here is the contrast – if you do God’s will; that is you love God and not the world, you will abide forever. There’s a future in this, even if it is hard now.

And that future is being a part of an eternal kingdom that will not pass away. It will remain forever. You will remain forever.

————–

So I encourage you to hear the message today – don’t love the world! Give yourself fully to God, to love God with all your heart. Don’t allow the world to lure you away and destroy your love of God and your hope for the future.

William Higgins

 

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We are looking at the healing of the blind man at Bethsaida today. As the title says, this is ‘an unusual healing.’ Although, having said that, it does have some parallels to the healing of the deaf mute in Mark 7 (and both of these are only found in the gospel of Mark). Let’s look at this as we get started and see what this might mean. [For more on this story and why it has two stages – The blind man of Bethsaida – Take two.]

Introduction

Read through Mark 8:22-26 and Mark 7:31-37 and notice the following similarities:

1.       A place reference begins the story

2.       The person is brought by others

3.       They beg of Jesus

4.       They want Jesus to touch him

5.       There is a concern for privacy

6.       Jesus uses spit

7.       He speaks to the man

8.       The man is healed

9.       There is a concern for crowds

[Nearly all commentators note parallels here. This is my own construal. For more see – Parallel healing stories]

These parallels serve to connect these two stories together. And these two healings look back to Isaiah 35:5-6, which refers to the coming of the kingdom and the Messiah. [See also Isaiah 29:18. The broader passage seems to have several parallels with Mark 7-8.] It says, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.” So right off the bat there is an embedded message – the kingdom is here and Jesus is the Messiah.

Alright, now let’s look in more detail at –

Our story

v. 22 – “And they came to Bethsaida.”

The name means “house of fisherman.” This is where Peter, Andrew and Philip were originally from according to John 1:44.

The city is on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee, just to the east of where the Jordan river comes into the Sea of Galilee.

Jesus meets the blind man.

v. 22 – “And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him.”

These “people” must have recognized Jesus. It was, most likely, not far from here that Jesus had fed the 5,000.

Like others in the gospels, they bring someone they know, who has a need, to Jesus for help. This is an expression of faith on their part (Mark 2:5). They wanted Jesus “to touch” the blind man, for they knew that the touch of Jesus brings healing.

In that day, the blind would be the ones begging for alms from the people. Here the people are begging for him, for healing from Jesus.

v. 23 – “And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village . . ..”

Jesus takes him by the hand and leads him away. This is kind of tender. He does it himself, not using a disciple. As far as we know, everyone else is left behind and it is just Jesus and the man, with perhaps the disciples.

Why out of the village in private? Jesus is concerned about the crowds. He is always being mobbed by them. Yet he came for something more important than healing as many people as he could before he collapsed and died of exhaustion.

And as well he was beginning his journey to Jerusalem and the end of his earthly ministry. So he had much work to do with his disciples, teaching them and preparing them.

Step one of the healing. This is the only healing in the gospels that has a two step process. [Although notice that the casting out of the demons in Mark 5 is a two step process]. Let’s look at this.

v. 23-24 – “ . . . and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, ‘Do you see anything?’ And he looked up and said, ‘I see men, but they look like trees, walking.’”

Jesus uses an odd process here to heal the man. Most often it is simply with a command, or no details are given.

Here Jesus spits on the man’s eyes and then touched him. (I have never seen a faith healer do this today. I mean, would you go forward if you knew he was going to spit in your eyes?). Jesus uses spit in two other instances – Mark 7:33 and John 9:6-7. The saliva of some was considered to have healing properties. Perhaps this is why Jesus does this.

Also unique to this healing story is that Jesus asks the man a question – “Do you see anything?” [Although, again, see Mark 5 when Jesus asks the demons a question].

The phrase about trees is hard to make sense of. Literally it says, “I see people that like trees I see walking.”

  • This can mean that he sees people that look like trees.
  • Or, he can only tell the difference between people and trees in that people move.

It would appear that the man is not blind from birth, because he knows what trees look like.

If we ask, ‘Why wasn’t the healing complete the first time?’, it is true that some thought healing a blind person was especially hard. And there are no examples of this in the Old Testament. But it is also true that later, in Mark 10, Jesus heals another blind man right away.

The reason for the two stages may be an object lesson that Jesus is giving, which I hope to look at next week. So we’ll save that.

Step two of the healing.

v. 25 – “Then he laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.”

Jesus doesn’t stop with the man only barely seeing. He touches him “again” and he is able to see clearly.

The completeness of the healing is emphasized by three phrases – “he opened his eyes” or he looked intently; “his sight was restored”; and “he saw everything clearly.” This makes it clear that Jesus was successful.

v. 26 – “And he sent him to his home, saying, ‘Do not even enter the village.’”

Again, Jesus seems to be concerned about the crowd that could form if people knew what happened. He is trying to focus on his going to Jerusalem and his disciples.

Alright, let’s draw out some –

Lessons

Like the people who brought this man to Jesus, and many others in the gospels – We should bring people to Jesus who have needs. Who do you know that fits this bill?

Too often we get caught in trying to fix people ourselves, when what we need to do is bring them to Jesus. He is the Messiah, not us. He is the one who makes people whole.

Let Jesus do his work. Sometimes Jesus worked in weird ways, at least to us. Here he went outside the village, he spit on him and there was a two stage process for the man to be made whole.  But the man went along in faith, and he received God’s blessing.

We too need to let Jesus do his work. And in faith go along as well, even if we don’t understand everything that Jesus is doing with us. Jesus knows what he’s doing.

Next we learn some things about who Jesus is from this story. Jesus is the Messiah. We saw the connection of this and the story in Mark 7 to Isaiah 35:5-6. By healing the deaf and mute man and the blind man, we are pointed back to the Scripture. And so Jesus is showing us that the kingdom is here and he is the Messiah, by doing what this passage talks about.

These healings are a sign for those who have eyes to see. In a story a few verses before ours, the Pharisees in Mark 8:11-13, still wanted a sign. But they have had more than enough signs, if they wanted to see them. And so Jesus ignores them.

In the story just after our story, in Mark 8:29, Peter finally gets it. He confesses to Jesus, “You are the Christ” or Messiah. He got the message.

Finally, we see that Jesus is God’s Son. Psalm 146:8 says of God, “The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.” Jesus, once again, shows us that he is like God, his Father. He too can open the eyes of the blind. Like Father, like Son. He is indeed the Son of God.

Next week, Lord willing, we will look at this same passage again in the context of the flow of the story of Mark and the object lesson of the two stage healing of the blind man.

William Higgins

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We’re talking about prayer again today. Last week we looked at fasting as a prayer amplifier. That is, a way of increasing the effectiveness of our prayers. In the words of Isaiah 58:4, a way of making our “voice to be heard on high.”

We saw how fasting makes our prayers more effective because it’s a way of humbling ourselves before God when we pray. And when we are lowly, we are closer to God; when we are truly humble, we gain God’s favor.

This week we look at almsgiving as a prayer amplifier. Let’s start with –

Some basics on alms

And we begin with the question what are “alms”? It’s not a common word today. It means giving aid to the poor and needy. The word comes from a Greek word whose root means “mercy” or “compassion.”

Isaiah 58:7 gives a good description of almsgiving. It means “to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; (and) when you see the naked, to cover him.”  Jesus gives a number of examples of alms in his teaching on the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:35-36. “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

Alms in the Law. Giving to the poor was encouraged for individuals in the Law. For instance lending money to the needy (Deuteronomy 15:11). And these loans were forgiven every seven years, which means some of them became gifts.

But the Law also required alms of everyone at points. The third year tithes (Deuteronomy 14:28-29) were stored up and used to feed Levites, immigrants, orphans and widows. And harvest was left in the field (Leviticus 19:9) in order for the needy to gather it and have something to eat.

Alms in later Judaism grew in importance. Giving alms was considered second in importance only to study of the Law (or Scripture). It was considered greater than all other commandments. It even became Synonymous with the word “righteousness” it was so highly esteemed.

We are to give to the needy

If there might have been a question about fasting, there is no dispute about this. It is an expression of love for the person in need, and it is an expression of righteousness on our part.

Jesus taught about giving alms a lot. Here is just one example, “Sell your possessions and give alms” or give to the poor – Luke 12:33. He is saying, take of your excess and help those who don’t have enough.

Paul also taught giving alms, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” –  Galatians 6:10. ‘Doing good’ is another way to say helping the needy.

Jesus also practiced giving alms – John 13:29. As did Paul, as we see in the case of the Jerusalem offering for the poor in Jerusalem – 1 Corinthians 16:1-3.

There are a number of –

Scriptural promises

– connected to giving alms, and I want us to see some of these.

  • Proverbs 22:9 – “Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor.”
  • Proverbs 28:27 – “Whoever gives to the poor will not want, but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.”
  • Psalm 41:1 – “Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him.”
  • Psalm 112:5 – “It is well with the one who deals generously and lends.”
  • Proverbs 14:21 – “Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.”

Alms as a prayer amplifier

The connection of prayer and the giving alms to the blessings in these promises comes out in several places:

1. Matthew 6:2-5. Here alms are spoken of as a way of seeking the reward of God’s attention or favor. And in this passage it is linked to prayer and also fasting. This is, in fact, why these three things are grouped together by Jesus. Prayer is seeking God and giving alms and fasting are prayer amplifiers.

2. Isaiah 58. We looked at this last week because it also talks about fasting. v. 7 says if you give alms, that is, if you help the hungry, help the homeless and clothe the naked, then v. 9 says, “Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’” Your voice will, for sure, be heard on high by God – v. 4.

3. Acts 10. In this example of Cornelius the connection between alms and prayer comes out clearly. v. 2 says that Cornelius was “a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God.”

Then one day an angel came to him and said in v. 4 – “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” As Cornelius recounts this in v. 31 the angel said, “your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God.”

So God answered his prayers, sending Peter to him to preach the gospel. And this great favor came to him, in part, because of his almsgiving and prayer. As the verses say, your alms have been remembered. And so when he prayed God heard his prayers and blessed him.

Why do alms make our prayers more effective?

The basic idea is that when we give alms it pleases God very much; it gains God’s favor. There are several different ways of saying this:

1. Giving alms is lending to the Lord. And God will repay you, when you call out in your time of trouble. Proverbs 19:17 says, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.”

2. Almsgiving is a sacrifice that gains God’s favor. The language in Acts 10 is sacrificial language, his alms “ascended as a memorial before God.” It is like a burnt offering in the Old Testament, the smoke of which went up into heaven before God.

Hebrews 13:16 uses similar imagery. It says, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” After receiving a gift of alms, Paul says in Philippians 4:18-19 – “I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.”

3. The prayers of the righteous carry more weight. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” And almsgiving is very righteous. As we saw, often the word for alms was synonymous with the word for righteousness, the association was so close.

Let me end with a caution on giving alms from Jesus.

Beware of false seeking

In other words, don’t give alms in order to seek the attention of people; to show that you are spiritual or righteous. We always have a way of taking something good and then making it self-centered. And this is the case here.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:2 – “When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” Jesus is saying, they will get nothing from God because they already got what they wanted – the people’s attention.

Rather, Jesus says in Matthew 6:3-4 – “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

When we give to help others (besides showing love for the person in need) we are to focus on getting God’s attention alone; or pleasing God. And then God will see what we do in secret, and remember it. And when we call out in our time of need – our prayers will be amplified. The intensity of our concern will be fully conveyed to God for consideration. As I said last week, this doesn’t force God’s hand but it makes sure that we are heard and fully considered by God.

William Higgins

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Since last January, in an on again off again kind of way, we have looked at some stories from the Gospel of Mark. And the focus has been on Mark because it has wonderful, lively versions of many of the stories about Jesus.

I want us to pick this series up today and look at the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. This is an interesting story and I believe it has some things to teach us about our Christian lives. Let’s first look at –

The Story

v. 24 – “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”

Jesus leaves where he has been in Galilee and goes into new territory somewhere around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. This would have been the southern part of the Roman province of Syria or what we call today Lebanon.

v. 24 – “And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.”

It looks like Jesus is trying to hide out so he can rest. He’s been involved in heavy ministry for a time now, and he knows the value of rest. Earlier he had told his disciples in 6:31 – “Come away by yourselves . . . and rest a while.”

So perhaps he thought that in this Gentile area he could take a break. He wouldn’t be known here. There wouldn’t be mobs of people clamoring after him here.

But, it says, “he could not be hidden.”

v. 25 – “But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.”

Jesus was found out!

Some from this area had received ministry when they went into Galilee and so perhaps they spread word of Jesus and what he could do, including casting out demons (Mark 3:8;11).

In any case, this unnamed woman finds Jesus and falls down at his feet. She has obviously heard of him.

Her daughter is demon possessed. We aren’t given any more details about how this manifested itself, physically or mentally, the focus of the story isn’t really the daughter – it’s on the mother and Jesus.

v. 26 – “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth.”

According to the way things were at this time, she had three strikes against her:

1.  she was a woman, and social contact with a man could be seen as scandalous

2.  she was a Gentile, not a Jew; not a part of God’s people, and

3.  she was a Syrophoenician, who were bitter rivals and enemies of the Jews.

But none of these obstacles stopped her.

v. 26 – “And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”

“She begged” can also be translated as “She kept begging.” According to Matthew’s version it was so persistent and thus annoying that the disciples ended up begging Jesus to send her away – Matthew 15:23. This is quite the scene with everybody begging Jesus. Not very restful!

Jesus responds to the woman with a parable.

v. 27 – “And he said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’”

Jesus is drawing on common sense experience. Everyone knows that the children are fed first, and then the dogs are fed.

The application is that Jesus is focused on the Jews – God’s chosen ones who have awaited the promises and blessings of God. He can’t take his focus away from them. Ministry to the Gentiles will come later.

Now, this parable has been taken in the wrong way and it has upset some people. But Jesus is not saying that Gentiles are dogs. There is little or no evidence that this was a common way that Jews spoke of Gentiles (Mark Nanos – Paul’s Reversal, 2008). And besides, Jesus uses the word for “dog” that means pets or puppies.

The point is not a difference in kind – Jews are children and Gentiles are dogs. The point is a difference in timing – first the Jews, then others. This is made clear by the word “first,” a chronological marker.

This is what Paul meant, when he said in Romans 1:16 that he preaches the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

[Jesus has ministered to Gentiles already. But this is the only recorded story of Jesus helping someone outside of the boundaries of traditional Israel. Perhaps this is why he raises this issue.]

[If there is a connection of this story with the previous discussion of purity and a general Gentile theme just after this – it is to make the point that focused ministry to Gentiles will come after Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. Not that there are no longer Jewish concerns with Mosaic purity teaching.]

vs. 28 – “But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”

First, notice that she addresses him as “Lord.” This is the only time someone does this in Mark’s gospel and it shows her understanding of who Jesus is.

And then she shows her intelligence and wit. She gets his parable, which the disciples usually do not. And then she goes on to make her own point. Even though the dogs eat later, sometimes the children drop crumbs and thus the dogs eat at the same time as the children.

So based on Jesus’ own parable – it should be alright for her not to have to wait, but to receive some bread even now.

This woman reframed the discussion is such a way that allowed Jesus’ concerns to be acknowledged, but also allowed her to receive her request. She isn’t asking for Jesus to neglect Israel, or to take anything away from them. She is just saying, “Since you’re already here in Gentile territory, why not a crumb?”

v. 29 – “And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’”

Her statement shows her humility. She accepted her place as not yet one of the elect; and not yet the focus of Jesus’ ministry.

And her statement demonstrates her bold and persistent faith. She did not allow Jesus’ apparent “no” to stop her. But continued to make the case for her daughter.

In response to this humility and faith, Jesus healed her daughter, and that from a distance. (Perhaps having to do with concern about purity with entering a Gentile home – Guelich).

And the woman, in faith, accepted this without confirmation.

v. 30 says, “And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”

Lessons

1. Be open to opportunities to help others. This wasn’t Jesus’ timing to minister to her. He was trying to get away from people and crowds, so he could rest.

What does he do when he is found out? He allowed his privacy to be invaded; he gave up some of his time of rest.

And we need to be open to this as well. You have one thing scheduled, and it’s a good thing. But someone comes along who needs help.

This is just like Tiffany shared today. She didn’t plan on ministering to the man in the hospital. She had other plans. But God gave her the opportunity.

And remember Kim. She needs people to sit with her as she is weak. Are you scheduled for the week so there’s not time?  This is an opportunity.

Also, this wasn’t Jesus’ focus to help her. God sent him to minister to the people of Israel (Matthew 15:24). She is not a part of Israel.

What does Jesus do? He raised the issue with her, but then he responded when he saw her humility and faith.

Things don’t always work according to our plans. In my church in Portland we worked at setting up a weekly meal for neighbors so that we could get to know them. We wanted all kinds of people to come. But it turned out that only the homeless came. We had not really planned on this; it wasn’t our focus. And I had no skills in this (although one of our workers did). But it opened up a season of ministry to this population in our area.

The same happened with immigrant Congolese Africans. We never sat down and said, “Hey, let’s begin this ministry.” It wasn’t our focus. But God gave it to us.

I challenge you this week – keep a look out for a Syrophoenician woman or man whom God might lead across your path. And take advantage of the opportunity, even if it is not your timing or focus.

2. Approach God like this woman did. When you pray, learn from her. She was successful. What do we learn?

She approached Jesus with humility:

  • she fell down at his feet
  • she accepted that she is not yet part of the elect and has no claim on him
  • she calls him “Lord,” an expression of submission.

She approached Jesus with bold, persistent faith:

  • she searched Jesus out while he was in hiding
  • she kept begging
  • she called him “Lord,” an expression of faith
  • after Jesus seemed to say no, she responded boldly
  • and she knew that for him, casting out a demon was only a crumb – a small thing for him to do.

This morning I want to give you and opportunity to approach God like her. I know that many of you are carrying burdens, concerns for yourself or others; that you are seeking after God’s will; that you want spiritual renewal in our congregation. I invite you to come to the front an offer up your prayers.

Perhaps coming to the front is embarrassing for you. See it as an expression of humility. Perhaps coming to the front seems quite bold. See it as an expression of faith.

William Higgins

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A lot of people claim to be “Christian” today. In fact in the world it’s estimated that there are 2.1 billion Christians, about a third of the world’s population. And in the United States some 75 percent of adults would identify themselves as “Christians.” But when we take a long hard look at the world and our own country, the question has to be asked – What does it really mean anymore to call yourself a Christian?

  • Does it mean that you were born in a certain country?
  • Or that you go to church?
  • Or that you went to church as a kid
  • Or that you have participated in certain rituals?
  • Does it mean that you like Jesus?
  • Or are you really just saying that you aren’t a Muslin or a Buddhist or an Atheist?

What does it mean to be a Christian?? Let’s look at this. We begin with –

Some basics

To be a Christian surely means that you have asked for and received the forgiveness of your sins through what Jesus did for us on the cross. And to be a Christian surely means that you have asked for and received the Spirit of God into your heart, who gives new life and a living relationship with God.

These are God’s gifts to us; the expression of God’s wonderful grace. But it also means something more. It has to do with-

Our actions

– not just what happens hidden away within our hearts. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” – Matthew 7:21. Many people call Jesus “Lord,” 2.1 billion. But real Christians are those who do what he teaches; who do the Father’s will.

After all, anyone can claim that Jesus is their Lord. And also, anyone can claim to be forgiven or to have received God’s Spirit in their heart. But as Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits” – Matthew 7:20. Real Christians are known by their actions.

Now does this mean simply living a good moral life? Jesus certainly taught us to be good, moral people. He said that we shouldn’t commit adultery, murder, steal or lie. And we should honor our parents – Luke 18:20. And he also forbade sexual immorality, malice, deceit, envy, slander, and arrogance – Mark 7:20-21.

But even those who opposed Jesus, the Pharisees, were good, moral people along these lines. No, Jesus expects more than this. He said to his disciples, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:20. He then goes on in Matthew 5-7, in the Sermon on the Mount, to describe what kind of actions are necessary to be his disciple.

Are you a Christian? Do you do what Jesus teaches? Here’s –

A test from the words of Jesus

Below are seven examples, from the Sermon on the Mount. See how you do.

1) How is my anger? Listen to Jesus – “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother, you will be liable to judgment . . . and if you say ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” – Matthew 5:21-22.

I can honestly say that I have never murdered someone. So I can check this off the list of being a good moral person, right? Wrong! Jesus expects more.

God is not just concerned with murder, but also with my anger that strikes out to insult and verbally tear down another person.

The question is – “What about my angry words?” Jesus calls me to use my words to build others up, not tear them down.

2) What about lust? Hear Jesus’ words, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that  everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28.

Faithfulness to my spouse also includes not looking at another with strong desire. I must be faithful to my spouse, even with something like a small lustful look. What about my lust?

3) Do I have integrity? This is Jesus – “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not break your oath, but carry out the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I say to you, Do not swear at all . . .. Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No.’” – Matthew 5:33-34; 37.

God wants me to keep the commitments I make to others without the need for swearing oaths. I am simply to be honest and keep my word. How is my integrity?

4) Do I love my enemies? “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you . . ..” – Matthew 5:43-44.

I am not just to love those who love me. Everyone does this. You know, if you are good to me I will be good to you. No. I am also to love those who hate and harm me. I am to return good to those who give me evil. Do I love my enemies?

5) Do I put on a show? Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” – Matthew 6:1.

I am not to give offerings, pray or fast or do anything else just so that others will notice me. I am to do these things solely because I love and desire to please God.

Do I try to impress others with how I practice my faith so that they will think more highly of me than they should?

6) Am I generous with others? Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth . . .. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . ..” – Matthew 6:19-20.

Jesus is talking about giving to the poor here. Instead of setting aside wealth for my comfort and security (storing up treasures on earth), I am to share what I have with those is need, which results in treasure stored up in heaven.

Do I cling to the blessings that God gives me so that I don’t share? It has to be one way or another – either treasures stored up on earth – or in heaven. Which will it be?

7) Am I merciful? Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” – Matthew 7:1.

When I see someone sin, I am not to dismiss them as condemned by God. I am to work and pray for their repentance. And if they have sinned against me, I am to give mercy and then forgive them when they repent.

Am I merciful, or do I judge and condemn?

———–

So this is the test – our actions; these specific actions (and more). How did you do?

Let me share one last thing –

Don’t be Discouraged!

Even when we have tried, we have all failed at one point or another trying to live this out. And so we must continue to seek God’s forgiveness.

But we must also press on to live as Jesus teaches. And this is my point – to give up is to be a Christian in name only; it is to be one who simply calls Jesus “Lord,” but does not do the will of the Father in heaven.

The standard for our actions is high. But it is not impossible, because God helps us. As Jesus said, “What is impossible for us, is possible for God” – Luke 18:27. Jesus said this after the rich young ruler felt that it was too hard to do what Jesus taught. It is true, we can’t do it in our own strength, but we can with God helping us.

God makes it possible for us to obey him in each of these areas. As Jesus promised, if we ask, it will be given to us. God will give us the Spirit to empower us to do what he calls us to do (Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:13).

William Higgins

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