God’s love is beyond the realm of human sanity.

Jesus went into the synagogue again and noticed a man with a deformed hand. Since it was the Sabbath, Jesus’ enemies watched him closely. If he healed the man’s hand, they planned to accuse him of working on the Sabbath.

Jesus said to the man with the deformed hand, “Come and stand in front of everyone.” Then he turned to his critics and asked, “Does the law permit good deeds on the Sabbath, or is it a day for doing evil? Is this a day to save life or to destroy it?” But they wouldn’t answer him.

He looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hard hearts. Then he said to the man, “Hold out your hand.” So the man held out his hand, and it was restored! At once the Pharisees went away and met with the supporters of Herod to plot how to kill Jesus.

Jesus went out to the lake with his disciples, and a large crowd followed him. They came from all over Galilee, Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, from east of the Jordan River, and even from as far north as Tyre and Sidon. The news about his miracles had spread far and wide, and vast numbers of people came to see him.

Jesus instructed his disciples to have a boat ready so the crowd would not crush him. He had healed many people that day, so all the sick people eagerly pushed forward to touch him. And whenever those possessed by evil spirits caught sight of him, the spirits would throw them to the ground in front of him shrieking, “You are the Son of God!” But Jesus sternly commanded the spirits not to reveal who he was.

Afterward Jesus went up on a mountain and called out the ones he wanted to go with him. And they came to him. Then he appointed twelve of them and called them his apostles. They were to accompany him, and he would send them out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons. These are the twelve he chose:

Simon (whom he named Peter),

James and John (the sons of Zebedee, but Jesus nicknamed them “Sons of Thunder”),

Andrew,

Philip,

Bartholomew,

Matthew,

Thomas,

James (son of Alphaeus),

Thaddaeus,

Simon (the zealot),

Judas Iscariot (who later betrayed him).

One time Jesus entered a house, and the crowds began to gather again. Soon he and his disciples couldn’t even find time to eat. When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. “He’s out of his mind,” they said. (Mark 3:1-21, NLT)

It’s one of the most illogical leaps in thinking recorded in the Bible.

What on earth does the family mean?

“He’s out of his mind,” they said.

So far, Jesus has healed a man with a useless hand–and that’s just the start to this chapter.

This is before newspapers, before internet–and neither is necessary.  Ordinary people are traveling to see Jesus and coming back healed of all their illnesses.  There is no publicity the media can hype up that can even raise its voice to a whisper compared to the popularity of a real miracle, much less dozens and dozens of real miracles.

Jesus is healing.  He is healing–and the sick, the curious, and the most wildly afflicted are pouring out of the towns and villages to meet Him.

He chooses twelve followers to help Him bring salvation and healing to their nation.  And He has gone to a house to eat (and probably lodge for the night), and He has become so famous for healing that He is crowded by people on all sides.  Word of mouth alone of a true Healer sets the nation ablaze with curiosity and longing.  Jesus is so crowded with such great need that He doesn’t even eat.

And what does His family say?

“He’s out of his mind”

No joy that Jesus is healing the sick.  No delight that His words are dethroning demons from human souls.

No congratulations that Jesus opened a crippled hand.  No jubilee that the man who had been confined to one-handed work or begging could now take up fishing or carpentry or farming.

No awe that Jesus keeps choosing to heal even when He’s hungry, even when He’s exhausted, even when He knows that every release of power from His hand draws the bitter plotting of the pharisees.

Only,

they tried to take him away (from Mark 3:21)

and

“He’s out of his mind” (from Mark 3:21)

It’s what was recorded of His family’s thinking: they were ready to take Him back home whether He wanted to go or not, and they thought He had become irrational.

Why?  Why did they think He was out of His mind?  Why did they think they needed to intervene, to interrupt His healing hand?  What caused them to suppose the love of God was insanity?

Is it this: that when we come in contact with the love of God, when we come in contact with real love–that is, the love of God, because it’s the only source of real love–when we come in contact with undiluted, uncontaminated, unending, unconstrained love–that it is so never-ending, so unignorable, so shocking, so unearthly, so faithful, so selfless, so marvelous–

–that we confuse it for insanity?

What then would Mary . . what then would His half-brothers . . what then would His half-sisters say . . when His love came to carrying a wooden beam across His back, a cross that symbolized the weight of our sin He carried in His flesh?  What then when it came time to see the depth of His love?

God’s love is beyond the realm of human sanity.

But rather than accuse Him of wrongdoing or insanity for loving us so much, let us instead fall on our knees.  For there is no love like the love of God.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. (1 John 4:9, NIV)

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Published in: on May 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Tiny Tim

“Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

–Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol

Jesus made the lame walk and the blind see.

As the sun went down that evening, people throughout the village brought sick family members to Jesus.  No matter what their diseases were, the touch of his hand healed every one. (Luke 4:40, NLT)

There is something unsaid in Tiny Tim’s statement, something we are left to wonder.  Why isn’t Tiny Tim healed?

Tiny Tim has no doubt that Jesus can heal.  And from the story, we can guess that he loves Jesus very much.  Yet Tiny Tim is not healed.  At no point in the story does he receive a miraculous touch from Jesus and go running through the streets, shouting his good news.  As a matter of fact, according to Dickens’ story, Tim recovers because a transformed Ebenezer Scrooge pours money into doctors and he improves little by little over time.

I thought it was very interesting to see a Christian adaptation of the Christmas Carol that had Tiny Tim’s family praying for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge intervening.  Tim’s father then says that he is sure God has answered their prayers and will heal Tim.  In the next scene, Tim is able to take off his crutch and walk and run.

Why was this adaptation made?  Clearly to give God more honor, to give God credit for Tim’s healing instead of Scrooge.

But is this what actually happened?

To answer this, I have to go back to the difference between who I might want God to be and who He is and why, when I try to mislead people into believing my story about God instead of the true story, however much I mean to do good by it, what I actually shield is the love of God I am trying so hard to manufacture.  The love of God does not need to be manufactured.  It does not need to be altered.  It does not need to be added upon.

For the entire approximate two-year span after my father’s diagnosis with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, our church prayed for him.  And not just our church.  His boss, a deeply godly man, fasted one day every week to spend in prayer for my father’s healing.  If it’s a matter of needing faith, my father had it from all appearances I could see.  He was sure God would heal him.

But my dad died in 2004.

Now, this is an easy story compared to others.  What about the preschooler who dies of cancer, or the baby born with AIDS?  What about the kindergartener with cerebral palsy or the teenager without limbs?  Why doesn’t God heal them?  Surely it is not because He’s waiting for the right prayer to “unlock” His mercy.  God doesn’t play “Mother May I?” with us.  There is no formula of words or concoction of “good works” that gets our prayers answered.

So why doesn’t God heal all the Tiny Tims of the world?  Well, when we ask that, why not ask why anyone gets sick in the first place?  And when it comes to it, why does anyone die?  Why doesn’t God just sustain us forever on this earth?

Well, first of all, would I want to be sustained forever here?  Even if God did not allow anyone to ever be sick or die, what about all the violence?  People could go to war and repeatedly shoot and stab each other, never to die.  People could beat each other without ever killing them.  Is that a world I want to live in?  Certainly not.

The heart of the problem isn’t disability or disease or even death.  The heart of the problem is sin.  As long as we sin, we’re doomed.  And God has put in place natural consequences for our sin–an imperfect world–and unnatural consequences–death.  God can do that because He’s God, of course, but beyond that, He is perfectly right to allow us to live in the life we have chosen.  And He can in absolute justice curse us with death for our disobedience to Him.

But God’s will goes way beyond that.

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

“There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son. (John 3:16-18, NLT)

God uses even disease, disability, and death to draw people to Him so that they may be saved.  I believe that with all my heart.  How does He know who to choose for what circumstances?  God knows every possible outcome of every possible circumstance.  And I believe He allows disease and disability and takes us in death in the full brilliance of His plan.  I believe that plan is for as many people as possible to come to salvation through Jesus Christ.  Here is what I know for sure:

For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.

Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!

For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?

Who knows enough to give him advice?

And who has given him so much

that he needs to pay it back?

For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen. (Romans 11:32-36, NLT)

Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol is pretend.  But does it insult God by laying Tim’s recovering health on Scrooge rather than on God?

Well, wait a minute.  Why does Scrooge want to help Tiny Tim, anyway?

The story is pretend, but if it was real, the only way Scrooge could have been transformed that Christmas Eve would be through Jesus Christ, no question.  Jesus is the only true change that can happen in our lives.  So if Scrooge was saved by the love of Christ that night, and then he poured a little of that love out on Tim so he could see good doctors . . . who would really get credit for Tim’s recovery?

I don’t believe Christ would get any less credit for working through Scrooge than if He had instantly healed Tim with the touch of His hand.

And Christ doesn’t get any less credit if He doesn’t heal our bodies, either.

“He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”

Tim didn’t say this because he felt sorry for himself, or because he was bitter with Jesus.  He said this because he loved the God who, by the touch of His hand, healed the sick . . . the same God who, by the piercing of His hand, took upon Himself our eternal sickness . . so that our souls could be healed forever in Him.

He was despised and rejected by people. He was a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. He was despised like one from whom people turn their faces, and we didn’t consider him to be worth anything.

He certainly has taken upon himself our suffering and carried our sorrows, but we thought that God had wounded him, beat him, and punished him.

He was wounded for our rebellious acts. He was crushed for our sins. He was punished so that we could have peace, and we received healing from his wounds. (Isaiah 53:3-5, GWT)

______________________________________________________

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Coals

Yesterday was a seriously hot summer day.

I have been staying inside mostly, because of my allergies, but I decided to go get the mail.

Walking barefoot down the path from our front door, I noticed something: the cement was very warm.  It was almost unpleasant, but not enough motivation for me to go back in the house and get shoes.

Then I stepped onto the driveway, and I realized something else: the cement on the driveway was hot.  This was unpleasant, but it didn’t hurt, and I was so close to getting what I wanted (the mail) and, besides, I have been known in the past for tough feet.  As a kid I could run up and down our gravel drive barefoot.  Yes.  I don’t know any other kid who would run the full length of our semi-rural gravel drive.  (Never got a boyfriend out of it, though, go figure.)

So I thought, My feet are still tough from those days of professional feet toughening, and I hurried down the driveway to the mailbox.  I had enough common sense not to step on the sweltering blacktop of the road to get the mail, so I figured I could endure a minute or so more of hot cement.

Now, what happened next happened very fast.

The temperature beneath my feet almost instantly switched from being hot to being too hot.

You know what the funny thing is?  I’m not sure whether I stepped out on the blacktop or not.  I don’t think I did, but I was so focused on getting the mail that I simply wasn’t paying attention.

I was at first a little bit in shock at the sudden heat wave from my feet.  Wasn’t this the same cement driveway I had just been on?  How could it now be too hot? It wasn’t as if I had been standing on it all afternoon, waiting for it to heat up.  What had happened?

Well, I didn’t have a mind to think about what had happened, because my feet were hurting.  I started back for the house and my feet started burning.  I was running now, trying to get back to the pathway that led up to the door.  I knew when I got there it would be cooler.

Oh, but I was wrong.

Because my feet were already burning, I got no relief when I got on the pathway.  Actually, the burning sensation became more painful.  I ran to the door and jumped the last couple feet.  When I got inside the house, my feet were off the heat, but mildly throbbed, reminding me of how seriously I had miscalculated the intensity and prolonged effect of the heat.

Now, fortunately, my feet stopped hurting almost right away.  And today I only have a mild tenderness that may be brought about by the memory more than an actual burn.

What’s interesting is I’ve been reading Proverbs in my One Year Bible, and I can tell you it made me think about this proverb more:

Can he [a man] walk on hot coals and not blister his feet? (Proverbs 6:28, NLT)

At first glance, we might think this is just a common-sense statement and move on.  But this question actually gives us deep insight into the nature of sin, if we will but pause, pray for wisdom from our Savior who discerns all things, and reflect on it.

Lord Jesus, please give us your wisdom as we read your Word, that we see what You want us to see.

Context is invaluable in understanding meaning.  This proverb specifically deals with men who seek out prostitution:

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

This certainly doesn’t fit with the mainstream media’s version of what happens.  In our society, we would often like to portray marriage as a revolving door in which the person who pleases us most at the time is on the other side.   But what does God say?

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”  Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.  The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.  So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.  And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.  Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:18-24, ESV)

What a beautiful beginning for marriage.  God makes Eve from Adam.  Did God really think any animal or bird was going to keep Adam company, be his helper?  We know He didn’t, because He says

“I will make him a helper fit for him.”

The word “make” reveals what God was planning on doing.  This parade of animals was part of a clever plan to show Adam how wonderful and quintessential Eve was for him!  There was no deception here; God was simply showing Adam that, while all of God’s creation was special, Adam needed someone who, like himself, was made in the image of God (and, romantically, made from Adam as well!).

So when a man takes another man’s wife, he is pulling one flesh apart and making it two.  I think of the graphic visual that portrays, and infidelity becomes gruesome.

This is a very important truth about marriage, but there is an even deeper truth inside this Genesis story and inside the Proverb: our relationship to God.

Throughout the Bible, God describes our relationship to Him in ways we can begin to understand through our experiences with human relationships.  He describes those who trust in Him as His people, for example, and His children.  He also describes us as His bride, and lest we get all confused by this because we are fallen human creatures, what He means is that He loves us very much, He purifies us, He rescues us, and He brings us to His kingdom to live forever.

God uses this analogy to help us understand why it is so destructive when we sin.  When we sin, we are unfaithful to God, tearing ourselves away from Him to join ourselves with Satan.  This is why, when Adam and Eve sinned, they had to be pulled away from God, separated from His presence.   And this is one reason why Christ’s love for us is so profound.  He doesn’t just come along to rescue us as a prince does in a fairy tale, but He comes along and rescues us after we left His kingdom!  He comes along and rescues us even though we have been unfaithful to Him!

So when we read this Proverb, we can think not only about what happens when we are unfaithful to our spouse, but, even more profoundly, what happens when we are unfaithful to God.

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap

and not have his clothes catch on fire?

Can he walk on hot coals

and not blister his feet?

So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.

He who embraces her will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 6:27-29, NLT)

Satan is always plotting for how He can pull us away from God.  Satan wants our clothes to catch on fire; he wants our feet blistered.  And he quite often achieves this by leading us away very gently, very mildly.

When I first stepped out on the pathway to get the mail, I knew it was warm.  But I didn’t think it was hot enough that it could eventually burn me.  Satan often prefers to pull a similar trick on us.  He has us step away from God into something a little uncomfortable, what we might think of as a “little sin”.

Over time, Satan tries to nourish our boldness like someone blowing on an ember.  He encourages us to explore sin a little more, go a little deeper.  This is like when I stepped out on the hot driveway.  This is more uncomfortable, and we usually have to face that what we’re doing is in rebellion to God.  So why do we stay there?  Sort-of like how I wanted to get the mail, there is something Satan knows we want–what tempts us most–and he keeps our eyes focused on that “prize” so that we will be led further and further down a path of sin.

But then it gets worse.  Sometime or another, one of two things will happen: we either step out into brash, life-deflating sin, which would be like stepping out on that sweltering blacktop . . . or we stay so long in sin we burn ourselves that way, like staying on the concrete pavement.  It doesn’t take a “blacktop sin” to burn our feet.  Just by lingering on the “concrete sins”, we’ll be burned.  In fact, even the little “pathway sins” will blister our feet overtime.

(I want to note something very important here: Whether or not we are immediately burned does not reveal whether or not the sin has hurt us.  All sin, however “small” or “trivial” we may think it is, leads us away to Hell.)

We think about Hell a lot as punishment, and it is.  But do we realize that we ignite ourselves?

The bad news is, every one of us has strayed outside God’s house of safety many, many times, and every one of us bears fiery scars.  The good news is, God does what people don’t: He stands at the doorway to His house ready to take us back in, no matter how many times we have failed Him.

One of the most moving stories comes in the life of a prophet named Hosea.  God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  That’s right: God told Hosea to marry a prostitute.  Hosea obeyed.  Throughout their marriage, Hosea’s wife was unfaithful to him, but God would tell Hosea to take her back, to restore her.  It seems almost inconceivable that God would ask such a thing, or does it?

Hosea’s relationship with his wife was an illustration of God’s relationship with His people.  Time and time again, we are unfaithful to Him.  Time and time again, He is ready to take us back.

I think just about all of us have had the experience of doing something really stupid, getting hurt, and then being afraid to go for help.  Sometimes, when we do go to help, we get scorned, mocked, or endlessly chastised.  But God is simply not that way.  When we go to Him, He stands ready to take us in, ready to heal us.  And all because of the blood of Jesus Christ.

Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple.  A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them.  As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery.  They put her in front of the crowd.

“Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  The law of Moses says to stone her.  What do you say?”

They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger.  They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”  Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman.  Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

“No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:1-11, NLT)


Photo by DesignsbyKari, profile on http://www.flickr.com/people/designsbykari/, website http://colormeducky.blogspot.com/
See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Does Christianity say suffering is brought on by “a lack of faith”?

Unfortunately, Christianity has become notorious for the line, “If you just had more faith [this bad circumstance] would not happen.”  (Although I have to say, I have been around Christians a great deal of my life, including during my father’s terminal illness, and the only people I ever remember hearing say this are a few people on TV who say they are Christians and call themselves evangelists but seem to seek money and fame instead of true healing for others.)

A statement that bad circumstances only happen to people who don’t have faith either comes from a chosen naivety about the work of God (since His Word is available to us) or a self-arrogance or simply for exploitation of weak and needy people.  The latter is especially horrendous as people who would advertise themselves as Christians have attempted to make a mockery of Christ.  Christ Himself was poor and He healed poor people because He had pity on them.  He never asking for them to buy religious souvenirs from Him.  People who try to sell healing do it to their own condemnation; Christ’s healing is a gift from God–free–and cannot be earned.

Christ did talk about faith in His teaching on earth, and His disciples did as well.  During His ministry, Christ sometimes could not do miracles because people didn’t believe in Him.  If these people had believed in Him, He would have healed them– and not just of physical ailments (although He could easily heal those) but of spiritual pains, too!

Sometimes we get caught up only in the physical healing Jesus is able to give.  I understand this.  My father had a terminal illness, and I know the ache of praying for physical healing.  Other people have far worse aches than this.  We live in a physical world, and so naturally our attention is drawn to physical healing.  But as hard as it is to imagine sometimes, there is a world far more important than this world, a spiritual world, where our souls live forever.

So while physical healing is a wonderful thing, it is not the most wonderful thing.  Jesus made it clear that forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God is the most miraculously wonderful thing we can ever experience.

There are other times God doesn’t supernaturally intervene in this physical world in the way we would like, and it doesn’t matter how much faith we have, the miracle we have in mind is not going to happen.  I absolutely wanted my father healed of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.  But he wasn’t, not in his physical body.  He died.

God doesn’t always do the miracles we want.  There is no way around this truth, because at the very center of Christianity is a denied miracle.

Jesus the night of His betrayal.

Jesus knows Judas is bringing men with clubs and swords to get Him, drag Him away to a mock trial, torture Him, and crucify Him.  He begs with His Father to intervene, praying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39b, NIV)

Jesus prays again later, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42b, NIV)

Why doesn’t Jesus’  Father help Him escape the cross?

The cross in the only way for Jesus to buy back people for Heaven.  Christ’s suffering is humanity’s only redemption.  God had a plan that was better than an immediate miracle, and Christ had enough faith that He was willing to go through the most terrifying death ever in the history of the world.

  • Faith that enables miracles is a faith in the power of God.
  • Faith that still believes even when there is no immediate miracle is a faith in the goodness of God.

To say that we would never go through hard times if we had enough faith is to say that Christ didn’t have enough faith to save Himself from the cross.  It is blasphemous and should not ever be associated with Christianity.  It is a whole other religion altogether.

Faith results in obedience to God, obedience to His plan, whatever miracles may or may not immediately be.

Though he was God,

he did not think of equality with God

as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

he took the humble position of a slave

and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8, NLT)

Jesus gave up the miracle of salvation for Himself from the cross.  Instead He chose the miracle of salvation for all who believe Him because of the cross.

God, coming to earth to die for our sins, dying for us, and bringing back to life not only Himself, but all who have faith in Him.

This is the greatest miracle of all:

He is risen. (Matthew 28:6b, KJV)

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

Published in: on July 5, 2011 at 4:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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