Faith and Humility

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28, compare to Mark 7:24-30)

What was great about this woman’s faith?

Did you see that the disciples begged Jesus to send this nagging, annoying Gentile woman away from them?

Why did Jesus use the analogy of children and dogs when referring to this woman?

Jesus wasn’t being mean or rude to this woman. He knew exactly what He was going to do, and He knew the heart of this woman already. He did not need to have this event to know the faith that was in her heart. This was a lesson for the disciples and for us. The Gentiles (non-Jewish people) were called dogs by the Jews. The Jews considered themselves as the only children of God, and disregarded anyone else as dogs. Jonah was not the only Jew that did not value the souls of Gentiles.

Jesus’ disciples were always pushing people away and sending people away, while Jesus was calling those same people to Himself. There are scores of examples of this: the children (Mark 10:13-14), the hungry crowds (Mark 6:35-36), Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:48), and this woman we just read about in Matthew 15.

Send them away? Where is the mercy, disciples? They are hungry people, little kids, and suffering souls! Send them where? Who else has what Jesus has? Send them, why? Are you sending them away because you are bothered by them? Are you sending them away because you don’t value them or see them as Jesus sees them?

This is such a lesson for us. These disciples whom Jesus was training and transforming must understand that faith involves humility. This woman had that kind of faith. She was willing to be that dog who licks up the crumbs under the master’s table. You don’t see her asking for the left or right hand side of Jesus at His throne like the disciples were asking for. She didn’t get into arguments about who the greatest was like the disciples did. She said in her despair, “Lord help me!” This woman of great faith was willing to take any crumb Jesus could give her and she would be grateful for it. The disciples saw her as a Gentile dog woman who annoyed them, and Jesus saw a precious soul with incredible faith and humility.

How do you see others? Do our minds, hearts and eyes need to be transformed to see others (our spouses, our kids, anybody in the community) as Jesus sees them? Let us meditate upon this today and ask for God to help us see others like He helped His disciples to see.

Why trouble the Teacher any further?

While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
(Mark 5:35)

Jairus, a ruler of the synagogue, had a daughter who was dying. He rushed up to Jesus and put in a 911 call. The need was urgent, but everyone else in the crowd thought their need was urgent, too. They all pressed about Him to get access to Him. Jesus then stopped and began talking to a woman that He had just healed. I can only imagine the urgency in this man’s heart. “Come on, Jesus! Let’s go! My daughter is dying! We don’t have a lot of time!!”

And then the worst news possible comes to Jairus. Your daughter is dead. It’s too late. There’s no need to bother Jesus anymore.

Think about the question that they asked of Jairus, and what it means? “Why trouble the Teacher any further?” This is a lot like the family and friends of Lazarus who saw Jesus as the death-stopper and the great healer, but not as one who could raise a dead person to life (see John 11). That’s just impossible, right?

But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”
(Mark 5:36)

We need this reminder from Jesus today just as much as Jairus did on that day. Sometimes we make the same kinds of determinations, that Jesus can help me here, but cannot help me there. This situation we can pray about, but that issue we will have to deal with ourselves.

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
(Jeremiah 32:26-27)

Think about this and how it applies to our congregations. What can God do through a group of praying, faith-filled Christians?

  • Through our prayers, God’s spirit will fill us and we will go out and speak the word with boldness (Acts 4:31; Ephesians 6:18-20).
  • Through our prayers with each other, we who are caught up in sin can be healed of our soul-sickness and be restored (James 5:13-20).
  • Through the prayers of a few faithful people, a dead church can come back to life again (Revelation 3:1-6).
  • Through the prayers of God’s people, God can raise up and provide godly leaders for our congregations (Acts 13:1-3; 14:23).
  • Through the prayers of God’s people, attitudes can change, people can mature and a new mindset can be formed (Col. 4:12).

Don’t limit God. Let’s not have the attitude of the people in the crowd with Jairus, thinking we’ve troubled Jesus enough.

You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.
(2 Corinthians 1:11)

Just as He told them

And the disciples set out and went to the city and found it just as he had told them, and they prepared the Passover.
(Mark 14:16)

Just as He told them. The phrase just struck me the other day while reading Mark 14. I then branched out to find all kinds of occasions where Jesus showed that His word was to be trusted.

And he said to them, “When I sent you out with no moneybag or knapsack or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “Nothing.”
(Luke 22:35)

I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.
(John 13:19)

And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.
(John 14:29)

But I have said these things to you, that when their hour comes you may remember that I told them to you. “I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you.
(John 16:4)

See, I have told you beforehand.
(Matthew 24:25)

This is what Jesus, being God, did for the people of the Old Testament as well (Isaiah 44:7-8; 46:8-11; 48:3-6). He declared the end from the beginning, laying out exactly how things were going to go, and we can trust that when God says something is going to happen, it will happen.

We as humans really have a hard time with this. Nobody on earth has this kind of power to foresee exactly how things are going to turn out. From weather forecasts, to stock market predictions, to presidential polls that turn out to be wrong. Even our parents, bosses, coaches and other leaders in our lives say things are going to happen and then for some reason they don’t. On top of that a lot of us just don’t keep our word, and leads to further distrust.

So along comes Jesus and says, “Here’s how it’s going to turn out,” and time after time after time every time it turns out just like He told us.

We need to be reminded of that. What God promises will happen. What Jesus told us in advance will happen, even if the circumstances, our environment, people around us, and even our own brains say the exact opposite. Trust Jesus.

Some Things Were Just Assumed

When Jesus taught, He often spoke of principles that were just assumed in life. There are some things that go without saying. He didn’t spend a lot of time trying to convince someone about a principle because it is assumed that everyday people understand it.

Here are a few examples of assumed principles in Jesus’ teaching:

  1. If you are sick, you need a physician (Luke 5:31). Jesus really didn’t need to convince us of this principle, but He used it. I have faith in God, but I still go to the doctor at times to seek his help. Our faith is working, but so is the medication and surgery!
  2. Count the cost (Luke 14:25-35). Jesus in His teaching about being a true disciple of His, used the assumed principle of counting the cost. He didn’t spend much time trying to convince us that counting the cost is a good thing, He assumed we already understood that. We have faith in God’s provision, but we still need to plan and budget.
  3. The strong man guards his home (Luke 11:21-22). When Jesus was teaching about His conquering of the Devil and demons, Jesus used the principle of the strong man. He didn’t need to convince people of the need for a person to protect his home, or of the rightness of being “fully armed” to do so, it was assumed in the Jewish mind and according to the Law of Moses (which Jesus wrote) that he would (Exodus 22:3). We have faith in God, but we still lock our doors, get alarm systems, security lights, big dogs, etc. It is assumed that we will provide some level of security for our household.

Some things are just assumed. Jesus didn’t have to say too much about it.

Jesus Our Brother

For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,
(Hebrews 2:10-11)

For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
(Hebrews 2:18)

It was “fitting” for Jesus to be made flesh, live like us, and to be made “perfect through suffering.” This makes Him our brother. More than that, it says Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers. He being the Son of God and we being the children of God all have one Father (“source”).

When you are tempted, and when you are suffering, you have a brother who understands. I know that I have a physical brother, Mark, who is also a brother in Christ. When I am struggling or down, I know he will listen, understand, pray for me and give me wise counsel. That is such a comfort. But even more than that, Jesus is my brother. He understands, and He listens, and He brings comfort. Jesus went through all that we have gone through, and He knows our situation completely. When we come to the throne we find mercy and grace because He is our brother.

I often think of Jesus as Lord, God, Savior, and Christ, but not as much as my brother and my friend. Maybe you think the same way, I don’t know, but take time to meditate upon Jesus being your brother and what that means for you.

Overcoming Fear

For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
(Rom 10:11-13)

And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.
(Act 15:8-9)

The people of the New Testament churches had a very difficult time grasping the concept that Jesus was Lord of all. He was the Lord of the Jews but He was the same Lord to the Gentiles. They all were saved the same way, by faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no distinction. Jesus cleansed my heart through faith and He cleansed your heart through faith.

I want to take this and apply it to how I see my kids. Is there a distinction between my kids and me when it comes to salvation? No. We are saved the same way. Because I believed in Jesus and obeyed the gospel, I am a Christian. The same is true for my kids.

This also implies that we are all in need of salvation. Our kids will need the saving grace of Jesus Christ. They will sin and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), because that is the direction of all mankind. I don’t mean to say that we take all hands off as parents because we know they are going to fail anyway. But you can’t keep them from sinning. You are not strong enough nor smart enough. What our kids need from us is the wisdom to give them instruction, the freedom to make their own choices, and the grace to accept and receive them during those times when they fall.

My Lord is their Lord. Jesus loves me and works in my life, and He loves them and He works in their life, too! He has begun a good work in them and He will keep working on them until the final day (Philippians 1:6). What Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for our kids far exceeds anything we could ever do for them. Jesus’ love for our kids is beyond our comprehension. He is no less committed to their salvation as He is committed to mine.

Pray for Jesus to give us as parents the power of faith to overcome our fears. May we always remember the presence and power of Jesus in their lives. We still teach, correct and even at times rebuke, but our faith is not in our power as parents. Nor should our comfort lie in how perfectly our kids turn out. Grace is amazing, because we all are wretched sinners who need the blood of a risen Savior.

Trust – Not Knowing

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.
(Heb 11:8)

Trust. In order to trust another, it by definition means you don’t have all the answers and information. You don’t possess all the details and you are going on the word of someone else.

Abraham was told to take his family and his corporation and go. Go where? Go where God told him to go! That’s not a lot of information to go on, is it? But it was all the information Abraham needed.

Sometimes we really geek out on the details and have to know all the information. God doesn’t work that way with us. He wants us to trust in Him and His promises without having all the facts. You will not be able to know how everything is going to turn out in specificity. The Lord isn’t going to send us a spreadsheet with charts.

I’ll leave you with a short passage from Exodus that tells of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea. They didn’t have all the information and details. Their job was to be silent and go forward. Trust God and let Him take care of the rest.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.
(Exodus 14:13-15)

Mary!

Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus die. She witnessed Jesus’ body taken down from the cross, and she observed Jesus being buried (Matthew 27:55-66). When she same to the tomb Sunday morning, she was looking for the body of Jesus. Three times in John 20, it states that Mary was looking for what happened to Jesus’ body (John 20:2,13,15).

When Jesus came to her and began talking to her, she did not recognize him as Jesus, but “supposed” Him to be the gardener. Here is one of the most tender moments of the Bible. Jesus breaks through all her grief, her expectations and assumptions, her focus on her task, etc., and says, “Mary!”

Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).
(John 20:14-16)

What an incredible moment for Mary! She was so focused on finding the body of Jesus that she did not see Jesus right in front of her.

I wonder how this may happen for us in our lives today. Can our assumptions or expectations cloud our eyes to the truth before us? Is it possible to be so overcome by grief that we forget the promises God has repeatedly given us through His word? Do we get so focused on a task that we don’t see the bigger picture? Does Jesus have to at times reach through the cloud of all our doubts, grief and fear and renew our faith and focus on Him?  Yes to all the above!

Hopefully we can take a lesson today from Mary Magdalene and Jesus. Thank you Lord, for showing us this example of Mary, and thank you for patiently loving us through those times when our faith and focus needs some renewal!

Lord, Increase Our Faith

This year at our congregation we are focusing on the theme, “Lord, Increase Our Faith,” which comes from Luke 17:5.

And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
(Luke 17:1-6)

Yesterday, I shared 3 simple points during the sermon about increasing our faith. There are several passages in Scripture about our faith growing. It’s not like God gave you a 10-pound bag of faith when you became a Christian and said, “This is your lifetime allotment.”

#1. Our faith is constantly challenged.

I’m not trying to be negative and pessimistic, but it just the reality we are going to face some really tough things in life. Whether we are pagans or believers we will go through dark valleys. Even more so for the Christian, though, because the devil is coming at us with great wrath (Revelation 12:12; 2 Timothy 3:12).

Our faith, in order to grow, will do so through adversity. Look at the above passage in Luke 17. Jesus was talking about relationships, pain, and forgiveness. The disciples realized how difficult His instructions were to follow, and they knew that their faith needed to grow to meet the challenge.

Another example is of the man whose son was demon-possessed in Mark 9. The disciples could not cast it out because of a lack of faith and a lack of prayer (Mark 9:19,29). When Jesus came to the father, he told the father that all things were possible if he believed. Here is the father’s response:

Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
(Mark 9:24)

I think we can relate with that. In the midst of the trial our faith is revealed and tested, and we see our need for growth and our great desire to draw closer to Jesus.

#2. Our faith, with God’s help will rise to meet the challenge/trial.

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. Therefore we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions that you are enduring.
(2 Thessalonians 1:3-4)

The brethren at Thessalonica were bragged about by Paul everywhere he went, but why? Because of their faith! But notice the faith they had was in the midst of “persecutions and…afflictions” they were enduring. We also see in this passage that during those hardships their faith was “growing abundantly.” Their faith was growing to meet the trials at hand.

#3. Jesus, His word, and His people help to increase that faith.

The Word

So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
(Romans 10:17)

Jesus

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...
(Hebrews 12:2)

Our brothers and sisters

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
(Hebrews 3:12-13)

Do you see that in order to grow our faith we need all the above? It’s the stuff preachers and grandmas have been telling us our whole lives, and when we find ourselves falling and stumbling it is because we are forgetting these three things. The Word creates and builds faith, the brethren encourage us and strengthen our faith, and Jesus perfects it.

“Lord, increase our faith.”

 

Is anything too hard for Me?

In Jeremiah, 32 we find Jeremiah sitting in prison. He has been preaching and warning Judah and her kings for decades. Babylon, led by Nebuchadnezzar, is once again surrounding Jerusalem. This is the third wave of attack brought about by God through the hands of Babylon. During this siege, the whole city and Solomon’s temple will be destroyed and burned to the ground.

While Jeremiah sits in prison for preaching the words of God, he is told by God to buy his relative’s field in Anathoth, bury the purchase agreement and deed in an earthen vessel that it may stay there a long time. Why? Because God was foretelling through a sign that the people of God will one day come back from captivity and buy and sell land in Israel.

This must have sounded like the most impossible thing, especially considering the circumstances in which Jeremiah and the people found themselves. Jeremiah follows with a prayer of praise as he recounts the character and merciful works of God in contrast to Judah’s faithlessness.

But we can see the challenge of faith that Jeremiah is having in this prayer. He admits readily that “nothing is too hard for God” (a statement which God turns around and repeats to him). However, at the end of his prayer, his is really struggling with the concept that God’s people will actually come back to this land.

Yet you, O Lord GOD, have said to me, “Buy the field for money and get witnesses”–though the city is given into the hands of the Chaldeans.'”
(Jeremiah 32:25)

Jeremiah is like, I know you said this Lord, but that sounds like hope and light, and this is the most hopeless and darkest situations we could be in. It is at this point that God takes over the conversation, and replies with:

The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?
(Jeremiah 32:26-27)

God told Jeremiah that yes, Judah will be destroyed and rightly so because of their sins and rejection of God. But God will “restore their fortunes” (vs. 44). “For thus says the LORD: Just as I have brought all this great disaster upon this people, so I will bring upon them all the good that I promise them” (vs. 42).

Trust me, Jeremiah, God is saying. Just as I will bring certain punishment, I will also bring certain hope, restoration and life! Nothing is too hard for God. And this is the the same God we serve today. God is a just God and will punish sinfulness, but He also a God of mercy who seeks to reconcile us to Himself and pour out upon us His blessings (Romans 5). When we are at our most hopeless and darkest places in life we need to remember that.

Nothing is too hard for God.