Remember the donkey

DonkeysDiscouraged. Hurt. Angry at God. Disappointed. That’s how I was feeling one morning, after a lot of discouraging things had happened the day before.

And so I had a conversation with the Lord about faith (which I had been studying more about recently).

I told him that it seemed to me faith wasn’t real; that the scriptures about faith weren’t true. The things I had believed in faith when I prayed just were not happening.

I said a lot more than that, of course, but basically I was deciding as I talked that it was pointless for me to pray for anyone or anything, or even go to church any more. What was the point, if what the Bible said would happen when we prayed really DIDN’T happen? If there were no results?

Then Jesus began quietly talking back to me. “Remember the donkey,” he said. “Remember the colt.”

The colt? I began to remember. The week before Passover, on what we call Palm Sunday, Jesus told the disciples to go to a specific place, find a specific donkey and colt, and bring them back to him. (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 20, John 12.)

I visualized that, could almost see the disciples looking at each other, shrugging their shoulders with unasked questions.

What did the disciples think Jesus was up to? Why did he want a donkey? He and they walked everywhere, didn’t they? We know now why he did it, Matthew 21:5-6 says it was so the prophecies would be fulfilled. But did the disciples know that? Whether or not they knew why, they obeyed him. They went and collected the colt.

“What were the results?” the Lord asked me. That required more thinking on my part. Well, there were several levels of results…

  • Jesus got to his destination. (The Temple in Jerusalem)
  • The crowds began praising Jesus. (Shouting Hosanna)
  • The religious leaders got upset. (Seriously plotting)
  • God kept his timetable. (Crucified on Passover)

This journey on the donkey’s back, the praise from the crowd and the upset Pharisees were necessary steps to instigating the crucifixion by the right date – Passover.

Okay, I said to the Lord. So what does that mean for me, for my prayers, my desire to see you DO something when I pray? What does all that have to do with faith at all? He recapped for me what I had just been thinking:

Immediate results – arrived at destination.
Intermediate results – stirred up opposition necessary to fulfill God’s plan.
Final results – God’s plan fulfilled.

So there are short term results, mid-term results, and long term results. Obviously some answers to prayer, God’s plans, may take a really long time to arrive. But they will arrive.

Then I began to consider that faith question, again.

Faith comes to everybody, but not everybody takes it. (Faith comes by hearing, according to Romans 10:17.) Children have to be told something first, in order to have faith, i.e. trust, just as adults do. A child learning to walk, for example.

“Walk to Mama,” we say. “Come on, you can do it!” We can show him how, help him stand up and get his balance, but we can’t walk for him. The child must obey our words and do something that requires trust in the person speaking. He must take that first, perhaps wobbly step, then another.

He can obey or refuse to obey. If he obeys and experiences positive results, i.e. takes a step or two without being hurt, he acquires trust that this will work. That trust leads to another few steps, i.e. more experience in walking, and more experience becomes stronger trust. Faith that yes, he can do it. He can walk. And pretty soon, he is walking, and running.

That process began with hearing words from someone speaking to him, him trusting the one speaking, accepting those words and obeying them. The faith was actually contained in the words of the trustworthy speaker, but it wasn’t forced on the hearer. The hearer was never forced to accept the words as true or trustworthy, he had to make a choice. Choose to believe the person speaking, or not believe the person speaking. And choose, sometimes really often, to keep on believing.

“Remember the donkey,” the Lord said. That was pretty much the end of my conversation with him that morning, but I’ve been thinking more about it since.

Getting answers to some prayers – certain long term results – seems like too much hard work for many of us. Too much painful trouble. Too much stress. Too much time, too much energy, too much disappointment, too much anguish. Too much waiting.

That’s what I was thinking when that familiar voice interrupted my thoughts with a whisper: “Long term results begin with short term results.” I thought some more.

I began to think about the Olympics. About Usain Bolt winning an Olympic gold medal in running… how did that begin? Well, it began with him hearing those first words, “Go for it, you can do it, you can do it.” It began with him believing those words and accepting them as true. Stepping out to obey, to try, to gain experience. To fail sometimes but not quit. To fail sometimes, and succeed sometimes, and eventually win the gold medal.

How long did that process take? How much experience? And how much reinforcement?

Faith comes by hearing, present tense, not having heard, past tense. How many times did a parent, a coach or a team-mate say those words of encouragement to Usain Bolt, “You can do this, you can do it!” And so he did.

The first thing I did after that conversation was to apologize to the Lord, to repent and ask forgiveness for my attitude, and to ask for his help in reinforcing my faith. What I asked him for is stubborn, determined, persistent, persevering, teeth-clenching, gutsy faith. I think that’s what he wants me to have. What he wants all his children to have.

I want to “Remember the donkey” today, and every day, as many days as it takes.

How to heal the sick

HowToHealTheSickJesus healed the sick. He commanded the disciples to heal the sick, and to teach  future disciples (us) to do the same.

“How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.” (Acts 10:38 NIV)

“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.” (Matthew 4:23-24; it does not say how, it just says he healed them all. Every sickness and every disease.)

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt. 28:18-20)

“Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20)

How did Jesus heal the sick?

  • Gospel of Matthew:

Touch / spoken command  8:1-3 When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him. A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.

Spoken command  8:13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that moment.

Touch  8:14-15 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.

Spoken word  9:6-7 “But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home.

Faith  9:20-22 Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. 21 She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.” Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

Touch  9:25 After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the (dead) girl by the hand, and she got up.

Touch / faith  9:29 Then he touched their (two blind men) eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

Spoken Command  12:13 Then he said to the man (with a shriveled hand), “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

Touch of his clothes  14:35-36 And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Touch  20:34 Jesus had compassion on them (two blind men) and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

  • Mark:

Touch  1:30-31 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

Touch / spoken command  1:41-42 He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Spoken command  2:11-12 To the paralyzed man: “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”

Spoken command  3:3-5 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” … “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.

Touch / spoken command  5:41-42 He took her (the dead girl) by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!” (which means Little girl, I say to you, get up!). Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished.

Touch of his clothes  6:56 And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Touch / spit / spoken command  7:33-35 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Touch / spit / spoken command  8:23-25 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.” Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

Faith / spoken command 10:51-52 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man (Bartimaeus) said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

  • Luke:

Touch / spoken command  13:10-13 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Spoken command  17:12-14 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

  • John:

Spoken word  4:46-53 There was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.

Spoken command  5:5-9 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Touch / saliva / spoken command  9:6-7 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man (who was born blind) went and washed, and came home seeing.

How did the disciples / apostles heal the sick?

  • Peter:

Touch / spoken command  Acts 3:6-8 Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

Spoken command  9:33-34 There (in Lydda) he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.

Spoken command  9:40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.

  • Paul:

Spoken command  14:8-10 In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

Touch of his clothes  19:11-12  God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

Touch  28:8 His (Publius) father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him.

Paul’s method of ministering to the sick is not specified in many instances. However,  “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God.” (Romans 15:18-19) “I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles.” (II Cor. 12:12)

Some thoughts:

  • The original disciples did the same sort of things Jesus did, in the same way.
  • What did they not do? They didn’t pray for the sick. They didn’t ask God to do something he had told them to do. Jesus showed them how, healing multitudes of sick people right in front of them. Then he sent them out to do it also.  And not just the original twelve, he sent out 72 others also to “Heal the sick who are there…” (Luke 10:9)
  • One size does not fit all when it comes to healing. They addressed each person individually, specifically – they didn’t treat each one the same as every other one. Some they merely spoke to, some they touched. Some Jesus spit on! Some he just stated, “Your faith has healed you.”
  • Some they told to do something they could not physically do – but they did it.
  • The command Jesus gave those disciples is still in force to today’s disciples.
  • The same Holy Spirit that indwelled them indwelled disciples today, leading them, informing them, instructing them, and empowering them to do the same things, in the same way.

Are YOU yourself the one who is sick? Then also see: https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2015/10/03/how-to-heal-the-sick-addendum/

Walking on water – what was the point?

jesus-walking-on-water-benjamin-mcphersonConsidering the assignment God gave to Peter and the other apostles, it was imperative that they know and understand some things. First and foremost: Who is Jesus?

Background, Matthew 14

When Jesus heard about the death of John the Baptist he went across the Sea of Galilee, headed to a private place. However, the needy crowds went ahead of him by foot and met him when he landed. Moved with compassion, he healed their sick and multiplied food to feed over 5000 of them.

Key event: Walking on the water

Later in the day Jesus compelled the disciples to head back across the lake while he dismissed the crowd. Afterwards he finally went up into the mountain alone to pray. Rowing against the wind and buffeted by unruly waves, the disciples had gone some distance when Jesus walked out to them on the lake. When the disciples saw him they were afraid, fearing it was a ghost.

Jesus told the frightened men “Take courage, don’t be afraid, It is I.” Peter called out, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water.”

Now that strikes me as a strange thing to say. Suppose it wasn’t Jesus? Suppose some other entity (maybe the ghost they were afraid of) had said, Come. Would Peter have still stepped out of the boat? Obviously he didn’t automatically recognize that it was Jesus, either by sight or by the sound of his voice…

In any case, Jesus said Come and Peter stepped out of the boat. Walking on the waves he headed to Jesus – until he saw what the wind was doing to the waves. Even more afraid, he began to sink, although with boisterous waves he was probably beginning to sink from the very first step. Up, and down, rising and sinking. Rising and sinking.

“Lord, save me!” He screamed, so Jesus grabbed his hand and said, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Once they were inside the boat, the wind died down. Hmmm. That would have been even more frightening than seeing a ghost. Storm one moment, no storm the next – and those in the boat worshiped Jesus, saying “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Key question: Who do you say that I am?

Up until that time, who exactly did they think Jesus was? With everything Jesus had done, including just feeding that crowd of over 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish, who did they think he was?

Even before that he had healed a man’s withered hand. He had healed the paralyzed man. He had cast out demons and healed everyone who was sick. He had spent a lot of time teaching them, explaining the parables, describing what was going to happen next.

He had performed miracles in their own towns. He had sent them out to do the same things he had been doing, and they did (see Chapter. 10). By now they should have known full well who he was, shouldn’t they? But they didn’t.

In Matthew 16 (and Mark 8) Jesus asked the disciples, “Whom do men say that I am?” They answered, some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.

“But who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asked them. Peter answered the question, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.”

What did “the Christ” mean to Peter? According to Jewish tradition and teachings, it meant a natural human being, a man chosen and anointed by God to be the final king of Israel, one who would fulfill the prophesies about the coming Messiah. (See Judaism 01: Mashiach The Messiah http://www.jewfaq.org/mashiach.htm)

But if that man didn’t fulfill every one of those prophesies, that proved he wasn’t the true Messiah. The Christ would overthrow Rome, ruling and reigning on his own throne as the Son of David. He would be a warrior king, victorious in battle, majestic head of the kingdom of God on earth. “Messiah” did NOT mean a supernatural human being, God himself come in the flesh.

Peter was certain Jesus was the Christ, as he understood the Christ to be. After all, Jesus had been doing the same things prophets Elijah and Elisha had done, so he must surely be the Messiah. He was God’s son, like David was God’s son. Like many mighty warriors and prophets of old, all sons of the Living God.

But then Jesus began to explain about having to be killed and resurrected from the dead. That was NOT in the traditions. NOT in the definitions, the descriptions, the actions of the prophesied Messiah. The real Messiah would certainly not be killed, he would conquer and reign here and now – not die and have to be resurrected from the dead.

No wonder Peter rebuked Jesus. Despite Jesus’ teachings that the kingdom of God would be spiritual and not physical, Peter didn’t understand. The disciples still didn’t know exactly who Jesus was. And so Jesus sharply corrected Peter in front of everyone else. That must have made an indelible impression.

Key event:  The Transfiguration

Soon afterward Jesus took Peter, James and John up into a high mountain. His appearance was completely changed, transfigured right in front of them as Moses and Elijah stepped out of heaven to talk with Jesus about his coming death (see Luke Chapter 9).

Peter, James and John were terrified. Not surprising at all! But Peter had to interrupt that conversation – “Let’s make booths for you, and Moses, and Elijah!” he exclaimed.

This time, Jesus didn’t correct Peter; God the Father himself spoke. He made it absolutely clear to them who Jesus is. “This is my beloved Son,” he explained. “Hear him!” (Mark 9:7) Not a suggestion, that was a command. HEAR him. Pay attention to him. Perceive the meaning of what he says. Believe him.

Surely now they realized exactly who Jesus was. Surely now they understood about the kingdom. Right?

Perhaps not. If they had, Peter wouldn’t have attempted a rescue mission. (See  https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2014/07/03/peter-fishing-industry-businessman/

The rest of them wouldn’t have fled for their lives and hidden from Roman soldiers and the Sanhedrin. They wouldn’t have doubted the women who first saw the risen Jesus.

They didn’t truly comprehend until after they saw him for themselves, after the Holy Spirit was poured out and they themselves were inhabited by Creator God.

Sometimes I think the church at large today is too much like the pre-resurrection Peter. Still needing more proof. Thankfully the Holy Spirit is more than willing to provide it.

Give us our daily plans

Collage02Jeremiah 29:11 is a familiar verse to many of us: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” saith the LORD, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (KJV)

The NIV translation reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Reading those two versions, the words thoughts (KJV) and plans (NIV) stood out. I can certainly have thoughts that aren’t plans. Like, it’s chilly today but considering the time of year, that’s normal. Just a thought. Not a plan, unless it’s to wear a sweater.

However, in this verse the Hebrew word is “machashabah” (pronounced ma-hash’-a-va), translated thought, device, plan, purpose, or invention. That’s quite a variety of meanings.

This word is translated “cunning device” in many places, such as the evil thoughts of men before the flood, or the good inventions of anointed men in the building of Solomon’s temple. (See my earlier post on Plans, https://estherspetition.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/plans-as-in-jeremiah-2911-niv/)

Such plans may include directions, itinerary, agenda, goal, purpose, blueprints, schematics, activities … many things. Plus necessary supplies for each part of those plans. “What are your plans for Christmas?” we might ask a friend. That might include shopping, baking, traveling, mailing cards, attending parties, lots of things.

We’re not normally thinking inventions, unless it’s a new recipe. But that idea is included in this verse. God might just invent something new for us, something designed just for us, to get us to where he wants us to go. That would be fascinating.

One thing about that verse – plans is plural. Many plans, many activities go into any building program, whether we (God and us) are constructing a house or a character. Plans may include schooling and training. Exercise. Practice. Building a warrior, for instance.

There may be one plan for Monday, a different plan for Thursday. One plan for 9:00 AM, another plan for 4:30. God has plans for us, and I think he has daily plans. Which leads me to another verse:

Matthew 6:11, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

The phrase “daily bread” is found only in two places in the Bible, Matthew 6:11 and Luke 11:3, both quoting the Lord’s Prayer. It comes from two words that mean our next necessary bread.

Bread is from the Greek word artos, bread made from flour and water or food of any kind. Sometimes it is translated loaves. That word occurs many places in the Bible.

Daily comes from the Greek word epiousios, meaning necessity. That word is found only in the Lord’s Prayer. The verse could be translated “Give us this day the bread of our necessity.” Our next food.

The idea of necessity is a critical key here, I think. What does God think is our next necessary food? And, does it have to be physical food? In Hebrews 5:12-14, “meat” refers to spiritual food.

Perhaps what we need next is spiritual food. Mental food. Emotional food. Information. Direction. Instruction. Empowerment. Mentoring. Wisdom. Encouragement. Comfort. Peace of mind. Correction. Tools. Equipment. Weapons. Armor. Experience.

For God to fulfill the plans he has for us, we have to cooperate. We have to hear his ideas on the subject, get his thinking. After all, we have the mind of Christ. (I Cor. 2:16)

To cooperate with him fully, we need to ask him daily, follow through with what we learn, daily. Get and consume our next necessary food, daily.

The next step in our day is the next step in God’s plan for our future, our good. Because if you think about it, really think about it – the future isn’t way off in the distance, it’s as close as the next hour in our day, or the next day in our week.

Pharisees, pagans, and counterfeit Christians

SermonOnTheMountHornsOfHattimThis was not your usual Sunday sermon, the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew chapters 5-7)

For one thing, there wasn’t a building available big enough for the crowd. No convenient pews, comfy cushioned chairs or rough planks. No microphone.

Just a rough dirt path uphill through rocks, weeds and underbrush, finally a relatively flat plain with a few scattered boulders to sit on or lean against.

There was no call to worship. No special music, no passing of the offering plates. No opening joke, no three major points, no pithy illustrations. No routine altar call. No ushers to seat latecomers or keep order, just four or five called disciples among the curious crowd.

Jesus opened his remarks with a matter-of-fact description of their current condition, followed with a comforting promise. Tired? Broke? Hungry? Grief-stricken? Beaten down? Depressed? Desperate?

You came to the right place, your needs will all be met!

The next section of the sermon was about keeping rules. The law. The Law of Moses, that is. Jesus didn’t say, your need for rule-keeping will soon be eased up. No, he said, these rules don’t go far enough. Not strict enough! Huh? You have to be perfect and perfectly righteous, he claimed. If you even think about breaking one little law, you’ve broken it!

Adultery, for example, punishable by death according to the law (Lev. 20:10). But Jesus says if you even think about it, you’re guilty! (Matt. 5:27-28)

I can visualize the crowd now, jostling elbows and whispering to each other. “This fellow is nuts.” “Yeah, let’s leave.” Some may have left but others stayed. Tax-collector Matthew was not yet a disciple. He had not yet been called to change careers and follow Jesus, but he may have been in that crowd taking notes. Someone was.

Jesus compared and contrasted the teachings or behavior of three groups of people: The Pharisees, the pagans, and counterfeit Christians. He lambasted them all. All wrong, he stated. But not to worry, things will begin to make sense after a while. Keep listening.

And they did. When Jesus came down from the mountain, the crowds didn’t shrink, they grew. “No matter what odd things he says,” they thought to themselves, “he’s got something – power! Power to heal, to deliver, to raise the dead even!”

Jesus soon needed help. So, he picked out twelve disciples from among the crowd, twelve ordinary working men to go say those same things, do those same things. And they did.

My interpretation of the Beatitudes:

3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will be citizens and residents of a different kingdom. God’s kingdom.

4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the supernatural, all-sufficient Comforter will be inhabiting their soul and body.

5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, the one who regained ownership of planet earth will share it with them.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will have been made the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.

7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they are entitled to go to the Throne of Mercy whenever they want.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, Father God will reveal himself freely and fully to them.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will grow more like their Father, the ultimate peacemaker.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
When they are converted and filled with God’s spirit, they will reign with Christ, co-laborers with him in his kingdom.

Of course, the Pharisees, pagans and counterfeit Christians didn’t like any of that. They still don’t.

Cross purposes

PrayingAtMall“It’s just my cross to bear,” people say sometimes. They mean trouble, hardship, sickness or disease they can’t seem to get rid of. Bad job. Bad marriage. Bad health. They want you to think they are “bearing up under it” with a good attitude, much long-suffering.

They’re referring to a verse they heard somewhere. They have a vague idea that they are carrying their cross for Jesus’ sake, trying to be a good disciple. But of course, getting rid of that particular cross is their heart’s desire. No matter what else they do, they desperately try to get out from under it. Seek a better job. Go to marriage counseling. Make doctor appointments.

A question: When did Jesus’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end? When did the disciples’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end? What does that even mean, actually?

Some background may help. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Jesus went about doing good and attracting disciples. (See Luke 3-4.) After a while he hand-picked twelve of those disciples, instructed them in some basics and sent them out under his auspices, his authority and power to preach, heal, cast out demons and raise the dead, the way he had been doing.

He also warned them. The disciple is not better than his master, he said. If I’m persecuted, you’ll be persecuted. So consider carefully — do you really want to do this?

“Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man’s foes shall be they of his own household.

“He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.”  (Matt 10:34-39 KJV)

Heart-warming way to begin an assignment, wasn’t it.

Later on, Jesus asked them who the crowds thought he was? Who they themselves thought he was? Peter firmly declared their belief that Jesus was the Christ. Wonderful! Keep it to yourselves, Jesus said.

Jesus then plainly told the twelve that he was going to Jerusalem to be arrested and killed. But, not to worry, he would be raised from the dead in three days. Peter couldn’t accept that, it wasn’t his idea at all of what the Christ would be and do. Jesus rebuked him. Peter just didn’t understand the plan.

“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)

“Life” in verse 24 is the Greek word psyche, which has several meanings. One is life-force, but the other is soul; the mind, emotions and will — the decision-making ability. “Soul” in verse 25 is that same Greek word, psyche.

“And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

Wow. Hate your parents? Thought you were supposed to love your parents…

Jesus illustrated his point with two examples of considering what you’re getting into, before you get into it: (1) If you’re thinking of building a tower, you’d better calculate the cost. (2) If you’re deciding whether or not to fight a war, you’d better inventory your troops.

“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25-33) Compared to loving God and following Jesus, your affection for family will seem like hate.

When he declared these things, Jesus wasn’t carrying a cross yet. Up until this time the disciples thought he was going to be the next King of Israel, and that certainly didn’t involve a cross. That’s why he had to be so explicit in his explanation to the disciples, and even then they just didn’t understand it.

Well, they eventually got it when he was arrested, made to carry a cross and then executed. Of course, not until he was raised from the dead did they understand the whole plan.

Back to my original question: When did Jesus’ cross-carrying actually begin? When did it end? When did the disciples’ cross-carrying begin? When did it end?

What does that even mean, actually? Let’s take this one first.

When you’re carrying a cross, what else are you carrying? Not a job, not a family, not a lifestyle. Not your own agenda, your own goals, your own routine. You have a purpose, but it’s not your own purpose. You have a destination, but it’s not the one you’d rather have. You’ve given over your will to someone else — or you wouldn’t have picked up that cross in the first place.

Jesus came to earth on assignment. He began carrying that “cross” before he came to the earth. It’s why he went where he went, said what he said, did what he did. He didn’t quit carrying that cross just because he died. He did God’s will on earth, completing that part of his mission successfully.

He was killed, raised from the dead, and ascended to begin the next phase of his mission, sending the Holy Spirit to empower the disciples back on earth as he had been empowered, to do the work that he had been doing.

The disciples did not pick up physical crosses on their way to Jerusalem, nor on their way to Golgotha as Jesus did. But they did pick up crosses — assignments — when they began to follow Jesus. They did whatever Jesus said to do, whenever he said to do it.

If they hadn’t, he would not have taught and trained them, would not have named twelve of them as apostles, would not have remained on earth for forty days continuing to teach and train them after he rose from the dead. (Acts 1:3)

He would not have instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit to empower them also, before beginning the next phase of their own assignment.

Carrying our crosses today doesn’t mean remaining confused, doubtful, sick or troubled. It doesn’t mean having your life destroyed by the enemy.

It means carrying out your assignment — doing whatever the Holy Spirit says to do, whenever he says to do it. Preach the gospel, heal the sick, cast out demons, raise the dead. Continue the mission of Jesus on earth: “For this purpose the son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (I John 3:8)

God’s smelter, God’s forge

The Holy Spirit — AND fire?

Smelter“John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:16 KJV)

Hmmm. Jesus will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, John said. Okay, that I understand. But fire? Why baptize with fire? Some thoughts:

When precious metal is “fired,” it’s purified, thus made more valuable. When a human being is “fired,” the same process happens. The baptism with fire is God’s smelter…

Smelting produces a metal from its ore, such as silver, iron, copper and other base metals. The process removes unwanted elements and leaves just the metal behind.

When someone becomes a Christian, some things — unwanted elements — need to be removed. Sickness and disease, physical weaknesses, flaws, genetic predispositions. Emotional and psychological bruises.

Wrong thinking based on incorrect information. Faulty opinions. Painful memories. Harmful influences from past or present relationships. Bad attitudes. Destructive habit patterns. Addictions. Unhealthy emotional dependence.

But not everything that needs to be removed is bad. The apostle Paul said all things were permissible to him, but not all things were profitable. “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.” (I Cor. 10:23 KJV)

Consider a rock with a vein of silver running through it, for instance. There’s nothing wrong with the rock. But for the silver to be profitable, the perfectly good rock must go.

Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” He just chipped away everything that wasn’t an angel, until all that was left was the angel.

That’s what happens in the smelting process, except the left-over material isn’t just separated out, it’s burned away. Destroyed.

Recently I’ve watched videos of revival services from around the world, listened to testimonies and read several books by men and women being used by God around the world to bring salvation to the multitudes (Heidi and Rolland Baker, Rodney Howard-Browne, Daniel Kolenda, Reinhard Bonnke, Randy Clark and others).

Miracle healings, signs and wonders regularly occur when they minister. They preach and teach the same gospel message as multitudes of other ministers. Yet they seem more “fired up” than other folks.

I wondered why that is. I sought out their testimonies.

Reading their personal stories, each person mentioned reaching a point in their lives when they felt physically exhausted, mentally and emotionally burned out. Years of work showed too little results, as if God didn’t really care. Several considered leaving the ministry altogether.

Almost as a last resort, each of them reached out to someone else to pray for them, someone who knew what they were going through, had been where they were. Who knew what they needed.

Each one received prayer for the Holy Spirit to refill them, to re-impart to them strength and power to keep on keeping on.

And he did just that, sometimes in spectacular public ways. These weren’t ways they themselves would have chosen, but at that point they were too desperate for God’s touch to worry about appearances.

Now, in the natural realm some metals are fired over and over. They aren’t just being smelted, they are being forged. Smelted (purified) metal is quite valuable, of course. Some of it can be cold-processed, beaten and twisted into beautiful show-pieces without heat. Elaborate silver tea sets. Delicate gold jewelry.

But for other materials, red-hot heat is necessary. They need the heat of a forge, a furnace where metal is heated until it’s malleable, then beaten into the desired shape of the finished product.

ForgeA fine sword for instance, made of steel. An alloy of iron and carbon, steel is hard. More useful and long-lasting. In the forge, steel is heated, hammered, stretched thin and folded, re-heated and re-hammered again and again.

At last the final shaping is done, the edge is sharpened, and the sword is finished.

For men and women called to take God’s word to the most dangerous areas of the world like Mozambique, Central and West Africa, the Far East or Middle East, they don’t just need God’s smelter. They need his forge.

Then there are others, believing men and women under strain, fighting to be persistent and consistent in their faith right here at home. Christian businessmen, homemakers, pastors, teachers and truck drivers, small business owners and workers face real troubles, even active opposition these days. For them, too, it’s a struggle to remain faithful and strong.

I am beginning to understand more about God’s purpose in his baptism with the Holy Spirit AND fire.