Pennies from heaven? You betcha!!

“How are you doing Randall?” the young man inquired out from under his hoody.

“I’m doing alright,” I nodded tending the fire before throwing on the hotdogs and started to bounce the ball of conversation back to him, “How are…”

“I’M CLEAN! I have been CLEAN for awhile now AND I’VE GOT A JOB!” he announced.

“Good for you.” I earnestly declared but heaven help me I felt my old trusty sun-bleached hat I was wearing being immediately replaced by the one I wore as a Brooklyn Probation Officer. I got the distinct and all too familiar impression this young man’s excited sharing of his current status was motivated by the belief if he said “I’M CLEAN!” enough, his words would convince his body, “clean” is his new “Happy Place”.

My experience and his jittery body language told me that was still a coin toss.

Addiction is an evil beast and dear God – I truly pray this young man kills it – DEAD forever.

That’s how my evening started last night in our Skatepark.

How did it end?

“What was going on over there?” I asked as the sun started to lower behind the tall trees.

“That girl and guy leaving over there asked me if I had any drugs,” our best rider shared in the large gathered group, “I told’em ‘No!’ and then they asked me if I wanted to buy any!”

“So we gathered up this group,” his older brother and previous “King of the Skatepark” for his high flying abilities added, “and we asked them to leave our park! They didn’t like it…but there they go!”

“Wow,” I sighed, “that’s how you do it!!”

I hadn’t seen the big brother down there in years. Coincidence he was there last night? NOPE and I was sure glad for his leadership and his younger brother’s confidence to know he could call on him!

Dear God – thank you for that good work with our Skatepark Family and these wild souls standing firm!!

That’s how my evening drew to a close.

What keeps us going then? Certainly if we didn’t throw our “net” of connected relationship over this dynamic tribe our prayer list could be a bit shorter during a chapter of our nation’s history where our prayer list is lengthy. Well, aside from the fact we love them all, even the struggling ones, I will tell you why!

But you already knew I would!

I watched with interest as the two smallest girls in the Skatepark approached me. They had laid down their bicycles and their metered gait had all the makings of an official delegation exercising a duty of the utmost importance. The closer they got the more reverent their demeanor became… I really wanted to burst out laughing but something reigned me in.

“Randall,” the chosen orator of the pair declared officially and looked at her friend who nodded in encouragement for the speaker to continue, “we know it has to be very expensive for you to bring all this food down here every week so…” and with that she extended her tiny arm and as I reached out she announced proudly, “we want to give you this to help!”

And from her little opened hand she dropped a small mound of gathered… …pennies.

Yup – that’s why we keep doing this!

THANK YOU ALL for your support! Keep your prayers coming because our Skatepark Family feels them and we are winning! Imagine if last night had to be hearing a young man’s confession of ongoing drug use and our having to intervene in the actual purchase of drugs?

FYI – Last night cost $10.46, (minus 6 pennies!!) even with the variety pack of chips, so we are always good stewards of your entrusted resources!

Falling…

“HOW DO YOU STOP THIS THING?” Nate shouted as he was building up a serious head of steam on the borrowed electric hover board. The owner was a young lady and she was laughing so hard she could not instruct him. I too was doubled over in a deep belly laugh to FINALLY witness our invincible athletes struggling to master something with wheels while Nate weaved his way wobbling around – faster and faster – missing the various pieces of skatepark equipment – just barely!

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“YOU FALL OFF!!” his friend Trent groaned loudly from his experienced vantage point sprawled out on the ground where the iridescent little two-wheeled machine had deposited him after he achieved an insane speed during a series of rapidly increasing 360 revolutions! Imagine a 200lbs Tara Lipinski figure skating and trying to land a quad with her arms sticking straight out but instead it was a triple triple quad! Despite my guys (and gals) ability to defy the laws of physics – Day of Defiance XII has been rescheduled for August 15th – I knew the laws of physics were going to bite Trent in that spectacular whirling dervish display he put on and it would have arrested Nate too but he rocked back on the little wheeled-platform and came to a halt just short of a serious collision with our cement flybox. We were all laughing – hard!

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Then we ate some charred dogs, drank some juice and I kicked back in my lawn chair for the best free show in Michigan as our riders ROLLED out spectacular stunts while over my shoulder I heard…

“YOU MADE IT!” Maddy announced excitedly from her natural heart of encouragement. The tiny girl on the flashy, sparkling-glitter 20” BMX bike jumped off the seat and shuffle-skidded to a stop atop the “poser’s perch” precariously close to the edge of what would have been a three foot straight drop. “BE CAREFUL!” Maddy continued to instruct, “You do NOT want to go over the edge!”

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Curious – how our athletes make the impossible look easy in our Skatepark. I remember coming down there one early morning on my mountain bike and decided to just roll over the flybox and challenge the large quarter pipe… …NOPE!! Too steep for this old man!! But these three tiny sprites were rolling in off the half pipe and up the transition to the poser’s perch with eyes sparkling!!

Maddy continued her cautionary sober tutelage, “Last week a kid tried this and rolled right off the edge!”

The miniscule third rider in this learning-group was just BORN last summer! How could she be riding like this ALREADY!! Did I just say “this OLD man”? YUP, time flies just like they do. “Maddy that must have been pretty funny!” I had to interject knowing I would have heard if it had resulted in serious injury.

“NOT IF YOU WERE HIM!” she didn’t hesitate.

I nodded my head sagely, biting my tongue not to laugh again as she can be a REALLY focused youngster when she is in “instruction mode” and the two other feather weight riders were hanging on her every word. “Who was it?” I asked after making sure I had composed myself in keeping with her professional demeanor.

“I don’t know,” she pondered, “he was a kid, but not a kid, you know?”

Hm, “…a kid, but not a kid” kind of describes us all when we walk onto that wild set-apart space we call our Skatepark, but I got it and nodded.

And I got thinking last night about – FALLING.

We “fall in love”, or “we fall for someone”, if that goes awry “we have a falling out”. If we struggle with addiction and relapse “we fall off the wagon”. When things are out of control we may be “free falling”. When someone at the pinnacle of life falters we mutter, “How the mighty fall!” And I got remembering this last Sunday as I was blessed to baptize two more members of our youth at Woodgrove and just a few weeks ago our sister Carrie was baptized too; it is a deeply spiritual event as a person just falls back into the reception of the cool water. I place my hand between their shoulder blades to assist with their rising up but they just lean back and retire into the submersion of self to rise into a new way of thinking, acting, and in truth – BEING directed by the Divine!

It is beautiful to fall like that!

My Skatepark Family right now is the last bastion of “how things used to be”… Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, face to face, crazy embraces, tackles, back flips, warm, sweaty, salty, sweet, smokey, no cares, lots of emotions, many serious concerns… But no one screaming about being 6 feet apart, or giving each other the stink eye for having a mask or not having a mask…

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I might move in down there.

Because when I take stock of what matters – TRULY MATTERS – I want to be able to answer when life does go into free fall for any of them and they shout, “HOW DO YOU GET OFF THIS RIDE?” – I can answer, “YOU FALL OFF!” from the vantage point of having leaned back and fallen into that sweet, warm, soul to Spirit, embrace of God Almighty!

To succeed we may only have to get up one more time than we have been knocked down but to truly succeed for eternity we need to let ourselves fall one last time and be lifted up into a whole new way of being! I only get to put my hand on your back to help lift you up a little bit but the whole time God has his arms around you and will lift you up in a new and powerful way!

Go ahead – FALL FOR THAT!!!

*Thank you Larissa for the photos!!

Nudged…

“I wonder if anyone is going to call me out?” I pondered as my old crusty Jeep rolled to a stop along the fence bordering the east side of our empty Skatepark yesterday morning.

The workers from the neighboring factory were taking a smoke break outside and didn’t seem to find it odd as I wrestled a large square of cardboard in one hand while shaking a can of Safety Yellow spray paint in the other even before my feet hit ground. We occasionally struggle with graffiti in the Skatepark and I was hoping someone would shout out , “HEY! Whatcha planning to do over there!?”

No one did.

So I am standing on top of the three foot high cement “Fly Box” wondering how I am going to use the cardboard slab as my steady straight edge while laying down a smooth coat of paint. Our riders are incredibly gifted and they achieve such gravity defying heights that these (usually) yellow stripes are critical for them to discern the angled portions of this gray launching pad where they unfetter themselves briefly from the weight of this world. The speed they carry into this piece of equipment make the millisecond moment of arching skyward very precise so it is imperative these lines be as crisp and true as possible and a shaky job would be a dangerous insult to their discipline.

“Alright,” I exhaled, “here goes!” and just about the time I depressed the valve on the rattle can of paint I looked up and made eye contact with one of our Skatepark Family riding by in the rapidly warming humid air.

He is a wild seeking soul… kind of like the rest of us…plus a little bit more.

God nudged me.

Well okay He nearly knocked me off the Fly Box!

“HEY,” I got to shout out, “Could you lend me a hand over here laying down these stripes?” Not having children, I don’t get to see the look on young faces Christmas Morning as the invitation is given to start unwrapping gifts… I saw it right then.

“SURE RANDALL!” he yelled back and in two shakes of a lamb’s tail he was right there assessing the project.

“Cool,” I proclaimed, honestly pleased for the extra pair of hands and the unbridled enthusiasm of my young Skatepark brother, “I need you to hold this straightedge along here as I paint in the new stripes.” He excitedly flattened the cardboard to mask the recent repaint our guys had done in gray and joyously awaited the application of the bright fresh pigment – his nose only inches away from the old faded green stripe where the yellow was about to land.

“Hm?” I pondered aloud, “I don’t want to paint YOU yellow as well… Maybe if you held the cardboard at an angle and kind of stood behind it…?”

“THAT WOULD WORK!” he almost shouted bearing no grudge for the redirection of his efforts.

So… I start going about the careful “whisping” of the bright paint along the edge as my energetic assistant carefully relocated the cardboard along the full length of the stripe until we reached the end. We traded positions and I did the other side of the stripe. Then I started filling it in but it was obvious we weren’t going to have enough paint with my “artsy-fartsy” approach and I could tell my young apprentice was getting a little uneasy simply by the sound of the ball rattling in a rapidly draining can.

I felt another (gentler) nudge…

“Whew,” I surrendered, “How would you like to take over the painting?”

“YOU KNOW I’M PRETTY GOOD WITH THE SPRAY CAN!!” he declared with a huge honest grin surpassed only by how big his eyes got at the invitation to take up the chromatic torch.

I just nodded…

He then proceeded to lay down POINT BLANK whatever paint was left knowing it was going to be close to finish this stripe with another yet to do. His approach spoke very clearly, “What you were doing might be the right way to paint an old bicycle frame you are restoring…but this is cement in the Skatepark and it needs to be bold, heavy, and vibrant so WATCH THIS! If we stay in these lines NO ONE is going to care about a run or two!!”

And he was right.

And we ran out of paint.

So we parted ways agreeing to return after he pedaled away to buy something to drink and I would search out more paint. I came back with two more cans and he returned with another friend as I was wrapping up the second stripe. He nodded and I bet he noticed I was using his technique a lot more than I was using mine.

I stood up stretching out some kinks in my back as he proudly surveyed our project in front of his friend. I paused to estimate,“It’s gonna be close but I think we have just enough paint with these two cans from my stash.”

“It looks good,” he agreed, “A few spots are light but it looks good!”

“Where should I hit it again?” I asked and he obliged with his younger eyes pointing out a few less vibrant spots.

“Tell you what,” I declared feigning a little bit more back pain than I really felt, “How’d you like to finish her up?”

Okay maybe this time wasn’t Christmas Morning but what pride he calmly displayed in front of his friend as he took the can and blasted the spots which benefited from his more generous application!

“THERE!” he nodded the empty can rattling in his hand announcing it had given its all to our project.

“LOOKS GREAT!” I concurred, “Man, you all have done a fantastic job bringing the park back to life these last two weeks. The fresh paint looks really good on our equipment down here!” He agreed and I reminded him we would celebrate with pizza that night right back in the Skatepark and he and his friend rolled out to follow their front wheels to who knows where?

“This is Randall,” our Skatepark sister introduced me as she and her two girlfriends I had not seen before accepted warm, cheesy slices of pepperoni pizza that night, “He’s our father in the Skatepark.” I do love’em like they are my own – wild spray-can-proficient souls that they are which accounts for a few of my prayer-full sleepless nights!

Thinking about the day as we finished eating that pizza and the evening unfolded…

There is a saying among us creative folk, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal!”. And you know what? I am sure glad God gave me that first rowdy nudge to bring my young brother over to the Fly Box to help out or I’d still probably be standing there gently passing my 15th can of paint over those stripes when the better approach from my friend got’er done rightly and efficiently with 3! Sure the Sistine Chapel is a transporting marvel of artist expression as we gaze heavenward but it took four years! I am sure when Michelangelo finished they didn’t want him to spend another four years painting yellow stripes in the church parking lot!

Sometimes we need to feel the nudge from above, and get outside our comfort zone and hand over the spray can to learn a new approach…and grow closer to a seeking soul.

And now our high flying Skatepark spirits can leave earth briefly with a touch more confidence.

And may we respond to the nudge to represent Christ to them for the day they leave this earth eternally.

THANK YOU ALL for your continued prayers for our Skatepark Family!!

The brush of angel’s wings?

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This was a 2011 project our Skatepark Family – KNOCKED OUT!!! It was initiated by Matt Mills who penned a grant proposal to the Barry Community Foundation with his poet’s soul. Last night we set about continuing to take care of that trust!

“SIR! THIS BUILDING IS OFF LIMITS TO THE PUBLIC!” The police cruiser had rolled up from the dark recesses of the City Garage after I had been invited in to receive the paint and supplies we would use to refurbish our Hastings Skatepark last night. I did not respond to the officer unaware I was cutting such an imposing figure in my sandals, shorts, and tank top. I also had the advantage of knowing the cool guy from the City DPW signing out our supplies was only about 15 feet from the officer and I knew he would vouch for me.

Sure enough! And soon the police officer slid back into his cruiser and backed up into the obscure spot from whence he came…

“Sorry about that,” the city worker grinned nervously walking the paint and brushes over to me, “I didn’t mean to almost get you arrested!”

“No problem,” I stated half joking, “I am a pastor and could have used the time in solitude.”

“I know,” he laughed referring to my calling, “but wasn’t sure how your congregation would feel about you being behind bars!”

At the time of this writing – I am still at liberty and I am recording it with my own hand. lol

“Randall,” Trent announced when I rode into the Skatepark that afternoon on my way home from the church and making a friendly visit, “I want to buy blue paint to repaint these picnic tables some people have written on. I don’t want the city to remove them because of what’s been done.”

Wow – I didn’t see that coming on our first night back in Skatepark “officially” after a long limiting edict for this virus and my busy schedule.

What will change things for the better is exactly this – our youth exercising responsibility for our park and being proactive in its upkeep. I didn’t want to derail that train but also know these youth work hard for EVERY penny so… …

“Well,” I took a deep breath and pondered in the midst of many onlookers, “That is super COOL – but the city does have supply AND when WE announce WE want to repaint our park I think that sends a pretty clear message we care. Why would WE mess up these tables and then ask if WE can repaint them? When we roll (no pun) this way – they understand.”

Heads nodded.

Trent continued, “I know you said five o’clock but if you want to come down early we can start right now!”

I took another deep warm breath and decided, “Okay, let me get home gather up the supplies, change into my paint clothes and come back. BUT we have to start with ice cream… … to keep our strength up!”

More heads nodded and in 15 minutes I was back at 4:30.

I am not saying we would have finished the ENTIRE park if ALL the paint had ended up on the equipment but we might have hit a few more needy spots if we didn’t get quite so much paint on us – but the last thing I am going to do is try to reign in the fervent work of our energetic youth BEING COMMUNITY – even covered in Skatepark green and gray!!

At one point a band of our brothers departed and came back with additional rollers, trays, and brushes THEY purchased. Despite my direction to come back with a receipt so I could pay them back they took care of business – independently. Pride can be a tricky thing – but am I wrong to feel a little parental pride in seeing these young men and women step forward in our community like this?

“So your church is in Coats Grove?” I was asked while we took an ice cream break.

“Yeah it is,” Joseph answered before I could respond, “You know the way you go to Woodland? You go right past it.”

More heads nodded and maybe I felt a little Divine Breeze blowing – or maybe it was just the ice cream talkin’? We’ll see!

So paint was being applied – lots of places – and I heard, “YOU JUST PAINTED MY SHOE!!!” – I am still laughing about that one – and Davita and I were up on top of the quarter pipe painting the rails. “Whew,” that forecast heat wave is coming back in,” I sighed, “and the humidity is picking up.”

She paused and reflected happily with a smile, “I just spent ALL day in a factory! This feels GREAT TO ME!” How cool is that? After knocking out a 9 hour day this young lady relaxes by giving up her evening getting spattered with green oil based paint! It helps that her boyfriend was one of the lead instigators of this positive endeavor but nevertheless her spirit was inspired and it enriched me! “Man,” she continued, “I ALWAYS get paint on me when I paint!” assessing the polka dots of paint we both were sporting. Then she asked out of the clear blue, “Do you know Celia DeMond?”

“CELIA?” I responded in surprise, “I am just back from riding out and dropping off the Sunday Bulletin to her for Worship! She is our Music Director at Woodgrove!” (Hm? Did I just feel another little gust?)

“I took piano lessons from her,” Davita declared smiling again.

“It’s a wonderful small world sometimes, isn’t it?” I agreed giving pause, brush in hand, and then we kept going until we finished.

So despite my direction that the spit spewing water by the pavilion would NOT wash away the stains of the oil based paint, many tried until Justin came back with paint thinner from my stash at home. That did the trick…for the most part…I still found a big dob of green on my shin this morning and a few of our Skatepark Family kept a trace or two intact last night as a reminder – perhaps of good fellowship in a just cause.

But what about that Breeze last night? Could it have been stirring for those of us who need to be washed whiter than snow? And could it have been a reminder to us of faith that the harvest field is swaying ripe for the Good News and if a young lady can come out and be joyously spattered with a tenacious paint that we should never flinch from our great commission no matter where or when it takes us?

Be harmonious in your relationships today and everyday! You never know when it might be a link in the chain which draws someone closer to the Divine. You might be the voice that initiates the understanding we have a Reconciler who vouches for us and liberates us from the law. Or maybe your communion might be as practical as feeling the brush of angels’ wings while you get spattered in a truly just cause?

Discerning the good and perfect will of God

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love and serve him with all your heart and soul. Deuteronomy10:12 NLT

Our Lenten journey follows Jesus to the cross where he eventually submits himself humbly to a gruesome execution after bowing to the good and perfect will of the Father.

                        Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus said, “Listen, we’re going up to Jerusalem, where all the predictions of the prophets concerning the Son of Man will come true.  He will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.”

But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. Luke 18:31-34 NLT

In Luke’s passage I find the closing of that account disturbing: But they didn’t understand any of this. The significance of his words was hidden from them, and they failed to grasp what he was talking about.  (v.34)

We may often struggle with discerning God’s good and perfect will but I challenge us today to consider the fact we DO often know very clearly what God’s will is for us but given the choice between that steep, narrow, one track path toward the face of God and the broad, smooth, avenue of our own desires… …we go our own way.

Jesus often spoke in parables and often his disciples – when they were outside the public venue would inquire as to the meaning of those stories. Here however Jesus takes THEM aside and opens with, “Listen…”

Now, when I was in school I never took a lot of notes but would focus intently on every lecture. If you are a practitioner of this approach you must pay keen attention whenever your teacher prefaces an aspect of their delivery with, “Listen…” And in Luke, Jesus is not affecting some quick little tidbit like, “Hey guys, listen up, I know a great place to get roast lamb.” Jesus here is painfully aware of the Father’s good and perfect will and fulfilling it will require an extraordinary amount of discipline and the disciples’ support would be a tremendous blessing to him so please, “Listen…”

But they didn’t understand any of this. Why didn’t they understand? This was no cryptic parable!

The significance of his words was hidden from them… How many times did Jesus refer to himself as the Son of Man? Well in Luke’s Gospel it is used 31 times so the disciples couldn’t have struggled with that reference for Jesus. And frankly Jesus is quite accurate and descriptive about his plight even prophesying his resurrection! “…He [Jesus – the Son of Man] will be handed over to the Romans, and he will be mocked, treated shamefully, and spit upon. They will flog him with a whip and kill him, but on the third day he will rise again.” (33)

…and they failed to grasp what he was talking about. My favorite band is The Call and one of their lyrics reads:

When I was quite young

I had learned to fear.

I was taught to listen

but not to hear…

Surely the disciples did LISTEN – Christ opened with that demand – but clearly they did not hear. Mark’s account of this same event describes the disciples as being filled with awe at the approach to Jerusalem – so emotions were high. Could this make a difference in the disciple’s ability to process Jesus’ very detailed description of what awaits them? I think it might because have you ever had your head in the clouds and suddenly hear drifting in from the person at your side, “YOU HAVEN’T HEARD A SINGLE WORD I JUST SAID!”? Despite the prompting to listen earnestly, if the disciples were in an energy charged state, it could have had an influence on their ability to process Jesus’ statement.

Or maybe they were all having a collective “Peter Moment” and didn’t want to face it?

From then on Jesus began to tell his disciples plainly that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem, and that he would suffer many terrible things at the hands of the elders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, but on the third day he would be raised from the dead.

But Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things. “Heaven forbid, Lord,” he said. “This will never happen to you!” Matthew 16:21-22

Have you ever had a friend share with you the fact they were going to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to perform some sacrificial act to fulfill the good and perfect will of God? They might start with, “I know this might sound a touch crazy but… …”

Did you encourage them or hearing their harmony with the Divine did you quickly respond, “Yeah, you are right – THAT IS CRAZY!” and quickly clamp your hands over your own spiritual ears for fear of actually HEARING God too?

My wife worked with an incredible lady named Edith White when they both taught French in Minnesota. Shortly after Agathe graduated from that pursuit Edith sold all her worldly belongings and went to Africa to translate God’s word into the native language of those people while also participating in a very aggressive literacy program for them. Presently the 80+ year old Edith is back in the USA for a Sabbath from that intensely sacrificial labor. How often do we see that kind of “all in” commitment and celebrate it with a hearty, “Better them than me!” but all the while Christ is right next to us urging, “Listen…” and we know it and don’t open the door or our ears?

God tells Moses in the book of Numbers Chapter 27 that Moses is going to die so climb a mountain and get a look at the “Promised Land” before his expiration date comes up… What happens after that? Nine more chapters of Numbers AND just a little light reading titled Deuteronomy…34 chapters…of Deuteronomy!! What is Deuteronomy about? Well, in a nutshell it is Moses saying, “LISTEN to what God wants of you! If you do it, you will prosper beyond measure and if you do not follow His good and perfect will, you will suffer mightily!”

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you? He requires only that you fear the Lord your God, and live in a way that pleases him, and love and serve him with all your heart and soul. Deuteronomy 10:12 NLT

This has not changed and is a great approach to moving in God’s good and perfect will for us today!

Closing Thought

 If you were to meet Edith White I won’t tell you to keep your ears open to listen for God’s call to Africa but she will inspire you to hear God’s call to apply your spiritual gifts for his purpose in his good and perfect will!

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

The humility of Christ

The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12

Last week we saw Moses put in a tough spot by God’s edict against his faithless people and discovered the one tool which helped give Moses the strength to carry on through it was the fact he was the most humble man on earth. Jesus’ earthly mission was no simple task either so did the Christ move humbly?

 “Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” (John 4:2) Have you ever called your own mother “Dear woman” that is who Jesus is addressing here after Mary informs him the wedding host has run out of wine. I don’t know if Mary is pointing this out because Jesus arrived with his thirsty disciples (who may not have been on the guest list) or if the Holy Spirit is prompting her to initiate Christ’s earthly ministry but I find this a curious way to say, “Mom”. The phrase “Dear woman…” clearly denotes affection but also a broader connection to all humanity because look closely and notice Jesus also says, “…our problem.” He doesn’t say, “Mom, that’s not MY problem…” Imagine being the Word which brought EVERYTHING that exists into being and then as a COMPLETELY human being have to grasp your ministry will depend on human support as your mother nudges you to initiate it! Can you imagine a more profound humility?

Jesus is often frustrated by his disciples, and the people he ministers to and yet what does he hold back from people willing to “go all in”? NOTHING!!

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. (Matthew 15:28) This declaration did not start in humility for Christ as he sparred with the Syrophoenician woman about who he should minister to but it surely concluded that way! Christ never – to those in presented need – promoted the EPIC condescension of his willingness to heal and teach. EVERY SINGLE interaction with EVERY SINGLE human being could have been executed from the ultimate position of authority and yet what do we hear?

“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.”

And it is not the last time!  

One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” Then he touched her, and instantly she could stand straight. How she praised God! (Luke 13:10-13) And when the religious leaders complained about Jesus’ act of compassion he replied: This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” (16)

“Dear woman, you are healed of your sickness!” 

“…This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham,…”

Christ is back playing for the “Home Team” here and exercises his authority as the Master of the Sabbath in compassionate healing! Our first impression of this account could be one of Jesus stamping his authority on the religion of the day and sticking his finger in the eye of the legalistically self righteous but I see Jesus’ intense emotion more as a way of insisting, “PLEASE understand who I am and what our REAL FAITH should look and behave like! If you can wrap your heart around this and ME you will know the Father as he has always intended for you to know him!”

Where is the humility in that?

At any chosen moment Christ could have called down Moses, Elijah, or the ENTIRE Heavenly Host to declare his divinity to EVERYONE but Jesus chose…“…This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham,…” hoping her joyful healing would open their hearts to the healing THEY needed.

And then Jesus is right back turning everything on its head disclosing to a Samaritan woman (who the Jews NEVER associated with) his messianic nature and mission…

Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem…”

Dear woman, survivor of how many challenging relationships?

Dear woman, seeker of the Truth – I AM!

Dear woman, give me a drink and I will satisfy your soul!

What beautiful humility Jesus reaches out with to this woman at the well!

As I grow older I see strength differently – I have to.

Can you see the strength in Christ’s humility? He could have put on a show of power with all the bells and whistles and blown minds and dazzled people with visions of grandeur but instead…

Dear woman – I will supply the wine for the celebration of the New Covenant.

Dear woman – my people won’t come to my banquet but your faith is great so here is a serving from my table, your daughter is healed.

Dear woman – today we celebrate real Sabbath for you are MY daughter and I free you from the bondage of Satan.

Dear woman – your arid season is over and in MY embrace your soul will become an everlasting spring of refreshment.

“Dear woman, that’s not our problem,” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” John 4:2

The next time we hear Jesus say this to his mother it sounds like this…

When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home. John 19:26-27

Do you know where Jesus was at the time of this humble utterance?

 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of sour wine was sitting there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 28-30

Closing Thought

The first time Jesus arrived he was heralded by the Angel Army of Heaven.

When Jesus comes back, he will be again.

Until then, let us move with the humility of Christ born in the strength and power we find in the truth of his word and the in-filling of his Holy Spirit!

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

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.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:3-11

Humility…is it strength?

There is GREAT material for consideration in your Bible – OBVIOUSLY – and the Exodus saga of God’s people being freed from Egypt is among the best! Today I want us to consider an aspect of that journey which should encourage us to grow in our understanding of God albeit a somewhat troubling contemplation at first blush.

In Numbers Chapter 13 God has brought Moses and the people to the border of the land promised to their patriarch Abraham and 12 scouts are sent out to get the lay of the land. They return after 40 days with a single bunch of grapes so HUGE two men have to carry it on a pole between them!

Yeah baby!! It is indeed a land flowing with milk and honey! Problem is the milk and the honey are flowing through an occupied land and not only are the grapes HUGE but so are a some of the inhabitants! Only two of the scouts – Joshua and Caleb – are confident in the Lord’s strength to carry the day in the battle ahead but the other 10 scouts begin spreading fear and dissension until… Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night. Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained. “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Then Moses and Aaron fell face down on the ground before the whole community of Israel.  Two of the men who had explored the land, Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, tore their clothing.  They said to all the people of Israel, “The land we traveled through and explored is a wonderful land!  And if the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us safely into that land and give it to us. It is a rich land flowing with milk and honey.  Do not rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. They are only helpless prey to us! They have no protection, but the Lord is with us! Don’t be afraid of them!”

But the whole community began to talk about stoning Joshua and Caleb. Then the glorious presence of the Lord appeared to all the Israelites at the Tabernacle.  And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? Will they never believe me, even after all the miraculous signs I have done among them? Numbers 14:1-11

God then suggests wiping out the whole moaning and weeping lot of them and starting over with Moses as the father of God’s “new” people. This isn’t the first time this has happened and – YET AGAIN – Moses pleads with God to spare the people here is where we should start thinking more deeply…

Then the Lord said, “I will pardon them as you have requested.  But as surely as I live, and as surely as the earth is filled with the Lord’s glory, not one of these people will ever enter that land. They have all seen my glorious presence and the miraculous signs I performed both in Egypt and in the wilderness, but again and again they have tested me by refusing to listen to my voice. They will never even see the land I swore to give their ancestors. None of those who have treated me with contempt will ever see it. But my servant Caleb has a different attitude than the others have. He has remained loyal to me, so I will bring him into the land he explored. His descendants will possess their full share of that land. Now turn around, and don’t go on toward the land where the Amalekites and Canaanites live. Tomorrow you must set out for the wilderness in the direction of the Red Sea.” Numbers 14:21-25

Remember the old game show – Let’s Make a Deal – where you could choose what was behind 3 different doors and once you turned down one door you were destined never to go back and have to live with what showed up behind your next choice? So door 1 to the Promised Land just got closed and it’s back to the wilderness but God isn’t really in the mood for more of the same because his people have shunned him in the face of constant miraculous provision so…

Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron,  “How long must I put up with this wicked community and its complaints about me? Yes, I have heard the complaints the Israelites are making against me. Now tell them this: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Lord, I will do to you the very things I heard you say. You will all drop dead in this wilderness! Because you complained against me, every one of you who is twenty years old or older and was included in the registration will die. You will not enter and occupy the land I swore to give you. The only exceptions will be Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.

 “‘You said your children would be carried off as plunder. Well, I will bring them safely into the land, and they will enjoy what you have despised. But as for you, you will drop dead in this wilderness. And your children will be like shepherds, wandering in the wilderness for forty years. In this way, they will pay for your faithlessness, until the last of you lies dead in the wilderness.

 “‘Because your men explored the land for forty days, you must wander in the wilderness for forty years – a year for each day, suffering the consequences of your sins. Then you will discover what it is like to have me for an enemy.’ I, the Lord, have spoken! I will certainly do these things to every member of the community who has conspired against me. They will be destroyed here in this wilderness, and here they will die!” 14:27-35

Have you ever had to deliver some REALLY bad news? I bet it wasn’t as bad as what Moses had to do right there! I can hear it now as Moses announces, “Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news… The GOOD news is I convinced God not to destroy ALL of you for being faithless doubters and complainers. The BAD news is, if you are over 20 years old and your name isn’t Joshua son of Nun or Caleb son of Jephunneh… You are never going to see the Promised Land and you will DIE IN THE WILDERNESS. I move to adjourn. Have a nice day.”

Most of us know this story but have you ever thought about the predicament this puts Moses in? And just to drive home the point of God’s disappointment…

The ten men Moses had sent to explore the land – the ones who incited rebellion against the Lord with their bad report – were struck dead with a plague before the Lord. Of the twelve who had explored the land, only Joshua and Caleb remained alive. 14:36-38 NLT

Here is my consideration for us today; How on earth can God expect Moses to lead a group which HE  just told the majority will die wandering in the wilderness? Truly – How could Moses be expected to maintain any kind of order when the bulk of his people have just been told they HAVE NO HOPE!!

Not only that but imagine you were 15ish years old – just the age when you begin to realize you know so much more than your parents – and although YOU have promised hope it won’t be realized for ANOTHER 40 YEARS because what the older generation did TO YOU!! That had to make for some wonderful times around the dinner table!!

There is tenant set forth in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” which suggests never completely surrounding an enemy but to instead, give them an avenue of retreat. The idea being they won’t fight like a trapped animal as retreat remains an option. Moses is now in command of a whole group of people – many of whom have NO hope WHATSOEVER of surviving the next 40 YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS and the rest of whom know it will be FOUR DECADES before they can rest in the land of bounty!! Can you say MUTINY?

Where do you find the strength for such a situation?

How was Moses equipped to deal with this and all the other challenges of his incredible calling?

The secret is this and we find it in an obscure passage brought forth while Moses’ very own sister and brother are criticizing him… Now Moses was very humble – more humble than any other person on earth. Numbers 12:3

Humility.

Moses was filled with humility! Remember when God called to him from the burning bush and Moses hemmed and hawed about not being the man for the job when God appointed him the leader of this epic camping trip? We see the end from the beginning and just look at Moses as not wanting to take this on (can’t blame him all things considered) but maybe all that was simply because he was the most HUMBLE MAN ON EARTH!!

Humility, I think humility is the opposite of pride because we learn (or at least we are told) in Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall.

Whereas in James (the “Proverbs of the New Testament) we glean: Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. 4:10

Moses could have wielded God like a hammer or at least moved out of the way to let God wreak havoc on this unmanageable bunch but in his HUMILITY Moses pleaded for mercy for a mob who more than once wanted to stone him!

So what kind of a deal should we make with God even when circumstances around us are going sideways in the extreme? Well Peter agrees with James: So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. 1 Peter 5:6

There will be times when we cry out to God in deep distress for the strength to pass through circumstances beyond our ability to address under our own power. The answer in those trying times is to empty ourselves of ourselves and be in-filled with the power of God – THAT is the ultimate HUMILITY and it will serve us all well if we can learn to exercise it.

Closing Thought

I had an interesting thought writing this message, “I bet God was doing what he did with Gideon by waiting 40 years until all these people died in the wilderness so he could prove whose mighty power they would conquer the Promised Land with! I bet the next army he rose up was MUCH smaller!”

So I crunched the “Numbers” and…

Israel had 603,550 (Numbers 1:46) fighting men when they turned back in fear and rebellion at the door of the land flowing with milk and honey.

They ALL died – save 2 – Joshua and Caleb.

The next generation who did move forward in faith numbered 601,730 (Numbers 26:51).

That’s only a reduction of around .003 % – yup 1/3 of 1 percent.

Moses had humility. He also had the power of communicating with God in a very personal way – all the time! If we avail ourselves of those same incredible gifts we will weather any storm and be blessed to find our Sovereign God still in the provision business (in His time) even when we may feel all is lost!

What are YOU training for?

Last week I mentioned being stirred by a quote I saw in “Peloton” magazine which stated “Nutrition is training” and we covered the fact our spiritual nutrition should be a healthy diet of Jesus as the Bread of Life and Living Water and in fact we MUST consume him! That was the nutrition part, today we are going to talk about training!

Randall the days of competition are behind me! I carry this “spare tire” not in case I flat on the race course but because I flat out enjoy eating whatever I want in whatever quantity I desire!

Well I am sorry because… Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

This truth should help us stay leaner, realizing who in fact has a lien on us!!

That’s a literal encouragement for the earthly component of our being but even in this setting we need to be prepared for warfare and challenge on a whole different level!

For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

Have you ever considered the fact your spiritual life could aid in the battle for the soul of this world being fought in heavenly places? Are you trained enough to be in this Special Force?

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3

I volunteered to be a mentor for a first time rider in this year’s National 24 Hour Challenge. He asked what a good time to call me might be and I said right now my schedule was more uncertain than usual as I am a pastor and we have had some serious challenges of late requiring me to be really flexible on my day planner. He said he completely understood and sent me a link to the website of the church he pastors outside of St. Louis! So we exchanged a lot of email and I shared this wisdom with him: This ride will eventually hurt so bad you WILL ask yourself why you are doing it… BE SURE YOU HAVE AN ANSWER or you will quit on the spot.

Now let’s read that Hebrews passage again as we consider what we are training for in our 24/7/365/Eternity ride of life!

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.  We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. Hebrews 12:1-3

We are in this faith race together! We are waging war on many levels together and when all this gets too painful, frustrating, and exhausting we can inspire each other and if that light ever dims WE HAVE CHRIST who set the ultimate example of why we train for this race and compete in this world on the side of grace, mercy and love! And not only did Christ lead us by example but he gave us the model of how to be VICTORIOUS!!

He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Matthew 26:39

When I rode tandem with my father in the N24HC I never had a problem with the question, “Why am I doing this?” Christ goes me one better because on my ride with him HE IS IN THE CAPTAIN’S saddle and knows where we need to go and how to get there!

Our training in the faith is a necessity for us to be used rightly by God – commissioned for the Good News! We are light shiners, cities on hilltops, chefs who know how to use salt in a tasteless world… We must be in the kind of spiritual shape to compete there!

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! 1 Corinthians 9:24

Closing Thought

You’ve probably heard the joke, “I don’t want to trust my health to someone who PRACTICES medicine!”

When do we stop practicing (training) and when do we go into battle?

That’s a great question so let me ask you, have you ever gone into competition so well  trained you KNEW everyone else was only racing for second?

Don’t wait that long to run with Jesus! Christ is an incredible coach and he will know in what arena to use you to gain in trust of him and how to apply your spiritual gifts so don’t worry about being trained to perfection. Likewise don’t be a “spiritual streaker” going into battled clothed only in the helmet of salvation!

“Nutrition is training.”

Clean up your diet, consume Christ, and be a spring of Living Water! Submit to the good and perfect will of God and soon enough you WILL BE ON THE FRONT LINE and we WILL appreciate your reinforcement!

Are you Cross training? Part 1-Nutrition

I recently subscribed to “Peloton” magazine and read a short article regarding proper diet for competitive cyclists and a woman who works for the sport supplement company – GU – made this simple statement:

“Nutrition is training.”

What does your diet look like then? Is it nutritious enough to run hard when life gets even harder and are you spiritually fed enough to assist in vanquishing mighty powers and evil spirits in the heavenly places (more on that next week)?

I also had this startling experience on Monday…

The list of heart issues the woman shared with Sally, Tia and I made Mark’s serious heart valve replacement surgery look quite manageable. This lady’s husband had four drastic heart conditions in need of immediate surgical intervention and she shared these facts in a concise manner, devoid of any profanity and I was beginning to think we were in the presence of a sister in the faith until she confessed in wide-eyed fear, “I watch A LOT of horror movies and whenever I close my eyes all I can see is my husband having his chest slashed open!” Her revelation was accompanied by her making dramatic slashing motions with her arm which would have had Alfred Hitchcock jumping up and down to cast her in a movie! She even started laughing maniacally hoping we would join in and normalize her very emotional dilemma…

So what should our diet look like as people of faith?

Sally, Tia and I all had planned for a long day and had sustenance at the ready but what we truly dined on in that waiting area was the Prince of Peace and the Comforter! When we closed our eyes it was in prayerful communion with these Divine resources. All this woman had was horrific Hollywood because that’s how she set her table! Jesus knew humankind was going to struggle in this world with various challenges and told us EXACTLY what our nutrition should look like!!

Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.  Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” John 6:48-58

Do you hunger for the Word or is your relationship more of an occasional snack when you are in a tight spot and you know you need what Jesus IS? Do you only turn to Jesus when your soul truly THIRSTS or is he your constant source?

On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him…) John 7:37-39

How is that for sustaining soul-nutrition and are the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self control something that we consume enough to have seeds aplenty for more growth? And what a satisfying, nutrient-rich elixir we could blend with those fruit and this liquid!!

Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” John 4:10-15

NEVER thirsty again?

When I ride the National 24 Hour Challenge one of the GREATEST things my crew can do for me is pour: cool water, chocolate milk, Gatorade, Coffee, white Monster, Coke Classic, Reeds Ginger Ale…or whatever else I pant for right down my throat!

NEVER thirst again?

Oh what I’d I give!!

Really?

We can’t call for this diet out of selfish convenience. We can’t demand manna because we don’t want to be yoked and work. We can’t call for bread from heaven to avoid laboring in the harvest! We can’t just tilt our head back and expect this Living Water to be poured down our throats to avoid a journey to the well. We MUST come to the Source leaving behind ALL our worthless “empties”!!

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God.
Psalm 42:1-2

Closing Thought

My wife gets up each morning after the cats exercise various and devious means to roust her from bed starting at about 5:00am. So she gets up muttering various labels for the howling beasts – which aren’t their names – and produces a warmed concoction of canned food and then a course of specific kibble for our two spoiled survivors: Big Marv and Little Smoke.

Soon Marv starts wailing at the door until the first glimpse of gray breaks in the eastern sky opens its arms for his release! Sweet freedom came yesterday and straight down the road went Big Marv to Peggy’s house where he hung a quick right hand turn, shuffled up her driveway and then disappeared… Now Peggy has three Pit Bulls and a cat or two so I jumped on social media and told her Big Marv was on her premises. I obliged her request for a picture of our wandering cat and she replied, “Yup, he is a beautiful cat and he is here eating the food we put out for a stray.”

Aggie was NONE TOO HAPPY – and Big Marv is now on her list! You don’t want to be on Aggie’s list!

How do you think God feels when we wander away to eat somewhere else and consume something else when He longs to be our soul provider of what truly feeds us?

After we are transformed…

Last week we pondered the exchange between Jesus and the desperate mother wanting relief from an evil tormenting spirit for her daughter. Christ inevitably grants this “Dear woman” her request and the daughter is immediately freed. Do you ever wonder how the rest of their daily lives were lived after Jesus intervened miraculously? John writes in his Gospel:  Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (21:25) So what dramatic changes occurred for these people so personally transformed by the Divine? Did they ALL become disciples or did they eventually drift back into the daily grind of surviving during a hard chapter of human history and only reflect occasionally (if at all) for being gifted new life by the hand of the Anointed One of God?

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. 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.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 

The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well. So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. John 5:2-16

Hm? Who does this lame man bow to after his healing? It appears to me he seeks the approval of the Jewish leaders as opposed to an ongoing relationship with Christ. This guy has been an invalid for 38 YEARS and just because he gets a little heat from the leaders of religious law he is willing to throw Jesus under the bus! “Oh, I’m not supposed to be carrying my mat? It was Jesus who told me to!”  Jesus knows this man’s heart and even warns him to stop sinning but IN THE FACE OF MIRACULOUS HEALING – JUST MOMENTS BEFORE – points Jesus out to the Jewish leaders as the one who initiated, with His healing command, the invalid’s supposed Sabbath indiscretion. And instead of CELEBRATING his healing, this cured man becomes a tool of persecution for Jesus.

No wonder Jesus got worked up from time to time!!

But then there was a young man…(one of my ALL TIME favorite passages!) who moved a little differently after being touched by the healing hand of Jesus:

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

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 went and washed, and came home seeing.

His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?”  Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.

He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

 “Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind.  Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath.  Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents.  “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind.  But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”  His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”

Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses!  We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.  Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.  If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. John 9:1-38

WOW! So much to contemplate here but before we continue, let me offer a warning to the Church – just because someone meets Christ differently than our theology may find conventional – it does not diminish their experience of grace. My perspective on these two incredible healings makes me wish Jesus had put “mud in the eye” of the first fickle guy and simply commanded sight for the faithful second!  BUT I AM NOT JESUS – AND NEITHER ARE YOU! It isn’t our job to question the impartation of the Divine, instead we are to simply welcome and guide our brothers and sisters in the Way the, the Truth, and the Life via the inspired Word and the Holy Spirit! Squabbling about stuff like how someone was baptized, or takes communion, or dresses in church, or sings, or worships… … makes me wonder if we have been baptized by the Holy Spirit?

The simpler question for us today who have been recipients of GRACE and the renewed life of the Holy Spirit is; How have we moved since? Do we worship readily the One who saved us or do we apologize to this world which finds the teaching of Christ contrary to what they think is right? Are we willing to say, “Lord I believe!” in the face of the necessary change it insists upon in our lives, or at the first sign of conflict do we say, “Oh, it was Jesus who told me to do this – but don’t worry – I’ll never act that way again! What do YOU say I should do?”

In these two Biblical accounts we see one man who caves to the powers that be and another who has the courage to speak the truth about the Truth! One man who – after 38 years can finally walk – but refuses to stand his ground while another born blind is given TRUE sight and speaks in power to those more blinded than he had ever been!

The first man should give glory to God every time he stands up but instead apologizes to the people who never did anything for him – FOR 38 YEARS – for carrying his beggar’s mat!

The second young man could have said, “Oh, thanks! I was born blind so you could display your power? I WANT TO BE COMPENSATED FOR ALL THOSE YEARS!!” But he doesn’t, instead he focuses on the future with a real CLEAR VISION and proclaims it boldly at the risk of being an outcast!

Who are we?

How do we move after being touched by Jesus?

Closing Thought

I am a sentimentalist but if I had been the first guy I wonder if I could have mustered up the courage to say, “Lord, if it is all the same to you, could I just leave this old, nasty, mangy, crusty mat here? If I keep it, it will only remind me of these long years of suffering and it will be easier for me to follow you if I discard something I no longer need!” Instead this lame man continues in spiritual repose more concerned about how he is judged by the world for how he carries something worthless.

Then there is the man born blind who couldn’t give a black rat’s rump about what anyone thought about his healing and the Source of it!

“…One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

We need this kind of fire if we have had our eyes opened by Christ! If we see clearly the gift of grace and have felt the dross in our lives being consumed by the power of the Holy Spirit, this world HAS TO KNOW WE ARE TRANSFORMED!!

How are we doing with that???