The Foolishness of God

cross-671379_640Some people can’t make sense of a suffering Savior. They don’t understand why Jesus allowed himself to be humiliated and disgraced the way He did. They think they know what salvation looks like and Jesus doesn’t measure up.

Have you ever struggled with the events leading up to Easter? Have you ever wondered why Jesus had to suffer and die? Wasn’t there another way?

The Apostle Paul encountered those kinds of questions at the church at Corinth. The people in the church believed in Jesus but struggled with the crucifixion and the resurrection. To them, the crucifixion was foolishness.

As we read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we find out that the “foolishness” of God is far better than the “wisdom” of man. We also discover two reasons why the gospel requires a crucifixion.

1. The Gospel is the story of a suffering Savior. (v. 18-19, 23)

In verse 18, the gospel is described as “the word of the cross.” Before the cross became a symbol of forgiveness and life, it was a symbol of death and shame. People weren’t just killed on a cross, they were humiliated. Imagine if we traded out the symbol of the cross for an electric chair or a hangman’s noose on our churches? The Gospel is so closely tied to the crucifixion that Paul says there is no preaching outside of preaching a crucified Christ. (1:23)

2. There are two basic responses to the Gospel. (v. 22-24)

Unfortunately, some people reject the gospel as foolishness. Many of the Jews in the first century thought Christ’s death was scandalous and absurd. They expected Jesus to perform a sign after miraculous sign to prove his power. In their minds, there was no way the Messiah would be crucified. Many of the Greeks through Christ’s death was foolish, but for different reasons. They were always looking for something sophisticated and complex. In their minds, Jesus was too basic and humble.

Thankfully, there are also those who accept the gospel as the wisdom of God. Those who believe the Good News about Jesus know that the gospel has to power to change lives. Romans 1:6 reads, “For I am notashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

When you come upon to an exit ramp on the highway you only have two choices: take the exit or stay on the highway. When someone calls you on the phone you also only have two choices: answer the phone, or let it ring. Those that hear the Gospel only have two ways to respond: accept it or reject.

In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, we learn not only that Christ’s crucifixion is necessary, but that God’s “foolishness” is far better than anything we can come up with to save ourselves. As you respond to the Gospel for yourself, let me encourage you to embrace the paradox of the gospel. Through Jesus, we know that salvation comes through suffering, freedom comes through submission, and life comes through death.

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What to Do When You Hit the Lowest Point in Your Life

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You and I can be brought low by many things in life. We can be humbled by our own actions or hurt by the actions of others. We can be broken by what seems like a random series of events, but nothing in life is random. C.S. Lewis once said, “God allows us to experience the low points in life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn in no other way.

Jeremiah the Prophet spent his entire life and ministry moving from one low point to another. He proclaimed God’s Word in Judah for 40 years and no one ever listened to him. He was repeatedly rejected and plotted against. At one point, Jeremiah was even thrown in He was thrown into a muddy pit and left to die. No wonder Jeremiah is known as “The Weeping Prophet” (Jeremiah 9:1).

You may be able to identify with Jeremiah’s experience in the muddy pit. You feel like you are the lowest point in your life. You are confused, lonely, and afraid.

There’s hope! Jeremiah made it out his pit and you can too. If you read about Jeremiah’s life before and after the muddy pit, you can discover three ways of escape.

Jeremiah was thrown into a dried out well because he was encouraging the Jews to surrender to the Babylonians who had laid siege to the city of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 38). Some of the city officials were disturbed by Jeremiah’s messages and complained about him to the king. King Zedekiah was a weak leader and allowed the city officials to do whatever they wanted to Jeremiah. The officials were afraid to kill a prophet directly, so they lowered him into an unusable well and left him to die. When Ebed-Melech, another city official, heard about what happened to Jeremiah, he went to the king and pleaded for the prophet’s life. Ebed-Melech made a harness of worn-out rags and rescued Jeremiah from the well with the help of 30 other men. Jeremiah continued to deliver God’s Word even after he made it out of the lowest point in his life.

Jeremiah’s experience in the muddy pit reveals three ways of escaping your own low points in life. One way is obvious from the story itself and two more are implied from Jeremiah’s life.

1. Accept help from your friends.

If can feel pretty lonely struggling through a low point in your life, even if it’s not your fault. Even though you feel alone, you are probably not the only person who has ever dealt with your particular problem. Even if you are, you have people around you who care about you and want to help.

In my experience, those who really need help tend to resist it because of pride or privacy. Some people know how to give help others but don’t know how to receive it. Ecclesiastes  4:9-10 is helpful here: “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” (NASB).

2. Remember your calling (Jeremiah 1:1-19)

The first chapter of Jeremiah records his calling from God. Jeremiah was marked out at an early age for what seemed like an impossible ministry. Jeremiah was used by God to call the nation of Israel to repentance. Even though the Jews never responded, God never left Jeremiah’s side.

No matter who you are, God has a calling on your life too. First and foremost, you have been called to salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9, 4:1). If you are a follower of Jesus, you have also been called to spiritual growth and Christian service (1 Peter. 1:15). You may also be called to ministry leadership or specific ministry assignment (Luke 5:1-11). Jeff Iorg’s book, Is God Calling Me, is a great resource for assessing your calling. Jeff Iorg’s book, Is God Calling Me? is a great resource for assessing your calling.

3. Trust God’s plan (Jeremiah 29:10-14)

Later, God gave Jeremiah a message for the Jews who experienced their own low points while in exile in Babylon. Jeremiah told them to make the most of their lives because God is still in control. He encouraged them to rest easy knowing God still had a plan for their future. The prophet also urged them to anticipate a time when you would have a personal relationship with God.

God has a plan for your life just like He had a plan for Jeremiah and the Children of Israel. Your challenges and struggles may be unique to you, but they aren’t a surprise to God. Trusting God and his plan is one of the surest ways of escaping the low points of life.

Like Jeremiah, you or someone you know may be stuck in a muddy pit. Not only has God provided a way of escape, but He also wants to use the experience to teach you some lessons that you cannot learn on solid ground.

 

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The Necessities of Life

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Disney released The Jungle Book movie in 1967. One of the most memorable moments in the film is when Baloo the bear teaches Mowgli about the “bare necessities of life” while they search for food together. Bagheera the black panther looks on in disapproval as the bear and boy bebop through the jungle.

The Jewish Passover is a festival built around gratitude to God for two of the necessities of life: food and water.  When the Jews were freed from slavery in Egypt, they took their unleaved bread with them because they left in such a hurry (Exodus 12:33-34). Before God provided bread and water for them in the desert, He led them through a body of water – the Red Sea – and used that same body of water to destroy the Egyptian army (Exodus 14).

In John 6:1-25, we read about two of Jesus’ more famous miracles: the feeding of the 5,000 and walking on water. These two stories are recorded back to back in three out of the four Gospels because of their deep connection to the Jewish Passover. We have to adopt a Jewish mindset to appreciate what Jesus said and did in these passages because the control of water and the concept of eating are forever linked to the Passover in the mind of the Jews. 

JESUS FED THE HUNGRY (John 6:1-14)

Jesus traveled to the other side of the Sea of Galilee to a place called Tiberias. A large crowd of people followed Him because He was healing people. Like other rabbis in the first century, Jesus went up on a mountain to teach His disciples and all the other people who had followed Him.

When Jesus was finished teaching, He asked His disciples to organize a meal for the massive crowd of people. Philip said they didn’t have enough money to buy bread for the people. Andrew found a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish but wondered how that could ever be enough. Jesus asked his disciples for help, but already knew what He was going to do. He took the bread and the fish from the boy, blessed it, and began distributing it among the people.

John gives us two numbers to help us appreciate the magnitude of this miracle meal. John tells us that 5,000 men ate that day, plus their wives and children. When everyone was finished eating, the disciples collected twelve baskets of leftovers. This truly was a miracle meal!

JESUS RESCUED THE HELPLESS (6:15-25)

Some of the people in the crowd wanted to make Jesus king and who could blame them – he made food appear out of thin air! Jesus had other plans so He hid in the hills while His disciples traveled back to Capernaum through the Sea of Galilee.  When they were in the middle of the sea, his disciples encountered a fierce storm and became afraid for their lives. Suddenly, they saw Jesus towards them walking on water and they were even more frightened. Then Jesus got into the boat they were instantly at their destination on the other side of the water.

Jesus isn’t surprised by anything in these two Passover stories. In fact, he deliberately put his disciples in a situation where they were forced to find their sustenance and security in Him. These two miracles reverberate through history as God continues to put people in situations where they must find their spiritual sustenance and security in Him.

Sustenance is what it takes to sustaining life – it’s necessary nourishment. Bread sustains our physical life in the same way that obedience to Christ sustains our spiritual life. True spiritual sustenance only comes through a connection to Christ.

Security is freedom from danger, care, or anxiety. In the Exodus story and John 6, water isn’t a necessity of life, but a danger to life – the disciples were helpless and afraid. You and I can plan for the future, but true peace and security only come from God.

Jesus is more than a Rabbi, Prophet, or King, He is the Passover Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. (John 1:29).  When you find yourself spiritually hungry and helpless you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself overcome and overwhelmed by the circumstances of life you can turn to Jesus. When you find yourself without a plan and without path you can turn to Jesus for your sustenance and security.

When you do, you will be able to pray two parallel prayers:

“You are enough for me Jesus.”

“I rest easy in you Jesus.”

If you can honestly pray these two prayers to God than you are well on your way to finding your sustenance and security in Jesus. If you cannot, then you need to reevaluate the true necessities of life.

Photo by Bruno Thethe on Unsplash

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The Power of “With”

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The Apostle Paul made an important discovery near the beginning of his second missionary journey. In Acts 16 we read about his visit to Derbe and Lystra. While he was there, Paul discovered a young man named Timothy. Timothy was the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father. Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and grandmother, Lois brought him to faith in Jesus Christ and mentored him (2 Timothy 1:5). The Christian community in Derbe and Lystra spoke well of Timothy.

The Apostle Paul an even more important decision in Derbe and Lystra. Paul decided to take Timothy with him on the rest of his missionary journey. Timothy would become one of Paul’s main associates he planted churches and ministered throughout the Roman Empire. Timothy stayed with Paul into his third missionary journey and on into his imprisonment in Rome (Acts 20:4).

Paul’s bond with Timothy is evident in the two New Testament letters that bear the younger man’s name. While Timothy was serving as the pastor at the church in Ephesus, Paul referred to his protégé as his “true child in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2). Paul closes his second letter to Timothy with a plea to “make every effort to come to me soon” (2 Timothy 4:9).

How did Timothy become one of the most influential leaders in the early church? I believe it happened through the power of “with.” Paul chose to take Timothy with him and share his calling with Timothy. Paul was a visionary leader and a high achiever. He may have been able to travel faster, prepare quicker, and accomplish more by himself, but he chose to include Timothy. Paul invested himself in others because he knew the value of along-the-way discipleship and mentoring.

I wonder what would happen in our churches if every ministry staff member, every deacon, every Sunday School teacher, every ministry leader took the time to invest in just one other person? I think it would change our churches for good in at least three ways. First, it would help to close our generation gap. If those who are older and more experienced in their faith would look for opportunities to bring someone younger along with them, it would build a bridge between generations. Second, it would solve our volunteer crisis. If those who know took the time to train others it some of the practical aspects of church ministry, it would go a long way towards empowering others to serve. Third, it would breathe new life and excitement into our churches’ ministries. Leading and be lonely and exhausting. If leaders would slow down long enough to share their load, they might rediscover what lead them to ministry in the first place.

Will you find someone that you can mentor in your own areas of life and ministry? Whatever you do for the Lord, you can share it with someone else so they can follow in your footstep, even if you’re not a “ministry leader.” You will also discover the big power of a small word – the power of “with.”

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A Trial for the Ages

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Every once in while a court case attracts so much interest and attention it is described as “the trial of the century.” Not only do these high profile cases render a verdict they also shaped our culture. The Scopes Trial in 1925 changed the way many people view the authority of the Bible. The trial of Charles Manson in 1970 made people rethink their basic assumptions about human nature. Even though he was acquitted on all charges, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton in 1999 redefined the American presidency.

As important as these trials are, there is one trial in human history that stands head and shoulder above the rest. The trial of Jesus Christ is a “trial for the ages.” While we usually go to the end of the Gospels to read about Christ’s trumped-up trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Apostle John helps us see that Jesus was on trial throughout his public ministry.

John 5:1-47 reads like the notes of a court reporter.  In verses 1-15, we find a description of the “crime” that Jesus committed. In verse 16-18, we see a list of the charges that were filed against Jesus by the Jewish leaders. In rest of the chapter (verses 19-47), we hear testimonies from the key witnesses that Jesus called to his defense.

Jesus is on trial in John 5 and you must decide for yourself if you think he is innocent or guilty. You cannot stay neutral or impartial about Jesus. Just like the various characters that interact with Jesus in John’s Gospel, you have to make a choice about Jesus. If He is guilty then He should be rejected as a fake and a fraud. But if Jesus is innocent then He should be received as your Savior and Lord.

THE CRIME (5:1-15).

Jesus went to Jerusalem for an unnamed feast. While there, Jesus met a man near the pool of Bethesda who had been unable to walk for 38 years. Sick people used to lay near the pool waiting for an angel to stir the waters. Whoever got into the water first after it was stirred was healed from their infirmity.

Jesus asked the man if the man wanted to be healed and then commanded him to get up, take his mat, and go. The mat wasn’t heavy, but it was proof positive that the man was really healed. While the man was carrying his mat he was questioned by the Jewish leaders about violating the Sabbath laws.

The man blamed the man who had healed him, but he said he didn’t know that man’s name. Later, Jesus met up with the man who was healed in the temple and revealed himself to the man. Jesus also urged the man to repent of his sins so that he would not suffer worse situation in the future.

THE CHARGES (5:16-18)

Up to that point, the Jewish leaders tolerated Jesus. When they learned that it was Jesus who healed the man, they began to persecute him outright. They persecuted Jesus for two reasons. One reason the Jewish persecuted Jesus was because He violated the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the basis for all the Jewish festivals. The laws that accompanied the Sabbath “rest” were so ingrained in Jewish society that the Jewish could not tolerate Jesus and rebellion.

Another reason why the Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus was that He made Himself out to be equal with God. The Jews had a very high view of God. They couldn’t see how a carpenter for Nazareth, or anyone for that matter, could be on equal footing with God. They viewed His claims and actions as blasphemy.

THE HEARING (5:19-47)

Jesus began His own defense with a confession, but not the kind of confession his opponents were looking for. Jesus confessed His complete dependence on the Heavenly Father (vv. 19-24). The Son only does what He sees His Heavenly Father doing. The Son loves the Heavenly Father because the Heavenly Father loves Him. The Heavenly Father gives the Son the authority to give life and judge all people as He also gives life and judges all people.

Jesus continued by calling four witnesses to his defense (vv. 33-47). Jesus told the Jewish leaders that John the Baptist, who they respected, told the truth about Him when John called Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Jesus also pointed to his teaching and miracles as proof that He came from God. Jesus challenged the unbelief around Him as a byproduct of not listening to the Word of God. Jesus also claimed that Scriptures all pointed towards Him as the Messiah.

John 5 is more than a story, it’s a description of the trial that happens every time someone comes in contact with Jesus Christ – its a trial for the ages. So what will you do with Jesus? Is He innocent or guilty as charged?

In John 1:11-12 we read, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name” (NASB).

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Uncommon Faith

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A man fell off a cliff but managed to grab a tree limb on the way down. The following conversation ensued. “Is anyone up there?” he called out. “I am here,” the Lord replied, “Do you believe me?” “Yes, Lord, I believe. I really believe, but I can’t hang on much longer,” the man exclaimed. “That’s all right” the Lord explained, “if you really believe you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Just let go of the branch.” After a long pause, the man called out again, “Is anyone else up there?

The story about a man hanging from a cliff highlights the importance of faith even though it might be extreme. John 4:46-54 contains another story about the importance of faith. A royal official came to Jesus and gave us an example of uncommon faith.

The response of the royal official to Jesus stands out in comparison to his fellow Galileans. The Galileans welcomed Jesus, but Jesus knew their response was superficial and fickle. In comparison, the royal official response to Jesus with thoughtfulness and obedience. The royal official and the Galileean approaches to faith can be summed up in two very different statements.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT WHEN I SEE IT” (4:43-48).

The Jews in Galilee had heard all about Jesus signs and wonders. They had heard how he turned water into wine (John 2:1-12). They saw the signs he did in Jerusalem during the Passover feast (John 4:45).

The royal official had also heard about Jesus and he was desperate. He probably served at the pleasure of Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great who married his half-brother’s wife, Herodias. As a representative of the state, he had a certain level of power and authority, but he was powerless to save his own son from death.

Jesus confronted the royal official and condemned this approach to faith. Jesus performed plenty of signs during his ministry, but for a specific purpose – that people would believe in him and experience eternal life (John 20:30-31). The Galileans saw Jesus as a wonder-worker, a cure-all magician who had to prove himself.

God doesn’t have to prove himself to any of us. He has chosen, in his grace, to reveal himself to us. When we demand a sign from God before we will believe, we place ourselves in authority over God.

“I’LL BELIEVE IT BECAUSE HE SAID IT” (4:49-54).

Jesus responded to the royal official with a command. Jesus ordered the official to go back home because his son had already been healed. The official believed Jesus and demonstrated his belief by leaving Jesus without any visible evidence of a miracle.

The royal official received confirmation before he ever saw his son. He came across some of his servants who were on their way to update him on his son’s condition. He knew that Jesus had healed his son because it happened just as Jesus gave the command.

The authenticity of the royal official’s faith in Christ can be seen in two ways. First, he cared enough to share with his family.  It was common in the first century for the family to take on the faith of the father, that doesn’t mean his family was just faking it. They experienced a miraculous healing in their home and they believed. Second, he continued to believe in Jesus even after his crisis was over.

The two approaches to faith on display in this story teach us one main truth: faith that demands a sign is not really faith at all. Faith is how we access eternal life. If we don’t have faith in Jesus Christ as the sinless Son of God, we cannot share in the eternal life that he has to offer. The royal official is not lifted up as an exception, but the rule. His “uncommon faith is the kind of faith” we must all have to be saved from our sins.

This matches the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1: “Faith is assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (NASB). It also helps to explain Thomas’ encounter with Jesus after the resurrection (John 20:24-29). Most people refer to him as “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe in the resurrection until he saw Jesus for himself. When Jesus finally appeared to Thomas he invited the skeptical disciple to touch his scars. Then, Jesus rebuked Thomas and blessed those who believe in him without seeing him: “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believe.” (v. 29).

Augustine once said, “Understanding is the reward of faith. Therefore, seek not to understand that thou mayest believe, but believe that thou mayest understand.”

Click here if you want to listen to a message on this passage: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/unitybaptistashland/episodes/2019-03-11T10_17_13-07_00

 

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“Beyond Salvation”

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The twelve disciples must have been excited. In John 4: 1, we read that the word about Jesus was spreading throughout Judea and Jesus was baptizing (with their help) more people than John the Baptist. The disciples had chosen to follow Jesus and now they were on the fast track to success.

Instead of working the crowds and chasing popularity in Judea, the epic-center of Judaism, Jesus surprised his disciples by traveling back to Galilee  – through Samaria. The Jews avoided the Samaritans because they saw them as racial and religious “half-breeds.” In 722 B.C. the Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (the region that became Samaria) as a consequence for their repeated rebellion against God. The Assyrians deported most of the Israelites and then repopulated the area with conquered peoples from other parts of their empire as a way to solidify control. In time, these people intermarried and embraced an unholy mixture of pagan and Jewish practices.

Jesus stopped to rest near a well outside of the city of Sychar. While his disciples went into the city to find food, Jesus engaged a Samaritan women in conversation. Jesus’s trip through Samaria teaches us a lesson that His disciples did not understand. Jesus is not just the Savior of the world, He is the Savior of the whole world.

In John 4:1-30, we learn that the whole world includes…

PEOPLE WHO ARE “BEYOND SAVING” (4:6-9)

Jesus surprised the Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink from the well. Not only was she a Samaritan, but she was also a woman. Jewish men never talked to women in public, even their wives. She was a woman of “questionable character” which is probably why she was drawing water from the well during the heat of the day when few people were around.

We must push back on the idea that some people are “beyond saving.” No one is too far gone, too sinful, or unimportant in God’s eyes. We can’t let age, annual income, language, skin color, marital status, or even sexual orientation limit our view of salvation. In John 3:16, we read that God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO DON’T THINK THEY NEED TO BE SAVED (4:10-14)

Jesus probed deeper by suggesting that women should be asking him for a drink.  The woman was quick to point out her religious connection to Jacob the Patriarch. As far as she was concerned, she was “ok” because she was a Samaritan. But Jesus exposed her spiritual need by explaining her need for living water and eternal life.

PEOPLE WHO ARE BROKEN BY SIN (4:15-18)

This is the turning point in the conversation as Jesus revealed the Samaritan woman’s brokenness. She had been involved in five broken marriages and was living with a sixth man who is not her husband. She had searched for love and significance and come up short.

The Samaritan woman’s experience reminds us that “religion” can’t be compartmentalized – it touches every area of our lives. We are broken without a personal relationship and that brokenness shows up in all kinds of ways. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (NASB).

PEOPLE WHO ARE SPIRITUALLY BLIND (4:19-26)

The Samaritan woman was blind to the truth about Jesus. She diverted attention away from herself to an age-old argument between the Samaritans & the Jews about the proper place to worship God. The Jews worship God in Jerusalem while the Samaritans worshipped on Mt. Gerizim. Jesus explained that worship was about to change because the Savior had come – and he was it!

Jesus is the Savior of the whole world because the whole world needs to be saved. Romans tells us “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Jesus came into the world to save the whole world, not just for the people we know, we like, or that look like us. We shouldn’t limit the scope of God’s salvation by assuming anyone, is beyond salvation.”

 

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