A glorious and difficult task.

Our present society places before us the question, “why do we need ministers and preaching?”  This leads to frustration among many but what really puts pressure on ministers is the very impossible task of preaching.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”  Karl Barth put out three points that characterize this difficulty that lies before the minister in a chapter called the “Task of the Ministry.”  He said, “‘As ministers, we ought to speak of God. We are human, however, and so cannot speak of God. We ought therefore to recognize both our obligation and our inability and by that very recognition give God the glory. This is our perplexity. The rest of our task fades into insignificance in comparison.”

First, we ought to speak of God

Often in sermons, there is a failure to point people toward God.  We apply sound biblical principles to everyday life, but we fail to make much of Jesus.  We have taken the aim to help people live better rather than helping them die before God.  What they need is God, and our preaching should contribute to pointing them to Him.

Second, we are human, however, and so cannot speak of God

We are finite creatures talking about the infinite Creator.  He is beyond us in every capacity, even imagination.  To talk about God is beyond our ability and cognition.  We would continually fail to correctly display God by our words.  Barth was famous for simply saying, “God is God.”  In that way, he described God but in reality, did not try to limit God by any human definition.

Third, we ought, therefore, recognize both that we should speak of God and yet cannot, and by that very recognition give God the glory

As God is infinitely above us and the task of preaching is given to us, we should use our voice and opportunity to praise God.  To praise and give thanks is to give God glory.  To proclaim to others the self-revelation of God through the Holy Scriptures and draw them to Him is to bring God glory.  Returning to the first statement, we ought to speak of God.  Make much of Jesus in our preaching.

The Water in Your Marriage 

My wife and I recently celebrated our eighth wedding anniversary.  We had courted several years before we were married.  In our marriage, we have experienced many beautiful moments and challenges.  Three children, a few pets, and plenty of adventure have blessed us in our journey together.  I love her more and more each day (I know that is mushy).

It is interesting is that there is a common misconception that marriage for Christians is no different than unbelievers.  The caveat to the stats is that those Christians most likely to end their marriage are nominal believers.  Meaning, they may identify as Christians but do not actively participate in the faith.  Recent research (click here) showed that “Catholic couples were 31 percent less likely to divorce; Protestant couples 35 percent less likely, and Jewish couples 97 percent less likely” (Stetzer, 2014).  The pastor’s marriage has also been seen as difficult. However, Barna research showed “Most pastors – 96 percent of whom are married – are satisfied with their relationship with their spouse” (2017)

Periodically, I speak with new and veteran couples about their relationships.  When the conversations turn toward my wife and my experience, I share my life verse for marriage.  It came from King Solomon when he was teaching his sons how to live well.

“Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.” -Proverbs 5:15

Chapter five is one of the few chapters were Solomon seems to focus on one subject.  Yet, a significant portion of all his teaching centers around purity and faithfulness to your spouse.  He geared his instruction toward his sons specifically and his children in general, however, I believe what we see in this passage is helpful to both husbands and wives.

After a simple reading, we quickly note that Solomon is encouraging fidelity.  In light of the whole chapter, the challenge is put forward to be faithful in your relationship marriage.  You will be tempted to stray, but the end is filled with pain.  Remaining faithful in the good and bad has its own reward.  To understand that reward we need to dig a little deeper.

We understand the need of water for the body, and this is why Scripture is full of references to spiritual water for our souls that only Jesus can provide.  Solomon in another place of Proverbs wrote, “As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country” (25:25).  Water refreshes and satisfies.  Marriage is provides the same thing.  To demonstrate this, Barna Research found that 75% of women say their marriage is their strongest form of social support by helping them be satisfied with life, understand priorities, be the best person they can be, set healthy boundaries, live out purpose, and connect to a community (2017).  When we enjoy those intimant moments and conversations we share only with our spouse, we are refreshed and deeply satisfied as our reward.  To be unfaithful will corrupt the waters of our marriage.

Still, there is one more thing that stands out to me in this passage about marriage.  Solomon is keen to use specific words to separate cistern from well.  In the Hebrew, the word he used for cistern (בּוֹר bôwr) can also be translated as pit or well.  Also, the word chosen translated for us as well (בְּאֵר bᵉʼêr), can be translated as a pit.  I like to think that Solomon is demonstrating to different containers for water.  Wells and cisterns both hold water, but, they receive their water in various manners.  A well receives its water from an underground source like a stream or lake.  Well water springs up from itself.  Cisterns, however, must receive theirs from an outside source above the ground.  Typically, brought in by a water truck.  

What I hear Solomon saying, be faithful and enjoy your marriage by pouring your life into your spouse.  The picture is we view self as a well and our spouse a cistern.  If we do not pour our love, energy, time, and focus on our partner, they will dry up.  We will no longer be satisfied with them, and we will try to wander and find other sources to quench our thirst.  Being faithful is also about being intentional.  To have a great marriage, you must continue to invest in your spouse, even after you have said your vows.

References

Barna (2017) The State of Pastors: How Today’s Faith Leaders are Navigating Life and Leadership in an Age of Complexity.  Barna Group

Stetzer, Ed (2014) Pastors, that divorce stat you quoted is probably wrong.  http://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/163047-pastors-that-divorce-stat-you-quoted-is-probably-wrong.html

Seven Signs in John: 7 – Raising Lazuras

The Lord does not work according to our understanding of time.  Instead, He works according to His own knowledge and power.  Both of which are incomparably greater than our own.  In this last miracle by Jesus, we see him deliberately delay his coming to His sick friend.  If you read the surrounding context, you will see this and begin to wonder why.  However,  if we have learned anything from the previous six miracles of Jesus in the Gospel of John, is that miracles direct our attention to God.  Sometimes we need to be shaken out of our unbelief.

Jesus arrives late to the home of Lazarus, and Jesus’ words are confirmed, Lazarus was dead.  The untold sickness had overcome his body, and Jesus was not there to heal him according to one of Lazarus’ sisters, Martha.  However, Jesus uses this moment to teach something central to the Christian faith and foreshadow another event that He would personal experience in about a week.

John 11:23-27

Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.  Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.  Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?  She saith unto him, Yea, Lord: I believe that thou art the Christ, the Son of God, which should come into the world.

The resurrection seals our hope.  Death is sure and it the anguish it causes is undeniable.  Yet, Christ is the Resurrection and the Life.  Martha looked forward to a future resurrection of the body, but Jesus would extend hers and our understanding of the resurrection.  Jesus stated that at the present time, He is the resurrection and the life.  Perhaps, John now connects an earlier statement to this miracle, and the previous, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).  

Certainly, we look forward to the future resurrection of our corruptible, mortal bodies to immortality and incorruption.  We see this demonstrated in the resurrection of Lazarus.  The sickness that caused the death of Lazarus was no longer apparently with him.  At the beginning of the next chapter, we also see him eating and back to living life.  He would eventually die again, but Jesus’ own resurrection a week later would be the first fruit of a new resurrection that we will experience.  A resurrection where we will never die again.

Jesus stated, however, that presently the resurrection was already with the people.  He demonstrated power over death when He raised Lazarus.  Yet, we also know that Jesus power to give life in the present is spiritual.  We can be raised to new life in the here and now.  Look at what Paul taught on the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.

Romans 6:3-12

Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.

We can be a new creation through the power of Jesus.  We do not need to wait for eternity for the newness of that God’s new Heaven and Earth to arrive.  It is already here in our souls.  As we come to Christ, we are born again from above.  We are given new life and are given the power to be called the children of God.

Seven Sign in John: 6 – A Blind Man Healed

The sixth miracle seems similar to the previous healing miracle we saw in chapter 5 where Jesus healed a paralyzed man for 38 years.  The movements of Jesus are the same: Jesus healed, disappears, and then reappears.

John 9:1-7

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool of Siloam, (which is by interpretation, Sent.) He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing.

Jesus focuses on this man who was blind from birth.    From here, the conversation ensues about the cause.  The disciples’ inquiry Jesus as to whether the man’s blindness is a direct effect of sinning.  However, Jesus doesn’t focus on the cause but rather the purpose. He will continue to describe the purpose through the next two verses.  What we see here is that God permits suffering and difficulties to arise in our life so that the work of God can be clearly seen.  We look at the events in the world and say, why does God permit such things? Why doesn’t God do something?  Yet, only through God’s work, which comes through Christ’s and His Church, can we see things made right.

 The work of God

What are works of God?  Jesus’ answer to this question was “I am the light of the world.”  Of course, we keep asking good questions, “why light?”  Light is essential to physical life as it is essential for many of the same reasons spiritually. Light dispels darkness.  Light enables life to reproduce – photosynthesis.  Light helps to warm.  Light helps us to see and therefore, it guides us as well.

 How does Christ give us light, especially since Jesus uses spittle and dirt to bring the healing?  It just seems amazing that Jesus’ supernatural power was seen through spit, mud and obedience.  Jesus used spit three times in Scripture, one for a deaf man (Mark 7:33) and two for blindness (this passage and Mark 8:23).   Still, what does is this supposed to point us toward?  That is John’s intention in writing, right? I think first this is going back to the creation of man when God formed us out of the dust of the Earth.  God created in the beginning and still has power over his creation.  Secondly, I show that Christ blesses the use of his creation to promote his work.  Namely the church.  We are the clay in God’s hands and we pray that you would use us to deliver Jesus’ light to this dark world.

 Through our witness let us show people God’s love.   Matthew 5:14 says, “ye are the light of the world, A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid.”  We should seek to let our life dispel the darkness of times.  To let God’s power be on display in our life.  Our cry is Ephesians 5:14, “Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.”

Seven Signs in John: 5 – Walking on the Water

 

After the miracles of the loaves, Jesus went to a mountain alone, and the disciples went ahead of him by boat across the sea.  There the disciples find rowing to be a difficult task because a high wind was stirred up and pushed against them.  The difficulty of rowing against the wind and waves were taking their toll on the body and the mind.  Finally, Jesus comes to them walking on water.

 John 6:16-21

And when even was now come, his disciples went down unto the sea, And entered into a ship, and went over the sea toward Capernaum. And it was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them. And the sea arose by reason of a great wind that blew. So when they had rowed about five and twenty or thirty furlongs, they see Jesus walking on the sea, and drawing nigh unto the ship: and they were afraid. But he saith unto them, It is I; be not afraid. Then they willingly received him into the ship: and immediately the ship was at the land whither they went.

Do you notice anything that is missing in John’s account? First off, don’t confuse this with the time Jesus was asleep in the boat.  That is a time before that miraculous calming of the sea if we compare to the other Gospel writer’s accounts.  John doesn’t record Peter walking on water.  John also doesn’t mention the storm calming.

However, the miracle of Jesus walking on water is centered in the middle of Jesus miracle of 5 loaves of bread and His teaching that he is the bread of life.

I don’t think this was a random miracle placed in this chapter’s central theme of bread. When Jesus teaches about being the bread of life, He teaches that the bread symbolizes His abiding presence. When we take communion, this is the idea, that the bread symbolizes his physical presence next to us.

I think the purpose John uses this water walking miracle first is that it is a personal miracle, not to the crowds but to the disciples. Sometimes God does things in our life that is just for our own experience and faith.  Second, no one understood the miracle of the loaves (cf. v. 26 and Mark 6:52).  The previous miracle of the bread and its further explanation is that Jesus is the only thing that will actually sustain our life.  Now, the disciples who missed it, who even had a hand in the miracle of the loaves by each holding one of the 12 baskets full, were given another opportunity to understand, Jesus’ presence will sustain us.  Jesus sustains us in times of hunger. Jesus sustains us in times of peril.  He is our bread on land and on the boat.

The presence of Jesus is the greatest thing we can possess.

You are one of Jesus’ disciples and your life similar to the journey on the boat. You must gladly receive the presence of Jesus into your life or else you will find difficulties that you cannot overcome. In a crisis, Christ’s presence overwhelms us with comfort when according to His timing and purpose. Sometimes he does not calm the storm, but he will always calm us. He gives us peace to where we can sing it is well with my soul.

Notice how far they made it on their own and then see the other half of this miracle. Jesus walks on water, enters the boat almost immediately it seems they are on the other side.  Without Christ’ we will fall short, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  Sin work death in us but because of Jesus, we receive the gift of eternal life.  Only he can get us to the other side of living.

Seven Signs in John: 4 – Feeding the 5,000

We like bread at our home.  In fact, we probably like bread way more than we should.  It is present at every single meal and my wife loves to make it from scratch.  Bread has been a staple part of people’s diet for almost as long as recorded history.  Jesus takes advantage of this in his fourth miracle found in the Gospel according to John.  Jesus feeding the 5,000 men plus women and children, with five loaves of bread and two fish is a powerfully and wide known miracle. In fact, it is the only miracle that all four Gospel writers share outside of the resurrection.

John 1:1-13, 48-51

After these things Jesus went over the sea of Galilee, which is the sea of Tiberias. And a great multitude followed him, because they saw his miracles which he did on them that were diseased.  And Jesus went up into a mountain, and there he sat with his disciples.  And the passover, a feast of the Jews, was nigh.  When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat?  And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do.  Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little.  One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, saith unto him,  There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many? And Jesus said, Make the men sit down. Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, in number about five thousand. And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.  Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

The first thing we notice about this miracle is that once again, John points out Jesus’ frustration with the misplaced faith of the people.  Real faith in Jesus is not about how He meets your desires. Real faith in Jesus is dependence on Him on changing you and meeting your needs.

Phillip fails at having faith.

Jesus tries Phillip’s faith to see where he stood. First Peter 1:6-7 says, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.”  Jesus asked Phillip if they were able to feed the people with what they had in their possession.  Do you realize that Philip failed the test? He went straight to the impossibilities and limitations.  Another disciple, Andrew, spoke up, even though he didn’t understand, “Here’s a boy’s lunch, but they are so insignificant in the face of such a great challenge.”

Here’s the thing, in both the failure and the passing, God taught the same lesson. Both of these would witness the miracle.  Understand, that whether you fail or whether you pass, the proving of your faith is a means to the same end.  Every test is a tool to build your faith, to improve your patience, and strengthen your commitment to God.  There is a difference between testing and temptation.   James 1:13 says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”  A temptation is a drawing away from God toward sin and God will not lead us toward sin.  Testing or proving is God revealing to us where we are because He already knows.  Whether we pass or fail, we when are tried, our maturity and faith in the Lord are revealed to us.

 The miraculous feeding

Jesus took little and made much out of it.  He was able to take the little boys lunch that was made for one and feed the great number of people.  It is interesting that each of the Gospel writers uses the same actions of miraculous feeding that Jesus also used at the Lord’s Supper.  Jesus takes, blesses, brakes, and gives.  The repetition continues also in Paul’s teaching of the Lord’s supper in 1 Corinthians 11:23-27.  What does this mean?  I believe we see that anything common and mundane can become holy by God’s presence and blessing.  So, not only is little made much by God’s power, the natural experience is made a supernatural experience.

Now, Jesus did provide for the physical need of the people.  Jesus can supply your physical needs as well, but it at this point we see a change when Jesus discusses the refers back to the bread in a later conversation.  Jesus will teach the people that followed him across the sea of Tiberias and tell them that in the same way God provided physical bread now provides them with something more important than their physical needs.  Jesus is bread for our soul.

More important than the bread that fills that constantly reappearing pit in your stomach, is that God has provided everlasting bread for the chasm in your soul.  Many try to fill that chasm in their soul with money, drugs, alcohol, possesions, experiences, or relationships.  One of the things we see in the miracle is that the people ate until they were satisfied.  In the same way, Jesus satisfies the soul and only He can satisfy you for eternity.