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.

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: 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.

 

Seven Signs in John: 3 – The Man of Bethesda

Thirty-eight years is a long time to deal with one disease.  But that’s exactly what this individual had been doing.  He and countless others would gather themselves together beside the pool of Bethesda waiting for a miracle.  At this place, an angel would supposedly trouble the waters, causing a ripple.  We do not know who the angel is or whether they are a heavenly or demonic spirit. But, apparently, the first person into the water would be healed.

John 5:1-14

After this there was a feast of the Jews; and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had. And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years. When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole? The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me. Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk. And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath. 10 The Jews therefore said unto him that was cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy bed. 11 He answered them, He that made me whole, the same said unto me, Take up thy bed, and walk. 12 Then asked they him, What man is that which said unto thee, Take up thy bed, and walk? 13 And he that was healed wist not who it was: for Jesus had conveyed himself away, a multitude being in that place. 14 Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee.

What we see is that the man’s attempt to be made whole shows the man’s limits.  He can’t be healed unless someone helps us.  The same goes for us with our sin.  We are unable to be set free from sin unless someone else does so on our behalf.  That’s exactly what Jesus did for this person and us.

Healing without seeking.

Seemingly, for this miracle, Jesus targeted this man.  The man beside the water was laying there hoping for a miracle but was not actively seeking.  That’s when this man finds grace in the eyes of Jesus.  The Lord asks him, “Do you want to be made whole?  The man doesn’t say yes. Rather, he complains about how no one helps him into the water, and every year someone else beats him to the miraculous healing.  He did not even know that Jesus standing in front of him, could heal him in a word.

This man received grace when he wasn’t looking for it.  Jesus tells the man to get up, pick up his bed, and walk.  And, you know what?  It happened, immediately!  The man is still complaining when it seems like Jesus interrupted him and delivers the miracle he had been needing.  The man was not seeking his healing but received it anyway.  We may not have been looking for a Savior, but Jesus became ours when we weren’t looking.  As Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8).

Meeting the miracle worker.

Jesus had slipped off in the crowd, who had no doubt taken notice of this man’s healing.  Later, Jesus finds this man and warns him that something worse than what he had experienced the previous 38 years would happen if he were to continue sinning.  Is Jesus concerned with your disability or disease?  Yes, he is, but he is without a doubt, more concerned with your holiness before God.  God just doesn’t perform random miracles of healing. When he does a miracle it is an act of grace to encourage our faith in God and our fight with sin.

 Miracles do happen, but not for just any reason.  They are for God’s glory and our holiness.  We must praise God whether he brings us healing or allows us to suffer.  He sees the end from the beginning, and he knows what He is doing. He is in control of our condition and guides us through it to places where we can praise Him loudest.  God also brings miracles to us not to make us feel good but so that we may also have greater victory over sin.  Why? It is because there is something far worse than our present conditions.

Seven Miracles in John: 2- The Nobleman’s Son

Jesus just had a wonderful ministry in Samaria and other places outside of his hometown. Nicodemus, women at the well.  Now he is returning home. Jesus knows the people’s hearts.  They will welcome him, but not with honor, not in the right way, but with improper motives.  This is the scenario that leads up to Jesus’ second miracle in John.

John 4:46-54

So Jesus came again into Cana of Galilee, where he made the water wine. And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. 47 When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judaea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. 48 Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. 49 The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. 50 Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. 51 And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. 52 Then enquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. 53 So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house. 54 This is again the second miracle that Jesus did, when he was come out of Judaea into Galilee.

A person in need of help.

We Have no idea who this man was (vs. 46).  The Greek word used, “basilikos” just means the subject of the king.  He could have been a royal advisor, accountant, worker, or someone of importance in King Herod Antipas government.  We do not know who he was, but we are aware of the one he would seek for help.  This man found Jesus because he had heard of the other miracles Jesus had performed.  He knew that his son would die unless Jesus healed him.  It was the only way, and he came to Jesus with faith for this healing.

However, Jesus did not seem like He was going to help this man’s son.  What was going on in this situation?  Jesus was aware of the traps his hometown had fallen into concerning His fame.  They were proud of their relation to someone special.  We do this as well.  A sense of pride can be found among believers in an individual church, movement, song style, methodology, preacher, or singer.  Jesus’ followers had fallen into the trap of feeling entitled.  They felt that Jesus owed them miracles.  Falling headfirst, they only wanted Jesus because of the miracles He could perform.

Jesus, the giver of good gifts.

This man pressed on that he needed Jesus to heal his son or else he would die.  What Jesus did next was perform a miracle even though the man was not seeking Christ for salvation.  Jesus gave a good gift even when he is disappointed with the majority of people’s motive.  Grace that healed, regardless of the distance, immediately.  The man’s son was healed, and the man went home trusting that the healing had taken place while he was with Jesus.

While the man may have been seeking only a miracle, no doubt, his faith on Jesus increased.  Scripture goes on to say that after arriving home and finding his son alive and well, the man and his whole house believed in Jesus.  Romans 2:4 says, “despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”  The everyday gifts from God that sustain life and the supernatural works of God are given to us from the Lord to strengthen our faith and draw us closer to him.

Proverbs 3:5 reads, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.”  Don’t be afraid to cry out to God.   Call on God first and seek Him early.  Not a last resort but as the only one.  The Lord is full of goodness and mercy.  His grace is sufficient for salvation and for every need that we have on a daily basis.

Is Your Faith Growing Cold?

We are quickly entering into spring revival season.  I am still a supporter of church revivals.  There is nothing wrong with a congregation seeking to set out more time in their schedule for increased spiritual emphasis.  We all need revival at times.  Life has a way of wearing us down.  It is easy to allow our faith to grow cold even in times of joy and peace.  It happened to the disciples when Jesus was with them.  It can happen to us.

Jesus fed his disciples and a multitude with just five loaves of bread and two fish (Mk. 6:31-44).  However, in the midst of the miracle, the disciples were burned out.  Mostly, they were tired.  As we read what takes place, it is easy to notice that the followers are a little grumpy.  But, this was only a small symptom of a worse condition, a faith that had grown cold.  Jesus sent his disciples ahead by boat while he sent the multitudes back home.  The Savior was about to comfort and challenge His disciples.

Mark 6:45-54

“And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship and to go to the other side before unto Bethsaida, while he sent away the people. And when he had sent them away, he departed into a mountain to pray. And when even was come, the ship was in the midst of the sea, and he alone on the land And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea, and would have passed by them. But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out: For they all saw him, and were troubled. And immediately he talked with them, and saith unto them, Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid. And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased: and they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened. And when they had passed over, they came into the land of Gennesaret, and drew to the shore. And when they were come out of the ship, straightway they knew him.”

They did not recognize Jesus.

We often see the hand of God in life after He has brought us few something.  However, as we go through life our faith increases.  Over time it should become easier to sense the presence of God in our life and the way the Holy Spirit is leading.  Yet, for the disciples, they still did not recognize Jesus who they had already spent a significant amount of time following.  As Jesus came walking on the sea, the reverted to previous beliefs and assumptions.  They had forgotten about Jesus.

They did not expect a miracle.

As Jesus stepped into the boat, the wind and waves were calmed.  Jesus had greeted them, told them to not be fear but to have cheer because He was there.  But, they were looking around, amazed at what had happened.  Almost like they had never seen Jesus perform a miracle.  Not that we should become disinterested with God’s power displayed, but it was more in the sense that the disciples were not expecting a miracle.  Remember, they were toiling in rowing.  We are not shown whether they were crying out to God for help.  They were not expecting assistance.  When we no longer go to God in prayerful expectation, we have grown cold.

Their hearts were hardened.

Scripture finally tells us the problem with the disciples.  They did not consider the miracle of the loaves because their hearts were hard.  Forgetfulness of Gods previous blessings, failure to see His provision at an earlier time has now resulted in a hard heart.  Their passion for God had cooled.  They couldn’t put two and two together, the feeding and the calming had both come from Jesus.  The hardness of their heart had resulted in a barrier to see God move, a failure to move after God, and a failure to reach out in faith.

Why Christian Baptist? Four Reasons.

Last year I wrote a couple of posts about the Christian Baptist Association (What is Christian Baptist? here & here).  This is the association of churches that I have my ordination through and pastor.  There was a time when I was a member of another group of Churches in the local area, but, the Lord led me to move into the same association that I had grown up loving.

The full name of the group is The Ohio Valley Association of Christian Baptist Churches of God.  You can only imagine the questions people have about this long and unique name.  However, that is not where this post will have its focus.  Instead, the focus is on why I find such a deep love for the Christian Baptist.  There are four reasons given here, among much more that I think will help readers to learn more about the Christian Baptist and to encourage my fellow members.

The Bible is our final authority.

It is our conviction that all things must be brought to Scripture.  Scripture is the revelation of the Triune God and any work outside of it is opinion.  It seems that many denominations are moving away from this standard and have elevated personal experience and emotional biases above the Bible.  I have witnessed outside of our association and a few within it, who receive any teaching that labels itself as Christian and balk at any attempt to reconcile it with Biblical teaching.  However, everything we need to know about worshipping God and living Christlike is found solely in Scripture.

We love God’s Word and are fully persuaded of its integrity.  We do not need to add personal experiences or opinions to Scripture to validate it.  Sure, those things are helpful in interpreting, but the Word of God is sufficient in and of itself.

The Holiness Accent

I am not speaking of stereotypical “holiness” groups.  Instead, we preach and teach that Salvation of the person is complete and perfect for making a person whole.  One reason that I hear many of my fellow members give for being Christian Baptist is that “We have the great doctrine.”  What does this mean?  Are we the only group with the right belief?  No, and I don’t believe anyone in the association implies that as well.  We share doctrines with other denominations that are essential for one to be called Christian.  There is truly only One Church, and it reaches across the globe and throughout time.

This section is labeled The Holiness Accent.  An accent is the”accentuated” or distinctive pronunciation in a language.  So, when I speak of my holiness accent, I am referring to my underlying assumptions and inclinations.  The holiness accent does not relate to our focus on external prohibitions of dress and behaviors (though we ought to have a godly lifestyle).  Rather, we accentuate the fact that believers are saved to the “uttermost.”

God does not justify a person and leaves them with their old nature.  Instead, when we are saved we are made new in Christ, and He imparts His nature to us.  Believers do not sin every day when they are entirely given over to be led by the Holy Spirit.  I heard it recently said, “It is our responsibility to keep from sinning, but it is God who gives us the power to keep from sinning.”

In summary, our holiness accent is that we preach and teach that believers can be fully transformed by God’s grace in this lifetime.

Freedom of Worship

There are many expressions of worship.  Shared in Scripture is that God seeks worship from those that are in spirit and truth.   These Biblical requirements for worship can be seen in both spontaneous and planned worship.  However, with planned worship, it is very easy to write God out of the plan and focus on man’s emotional and intellectual experience.  One thing I love about the Christian Baptist Association is that we are not afraid to worship God audibly and visually.  We are not Pentecostal in several regards of expressive worship, but we are certainly not afraid to express our love and thankfulness to God.

Our Heritage

I was raised Christian Baptist (my wife is from the Churches of Christ in Christian Union). However, I did not join one of the local churches at first.  I joined the Kentucky Christian Conference that was based near Morehead, Kentucky.  After a few years, God directed my path back to the Christian Baptist, and I have been here for last eleven years, pastoring one of the congregations for almost nine years and still there.  Now, I am raising my children in the Christian Baptist.

My heritage is in the Christian Baptist, and a significant portion of my family call this association home as well.  Yet, I also share a great love for our more extensive history.  I have studied the history of its coming together in 1931 and the leaders and laity of previous generations.  Listening to stories of past victories, miracles, and blessings that God has brought to pass in our camp meeting and the local congregation have been and continue to be formative in my spiritual walk.