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 Miracles in John: 1 – Water into Wine

John, the beloved disciple, shared his purpose for writing his Gospel account. He wrote, “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:31).  His presentation of the life of Christ is focused on showing the reader the power and purpose of Jesus.  One of the methods he employs to accomplish this task is the inclusion of seven miracles.  The following series of blogs will explore the beauty and meaning behind these miracles.

John 2:1-11

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there: And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage. And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come. His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it. And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim. And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.  This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Emptiness is defined as

  • The state of containing nothing
  • Lack of sincerity and contentment
  • Meaningless
  • Futility
  • No value or purpose

We can have an empty soul, home, marriage, or life.  Perhaps one of the most detestable things for a person to have before God is an empty religion.  Scripture teachings that there are some that have a form of godliness, but deny the power” (2 Tim. 3:5-7).  The will of God is that rather we be full. But not just full of everything under the sun.  No, God would rather for us to be filled with him.

Miracle at Cana

You know the story of Jesus at a wedding in Cana.  During the celebration, they run out of wine, and Jesus’s mother asks Jesus to get more wine.  This is where Jesus performs his first miracle as he takes about six water pots, almost 30 gallons each, a total of nearly 120-180 gallons of water, and turns it into wine.

John goes on to say in 2:11, “This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory.”  Two words in the Greek are translated as our English word miracle.  The first is “dynamis,” which means power or strength.  It sounds familiar to dynamite which we understand as being explosive power.  The second word, “semios” which is the word John uses here, means means a “sign.”

So, what do these seven signs say and in at this moment, this particular sign?  John says to show God’s glory.  We are going to see God’s glory and power.  We are getting a glimpse of God’s purpose in sending Jesus.  This first miracle will demonstrate all of this.

The water pots

So, what does this miracle teach us about Jesus and the purpose of His coming?  This sign shows that we can be filled with the goodness of God.  We who were filled with vile things are now filled with the joy of the Lord.  How does he demonstrate this?  Notice that John includes a key detail about the waterpots, “and there set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews.”   This is an important aspect of information John wants to include for us.  It also makes this miracle a little disgusting.

In the Jewish law that we find in the Old Testament was high on the distinction between clean and unclean.  One of the significant aspects of the law was that uncleanness was unavoidable.  One of the traditions the Jews adopted was ritual washing with water.  Full body, foot washing, hand washing, and washing the face are all references for Jewish washing from uncleanness.  So in reality, the water pots that the people were drinking the wine from were bathtubs or at least wash basins.

Thank the Lord, there is cleansing, but I don’t think that is the single purpose sign in this miracle.  Cleansing or purifying of the water pots is only implied and hopeful.  Who would want to drink from something where you wash your face and feet?  Instead, imagine being a Jew and what these water pots would mean to you. It’s like what we see when we pass by a cross or church.  They would have been reminded of their religion.  Their faith.  And this is what Jesus’ miracle of transforming the water into wine.

You look at the pots, they were full of emptiness.  They were filled with water, but the pots themselves represented to many the emptiness of what their religion had propagated.  The law made nothing perfect (Heb. 7:19).  In those waterpots was about 180 gallons of law, guilt, and filth. But, Jesus turned it into 180 gallons of grace.  The water in Jewish law was a symbol of an external ritual.  The wine represented to the Jewish mind meant joy and blessing.

The law made nothing perfect. The law didn’t fix anything.  It was a temporary covering.  It was something to point us toward the salvation that only Jesus Christ could bring.   The wine represents the blood of Jesus that was shed for us.  Matthew 26:27-29 reads, “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.”  We are forgiven of our sins by the blood of Jesus.  We have moved from an external washing by water to an eternal cleansing and filling by the blood of Jesus.

The sign shows our fellowship with Christ and the ultimate joy of heaven.  Matthew continues, “But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom” (26:29).  We have fellowship with Jesus through the shedding of His blood.  Our relationship with God is restored through the work of Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus comes to fill the emptiness that is in our life.

Can you be a room full of people and still be alone? Can you have good health, a full bank account, lots of friends, a busy schedule, a beautiful home, a good job, a great family and still feel empty?  Jesus took the empty law and transformed it into something full of life.  Returning to John’s narrative telling of this miracle, the last verse says that the disciples believed on Jesus. He filled them with faith.  If you have given up, Jesus can fill you faith.

If your life is empty, your faith is empty, Jesus can fill you full.  As the wine was a symbol of joy, Christ can fill your life with joy.  Jesus’ first miracle is a showing that “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (Jn. 15:11).

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.

The Prayer Meeting

How much time does your church spend in prayer together?  Before the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, the apostles and many others spent the better portion of ten days in prayer (Acts 1:12-14).  Sadly, few churches focus on corporate prayer.  Sure, we have all sorts of prayer methods and calls to prayer, but we still lack in commitment.

It is my position that healthy churches have strong prayer meetings.  Christians have always gathered for the purpose of prayer from the very beginning (Acts 4:24; 12:5; 21:5).  If our churches are to remain vibrant or have any hope of revitalization, they hinge upon their congregation’s commitment to prayer.

Individuals and the local church body’s prayer life is energized or drained by the pastor and leader’s prayer life and emphasis on the group prayer meeting.  The leadership in the church must teach and model the value of prayer.

If you do not have a prayer meeting, or you are seeking to strengthen the active prayer meeting in your church, consider the following.  I use this approach in times when prayer and the prayer meeting need to emphasized in our local church.  The people have enjoyed it, and we are witnesses that “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

The Prayer Meeting

  • Begin with one or two songs.  Call people to worship God and plead their case in prayer.
  • Place greater emphasis on prayer by having someone share an answer to prayer and a lesson on prayer for about 15-20 minutes.
  • Finally, the majority of your time should be spent in prayer.  This requires more thought and effort than the typical prayer request and prayer time.  Here are a few of movements that you can use to focus this time of prayer.
    • Pray as an act of praise and adoration
    • Pray for Strengthen the Church and its leaders.
    • Pray for people’s salvation.
    • Pray for government leadership, community, and global issues.
    • Pray for those who need healing.
    • Pray for those who need financial needs.
    • Pray for the healing of broken relationships.
    • And more as the needs arise.

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.