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Sunday, August 30, 2020

The Condition of Spiritual Deafness


Healing of the Deaf Man, 9th century Fresco, Church of St. John, Müstair, Switzerland.

Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. And they brought to him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged him to lay his hand on him. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, he put his fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. And looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. And Jesus charged them to tell no one. But the more he charged them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, “He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” (Mark 7:31–37)

Speaking of the time of deliverance by Messiah, the Prophet Isaiah says, "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped." (Isaiah 35:5)

Mark was the only Evangelist to record the miracle of the healing of the deaf and mute man. He stresses that Jesus Messiah was not seeking fame and fortune. He was not seeking glory. He wanted to protect the man who had been brought to him for healing, and he wanted the miracle kept quiet.

Jesus healed the man privately as an act of compassion. "Jesus took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue." (Mark 7:33-36) 

The people were astonished and said concerning Jesus: "He does all things well; he makes both the deaf to hear, and the mute to speak." (Mark 7:37)

Today this miracle is discounted as Christian propaganda. Skepticism extends beyond the possibility of miracles to the very idea that Messiah has come in the flesh. We live in a time of extreme unbelief. Is it any wonder that few see the miracles that do happen? We see what we expect to see. We hear what we want to hear. The effect is that we become spiritually deaf, mute and blind. If we are lucky, some friends might care enough to bring us to Jesus. That in itself would be a miracle!

Those who hate Jesus attempt to portray Him as a bully, a tyrant, a pervert, a narcissist, a bigot, a demagogue or a rabble-rouser. The account of the healing of the deaf and mute man presents a different picture and it is the account of eye witnesses. 

There is bondage in holding to lies. There is true freedom in embracing the truth. Pilate asked Jesus "Quid est veritas?" (What is truth?) Jesus replied, "To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth hears my voice." (John 18:37).

Imagine the astonishment of the man who was healed when he first heard the voice of Jesus Messiah! Can you also hear His voice?

Friday, August 28, 2020

Seeking God and Spiritual Growth?

Does the Bible present a pattern for those seeking God and spiritual growth? It certainly does! The pattern is evident in Acts 2.

Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and to your children and to all who are far off, to all whom the Lord our God will call to Himself.” With many other words he testified, and he urged them, “Be saved from this corrupt generation." 

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.…" (Acts 2:28-42)

The pattern begins with hearing the Word. Peter preached the same message that Jesus preached: Repent. That is where true life begins. Acknowledge your need for God to be in control of your life. Recognize that only God's power can beak the hold of sin and spiritual death.

The repentant are to be baptized in the name of Jesus, the Son of God. Note that Peter urges his listeners to be baptized. He does not force them. There is no coercion by the use of force or threats, and no enticing the people by offering them prosperity and health. Many of those who were baptized faced persecution for becoming followers of Jesus Messiah. Many were put to death.

The baptized repentant receive the Holy Spirit who is sent from the Father in heaven. The Holy Spirit gently and gradually transforms the inner person so that person becomes more like Jesus. The growth is expressed in forgiveness, compassion and spiritual authority.

The newly baptized devote themselves to the Apostolic teaching called the "Kerygma." The Kerygma involves the core beliefs about God Father, God Son, and God Holy Spirit: 

(1) That they are eternal, pure good, and extend perfect love to all humans. 

(2) That the death, burial and third day resurrection of Jesus Messiah was according to God's plan (Acts 2:25-35).

(3) That the ascension of the Risen Lord Jesus entails His enthronement as the long-yearned for Righteous Ruler (Acts 2:36).

(4) That the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to all who receive Jesus as the Son of God and their Savior (Acts 2:38). First John 4:15 says, "If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God."

The proclamation of this message requires a response. To ignore the proclamation is to continue in a state of spiritual decay. To accept the proclamation one must repent of sins, accept baptism, and live in the new life which Christ offers (Acts 2:37-41). The new follower of Jesus joins other Believers for encouragement and support, and for prayer, and to receive Holy Communion, the food of eternal life.

As Ed Lundwall has written, "...we must receive what God has given through the life building Word of God, the personal relationship of prayer, and integration into the body of Christ through fellowship."

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Proof I've been born again

A Study in First John

Hope Ellen Rapson

Proof #1: “We know that we have come to know him, if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know Him, but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made completes in Him. This how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” (1 John 1:3-5)

John is writing to Christians who have been bombarded by false teachers. Some of those false teachers claimed to have special knowledge independent of Jesus' teachings. Some taught a separation of their outer physical lifestyle from their inner spirituality. As a result, they easily could profess to be a Christ-follower without actually being one. For example, Jesus made it clear that sexual activity outside of a marriage relationship was a sin. However, the false teachers basically said, “It happens. It’s reasonably normal, because what you do physically is totally separated from what you believe spiritually.” 

Sound familiar? Statistics indicate that the percentage of people professing to be Christians who live together before marriage or who are randomly sexually active, is essentially equal to those who profess unbelief. Many, so-called and often deceived Christian believers, divide the secular and the sacred. They profess, not confess faith in Jesus Christ. This propagates confusion in and outside the church. 

John lived, walked, and talked with Jesus before and after his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He remembers Jesus’ repeated statement, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15, 21, 23) Because John loves the community of believers he calls them “My dear children” (1 John 2: 1) and urges them to resist false teachings and societal pressures and to live according to the teachings of Jesus (I John 2:6). He makes obedience a proof of being “in Him” which means “being born again” or having been given “a new life” by trusting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (John 3:16).

However, John is realistic, and knows that even true believers fall into temptation and sin. He graciously states in 1 John 1:9, that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us out sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 

The key to knowing you are “born again” is your earnest desire to follow Christ’s commands and consistently seek his grace and empowerment to do so. You make mistakes, but you confess them before God, and seek not to make them again. This gradually develops a lifestyle that conforms to “what Jesus would do.” The proof of discipleship is in the progress of loving Him and becoming more like Him, in spite of the ups and downs of your obedience. Your overarching desire, in spite of weakness, is the earnest, heartfelt desire and commitment to please God because of the wonderful salvation He has provided through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 5-7) Proof #1: Love for Jesus Christ and obedience to his teachings.

So, keep asking yourself, am I becoming more obedient to the teachings of Christ? Am I loving Him enough to make my inner relationship with Him obvious in my outer lifestyle and activities? Am I resisting the teachings and pressures of those who says it does not matter, because I know that “God is light; in Him is no darkness at all?” (I John 1:5). If this describes you, along with Proofs # 2 and 3, you can be confident that you have received “new life in Christ.”

Related reading: You Must Be Born Again; First John on Marks of a Christian; Are You His Disciple Indeed?

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Bible Blurb: All Things Through Him

You say: "It's impossible."

God says: "All things are possible." (Luke 18:27)

You say: "I can't go on."

God says: "You can do all things through me." (Philippians 4:13)

You say: I can't do it."

God says: "My grace is sufficient." (Psalm 91:15; II Corinthians 12:9)

Related reading: Are You Anxious?

Monday, August 17, 2020

His Power Within You

The Apostle Paul was starkly truthful about the human condition. He described the unregenerate as "dead" in their trespasses and sins, and he said that this condition is "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 2:1, 2)

Disobedience and spiritual rebellion are the way of the world. They express themselves in violence, hatred, racism, sexual perversion, arrogance, and the lust for money and power. Paul was truthful as to the source of this darkness: Satan or the Devil, described as "the prince of the power of the air." To their own detriment, many dismiss his existence.

Fortunately, there is a more powerful force at work in the world, the Holy Spirit. A. W. Tozer wrote, "When we have the Holy Spirit we have all that is needed to be all that God desires us to be."

The Holy Spirit brings spiritual regeneration. By the Spirit we are "born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God.” (1 Peter 1:23) 

The Spirit makes us to be "partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” (2 Peter 1:4)

The Spirit convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" and according to Jesus Messiah the root of the sin is "because they do not believe in me.” (John 16:8-10)

Scripture says that "every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God" and that spirit is of the antichrist. John explains why worldly voices gain a greater audience. "They are of the world and they speak from the world’s perspective, and the world listens to them." (1 John 4:3-5)

The Spirit of truth guides us into all truth and discloses the things of God the Father and God the Son to us. (John 16:13-16)

The Holy Spirit teaches us "all things" and brings to our remembrance all that Jesus said. (John 14:26)

The Apostle Paul prayed that "the eyes of your understanding being enlightened, that ye may know what is the hope of His calling, and what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints." (Ephesians 1:18)

The works of darkness are exposed by the light of Christ and the matchless inward and outward working of the Holy Spirit. Greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. Thanks be to God!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Let us Confess Our Sins

Forgive them all, O Lord…

Our sins of omission and our sins of commission;

The sins of our youth and the sins of our riper years;

The sins of our souls and the sins of our bodies;

Our secret and our more open sins;

Our sins of ignorance and surprise, and our more deliberate and presumptuous sins;

The sins we have done to please ourselves and the sins we have done to please others;

The sins we know and remember, and the sins we have forgotten;

The sins we have striven to hide from others and the sins by which we have made others offend;

Forgive them, O Lord, forgive them all for His sake who died for our sins and rose for our justification, and now stands at Your right hand to make intercession for us, Jesus Christ our Lord.

- Prayer of John Wesley (1703-1791)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

A Prayer for Troubled Times


“Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts that cannot be dragged down by false loves; give us courageous hearts that cannot be worn down by trouble; give us righteous hearts that cannot be sidetracked by unholy or unworthy goals. Give to us also, our Lord and God, understanding to know You, diligence to look for You, wisdom to recognize You, and a faithfulness that will bring us to see You face to face.”  Thomas A Kempis (1380-1471)

Thomas à Kempis was a German-Dutch theologian and the author of The Imitation of Christ (Imitatio Christi), a devotional book that is considered one of the most influential Christian works next to Augustine's Confessions and the Bible.

"If you want to learn something that will really help you, learn to see yourself as God sees you and not as you see yourself in the distorted mirror of your own self-importance," he wrote. "This is the greatest and most useful lesson we can learn: to know ourselves for what we truly are, to admit freely our weaknesses and failings, and to hold a humble opinion of ourselves because of them."

Related reading: Thomas à Kempis

Monday, August 3, 2020

Today is Your Opportunity to Love

John wrote, "Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." (1 John 3:18)

Alice C. Linsley

Recently my niece described one of her friends as "a person who loves well." She was speaking of a woman who is able to connect with people from many cultures and religions. That person doesn't see differences as a barrier, but rather as an invitation.

Jesus was such a person. He loved well, and more importantly, he was the embodiment of the kind of love that sinks into the heart of those around him. No wonder crowds followed him!

At times Christians come across as harsh and judgmental. We are too quick to assume that people we don't know are lost or unorthodox. We are too quick to argue rather than to listen and to ask non-confrontational questions. No wonder many want nothing to do with us.

Today an opportunity to love someone as Jesus loves them may present itself. Do not miss that opportunity because you have judged that person. Take down the barrier of judgment. Do not miss an opportunity because the person has hurt you. Set aside that injury. Do not miss an opportunity because you think that person annoying or ignorant, or because you hate their politics. Only a person who loves well can show people the true nature of Jesus Christ. 

Today watch for your opportunity to love well.