Jesus sees your faith even if we can’t.

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Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:5

I’ve heard this story (you can get the whole story below) since I was a kid. I  have read Mark 2 a lot. I think about it often as a picture of genuine friendship and the incredible declaration of divinity made by Jesus when he forgave the man’s sins. But last night at our Alpha Course the Lord pressed me on another angle:

The paralyzed man had faith too.

In my mind and in most sermons its just been the faith of the four friends that Jesus saw.. because they were the ones in motion. They were the ones doing all the work. They were the ones tearing a hole in the roof. They were the ones finding a solution to the barriers between Jesus and their friend. But last night it hit me, Jesus saw “their” faith. There are 5 guys and some faith and Jesus saw them all.

The paralyzed man must have had some faith. He doesn’t seem to be protesting. There must have been a a conversation among the 5 guys beforehand. The man on the mat is a willing participant seeking Jesus.

I don’t know why but I never saw this before! But this realization is full of grace and delight for me! And I’m loving God even more today because of it!

When I can’t perform as others might want…

When I can’t move with grace and power…

When I can’t do everything I wish I could do…

When I can’t express all that I hope for…

When I can’t forgive myself…

When I can’t …

He can!

Jesus can act on the smallest glimmers of faith in Him that are in me.

Jesus sees past all that is left undone and He acts on the faith we turn towards Him. He does what seems impossible. And right there Jesus saw past all the “able bodies” and saw right into this man’s heart and did a miracle. Forgiveness! The miracle of a forgiven and cleansed life is priceless! And then Jesus showed the crowd He really did have the authority to do the larger and more costly act of forgiveness, when He healed the man of his paralysis.

Jesus will act on our faith even if for a time all we can do is lay in bed.

What little glimmers of faith in Jesus, the Creator, the Conquer of death, the Redeemer, the Shepherd of our Souls, are you turning toward Him?

He sees. He hears. He acts.
Mark 2:1- 12 NLT

1When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home. 2Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, 3four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. 4They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus.

5Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
6But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, 7“What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
8Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? 9Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? 10So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, 11“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!”
12And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”

Three aspects of healthy community

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15The Lord God placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it. 16But the Lord God warned him, “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—17except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” Genesis 2:15-17

Before the man in the Garden had fully experienced the joy and delight of human community, God set out for him the necessary framework for healthy community: vocation, permission, and prohibition. I appreciate Walter Brueggeman’s identification of these from God’s instructions to Adam.

Vocation: The Lord God placed the man in the Garden to tend and watch over it.

Permission: You may eat freely of every tree in the garden…

Prohibition: Except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

 

Healthy, life-giving community responds to God by keeping all three of these in tension.

Vocation is meaningful work and purpose. From our rest and relationship with God we discover and live into the callings of work, stewardship, service and contributing.

Permission is freedom, choice, and preference. We give freedom and permission for people and ourselves to discover and partake in the community and this world without condemnation.

Prohibition is the divine establishment of God’s “no” for our good. We maintain a moral boundary to our lives and relationships in which we restrain ourselves and our power in acknowledgement and love of God.

 

Consider these perversions of community

Vocation without permission becomes slavery and legalism.

Permission without prohibition becomes slavery and license.

Prohibition without vocation and permission becomes bondage and despair.

These contraptions of community are toxic and abusive, lacking God’s grace and truth. Each hollows out the soul of a person. Today we live with varying degrees of these depending on the common response to God’s grace and the human conscience. However, in the first human community pictured in the Genesis Two narrative, all three aspects where present for the man and the woman — and in their relationships they were without shame. For a time they lived fully in the gift of God’s “Yes” and “No.”

 

Life outside The Garden with Christ Jesus

Now, we live outside the garden and it seems to take tremendous effort to reestablish vocation, permission and prohibition in our communities. Although I believe the human condition is longing for the fulness of communion with God and each other we are often reluctant and even  resistant to the pathway of love and holiness set before us by Jesus. He is calling us to Himself so we may receive these good gifts through His Spirit today and participate in the redemption of all things. The Gospel changes everything including our response to the needs we posses by design for vocation, permission, and prohibition.

Ephesians 4:17-31 NLT

17With the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. 18Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. 19They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.

20But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. 21Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, 22throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. 23Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

25So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbors the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. 26And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

28If you are a thief, quit stealing. Instead, use your hands for good hard work, and then give generously to others in need. 29Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

30And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

31Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

Mysteries abound when kids are secretaries.

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Yet when I am among mature believers, I do speak with words of wisdom, but not the kind of wisdom that belongs to this world or to the rulers of this world, who are soon forgotten. 7No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God—his plan that was previously hidden, even though he made it for our ultimate glory before the world began. 8But the rulers of this world have not understood it; if they had, they would not have crucified our glorious Lord. 9That is what the Scriptures mean when they say,

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined

what God has prepared for those who love him.”

10But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us.  1 Corinthians 2:6-12
Have you ever had the following experience upon arriving home?

One of the kids says, “Somebody called for you.”

Parent: Who called?

Kid: I’m not sure.

Parent: What’d they say?

Kid: I think, that you should call them back.

Parent: What’s the number?

Kid: I don’t remember.

Parent: Did you write it down?

Kid: No.

Parent: When did they want me to call back?

Kid: I don’t know.

Well maybe you don’t have kids. It could have been a roommate! Before the advent of caller ID and everybody having a personal phone attached to them this was a dead-end conversation. Dead-end conversations — that’s sometimes how people see the journey of getting to know God. But that’s not how the Apostle Paul sees it. He believes the messaging of the Gospel specifically dispels the fog regarding God and His intentions. God hasn’t called on you with the Gospel in order to create confusion. No, God has called on you with the Gospel of Jesus in order to dispel some mysteries and to transform your loves.

The Gospel message is much clearer than our secretarial kids.

Who called? God.

What’d He say? The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is His plan for including people in a relationship of love and and in His long-term plan to redeem Creation.
What do I need to do next? Receive Jesus by faith; He gives His Holy Spirit to help you know the wonderful things He has freely given us.

When? Now.

The Gospel has a very specific view of the work of God. The cross of Jesus stood upon terraferma in a specific period of history in order to reveal and make a way for people into the King’s mission. The Gospel is the message and Jesus’ people are now the agents of His message: God is doing something good on your behalf; he is preparing something good for you who love Him. The journey now with the Holy Spirit is to live from and into the good He is giving us.

Ah, Dear world, here’s the challenge for me and even for the church: sometimes I still feel like a kid trying to convey the message. I may not be clear. My lack of skills and the imperfections of my life may create confusion. I’m just a kid secretary, still growing up! And sometimes I struggle to find the words to describe the love, joy, peace, change and hope I have found in Him. But I’m trying. So I go back to the Gospel message. And I know its not all up to me. Its a good thing God is giving His Holy Spirit to help you… and to help me! Of this I’m sure: ’till Jesus Christ returns, God is going to keep calling on people through His Gospel and His Spirit!

The wisdom of weakness when it comes to winning hearts to Jesus.

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1When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. 2For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. 3I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling. 4And my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit. 5I did this so you would trust not in human wisdom but in the power of God.  1 Corinthians 2:1-5

To be sure the Apostle Paul was not a pushover. Nor was he easily swayed from the King’s mission. Paul was trained in the rhetorical conventions of his day and he was capable of entering into the fray without paralyzing fear regarding the emotional discomfort of others. So why did Paul intentionally enter the arenas of Corinth’s intellectual and social conversation with weakness?

The Gospel of Jesus creates a counter-cultural impulse. While the best and most noble virtues of a society may bend people toward the Gospel, there are also prized postures toward life that run counter to the Gospel, create a false gospel, and might be confused with the Gospel. I think Paul choose weakness because he was responding to to the counter-cultural impulse of Jesus as he brought the Gospel to the people of Corinth.

They valued strength. They valued flowery speech. They loved their big personalities and the opportunity to take sides. Those were the trappings of their human wisdom. Paul was capable of delivering all three… and it would not have honoured Christ and the Gospel.

So Paul made himself smaller that Christ could be greater. He came with weakness — timid and trembling. He talked with them plainly. He was very conscious of relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to move the hearts of people. He was looking for the power of God to inspire trust in God. He would not use fear or a form of personalized competition with other voices or logisticians to bring people to “his side.” Instead,  Paul chose dependency on God trusting that He would show up through the grace, truth, and power of the Gospel. This choice shaped his attitude and posture toward the people of Corinth.

Would the Lord have you choose weakness as the pathway to people’s hearts in your community?

If so, what does that look like for you? What adjustments in demeanour are required?

 

Questioning our Desire

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Hope deferred makes the heart sick,but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
Proverbs 13:12

A desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul, but to turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.
Proverbs 13:19

 

Disappointment.
It can crush the soul and ruin us for a time. This kind of heart sickness generates its own dis-ease and apprehension. It’s an internal crisis that ripples into every relationship.  I remember a season in leadership and life over a decade ago when “hope deferred” felt like the absolute loss of a dream — even the death of a dream. I thought I was finished, undone, and of no use! God met me through that season by reshaping the desires of my heart — particularly God reshaped my understanding of those dreams. Essential to my own growth, even my own survival, through that season was the willingness to acknowledge and enter into the pain of these unmet and shattered expectations.

 

A desire fulfilled.
The wisdom teacher in Proverbs says of a desire fulfilled, “It’s a tree of life” and “It’s sweet to the soul.” Sounds like success and perhaps it is. But when our desires sit only on the surface of production, achievement, or the applause of people it doesn’t last. It is not a tree of life and cannot be a tree of life for us. Sweet to the soul — only for a moment. So what kind of desires fulfilled can be a tree of life? I believe these tree of life desires must be rooted in relationships and a deep purpose planted in our hearts by God. Love and the delight of God must be at the root of “tree of life” desires.

 

To turn away.
The teacher uses the phrase “to turn away” identifying a capacity to discern between our desires. A fool refuses “to turn away” from an evil desire. The fool, considers such deferral and refusal to be “an abomination.” In other words a fool considers it to be the last thing in the world she or he would consider doing — choosing not to fulfill a desire.  Ugh — foolish moments. We’ve all had our foolish moments.

The danger looms when such foolishness becomes the habituated pattern of our lives and the very nature of our character. Its important that we learn to discerning the evil in desires. The desire may be wrong in the eyes of God — it may be a perversion of something He made to be good. The desire may be inappropriate for the nature of our relationships. Or perhaps the desire may have to be deferred for a season because of other commitments in this season of life,fulfilling the desire would actually wreck havoc. This is a timing issue and is truly at the heart of wisdom.

I have a theory about spiritual formation and the seasons of our lives.  Perhaps each major developmental movement from being a child to young adult, from young adult to adulthood and then the seasons of re-evaluated adulthood coming almost every decade, must be accompanied by a renewed commitment to the process and an expansion of our capacity to discern and sift desire. Maybe we must relearn aspects of this process over and over because of the changes that take place in us and in the world around us. Here’s my process:

Naming: Acknowledge the desire.

Binding: Discern the desire’s impact in relationships – to God, to self, to people, and to the stuff of earth; reshape and limit accordingly as a disciple of Jesus in the grace and truth of His Lordship. This may actually be a binding process that comes from God as He brings healing to us in regard to our desires.

 

Loosing: Take steps to move toward a desire fulfilled. This is probably not a straight line as it may involve: prayer, conversations, partnering, a long series of small steps in the right direction, and then absolute surrender to God for Him to accomplish something that’s actually bigger than we are and beyond our capacities.

 

Personal Reflection — What do you think?
Have you had any experience with these two proverbs?
Have you gone through a naming, binding, and loosing process before? What have you learned in the process?
How has Jesus redeemed deferred desires?
Are there desires that you have “nailed to the cross?”
How has God shown up to do more than you thought possible?
Are there desires that you have been ignoring?
Are there desires you have been gracefully fulling with Jesus for the glory of God?