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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Man with the Shriveled Hand

I have been away from this blog for awhile, dealing with some storms in life (including tax season) which gobbled up all of my focus even when I had free time to spend here. Today I'm back, only to briefly share something that God put on my heart yesterday morning.

I dreamed about the man with the shriveled hand, who Christ healed (Matthew 12: 9-14; Mark 3: 1-6; Luke 6: 6-11). Now, this miracle happened so that Jesus could prove His point that the Sabbath observances had reached such an extreme that it was considered unlawful by some to do anything on the Sabbath, even something good, like healing.  I recount all that so you know I haven't forgotten the story, since I'm about to talk about other aspects of the miracle instead.

Do You Want to Be Healed?

So many of Jesus' miracles always began with the question, "Do you want to be healed?"  The answer to this question always seemed so obvious to me as a reader, but I guess it wasn't to them. I can't accurately imagine being afflicted with a health problem of any kind that would keep me out of fellowship with my fellow human beings, because God has blessed me with good health. But, if I were to be so afflicted that I couldn't work and had to beg for food, that I couldn't marry or own a house because I couldn't work, I would think I would want healing.  Maybe the people who said "no" (if any did) were afraid of the changes to their lifestyle that such healing could bring.

Jesus didn't ask this question of the man with the shriveled hand. This is just my own speculation, but maybe Jesus, the man, and all of His audience were already clear on this point. Perhaps the man had been attending the Synagogue for some time, praying for deliverance from his handicap, and everyone knew why he was there. I don't know, but it is a point to be raised. The fact is, I think Jesus knew the man wanted healing before He even saw Him there, and I think it was for that specific man that Jesus had gone into the Synagogue that day.

Humiliation Before Deliverance

If any part of you does not quite meet up to the public's views of "normal" or "beautiful," then you know what it is like to shy away from the prying eyes of a crowd. This man had experienced a lot of that, I'm sure. I don't know what had caused his malformed right hand--it might have been a genetic birth defect, a disease, or an injury--but I can pretty confidently say that he didn't want everyone staring at it.

That day, he was minding his own business, when Jesus walked in and told him to stand up in front of everyone--everyone from the town where he lived, everyone who was traveling through, everyone he respected and even those who had treated him badly.

It had to be terribly, terribly humiliating to stand up there, with everyone staring and little children pointing, and face the crowd of his peers.  But, he did it.  Why? Because he wanted deliverance so much more than he wanted his dignity. He wanted God to take notice of him so much more than he cared what other people thought.  He swallowed his pride and stood up.

After that huge internal conflict was past, all that Jesus told him to do was hold out his hand, and just like that, his hand was completely normal, just like the other one.  His hand had been healed because he had not allowed anything to come between himself and God's gift, not even his own pride. This man illustrated that when we come to Christ for healing, we come with humility, letting nothing stand in our lives that denies our great need for Christ's help.

Total Healing

The healing that this man had was total restoration.  His hand looked perfectly normal, showing no traces of his past infirmity, as if it had just been an illusion all along. It could be that his hand had never been like the other one, and in that case, something was restored to him that had never been his. However it had been before, I'm sure every day, from then on, he saw that hand and thanked God for the undeniable miracle that had been given to him.

And that, my friends, is a very important thing to point out about this miracle. When God heals, He restores completely. He won't half-way fix the problems in your life. He can take them away completely, leaving no visible traces of the past. God is so powerful, He can take away bad habits and addictions, emotional scars and family problems, and leave behind a shining picture that is better than any healing you could have imagined. Believe me! More importantly, believe the man with the shriveled hand, who was healed.

Are you just like the man with the shriveled hand? Now is your chance. Stand up, brush off your shame about your need, admit it without reservations, and reach out to the God who will heal you and restore you completely! He can and will do it, so don't wait another day!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Just One Hour with Jesus

A friend of mine suggested a Bible reading plan for the week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday, in which we would read through the last few chapters of the gospel of Matthew, covering Christ's entry into Jerusalem, His crucifixion, and His resurrection. I thought it was a good idea, but quickly things got in the way (maybe things that weren't really high priorities), and I didn't stick with it.

So, when I found myself sitting up to read the last five chapters of the plan after 2 a.m. on Easter morning, I was feeling pretty guilty.  The guilt sliced deeper when I came to Matthew 26: 40 (NIV), when Jesus said to His snoozing friends, “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?”

Translation: What would it take to get just one hour of your time?

The God of the universe should not be reduced to begging for one hour of my time.  That's just ludicrous!  Even worse, God should not be pushed to the very end of the schedule and forgotten because I'm too tired, or too stressed, or too preoccupied to give Him any attention.

It is to Jesus' credit that He puts up with neglect on this scale from me. I'm blessed to have Him in my life, but too often I fail to reciprocate even the least of His kindnesses. He gives me 24 hours every day, but in my arrogance and selfish focus, I catch myself accepting that gift as an entitlement and not as a blessing. Not even one hour of 24?  How stingy is that?

It came down to asking God to forgive me for taking Him for granted, especially on the anniversary of His gift of salvation. I'm thankful that He does forgive!

Jesus chided the apostles in Gethsemane for not taking Him seriously, not for being sleepy after a long day. He was asking them for something they could afford to give Him, not something unreasonable or impossible.  They had one last chance to spend time with Him, but they took it for granted. I'm sure they regretted wasting that last hour for the rest of their lives.

I'm not trying to propose heavy and burdensome rules and standards for devotional time.  I'm talking about an attitude problem that is common to both regimented and unscheduled Christians, which condescends to "fit God in" to our lives and doesn't make Him the center. God knows we are busy, but He also knows when we're using that as an excuse to put Him off.  So, the key is to give God our attention when we know He's asking for it.

Obviously, I'm not speaking as one who has conquered this issue, but rather as a hypocrite who knows better than what I'm doing. I'm just trying to pass on what God has been saying to me lately. If you have an answer to this problem, please leave tips in the comments section, or blog about it and link back to this post. Thanks for reading!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Grim and the Gleam of Easter

Many centuries ago, the sun set and Jewish people in Goshen, in Egypt, sat in their houses trying to eat as Moses had instructed them, while frightful and terrible noises filtered through their walls and doors from the dark streets outside.  They couldn't look outside to see what was happening, and they probably didn't want to. The important thing in their minds was that they were shut away from it all, protected by the sign on their doorposts that Moses had said was all God needed to turn death away from them--the blood of an innocent lamb.  What a grim thing, but it had shielded them from the tears and sorrows that stalked Egypt that night. An innocent thing had died to save them all!

Death came again later and stole each of them away, anyway. There was a glimmer of hope, however, because God had already begun His plan to rescue them for good.  It was just going to take a few years...

Many years later, a man was killed on a wooden cross outside the walls of Jerusalem--a sinless man named Jesus.  People everywhere in the city were celebrating Passover, but even those who knew Jesus the best had failed to see that He was their symbolic lamb.  He faced death alone for them that night.

This time, however, God took away the grim sting of death.  He raised Jesus from the dead because, due to Jesus' sinlessness, death had no jurisdiction over Him.  Now, Christ has offered us that same resurrection, this gleam of hope in a very dark world, so that we can escape from death with His help!

Today, if we know Jesus and have committed ourselves to Him, we are hidden in Him, like the people who sat inside their homes long ago in Egypt (1 Peter 1: 18-21). This is what Good Friday and Easter Sunday are all about.  We are celebrating the fact that those who are covered by the Lamb are no longer exposed to the curse, but are safe and alive because of Christ!

If you want a deeper explanation of what Passover and Easter are all about, read my post here about the meaning of substitutionary atonement.  If you are still wanting more, click the "sacrifice and atonement" tag at the bottom of this post for more posts where I talked about it.

I was looking for a good Easter weekend song to share, and decided to share this worship song about committing ourselves to Jesus. It is called "To the King," and it was written by Annie Herring of the group The 2nd Chapter of Acts. Here it is sung by her younger brother, Matthew Ward.  Have a wonderful, worshipful Easter, everyone. Spend it with Jesus as King of your life!