Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Bad About Good Things

By Allen White

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!”

When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”

   “Yes, Lord,” they replied.

 Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you”; and their sight was restored. Jesus warned them sternly, “See that no one knows about this.” But they went out and spread the news about him all over that region.

 While they were going out, a man who was demon-possessed and could not talk was brought to Jesus. And when the demon was driven out, the man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, “Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.”

 But the Pharisees said, “It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.”
Matthew 9:27-34

Jesus had a knack for making wounded people whole. He healed the two blind men. Could you imagine if the first face you ever saw was Jesus’ face? He instructed them not to shout about it. They couldn’t help themselves. They were blind and now they could see.

Jesus drove out the demon and opened the mouth of the mute. Were his first words, “Thank you, Jesus”? I’m sure that he couldn’t quit talking about it. After all, he had a lot to say on that day.

The religious leaders had to rain on the parade. “He’s using the power of Beelzebub.” Most of us would be excited to witness the blind men seeing and the mute man talking, we would just shout for joy. We wouldn’t question the source of Jesus’ power. And, as far as Beelzebub goes, when do we ever think of that name, except when we hear Bohemian Rhapsody.

It seems ridiculous for the Pharisees to equate Jesus’ work with the prince of demons. Or, is it?
Think about this – someone does something out of the goodness of their heart to help another – what kinds of things do we hear about them?

“He’s trying to make a name for himself.”
“She’s trying to get attention.”
“He’s a savvy entrepreneur drumming up business.”
“She must feel guilty for something.”
“He’s just overcompensating for his childhood wounds.”
“She’s just trying to prove something.”
“He just thinks he’s better than everyone else.”

Jealousy has been around for a very long time. The people weren’t buying what the Pharisees were selling. People didn’t want the heavy burden they had to offer. Jesus didn’t come to sell anybody anything. He came to give life in abundant proportions.

Jesus operated out of His love for us. The Pharisees depended on guilt and fear. They needed a God of wrath. They needed the threat of demons to keep people in line. Jesus didn’t need any of that. In fact, the wrath of God is part of the goodness of God. Huh?

The punishment for our sins is only to motivate us toward the Forgiver of our sins. He doesn’t want us to embrace things that will harm us. God desired a relationship with us. God doesn’t want anyone to perish, but for everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus knew that the key to motivating people is loving them, not regulating them.

Generosity, serving, caring, helping and encouraging reflect the heart of God. How do you feel when you see others serve well? Do you celebrate with them? Do you encourage them? Or do you become a Pharisee?

Dragging down the God-motivated service of others does not reflect God’s character. In fact, if we feel negative about other’s good work, maybe it’s actually conviction to get motivated ourselves. If we’re going to outdo each other, then let’s compete with generosity, serving, caring, helping and encouraging. Leave Beelzebub to the Bohemian Rhapsody.

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Full of Doubt or Full of Faith?

By Allen White

While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.” Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.

Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. She said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed.”

 Jesus turned and saw her. “Take heart, daughter,” he said, “your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed at that moment.

 When Jesus entered the synagogue leader’s house and saw the noisy crowd and people playing pipes, he said, “Go away. The girl is not dead but asleep.” But they laughed at him. After the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took the girl by the hand, and she got up. News of this spread through all that region.
Matthew 9:18-26

On His way to a house filled with doubt, Jesus encountered a woman full of faith. The people in the house had accepted the inevitable – the child had died. The noisy crowd was already memorializing her life. But, her father, a synagogue leader, knowing she was dead believed that there was more.

En route to the house, Jesus felt someone touch him. Her chronic health problem drove her to Jesus. Seeing Jesus, she took the opportunity by letting Jesus intersect with her need. She had faith and was healed.

At the father’s prompting, Jesus arrived at the house. He announced that the girl was only “asleep.” The mourners laughed at Him. They laughed in Jesus’ face.

Simply taking the girl by the hand, Jesus brought her back to life. The key to this miracle is one small phrase, “after the crowd had been put outside.” The crowd lacked faith. The crowd accepted things as they were. The crowd laughed at the hope Jesus offered. The crowd had to go.

Most of us don’t celebrate the newfound problems in our lives. In fact, most of us are prone to mourn our loss. Whether we’re facing inconvenience or impossibility, we usually don’t embrace the problem with open arms. We’d rather duck than pucker up.

But, who is this a problem for? “Well, it’s a problem for me.” Of course, it is. But, it’s not a problem for God. God knows the resolution of this problem. God knows where He wants to take us. We just don’t know where we’re going, yet.

Why is it a problem? It interrupted our plans. It’s not what we expected. We thought that we’d be better off than we are at this point in our lives. Maybe we didn’t see it coming. Maybe we did.

In every problem, we have a choice: faith or mourning. We can cling to what might have been – coulda, shoulda, woulda – or we can trust God for what’s next. Now, don’t get the idea that my life is problem-free and that I am averse to mourning. There is no such thing as problem-free, and I’m preaching to the preacher here.

Once we decide to follow God in faith believing, we need to look at our crowd. What are they saying? Are they building us up or tearing us down?

Who is the crowd? The crowd represents whatever inputs we are allowing in our lives. Are their messages positive or negative? Are they inspiring hope or mourning?

Some of us need to distance ourselves from negative friends or family. Others need to turn off cable (bad) news. Get the facts, and then allow God to provide the commentary. Are we reading things that bring hope? What are we telling ourselves?

The truth about us is not necessarily our track record. God says that we are forgiven and redeemed (Titus 2:14). God says that we have a hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). God says that we have a mission to fulfill (Matthew 28:18-20).

If you find yourself a little hope-less today, then surround yourself with thoughts and people who are hope-full. This isn’t wishful thinking. This is truthful thinking.

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Monday, October 5, 2015

From Restraint to Rejoicing

By Allen White

Then John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?”

Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment, for the patch will pull away from the garment, making the tear worse. Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:14-17

John the Baptist’s disciples were afraid that Jesus was leading His disciples astray. The practice of religious folks in that day, especially the Pharisees, was to fast two days a week without water. This strict observance served to discipline the body, even though the Law only required fasting on the Day of Atonement as a form of humbling themselves (Leviticus 23:27).
John’s disciples were “serious” about their faith. Jesus’ disciples came across as party boys. Jesus was the life of the party.

Jesus turns the conversation from fasting to feasting. No one fasted at a wedding. In fact, a wedding feast would typically last for seven days. There was plenty of eating and drinking. The disciples’ time with Jesus called for rejoicing, not restraint. Jesus brought a new relationship between people and God.

To exercise self-restraint in the presence of the Messiah made about as much sense as patching an old garment with new cloth or putting new wine into old wineskins. A well-worn piece of clothing had shrunk from washing over time. A new piece of cloth had not. The patch would only add to the damage, not repair it.

The fresh press of grapes needed room to expand during the fermentation process. Today, that would happen in oak barrels in a wine cave or in stainless steel tanks in a place like Livingston, California, which resembles a refinery more than a winery.

In Jesus’ day, fermentation happened in an animal skin. As the new wine fermented, the wineskin would stretch and expand. An old wineskin was already stretched out. To fill it with new wine, when it was already stretched to capacity, meant that an explosion was imminent.
New wine belonged in new skin. New cloth belonged on new clothes. A new covenant prized rejoicing over ritual.

There is a place in our spiritual life for self-discipline. There are days when we need to routinely connect with God, even if we don’t feel like it. But, if our regimen of spiritual disciplines has left us dreading our relationship with God, then we have taken things too far.

Yes, God wants dedicated disciples, but He also wants us to delight in Him as He delights in us (Psalm 149:4). When the things that used to bring us closer to God begin to get in the way of our relationship with God, then it’s time to try something new.

There are many ways to connect with God. Sing worship songs at the top of your lungs while you’re driving. Take a passage of Scripture and put it into your own words. Serve someone who needs help. Talk to someone about your relationship with God. Pray out loud. Be quiet and turn off the noise for half a day. Skip a meal -- spend the time with God and spend the money on someone in need.

God doesn’t want our mindless obedience. He desires meaningful interaction. When giving becomes like paying the bills, when praying sounds like placing an order, when serving becomes just another thing to do, it’s time to do something different. The doing doesn’t make the difference. It’s our connection to God that matters.

Are you stuck in a rut in your relationship with God? Where have good habits become dreaded routines in your life? Try something new. Don’t let even good things sap your joy.

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Sunday, October 4, 2015

Treating Symptoms Won’t Cure the Disease

By Allen White

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:9-13

There are two types of people in this world: people who need God and people who don’t need God. But, doesn’t everybody need God? Well, it depends on how you want to live and where you want to go.

The religious leaders didn’t need God. They didn’t need His grace and mercy. They had it all worked out. As long as they lived by the rules – it was a reduced set of self-determined rules, mind you – they were okay. They were in control. Demanding control quickly demotes God in your life.

Then, there were the godless, self-indulgent prodigals. They also had no need for God, as far as they knew. From the outside, it seemed they just lived their lives and enjoyed themselves. On the inside, they did whatever it took to numb the pain, eventually increasing the dose. They lived in hopelessness.

Religion wanted to treat their symptoms, but it wouldn’t cure their disease. Whose disease? Actually, both groups. The religious diligently following rules and performing sacrifices were adding bandaids to their wounds. Their prescription for the irreligious was simply for them to stop self-medicating and follow the rules. They were simply exchanging one drug for another. Legalism is just as addictive as controlled substances.

The religious leaders had made up their minds about Jesus. He was a renegade. He was a lunatic. He was a blasphemer. They speculated that Jesus did Satan’s bidding. They didn’t need Jesus. So, Jesus went elsewhere.

Tax collectors, who were despised by the Jews, and “sinners” in general welcomed Jesus more readily than the religious. Jesus summed it up by saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” While the religious weren’t healthy, they thought they were. The sinners knew they were sick.

It makes us wonder about folks who have things all buttoned up and figured out. It also makes us wonder about our own openness to Jesus. Which group would we find ourselves in? How much do we actually need Jesus?

Do we go through our days on our own strength? Do we turn to God even when it’s not an emergency? I’m not saying these things to make you feel guilty and form a new rule in your life. But, how much of your life depends on you and how much of your life depends on God?

Who do you hang out with? Do you find your comfort zone among religious people or among sinners? Is your heart set to Christianize the world or to bring Christ to broken people? Treating the symptoms won’t cure the disease.

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Thursday, October 1, 2015

Recycling God’s Will

By Allen White

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” Then the man got up and went home. When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man. Matthew 9:1-8

For the teachers of the law, Jesus’ miracles pushed the limits of reason. They debated how He could heal or cast out demons. Either Jesus was a clever showman or a child of Satan (Matthew 9:34), because He certainly didn’t fit into their category of “Son of God.” Then, Jesus crossed the line.

Before He healed the paralyzed man, Jesus forgave his sins. According to the teachers of the law, Jesus didn’t have authority to do this. He broke their rules, unless He actually was the Son of God. But, He couldn’t be, according to them.

It’s odd that these religious leaders could write off Jesus’ miracles as being satanically motivated and empowered – they could live with that. But, a living, breathing person performing God’s will and forgiving sins – this broke the rules. They wouldn’t stand for this. It was blasphemy. And, that’s exactly what it would have been, except that Jesus is exactly Who He claims to be.

No one could see whether the man’s sins were indeed forgiven. But, they did see him stand, pick up his mat and walk. There was no doubt about that.

Sometimes we fall into the trap of these teachers of the law. We expect God to work in our lives in certain ways. We think God will work like He always has. We know that He’s always there for us. We know that God answers prayer. We know that God has the power. But, we limit what we think God can do.

We want God to work in familiar ways. “Last time I was in a situation like this, God did _____________.” So, we flip the “God switch” for our situation only to discover that God isn’t necessarily connected to a switch. If God could be controlled, then He would be limited to what we thought and understood. But, God is beyond our control, and that makes us nervous.

God doesn’t have to fit into our expectations. He can exceed them. God doesn’t have to play by the rules. He made them, so He can break them. God doesn’t need to recycle His will for us. He has a new thing.

As A.B. Simpson once said, “Do we know the power of our supernatural weapon? Do we dare to use it with the authority of a faith that commands as well as asks? God baptize us with holy audacity and Divine confidence! He is not wanting great men, but He is wanting men who will dare to prove the greatness of their God. But God! But prayer!”

When was the last time God truly blew your mind? While you should never be surprised that God answers prayer, you should always be amazed at His work.

What are you asking God for, but not getting an answer? Are you asking too narrowly? Are you giving God any room for creativity? God’s work done God’s way reaps God’s reward. Don’t get in His way.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

If You’re Willing, God Is Able

By Allen White

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. “What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Some distance from them a large herd of pigs was feeding. The demons begged Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into the herd of pigs.”

He said to them, “Go!” So they came out and went into the pigs, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and died in the water. Those tending the pigs ran off, went into the town and reported all this, including what had happened to the demon-possessed men. Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
Matthew 8:28-34

Read that last sentence again – “They pleaded with [Jesus] to leave their region.” The whole town wanted Jesus out of town. But, why? Didn’t Jesus solve their problem?

The demon-possessed men were “so violent that no one could pass that way.” Wasn’t it helpful to the townspeople to remove this threat from their neighborhood? Now, they could peacefully pass through the area. They no longer had to fear these two men. But, rather than celebrating Jesus’ power and the deliverance of the two men, they wanted Jesus to leave.

Were these a bunch of commodity traders who just saw pork bellies falling? (Sorry. I couldn’t resist). Or, had the townspeople pledged so many things “when pigs fly” that they were now overly obligated? (Okay, I’ll stop).

The situation involving the threat of the demon-possessed men was bad, but they knew how to avoid it. Sure, they might have to take the long way around, but they knew what they were up against. With Jesus, well, they weren’t sure what they had. Two free men and a bunch of dead pigs was way out of the norm. Even though what they had before was bad, it was familiar. They knew how to deal with the problems. They didn’t know what to do with Jesus.

What bad things in our lives give us a sense of security? “If I’m always doing ten things, people will understand why I can’t succeed at one thing.” The person’s fear is that they can’t succeed. The multitasking becomes their excuse. “If I could shake this bad habit, I know that I would be healthier physically and emotionally. But, it’s my go-to, and I enjoy it.” Why do we resist change when we know it will bring freedom?

Familiar things are comfortable, even when they’re not good for us. Either we’ve lost hope that things can get better or we just don’t want to exert the effort. We live dissatisfying, mediocre lives when significance is within our reach.
I’ve heard speakers over the years say that the safest place in the universe is being in the center of God’s will. I’ve found that it’s actually the most dangerous place, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

We find safety in the things we feel that we can control. The deception is that eventually these things control us. If you don’t believe that’s true, then why haven’t you quit already?

The question for all of us is if we really want Jesus’ power in our lives. It might be too much for us. It’s certainly going to challenge our status quo and lead us toward radical change.

Are you ready to allow Jesus to break the rules in your life? Are you willing to let go of the things that make you feel secure? If you are, then you’ll need to find some help. Who has victory in this area of their life? Could they help you? A support group or Celebrate Recovery might be the way. A prayer partner, life coach or accountability partner might show the way.

If you are willing, God is able.

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Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Bypass the Freaking Out

By Allen White

Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”

Jesus responded, “Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!” Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm.

 The disciples were amazed. “Who is this man?” they asked. “Even the winds and waves obey him!”
Matthew 8:23-27

The disciples didn’t know what they didn’t know. They knew enough about Jesus to leave everything behind and follow Him. But, they didn’t know enough to trust Him implicitly. They believed that Jesus was the Son of God, but they didn’t really understand what that meant.

As the storm began to rage, even the seasoned fishermen on board began to worry. In their heads, they knew that Jesus was the answer. In their hearts, they were freaking out.

The disciples did the right thing by turning to Jesus. They trusted Him to do something. They just weren’t sure what He would do.

Jesus, the Creator (Colossians 1:15-16), took authority over the forces of nature. Just like God had spoken the creation into existence, Jesus said just said the word. The wind and waves obeyed.

The disciples were blown away. “Who is this man?” They followed Jesus because they had never met another man like this. Then, they were astonished at His miracles, because they had never met another man like this.

The voice of fear said the disciples would perish in this storm. The voice of reason was shouting, “Amen!” The voice of faith realized the Truth was asleep in the back of the boat. The disciples versus a fierce storm equaled catastrophe. But, Jesus versus the storm meant something completely different.

Now, before we look down on the disciples, think about how we handle things. We know that God can solve any problem. We know that God is greater than anything we face. We face a problem. Then, we try to solve the problem. We get frustrated and freaked out about the problem. Finally, in desperation, we cry out to God for help.

Here’s a little secret – save yourself the frustration – bypass the freaking out. When you feel the first signs of worry, turn the situation over to God (Philippians 4:6-7). The worst thing we can do is keep Jesus on reserve while we fret over our circumstance.

What are you worried about today? Anything you think about more than three times is a worry. Take a moment to give it over to God. The next time you worry about it, even if it’s three minutes from now, pray about it again. Jesus will calm the turmoil in your heart.

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