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Healing

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Despite what some preachers may tell you these days, you cannot unhitch the New Testament from the Old Testament. Today’s Bible reading demonstrates this fact.

John the Baptizer was Jesus’ cousin. Luke recorded Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22. But just before baptizing Jesus, Dr. Luke referred to Isaiah’s prophecy, saying that someone would come, announcing the Messiah’s birth (Isaiah 40:3-5). I don’t know if John realized he was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy or not. I don’t know how aware he was of his situation, but he did make mention of Jesus being the Lamb of God Who takes away the world’s sins. (John 1:29)

Anyway… when John’s disciples come to Jesus asking if He is the One they’re waiting for, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 61 — the very passage He had read from when the synagogue officials handed Isaiah’s scroll to Him in Luke 4!

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of our God’s vengeance; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1–2 (CSB)

Jesus responds, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor are told the good news,” Luke 7:22 (CSB)

Reading Isaiah’s prophecy and Jesus’ response to John’s disciples side-by-side, you cannot deny that Jesus is applying Isaiah to Himself: good news, healing, and liberty.

After John’s disciples leave, Jesus refers back to Isaiah 40, telling the crowd that John’s was the voice that cried out in the wilderness:

A voice of one crying out: Prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness; make a straight highway for our God in the desert. Every valley will be lifted up, and every mountain and hill will be leveled; the uneven ground will become smooth and the rough places, a plain. And the glory of the Lord will appear, and all humanity together will see it, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. Isaiah 40:3–5 (CSB)

Yes, John’s was the voice that Isaiah said would cry out in the desert, urging everyone to prepare for the Messiah’s arrival. And Jesus was the Messiah!

Application

Have you had trouble understanding the Old Testament? Have you struggled to figure out how the two Testaments fit together, if at all?

I can tell you that I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I have questioned why Christians even need to read the Old Testament. But not anymore! The more I read the New Testament, the more of the Old Testament I see in it.

Listen to Jesus. Listen to Peter. Listen to Paul and the other New Testament writers. The words of the Prophets and the words of the Psalmists roll off their lips. They knew their Bible. And their Bible was what we call the Old Testament.

As you read through the New Testament this year, don’t gloss over the references back to the Old Testament. When you read the Old Testament, ask yourself, “Where is Jesus in this passage?” If you look a little closer, you’ll see Jesus on every page of the Old Testament. And you’ll find the Old Testament quoted or alluded to over and over again in the New Testament. It’s as if God planned it all along!

The Old Testament. The New Testament. It’s all part of One Big Story: The relentless pursuit of God for His people in a covenant relationship.

Don’t read the Bible, trying to unhitch it from its overall context. It wasn’t written that way! If your Bible has cross-references, use them to see how God interweaves His Word with His Word. You’ll be amazed to see how awesome God is!

This devotional was originally published July 5, 2019.

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anxiety

My barber had a sign in his barber shop, “Worry is like a rocking chair. It’ll keep you busy, but it won’t get you anywhere.” In today’s Bible reading from Philippians 4, Paul gives the best remedy to worry: prayer.

Most of the time when we come to verses like Philippians 4:6, we see anxiety/worry as a completely negative thing. However, I think Paul would argue that anxiety/worry can be a good thing. That is, anxiety/worry can be a good thing if it reminds us to pray. But if we don’t use anxiety/worry as a reminder to pray, it can quickly become paralyzing.

Just a few minutes ago, I came across a blog post that pointed out that not worrying doesn’t mean not caring. You can care a great deal, and yet not worry. And that’s what we’re called to do. (Romans 12:15)

Philippians 4:6-9 could be summed up, “Instead of worrying, pray and let God handle it.” Verses 6-7 are the main statement about turning our worry focus onto prayer focus: Don’t worry, but pray. And God promises to give incomprehensible peace.

But Paul doesn’t stop with verse 7. He gives us tangible things to think about as we shift our focus from worry to prayer.

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things. Do what you have learned and received and heard from me, and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:8–9, CSB)

Paul says that if we’ll turn our focus from worry to prayer and think about things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, of moral excellence and praiseworthy, not only will God give us His peace (Philippians 4:7). God will give us Himself! (Philippians 4:9) The peace of God and the God of peace!

Application

I know. I know. Not worrying is difficult. Turning your focus from anxiety/worry to prayer is hard. I know.

Most of the things you worry about will probably never come to pass. And anxiety/worry takes your eyes off the One Who can actually do something about what you’re worried about.

It’s OK to tell God you’re having problems obeying his command to not worry. (Mark 9:24) We’ve all been there way more often than we’d like to admit.

Note: There is a clinical condition called anxiety. If you’ve been diagnosed with this mental illness, follow Paul’s instructions: Pray. At the same time, don’t be ashamed to take your prescribed medications. God can heal you of your anxiety: Sometimes He chooses to do it miraculously, and sometimes He chooses to use doctors and meds. Acts 28:8–9 records both ways God healed people through Paul and Dr. Luke. A few months ago, I commented on this passage. You might want to check it out. Someone you know may need these words of encouragement.

This devotional was originally published June 19, 2019.

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In today’s Bible reading, Jesus encounters lots of people and heals many of them. He begins with some men bringing a paralytic on a stretcher. Jesus tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven. (Matthew 9:2)

But wait, his friends only brought him to be healed! Why would Jesus tell him that his sins were forgiven? Neither the man nor his friends asked for forgiveness. Jesus told him that his sins were forgiven because He knew that healing the man’s paralysis wasn’t his greatest need.

Matthew concludes Chapter Nine with Jesus telling the disciples that the fields are ready for harvest. He’s looking at the spiritual need, having met the people’s physical needs.

Too often we become shortsighted, concerned about things that really aren’t the main things. How often we overlook the most important things, like our spiritual health.

Don’t get me wrong. Physical health is a big deal, especially if you or a loved one is dealing with physical issues. But in the grand scheme — in light of eternity — our physical lives can be compared to our breath vapor on a cold day. What is most important is our spiritual health.

Application

Lots of people watch what they eat. Many make a trip to the gym a part of their day. How about you? Are you being a good steward of your body?

But like I said, the bigger issue is your spiritual life. So what are you doing to steward that? Are you spending time every day praying? I’m not asking if you are “saying your prayers.” Are you conversing with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe — your “Papa” — every day?

Are you regularly reading and studying your Bible? Telling other people about your relationship with Jesus? Regularly meeting with other believers so you can encourage each other in your faith? Regularly giving financial support to your church and ministries that are close to your heart?

This devotional appeared first on April 17, 2019.

Jesus heals a leper.
Image credit: LumoProject

In today’s Bible reading in Matthew chapter eight, we’re told several stories of faith. The words “faith” (noun) and “believe” (verb) are the same Greek word. They are used three times in the passage. Not all of the stories include the words faith/believe. But faith/believe is implied in the story.

For instance, in the first paragraph, Matthew tells us that a leper comes to Jesus, asking to be healed. The words don’t appear in the paragraph, but we know the paragraph is about faith/believe because why would a leper seek Jesus out unless he believed that Jesus could heal him? Jesus doesn’t tell him that his faith has healed him, but elsewhere when Jesus heals/delivers, He connects faith and healing/deliverance. (Matthew 9:22, Matthew 15:28, Mark 5:34, Mark 9:24, Mark 10:52, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42 [this list is not exhaustive])

If you look up some of the verses above — as with Matthew 8:5-13 — you’ll see that in some cases the faith of the one healed isn’t even factored into the equation. Rather, the faith of the one requesting healing/deliverance is honored by Jesus. And although Jesus rebuked the Disciples’ “little faith”, He honored what little faith they had.

For a comment on “mustard faith”, see my posts here and here.

Application

Does this mean that if you have even a little bit of faith, all you need to do is ask Jesus and He’s obligated to answer your request? NO! It doesn’t work that way! Jesus isn’t your heavenly genie!

And that’s one reason we don’t get what we pray for: we ask with the wrong motives. (James 4:3) Nowhere in the Bible are we given a blank check with the authority to command God to do anything. Remember Christian Life Rule #1: God is God. and Rule #2: You aren’t God. Always remember that your place is to submit to God’s authority, God’s sovereignty. He calls the shots. And the reason we pray isn’t to change God, but to change us.

If you are a Believer, you are an adopted child of God. And being one of His gives you incredible authority and privilege. But that authority and privilege must be a balanced with reverence and awe of the Great God Who created it all, owns it all, and rules it all.

And that requires a great deal of humility and killing of pride.

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Gold is purified by fire in a crucible

In today’s Bible reading, Matthew tells us about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Most often when people talk about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they talk about Jesus’ baptism and his healing ministry that followed.

It’s unfortunate that in 1227, Stephen Langton, the Archbishop of Canterbury decided to put a chapter break between Matthew three and Matthew four. It’s unfortunate because when you’re reading one chapter at a time, you miss the fact that the end of chapter three talks about Jesus’ baptism. Chapter four talks about Jesus’ temptations. With the chapter break, it’s easy miss the flow between chapters three and four.

I would argue that Jesus’ ministry begins with His baptism by John. I would also highlight the fact that in all three Synoptic Gospels,* Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by His temptations, followed by his healing ministry.

Why is this important? You cannot separate Jesus’ temptations from His endorsement from His Father and His healing ministry. Jesus’ ministry includes His temptations. Why? I have heard that every leader — and especially every minister — must go through a period of testing. Not testing to see if they’ll pass the test, but testing to remove impurities like you would with silver or gold in a crucible.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)

When God tests a heart, He isn’t doing it to learn if you can pass the test. Instead, He tests the heart to purify the heart, to remove the bad things from the heart. He tests the heart, not to see if you can pass the test, but to prove/demonstrate that you can. God didn’t wonder if Jesus would pass the test in His temptations. He did it to show Jesus’ sinlessness and to provide a model for those who would pursue ministry and other leadership roles.

Application

Have you been tested? Maybe you’re going through a period of testing right now. Don’t be misled by my discussion of testing for ministry. All of us are ministers. All of us need to be tested. It’s for our good and for the good of those who we will minister to.

Don’t look at times of testing as cruelty on the part of God. Look at those times as the goodness of God to make you more like Jesus, chipping away and burning off those things that don’t look like Him, and to demonstrate to those around you how much you do look like Jesus.

* The Synoptic Gospels are Matthew, Mark, and Luke. They’re called synoptic because they look similar in the stories they tell and their wording. They can easily be harmonized to show their similarities and differences. John’s Gospel is not a Synoptic Gospel, because he tends to be more theological in his presentation, as opposed to chronological.

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