John 4:46-54 Walking By Faith

According to Google Maps, the distance from Cana to Capernaum, on currently existing roads, is 37.4 kilometres (23.2 miles). Google suggests that you can walk it in 7 hours and 40 minutes, but warns that “this route may be missing sidewalks or pedestrian paths”. I don’t know about you, but I think that I would have trouble keeping up a 5 km/hour (3 mph) pace for 7 hours and 40 minutes even in the most ideal conditions. This route is in mountainous terrain, and Capernaum is approximately 200 metres (700 feet) below sea level. Even Google Maps realizes that it will take longer to go from Capernaum to Cana than the other way around, and estimates that the same route up will take 8 hours and 19 minutes. They do offer other routes, but each requires going around Mount Arbel.

When Jesus had returned to Cana after His time in Samaria, a royal official with a sick son was desperate enough to see Jesus that he made the trip up from Capernaum to find Him. Some people read the Biblical account of this event (John 4:46-54) and think, based on what Jesus said regarding the people not believing without seeing signs and wonders (John 4:48), that this royal official had no faith. I think that if he left the his family’s side during this uncertain and difficult time, he had to have had some faith, imperfect though it was. What is not evident in all English translations is that the you in John 4:48 is plural. It wasn’t just the man that Jesus was speaking to, but the crowd. The father with the sick child had enough faith to realize that Jesus could help him, but did not understand that He had the power to do so from a distance or even after the child died.

Jesus could have gone with the man and healed his son in person, but He chose not to perform this miracle publicly. If He had gone home with the official, surely a crowd would have followed to witness it. But Jesus is not limited to healing only those in His presence, and so He healed the boy from a distance, and required the official to choose to have faith in His word (John 4:50), rather than a visible sign. What a difficult choice for that anxious father. After all, he couldn’t just call home, or even run home, and check to see if Jesus was telling the truth. He had to choose to believe or not believe.

People today also ask for proof that God is really God. They want to see signs, but God won’t always give them. As Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing.” (John 20:29) Interestingly, those who choose to believe first, often get to see and understand later, just as the royal official did. Some things are made clear to those who are willing to see, and some things will have to wait until we are permitted to know fully. (I Corinthians 13:12) The choice is yours though. If you refuse to believe, if you fight against believing, don’t expect God to make understanding easy for you. He requires us to have faith.
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This post was inspired by a sermon by Rev. Danny Smith of Middleton Baptist Church.

II Corinthians 12:7b-10 Sometimes The Answer Is Different

What is your greatest affliction? Most of us could probably think of several things to choose from: a physical ailment–either illness or injury, a desperate financial situation, joblessness, a difficult family member, co-worker, or neighbour. Even a friend who requires too much of our time can be a burden. Certainly we all have one challenge or another that we wouldn’t be sad to say good-bye to.

I think the Apostle Paul believed that his greatest affliction was pride, despite the fact that he faced constant opposition from people around him, beatings, shipwreck and even a stoning. (II Corinthians 11:24-25) And besides being struck blind on the road to Damascus, (Acts 22:6-11) the dangers he faced in his travels, hunger, sleepless nights, jail time, and the hard work he did just to survive. (II Corinthians 11:26-27)

In II Corinthians 12:7-10 Paul tells us about the thorn in his flesh, the trouble that bothered him enough that he repeatedly asked the Lord to remove it from him. Twice in the original language of II Corinthians 12:7, Paul states that the reason for the thorn was so that he would not become arrogant. It was there to keep his pride in check. We don’t know specifically what this thorn in the flesh was, only that it was troublesome enough that this man who had already endured so much, asked God three times to relieve him of the affliction.

There are people who believe that if you have enough faith, God will give you whatever you ask for, that He will never say no. I think Paul would have a different opinion, because God did not take away Paul’s thorn. Instead, He gave him something better: grace. God said, “My grace is enough for you.” Paul knew that to have God’s grace, the power of Christ working in him was much more valuable than relief from his affliction. I think that Paul’s thorn was never specified, because God gives His grace to us too. Whatever we have to go through, God’s grace is enough. The more trials we have, the more grace we have available to us. Sometimes in the midst of trouble we don’t always see it that way, but God’s promises never change. If God’s grace was enough for Paul, it will be enough for us too.

The Simple Message

Today’s post was written by Tim Challies. Rather than focusing on one passage of scripture, it looks at the Bible as a whole.
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The more I learn of God, the more I marvel at the complexity of his being and purpose—the sheer eternality of it, the otherness of it. He is knowable, but knowable only in the smallest part, he reveals himself to us; but does not reveal all of himself to us, not even close. He truly is transcendent, so far beyond us. His revelation of himself in such that a man may spend his entire life reading it, studying it, pondering it, and uncovering its treasures. He may earn postgraduate degrees and teach systematic theology and lead Bible studies and preach every Sunday for his entire life and still not come close to knowing all there is to know about this God.

And yet that is not the whole story. What God reveals about himself is such that a mere child may know it and believe it and grasp it with childlike hope and confidence. Even a child really can know this God and really can have genuine faith in him.

I find it a strange thing and even an alarming thing that the more I know of God, or the more I think I know of God, the more I am prone to forget the utter simplicity of this message. In the midst of my delight in his complexity, I can so easily forget the simple heart of it all. This matters. This ought to matter.

Sometimes I need to be reminded of the power of the Bible, the simple power of the Bible. I need to be reminded that there have been so many people who have come to faith simply by reading God’s Word. There has been no preacher but the Author, no sermon but the pages of the Bible, and yet many a person has read and seen and understood and trusted and been transformed. No wonder that organizations labor to translate the Bible—or at least parts of the Bible—into every known language and to send these pages into all the world. Every Bible or piece of the Bible goes into the world as a missionary, taking hope, taking life, taking that oh-so-simple message.

Too often I doubt the pure and simple power of the Word of God. How could anyone understand something so complicated as the Bible? Sometimes I doubt the valuing of giving a Bible to someone because I imagine him reading it and, in confusion and despair, throwing it away. “Read the book of John,” I suggest. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Could someone really read this and understand it? Can God really speak from his Word to a person with such little knowledge?

I sometimes wonder if I have these thoughts and grapple with these questions because, say, I have been trying to work toward a precise, measured, complete doctrine of the Trinity—a very good thing to do, I’m sure—and amidst all of the careful nuances and fine distinctions, I have forgotten that the heart of the Christian message is so very simple: Christ died for my sins and was raised. A person does not require a full-orbed, Nicene theology of the Trinity in order to be saved; he needs to know that he is a sinner and that Christ is his Savior. He will not want to stay there all his life, of course; once he knows this Savior he will want to know more of him, to explore the depths of this great God. That will come. But Newton’s dying confession is enough: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.

We who love theology, we who take joy in diving into the deep waters of the person and work of God, we need to be so careful, lest we make the message more difficult than it needs to be, lest we forget the simple word that we believed in. What a shame it would be if our learning hindered our witness, if the depth of our knowledge negated the beautiful simplicity that lies at its heart. Christ died for our sins and was raised. That is the heart of our message, and it is good. It is enough. By God’s grace and with God’s power, it can and it will save.

Hebrews 12:1-3 The Real Amazing Race

Do you watch reality TV shows? I have often wondered how they got the descriptor reality. Based on their advertising, none of them seem too much like the reality I’ve come across. I don’t watch most of them, but there is one I enjoy: The Amazing Race. I love that I can see so many parts of the world from the safety and comfort of my own home. If you haven’t seen it, here’s a brief overview of how it works. Eleven teams gather at their starting point, packed and ready to start a race that will take them to dozens of countries around the world. At the end of each leg of the race, one team is eliminated. The participants all seem friendly enough at first, but along the way their true colours will shine through. They are given clues to find their next destination, but before they can check in at their next pit stop for a 12 hour rest period, they will face some challenges: detours, road blocks, tasks to complete—some arduous, some messy, some frightening, some fun—and more mystery solving. Hmmm. Maybe that’s not so far off reality after all.

After just discussing the heroes of faith, (Hebrews 11) who are our cloud of witnesses, Hebrews 12:1-2 advises us to get rid of the things that are weighing us down—the extra baggage, the sin, the bad habits—and to fix our eyes on the goal, Jesus, so that we may run with endurance the race that lies before us. We are reminded of what Jesus endured to run the race that was set out for Him. And He finished that race, not because what He endured was enjoyable, but because He knew what joy was awaiting Him at the finish line.

As they do each season in The Amazing Race, and as Jesus did while He lived on earth, we will surely encounter some road blocks and detours along our course too. There will be mysteries that we may or may not be able to ever figure out. There will be fellow racers who may be willing to help us, but others may want to hinder us, looking out only for themselves. There will be some costs, but also some surprising gifts, but this I know for sure: it will not be easy. That is why we are told in Hebrews 12:3, to keep our eyes on Jesus. Remember what He endured. Most of us will never have to go through anything close to what He went through for us. And since He gives us the strength we need to get through everything we face, (Psalm 89:14-17, Philippians 4:13) let’s keep going! Let’s not grow weary! Unlike the game show contestants who win The Amazing Race, we aren’t likely to end ours with a million dollars, but we will walk on streets of gold, (Revelation 21:21) we will spend eternity in a place where there is no sorrow or pain, (Revelation 21:4) and we will spend it with the one who loved us so much that His race included the cross. (John 3:16) Don’t give up!

I Corinthians 1:18-31 Believing Is Seeing

Years ago, my husband moved to a new town to start a new job.  Because I was in the middle of a Master of Education program at home, I didn’t move with him.  One or the other of us would travel back and forth to see each other on weekends, but his colleagues questioned whether I truly existed or not.  They didn’t know me.  They had never met me.  Some people are in the same position with God.  I often have people tell me that God doesn’t exist, that He is just a crutch for people that can’t deal with life on their own.  I, however, know that He exists, because I know Him.  I will never be able to convince someone who doesn’t know Him though; that is something that only the Holy Spirit can do.

The Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 1:18-31, gives the Corinthian believers a similar message.  The people of that time also thought that the idea of God, and especially of Christ, the Messiah, hanging on the cross, was foolishness.  The Jews expected, and demanded, miraculous signs, demonstrations of great power from their awaited Messiah, but they still would not believe. (Luke 16:31, John 12:37)  Where was the power in Jesus hanging on the cross?  It didn’t make any sense to them.  The Greeks, were, and still are, known for their great intelligence and wisdom, but their human wisdom was not enough to understand the value of Christ’s crucifixion.

Paul’s audience, the Corinthians, were not noble, powerful, or privileged, and yet they had become believers because they had accepted the call of God.  They knew God, because they chose to believe in Him by faith.  God calls all of us, but there is absolutely nothing we can do through our own power or wisdom to earn salvation.  All we can do is accept His gift.  We may not completely understand God’s ways of doing things, but that doesn’t mean that our ways are better or that we are smarter.  We can’t even begin to fathom the wisdom of God because it is so far above our own.  Christ’s willingness to sacrifice Himself in such a humiliating way, for us, is all that we should boast about.

Acts 12 Faithless Prayer

Today’s post was written by Tim Challies, an author and pastor. You can visit his website here.
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Acts 12 contains one of my favorite stories of the early church. It is a great little bit of writing—a short story in three acts. I was reflecting on that story recently and just had to tell you about it.

The chapter begins with a description of Herod’s persecution against the church. In order to please his Jewish subjects Herod has James arrested and killed. This makes his subjects so happy that he then goes after Peter, throwing him in prison as well. Knowing the popularity of these upstart Christians, Herod puts Peter under the care of four whole squads of soldiers. The first act ends with these words: “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.” This earnest prayer is no incidental detail; it is a little fact, some narrative tension, that the author offers to foreshadow what will come.

The second act tells how Peter is delivered by God through one his angels. Peter, half asleep, sees his chains fall off and quickly passes all the guards before waking up and realizing what is happening. He hurries quickly to the church, to the gathering of people who just happen to be praying for him at that very moment. There is a delightful bit of comedy injected into the text when Rhoda, the servant girl, so excited to hear Peter at the door, runs to tell everyone that he has arrived. But she forgets to let him in; he is left standing on the street, pounding at the door. With the prayer meeting coming to a prompt end, the people belittle Rhoda, refusing to believe that Peter has actually arrived. And yet, because of Peter’s persistent knocking, they soon come to realize that he really has been rescued. Peter quickly tells his story and then disappears, presumably opting to lay low for a little while.

In the third act we return to Herod. Herod has ordered the execution of the soldiers who allowed Peter to escape. And then we find him accepting worship as a god. His Creator is most displeased and strikes him down so “he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” Herod bookends this story, appearing as a cruel tyrant at the beginning and as a pathetic worm-eaten corpse at the end. He has gone from holding the power of life and death in his hand to being struck down by the Lord himself. It’s a pathetic end to a pathetic ruler.

Acts 12 contains a great little story, a little vignette of life in the early church. Despite the miraculous (Peter being rescued, Herod being struck down) there is such a human element to it. We see the church in prayer, undoubtedly begging God for the life of their friend and pastor. Yet when God answers their earnest prayers, they refuse to believe it. “You are out of your mind,” they tell Rhoda when she insists that God has answered them. Two thousand years later we laugh at them, wondering why they would bother to pray if they didn’t believe that God might actually answer. And then we realize that we do little better; we realize how much effort we put into pleading for God to act and how little effort we put into seeking answers to those prayers. I trust the lesson was not lost on the early church. I trust they learned from it that God’s miraculous rescue of Peter was not in any way separate from their prayers. Those prayers, even though they were offered with little expectation of an answer, were instrumental in God rescuing Peter from his imprisonment. God answers prayer, even when we ask with little faith.

It is also worth noticing that as soon as Peter arrived he was sure to share all that God had done. Peter, the object of all those prayers, wanted to ensure that the church knew that it was God who had acted with such power and in such an unusual way. “He described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, ‘Tell these things to James and to the brothers.’” He wanted this great act of God to encourage all of the believers.

The chapter closes with these familiar words: “the word of God increased and multiplied.” Have you ever noticed how often these words, or ones just like them, appear in Acts? Just a brief overview of the first chapters shows them in chapters 2, 4, 6, 8, 9, 11 and 12. In every case, Luke wants us to know that God continued to build his church. In times of joy and pain, times of peace and persecution, God built his church. All that God did was for his own glory and served his ultimate purpose of drawing a people to himself.

And this God, who acted so faithfully, so consistently, so powerfully, is the same God we serve today.

Luke 14:26 Love or Hate?

What does Jesus mean by the word hate? It seems so harsh. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be all about love? A few of my Twitter friends and I have been reading Luke (#thebookofluke) this month, and one of them asked me about Luke 14:26. I have had the same question in the past, and probably many others have too, so I thought it would be a good idea to write a post about it.

As with every verse we look at in the Bible, we must consider the context and interpret it in the light of other scripture. Jesus certainly was, and is, all about love. He said that the two most important commandments were to love God and love others. (Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:33 Luke 10:27-28) He even told us to love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-31) We have also been told to honour our mothers and fathers. (Matthew 19:19, Mark 7:10, Ephesians 6:2-3) That was important enough to be one of the Ten Commandments–the law. (Exodus 20:12) Jesus did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) So why is He telling us that we cannot be His disciples unless we hate our families and even ourselves? The word here translated as ‘hate’ is a relative term. It means that we must think less of, and, if necessary, disregard our family. Now, if our family members have the same belief system as we do, and are willing to put Christ first, it may never be an issue, but if they disagree with our beliefs and our commitment to God, then we have to choose—God or family? God freely allows us that choice, but if we choose our family over Him, we cannot be His disciples.

Let’s be clear about this. Everyone, without exception, is invited to receive salvation. That is the meaning of the parable of the great banquet. (Luke 14:16-24) People were urged to come to the feast, so that God’s house would be filled. The only ones who did not come were those who chose not to. But there is a difference between accepting salvation and becoming a disciple. Do we really want to live for Jesus? Is He really the most important part of our lives? Luke 14:28-33 talks about counting the cost. Each person who undertakes to build a tower or fight a battle must count the cost to determine if they can complete the task. The same is true for us. We must decide if the eternal rewards of sacrifice for Jesus will be worth the cost of the challenges we face in our few short years on earth.

Jesus, too, counts the cost to determine if we are committed enough to be on His team. Are we worthy of the responsibilities that He will assign to us if we say that we want to work for His glory? Can He count on us to see it through to the end? When He said these words, He had a large crowd of people pressing in all around Him. (Luke 14:25) Many were probably following Him because they wanted to be healed, or because Jesus had a habit of feeding people, or simply because they wanted to see what everyone else was doing. Jesus’ use of direct language would have certainly thinned out the throng. We know that none of them were willing to stick by Him when He faced death; they all fled. (Mark 14:49-50) If we are to be Christ’s disciples, we have to be willing to give up everything else and put Him first. It is your choice to make.

Psalm 13 From Complaint to Praise

I’m a bit of an idealist, so I don’t like it when things go wrong, especially when bad things happen to people who don’t deserve it.  It’s one thing to deal with the consequences when you’ve made a mistake, but if you didn’t do anything wrong, it just seems so unfair.  Either way though, it is good to be able to call on God to rescue you.

Do you ever wonder if God really hears you when you pray?  Sometimes we feel like the pain, frustration and struggles will go on forever.  He says that He has a good plan for you (Jeremiah 29:11), but do you ever want to negotiate with Him?  Tell Him your side of the story?  Give Him your ideas for the plan?  I think that the Psalmist David must have felt that way when he wrote Psalm 13.  In the first two verses he asked “How long?” four times.  He felt ignored, anxious and threatened by his enemy.  We don’t know for sure, but he may have been running for his life at this point.  David didn’t end his psalm the same way he started it though.  He moved from complaint (Psalm 13:1-2) to prayer (Psalm 13:3-4) to praise (Psalm 13:5-6).

Philippians 4:6 tells us not to be anxious about anything, but with thankful hearts to present all of our requests to God.  This is what David did.  He asked the Lord to answer him, to revive him, and to save him, not only so that he would be saved, but so would the reputation of God’s name.

What caused David to turn from despair to praise?  Hope in God’s unfailing love and mercy.  David had faith that God was still God and would keep His covenant with him.  We must do the same when we face trials that have gone on so long that we think they will go on forever.  When we have lost our joy and our hope, we must cling to our faith.  We must remember that God is God and more importantly that we are not.  Even when we don’t understand what He is doing, we must believe that He does.  We know that He understands every trial that we go through (Hebrews 4:14-16), that He will not give us more trials than we are able to bear (I Corinthians 10:13) and that He longs to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11).  Think back on how God has brought you through trials before.  He will again.

Matthew 9:23-26 It’s a miracle!

Do you believe in miracles?  Do you think that Christ still performs miracles today?  In Matthew 8-9, we read the accounts of several of Christ’s miracles.  Matthew 9:23-26 tells us of the raising of the synagogue ruler’s daughter.

When Jesus arrived at the ruler’s house, there were already mourners wailing and lamenting.  It was customary to hire mourners for this purpose to help express the grief of the family.  The fact that they were already there meant that they had no doubt that the girl was dead.  When Jesus said that she was only sleeping, they mocked Him.  These people knew Christ, knew His character and had already witnessed other miracles He had done.  Surely, if He said that the child was asleep, they should consider it a possibility.  Yet, they were so certain of her death, they thought His statement was ridiculous.  Christ, however, had a different perspective on the matter.  He knew that He was going to wake the girl up.

Before performing this miracle, Christ sent all the mourners and onlookers away.  Only her parents, and a few disciples remained with Him to witness her resurrection.  This meant that believing that the girl was raised from death would become a matter of faith for everyone who did not witness it, and perhaps even for those who did.  Had she really been just sleeping?

I don’t know about you, but I like to have things explained and know the details of how things work.  In this case, like many others, Christ didn’t allow the details to all be known.  He left some things a mystery, and that is still often the case today.  Either we can’t understand the explanation, or there is some possible explanation other than a miracle from God.  Those who choose not to believe in God can find another way to rationalize what has happened, but those who do believe must often exercise their faith to do so.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.”  (John 20:29)

Since Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), we know that He can still perform miracles.  He is able to meet every need, but He cares more about your salvation than your comfort.  He wants you to rely on Him.  (Matthew 11:28)  Seek Him first, and He will take care of the rest.  (Matthew 6:33)

Ephesians 3:20-21 More Than You Can Imagine

Do you ever feel like God doesn’t answer your prayers? I do. Particularly lately, I feel like He is ignoring my requests for pain relief. Ephesians 3:20-21 tells us that He is able to do so much more than we could ask or imagine. So, if that’s the case, why doesn’t He heal me? Perhaps because He is doing something beyond my imagination. Perhaps He has a better plan in mind. I can’t conceive what that might be, but isn’t that what this verse is all about?

In Ephesians 3:14-19, Paul makes some pretty bold requests—essentially that we would have the power and knowledge of Christ within us, and in fact have Christ Himself within us. Yet, Paul believed not only that God was able to accomplish this, but that He was (and since it is in the present tense, still is) able far beyond Paul’s (or our) expectations. Even though Paul seems to be asking a lot, he is in fact not asking too much. We cannot ask too much of God, because whatever we think to ask is well within His power. That does not mean that we will always get things just the way we ask for them. God has purposes beyond what we could imagine as well, and we know that His purposes for us are good. (Romans 8:28, Matthew 7:11) God wants to give us good gifts, but He also wants us to be humble, and to bring Him the glory. He wants our requests to be made according to His will. (John 15:7, John 14:13-14)

The beginning of Ephesians 3:20 talks about the power that is working within us. If we allow Christ to work through us, and in us, we will be much more effective. God’s desire is to make us more like Jesus, and in order to accomplish this, we need to do things His way. I know that it isn’t easy to give up control, but if we give it to God, life can be so much better than we imagine. God’s grace and mercy and love and power will never run out. They are infinite, not limited by our finite minds. His goodness to us will not change; we just need to be willing to accept it, and to allow Him to have the praise and the glory. God sees the end from the beginning and we can trust that He has our best interests at heart.