This blog focuses on the quest to know and please God in a constantly increasing way. The upward journey never ends. My prayer is that this blog will reflect a heart that seeks God and that it will encourage others who share the same heart desire.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

God Is Good - Part 2

God is great, and God is good. The first two posts in this study drawn from the gospel of Mark focused on God's greatness: His power, authority, boldness, knowledge, and wisdom. The third segment looked at God's goodness, specifically as seen through Jesus' character, devotion to His Father's purposes, and aspects of His ministry. This final segment examines the goodness of God in the context of personal interactions. Jesus consistently showed His goodness through His loving treatment of people.

One major aspect of this goodness is compassion. Jesus characteristically expressed compassion for those in need, whether that need was physical or spiritual. Wonderfully, Jesus' compassion was not limited to stirrings within His heart. When Jesus experienced compassion, He evidenced His compassion by doing something to alleviate the situation. When a leper came to Jesus and asked for healing, Jesus had compassion on the leper, healed him, and sent him on his way (1:40-43). Jesus had compassion on a man whose daughter was sick; He accompanied the man to his house for the purpose of healing the girl (5:22-24). Jesus had compassion on a Gentile woman, who normally would not have drawn the notice of a Jew. Jesus responded by releasing the woman's daughter from an evil spirit (7:25-30). When onlookers discouraged a blind man from bothering Jesus, Jesus had compassion. He called the blind man to Him and healed his blindness (10:46-52). When a large crowd of people had listened to Jesus for several days, He had compassion on them because of their hunger and inaccessibility to food. He responded by providing food for the entire crowd so that they could return home without fainting (8:1-8).

Jesus also had compassion for people's spiritual needs. This is well-expressed by Mark 6:34. "When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things." On two recorded occasions, Jesus showed compassion for children, although others wanted to minimize their importance. Jesus spoke out strongly against anyone who would cause a child to stumble (9:42). When others tried to keep children from coming to Jesus, Jesus rebuked those men and readily welcomed the children (10:14). When James and John came to Jesus with a rather questionable request, Jesus did not verbally attack them. Instead He gave a compassionate response designed to help them understand the import of their question (10:38).

In addition to compassion for those who were needy, Jesus also demonstrated His goodness by providing comfort for those who were hurting or troubled. When He reached the home of Jairus, an official announced that Jairus's daughter was dead. Jesus responded first with words of comfort; He followed His words with comforting actions as he revived the daughter and restored her to her father's arms (5:35-41). The disciples were caught in a fierce storm that was too mighty for them and that overwhelmed them with fear; upon Jesus' arrival, He immediately comforted them with His words of assurance and then silenced the storm (6:47-51). Later Jesus was informing His disciples about the challenging days that would come. He prepared them with words of advice, explanation, and comfort so that they would not be overwhelmed by the troubling prophecies (13:7-13).

Finally, Jesus expressed the goodness of God through the kindness that permeated His interactions with others. He showed His kind affection for His followers, claiming them as His own family (3:34). Jesus cared about His disciples in the midst of a storm. He arose from His nap and calmed both the storm and the disciples (4:37-40). When the disciples returned from a busy time of ministry only to be overwhelmed with more crowds of people, Jesus provided a time of rest for them (6:30-32). From afar Jesus observed His disciples in a situation of great need, and He went to them so that He could help them (6:48). Even when Jesus was aware of a betrayer in the midst of His disciples, He was not vicious or unkind (14:17-21).

Jesus' kindness clearly extended beyond the realm of His closest followers. Instead of rebuking with harsh words, Jesus responded kindly to a woman who interrupted His ministry to someone else (5:34). Jesus took time for the children and interacted kindly with them (9:36). A man came to Jesus seeking the way of eternal life. In spite of his interest, the man had some challenges in understanding the extent of his need. Jesus responded with a heart of love to this seeking man (10:21). A poor widow gave a measly offering of a few coins; others minimized her gift, but Jesus commended the lady and appreciated her gift (12:43). When another lady gave a gift of perfume to Jesus, He defended and honored her sincere worship, although it was misunderstood by others (14:6-9).

Jesus, as the manifestation of God on earth, consistently displayed His goodness through compassion, comfort, and kindness to people. These loving actions are multiplied throughout the rest of the Bible and, in fact, throughout the entirety of history. God is indeed good, and He clearly loves people. What a blessing to have a good, benevolent God who seeks and provides the best for His followers!

"How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You have wrought for those who take refuge in You, before the sons of men!" Psalm 31:19 (NASB)

Saturday, November 21, 2015

God Is Good - Part 1

The previous two posts have examined the reality that God is great. God's greatness includes the parts of His character that show Him as powerful, amazing, awesome, divine, and outstanding. Jesus' power was revealed through His incomprehensible ability to heal any illness, His incredible capacity to cast out evil spirits, His impressive strength to perform miracles, and His inimitable act of rising from the dead. Jesus' greatness was also revealed through the impressive authority revealed through His life, ministry, and teaching. His greatness was shown through His intrepid boldness when confronted by falsehood and sin. Finally, His greatness was displayed through His infinite knowledge and inscrutable wisdom.

It is wonderful truth to know that God is great. God's power, control, authority, and wisdom are sources of great encouragement to the believer. They cannot, however, be fully appreciated if they are not understood in conjunction with God's goodness. God's goodness refers to His integrity, motives, love, care, compassion, and kindness for people. It is essential that a God so great would also be good. Without goodness, a powerful God would be a fierce dictator who would abuse His followers. Without goodness, an all-knowing God would not work to properly arrange the details of life; He would not reach out in love to those whose pain and struggle He knew.

God is good, and that goodness was demonstrated through the life of Jesus (for this study, as seen in the gospel of Mark). Jesus was good in regard to His purpose in life. It is common to refer to those who live sacrificially and who dedicate their lives to serving others as good people. Jesus displayed this type of goodness to the ultimate level. He could have stayed in heaven and avoided the pain of His earthly life and the shame of His bodily death. Because He is good, however, He was willing to leave the glories of heaven and live in a human body on a sin-cursed earth.

Jesus was dedicated to pleasing the Father and doing the Father's will. Jesus accomplished this even from the beginning of His ministry. When Jesus was baptized, the Father spoke from heaven, "You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (1:11). When Peter expressed opposition to Jesus' teaching about His impending death, Jesus described Peter's mindset, which was much different than that of Jesus Himself. Jesus told Peter, "You are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's" (8:33). Jesus knew very well the good and noble purpose for His life. "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (10:45). In the fulfillment of His good determination to please the Father, Jesus suffered terrible abuse at the hands of His enemies (15:15-19) and then gave up His life to provide the hope of salvation for the world (15:37).

In addition to goodness displayed through the purpose and motive for His earthly life, Jesus also showed His goodness through His ministry. The way in which He conducted His ministry and the things that He did within His ministry were good. Jesus' ministry was good in that He reached out to people who were truly needy; He interacted with the outcasts of society and with those who were rejected and looked down upon by others (2:15-17). Jesus' ministry was good in that He gave the people the truth they really needed; His ministry was filled with preaching good news to sinners (1:14,21,39). Jesus' goodness was displayed when He forgave sins (2:5). Jesus showed His goodness in His ministry as He gathered and called to Him men whom He would appoint to share in His ministry (3:13-14). He wanted His ministry to continue beyond His earthly sojourn, and He made preparations to accomplish that goal. Jesus was good in His interactions with those chosen men; He gave them careful instruction and training to prepare them for the ministry they would carry out (6:8-11).

Jesus revealed His goodness in His interactions with His followers. These interactions were permeated with patience and filled with encouragement and explanation. When the disciples misunderstood Jesus' instruction to them, He took the time to remind them of what He had done in the past. His words were intended to encourage them that they had no reason to be concerned with earthly things, because He would abundantly provide for them (8:17-19). Jesus prepared His disciples for His coming death, wanting to be sure they were not shocked or defeated by a major change they had not seen coming (8:31). Jesus gave His disciples a realistic but hopeful understanding of discipleship, as He explained the temporal and eternal aspects of such a life (8:34-38). He acknowledged that a life devoted to serving Him would bring hardship and loss, but He also assured His disciples that He would abundantly repay every loss (10:29-30). Jesus was good to His disciples, as He did not hide the hardships, but gave assurances and encouragement that would uphold them through the hardships and give them the courage to go on.

Jesus earthly ministry was a brief demonstration of the eternal goodness of God. Everything that was true of Jesus' ministry is reflective of the heart and mind of a good God. God is good, as He unceasingly seeks to reconcile fallen mankind to His own perfect self. God is good to extend grace to sinners. God is good to encourage, instruct, guide, and bless those who seek to follow Him. God's heart overflows with goodness, and His actions repeatedly reveal that goodness.

"I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." John 10:11 (NASB)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

God Is Great - Part 2

Only a Biblical understanding of God's character portrays Him accurately as the great and good God that He is; anything less warps or diminishes God in the eyes of man. The previous post recounted the power of God as revealed in the life of Jesus, who had the ability to heal all kinds of diseases, to work incredible miracles, and to rise from the dead. This post continues the study from the gospel of Mark by revealing that God's greatness was also expressed through Jesus' great authority, boldness, and knowledge.

Jesus displayed greatness because He truly is great. When accusers questioned His actions on the Sabbath, He stated that He was greater than any tradition or ritual. He was, in fact, "Lord even of the Sabbath" (2:28). When Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic man, the scribes were incensed. They knew that no one "can forgive sins but God alone" (2:7). They were right. Imagine how great God is that He is able to forgive sins, something that no person can ever hope to do. Jesus' greatness was widely recognized even by evil spirits. These spirits who, due to their nature, had some spiritual sensitivity, were quick to cry out, "You are the Son of God!" (3:11). His greatness was evident, and perhaps never more so than on the Mount of Transfiguration. This great God, the Savior, "was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them" (9:2-3). Jesus shone with the glory and splendor that are His as the great God.

Jesus' authority was widely recognized by the people to whom He ministered. Even early in His ministry, people realized there was something special about Him; He taught the Bible in a way they had never seen before and that their leaders could not duplicate. "They were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (1:22). Some rejected who He was; they thought Him to be merely another son of Joseph and Mary. Although they were confused about His background, they could not deny His authority. As they listened to His teaching, they were "astonished," marveling at His great wisdom and knowledge of the Bible (6:2). What is perhaps most amazing about this authority is the way in which it transcended tradition. Much of what Jesus' taught discredited the traditional teaching and expectations that people had believed all of their lives. In spite of this, His following was so widespread and overwhelming that the religious leaders were afraid to do anything against Him. Because the leaders "feared the people [who followed Jesus], . . . they left Him and went away," although their desire had been "to seize Him" (12:12).

Jesus' greatness was expressed through boldness. When Jesus was confronted with traditions that over the years had shifted away from truth, He boldly declared what God had ordained (10:2-9). He did not fear to proclaim the truth even when it clashed with tradition. The religious leaders of Jesus' day enjoyed great respect and prestige. Jesus was not intimidated by their reputation or influence. He boldly taught the truth and warned people about these hypocritical and empty leaders (12:38-40). One of the greatest displays of Jesus' boldness was when He saw the temple being disgraced as a place of merchandise. There was a sense of authority about Him as He overturned the tables of the merchants, drove them out of the temple, and prevented them from walking through the temple with their goods (11:15-16). Physical strength was required for this act, but even greater was the bold authority that allowed one solitary man to have such power over large numbers of merchants. Finally, Jesus' boldness and internal strength was displayed when He was falsely accused and faced death. Jesus had the control to stand quietly and endure the accusations without responding and without condemning or destroying those who accused Him (14:61; 15:5).

God's greatness is also displayed through the incomprehensible knowledge and wisdom of God. Jesus knew things that no mere man could possibly know. He had wisdom to powerfully face the accusations and to avoid the traps that men tried to set for Him. When accused of being possessed by "the ruler of the demons," He gave a logical and irrefutable defense (3:22-27). When opponents challenged Him with a question, He responded with His own question that they could not answer (11:27-33). When men came, attempting to trap Jesus into saying something incriminating, He answered each deceptive question with such wisdom and skill that "no one would venture to ask Him any more questions" (12:13-34).

Jesus' knowledge extended far beyond the ability to answer difficult questions. Jesus was able to see the faith of men's hearts (2:5). He was able to see through the hypocrisy of men to know the insincerity of their hearts (7:6-13). Jesus was able to accurately discern the heart condition of individuals who came to Him (10:21). While man might have some insight or suspicion about the hearts of others, man can never have the heart-piercing knowledge that Jesus had.

Finally, Jesus' knowledge was incredible; it saw the unseen and knew the unknown. Jesus knew the thoughts and the content of a private conversation of His disciples (9:33-37). He knew how much money people had, and not just how much they had with them at the moment, but also how much they had left at home (12:41-44). Jesus sent His disciples into a village; before they went, He knew they would find a colt tied up as soon as they entered, and He also knew that no one had ever ridden that colt (11:2). Another time when He sent His disciples into the city, He knew they would meet a man walking, who would be carrying a pitcher of water, who would lead them to a particular house, and who would then offer them the use of a room that was already prepared (14:13-16). How could He know such things? He knew because He is a great God who has all knowledge and wisdom.

These teachings are practical for believers. God has the authority to do whatever He chooses in a believer's life. He has the boldness to act even when He knows He will be opposed or misunderstood. Wonderfully, He has the wisdom to know exactly what to do in every situation. If God seems to be taking no action, it is never because He does not know what to do. If the nature of His actions is troubling, the believer must remember that God knows what man cannot know. Only God has full knowledge and perfect wisdom.

"Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!" Romans 11:33 (NASB)

Saturday, November 7, 2015

God is Great - Part 1

What is God like? Too many people decide individually what they think God is like. Some of those conjured descriptions come close to the truth, while others minimize God, lower Him to human standards, or present a warped, inaccurate picture. A valid description of God cannot come from man's opinion, man's experience, man's reasoning, or even from tradition. An accurate understanding of God's character comes from His own revelation of Himself through the pages of Scripture. Below is an overview taken from the gospel of Mark. These references display the greatness of God's person as revealed through the person of Jesus Christ.

One major category in terms of God's characteristics is His greatness. God is great. That is, He is powerful, amazing, awesome, divine, and outstanding. Perhaps the most commonly known displays of God's greatness are instances of physical healing. Many passages reveal Jesus' ability to heal the sick; some do not mention specific diseases, but they do mention vast quantities of people. Large crowds descended on Jesus simultaneously, presenting a great variety of diseases, none of which were beyond the power of the Savior.

On one occasion people brought to Jesus "all who were ill" to the extent that "the whole city had gathered." These people were "ill with various diseases," and Jesus healed them (1:32-34). This is amazing. No doctor is able to heal (or even correctly diagnose) every disease, even with the advantages of vast research, availability of resources, accessibility to medicines and treatment, and a staff of medical personnel. No clinic or hospital, even with a team of doctors, can meet the needs of so many people in such a short time. Jesus did not give medications, perform surgeries, or prescribe bed rest. He did not deliver bad news to anyone or write off some illness as incurable. With nothing other than His power, Jesus was able to heal them all.

Other passages also speak in general terms of Jesus' ability to heal (6:5 and 6:55-56). In at least some cases, Jesus did not even touch the people or speak to them, yet they were healed. In addition to these large crowds, Jesus also healed individuals. Peter's mother-in-law had a relatively minor ailment, a fever. Many women "push on" when they are sick, but this fever had her laid up in bed. When Jesus healed her, she was immediately able to get up and serve her many guests.

Others came to Jesus with more serious conditions, including those that doctors had been unable to remedy in spite of continued efforts. These were people who had tried everything and had realized there was no hope of ever being healed through the efforts of the medical community. Even with modern medicine, some of these are conditions that man still has no hope of curing. Not one of the cases was too difficult for Jesus, who gave instantaneous healing. Jesus healed a man with a withered hand (3:5). He healed a woman from a twelve-year hemorrhage (5:29). He healed a leper (1:41) and a paralyzed man, who without rehab, stood, picked up his bed, and walked away (2:12). Jesus healed a deaf-mute (7:35) and two blind men (8:25 & 10:52). Even death itself was not too great a challenge for Jesus; He brought a girl back to life after she had already succumbed to her illness (5:41-42).

Jesus' healing ability extended to a realm that is incredibly serious but rarely identified in modern times - demon-possession. This is much more severe than a mere physical illness; it involves a spiritual dimension that is beyond man's comprehension. Jesus sometimes healed many demon-possessed people within a crowd (1:34,39). He also healed individuals who came to Him (1:26). He healed a little girl in this condition without even going near her (7:30). He healed a man with multiple demons (5:13). Jesus even bestowed upon His disciples the ability to cast out demons (6:7), but when a case arose that was too difficult for any of them (or for all of them combined), Jesus was successful (9:26).

Jesus' power reached beyond the realm of illness. He performed amazing acts that no one would even consider attempting. These are stories that people would be unlikely to believe if they had not seen them with their own eyes, or at least without the testimony of many witnesses. In Jesus' day, however, it was common knowledge that He had power to perform miracles (6:2). One day Jesus went for nourishment to a healthy-looking fig tree. Sadly, it had no fruit, and Jesus cursed it. The next day the disciples discovered this tree "withered from the roots up" (11:20).

On one occasion, Jesus looked upon a hungry crowd of 4,000 people. They had been listening to Him for three days and were far from any source of food. Jesus used seven loaves of bread and a few small fish to feed the entire crowd. The people ate until they were satisfied, after which seven large baskets of leftovers were collected (8:6). On another occasion, there were 5,000 men gathered (plus their families). Jesus fed them all (until they were satisfied), having available only five loaves of bread and two fish. Then the disciples gathered twelve full baskets of leftovers (6:41).

Jesus walked on the water. He did not have special shoes. He was not walking in water so shallow that it looked like He was walking on it. He did not have a jet ski, water skis, or a surfboard. He walked on top of the water. Walking on water is so impossible that the setting does not really matter, but the water Jesus walked on was out in the middle of the sea during a fierce storm (6:49). Speaking of storms, Jesus calmed that storm by causing the wind to immediately stop (6:51), and He quieted another fierce storm simply by telling it to be still (4:39). The waves that had been filling the boat to a dangerous level "became perfectly calm" and "the wind died down."

The climactic display of Jesus' power was when He conquered death, rising from the dead after three days (16:6). God has all power. He can do anything. He is not a wimp or a weakling. He is not in a battle with a devil or with forces of nature that are sometimes stronger than He is. There is no situation in which a Christian can accurately say, "I wish God could have done something about this" or "I wish God could have stopped this from happening." If something has not happened in a believer's life, it is never because God is unable. If something did happen, it is never because God could not stop it. God's power gives the believer the confidence to believe that God can do anything He says and everything that He deems best.

"For nothing will be impossible with God." Luke 1:37 (NASB) - Oh, and the context of this verse is that two women were going to have babies - one an old woman and the other a virgin!