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, February 25, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Kindness (Part 6)

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls" (Matthew 11:29). People continually came to Jesus because of His power to help them, yet power without kindness does not invite petitions for help. Jesus was approachable and attentive, considerate of the needs of others; He urges believers to learn from His kind and thoughtful spirit.

In His kindness, Jesus ministered to the needs of others. Rather than rebuking, ignoring, or antagonizing those who came for help, Jesus habitually responded with kindness. He assured people of His willingness to help them and followed through with kind actions by relieving their afflictions.

A leper came to Jesus, requesting, "'Lord, if you are willing, You can make me clean.' Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, 'I am willing; be cleansed'" (Matthew 8:3).

A centurion approached Jesus, saying, "'Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, fearfully tormented.' Jesus said to him, 'I will come and heal him'" (Matthew 8:7).

Two blind men followed Jesus, "crying out, 'Have mercy on us, Son of David!'" After Jesus inquired about their faith, "He touched their eyes, saying, 'It shall be done to you according to your faith'" (Matthew 9:28).

Multitudes thronged after Jesus, with an abundance of sicknesses. Jesus "took [their] infirmities and carried away [their] diseases" (Matthew 8:17).

People did not even have to come to Jesus in order to experience His kindness. He often extended His kindness without being asked. When Jesus saw needs, He responded with provision and deliverance.

While Jesus was mourning the death of John the Baptist, "He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:14). He followed His time of healing with a miraculous provision of food so that His listeners would not have to leave hungry from a desolate place after dark.

When the disciples were overwhelmed by a dangerous storm at sea, Jesus "came to them, walking on the sea" and rescued them (Matthew 14:25).

Jesus even showed kindness for people who would have been considered His enemies. While He disagreed with their beliefs and actions, He did not respond with antagonism, but ministered even to these people.

Jesus knew that Judas was contriving to betray Him, yet He continued to speak kindly to Judas rather than harshly. He did not reveal to the other disciples Judas's status as a traitor. Even when Judas approached with the conspirators, Jesus said, "Friend, do what you have come for" (Matthew 26:50).

In the process of Jesus' arrest, one of the adversaries had his ear cut off. Jesus stopped His disciples from additional violence, "and He touched his ear and healed him" (Luke 22:51).

A believer who wishes to imitate Jesus' kindness will exercise these same principles. He will give compassionate attention to the needs that others bring before him, showing a willingness to relieve the difficulties. He will notice needs, even without their being overtly mentioned, and will proactively reach out with help. He will extend kindness even to those who seem undeserving and antagonistic, thus showing the love of God and reflecting the character of God.

Kindness evidences a desire to improve the lives and circumstances of others, doing so in a way that makes others feel respected and cared for. Kindness can often accomplish what confrontation cannot. An action done with kindness will be far more meaningful than the same action done grudgingly. A person characterized by kindness will be in a better position to help others, as he minimizes the intimidation, fear, and shame that are often associated with seeking help. A kind spirit is an invitation to those in need.

"Be kind to one another, tenderhearted." Ephesians 4:32

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Patience (Part 5)

"For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart" (Hebrews 12:3). The word "endured" in this verse parallels the word "patience" as a fruit of the Spirit. Both words involve staying under something, bearing or suffering long. According to the verse above, observing Jesus' patience is intended to encourage believers in their trials.

Patience is seen in the context of difficulties, disappointments, and challenges. For Jesus, those patience-requiring situations typically involved interactions with people. There were constant demands on Jesus, and He bore them patiently. "Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan" (Matthew 4:25). Jesus' response was to give Himself in teaching and healing. "And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, . . . and He spoke many things to them" (Matthew 13:2).

This pressure-filled life was routine for Jesus. Essentially He had no such thing as privacy. Probably the closest parallel in modern society would be celebrities who are constantly hounded by paparazzi or the President whose every move is watched. These people occasionally find ways to escape the pressured public life, but Jesus could not escape the ever-present and always-demanding crowds. "When Jesus came down from the mountain, large crowds followed Him" (Matthew 8:1). "And large crowds followed Him, and He healed them there" (Matthew 19:2). "As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed Him" Matthew 20:29).

Those multitudes of people with numerous demands meant Jesus did not even have the luxury of facing pressure singly. The layered and complex pressure is pointedly revealed in one story. Jesus was in the midst of teaching, and "while He was saying these things to them, a synagogue official came" (Matthew 9:18). Jairus interrupted Jesus, asking Him to come heal his daughter. "Jesus got up and began to follow him, and so did His disciples. And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak" (Matthew 9:19-20). Jesus was interrupted in the midst of His previous interruption - yet He patiently helped each person.

In addition to the crowds, Jesus displayed patience with His disciples. According to human expectations, the twelve who were constantly with Him, learning from Him, and ministering with Him would provide reprieve from the constant challenges. Instead, the twelve contributed their own pressures. Sometimes that was as practical as providing food when they could not provide their own. "So Jesus said to them, 'Children, you do not have any fish, do you?' They answered Him, 'No'" (John 21:5).

Jesus also showed patience when the disciples did not understand His ministry. Unbelieving Samaritans had failed to provide supplies. "When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, 'Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?' But He turned and rebuked them and said, 'You do not know what kind of spirit you are of'" (Luke 9:54-55). Jesus did not intend to destroy, but to save. Later the disciples even rebuked and tried to hinder those who wanted to come to Jesus. "But Jesus said, 'Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me'" (Matthew 19:14).

Jesus exhibited patience when the disciples did not understand His teaching. "Peter said to Him, 'Explain the parable to us.' Jesus said, 'Are you still lacking in understanding also?'" (Matthew 15:15-16). "They began to discuss this among themselves, saying, 'He said that because we did not bring any bread.' But Jesus, aware of this, said, 'You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember?'" (Matthew 16:7-9).

Jesus displayed patience when the disciples showed ambition instead of servitude. "Then Peter said to Him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?'" (Matthew 19:27). "Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him" (Matthew 20:20). "They came to Capernaum; and when He was in the house, He began to question them, 'What were you discussing on the way?' But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest" (Mark 9:33-34).

Jesus exuded patience when the disciples failed in their faith. "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not drive it out?' And He said to them, 'Because of the littleness of your faith'" (Matthew 17:19-20). "And they came to Him and woke Him, saying, 'Save us, Lord; we are perishing!' He said to them, 'Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?'" (Matthew 8:25-26). "But seeing the wind, [Peter] became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'" (Matthew 14:30-31). "Then He said to Thomas, 'Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into my side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing'" (John 20:27) . The seemingly glaring failure of His investment in these men could have evoked explosive impatience, but Jesus endured.

Jesus even expressed patience when all of His disciples abandoned Him despite their protests to the contrary. "Then Jesus said to them, 'You will all fall away because of Me this night'" (Matthew 26:31). In His deepest need, they fled.

The introductory verse admonishes believers to be encouraged toward patience by Jesus' example. His great patience also facilitates a wonderful invitation. "Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Peace (Part 4)

"Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord" (II Peter 1:2). Knowing Jesus benefits believers in their quest to better reflect His godly character. (See Part 1.) This verse specifically states that believers' peace can increase as they know Jesus.

While there is a fundamental reason why knowing God brings peace, it is also true that Jesus showed peace by example. Probably the most poignant illustration comes from the story of the mighty storm the disciples faced at sea. Several disciples were men of the sea, accustomed to facing its dangers. In this instance the men were terrified by the intensity of the storm. They thought they were in imminent danger of death. Meanwhile . . . "And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being covered with the waves; but Jesus Himself was asleep" (Matthew 8:24).

This was not the only intense situation during which Jesus was at peace. During a later storm, He displayed similar character. This storm was not quite as fierce; still, the disciples had a difficult time making any progress as they battled the strong winds. Jesus came to help them. Unlike the disciples, Jesus was completely calm and in control. "When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, 'It is a ghost!' And they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid" (Matthew 14:26).

It is not difficult to be at peace when the waters are tranquil, the winds are calm, and life is smooth. Practically speaking, peace is revealed only in times of trouble and in seasons when conflicts or dangers threaten. The world is plagued by such troubles, but even in that context Jesus can give peace. "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). The source of peace is found in Jesus.

As the source, Jesus is open and ready to freely impart peace to His followers. "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (John 14:27). The wonderful thing is that Jesus' peace is not like any other peace. Man might seek peace through a savings account, a retirement fund, a security system, or some other protection. Those measures provide limited peace that is not guaranteed. Man seeks peace by avoiding conflict; Jesus gives peace that overcomes conflict.

In fact, giving peace to mankind was one of Jesus' purposes in coming to earth. As Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, contemplated the coming of the Messiah, he stated, "The Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace" (Luke 1:78-79). Jesus came to direct men into the way of peace.

In the verses above, peace is revealed as the antidote or the opposite to two things: fear and anxiety. In the midst of the storms, the disciples were fearful and anxious about their fate. In John 16:33, Jesus associated peace with taking courage. In John 14:27, He spoke of the disciples being troubled and fearful. Even Zacharias mentioned the most fearful threat known to man: death. Jesus came to replace fear and anxiety with peace.

The deepest level of fear is associated with death, especially as it relates to facing God. Jesus quells that fear by creating a permanent foundation of peace. "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). He came to "free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:15).

God also protects from lesser and more temporal fears. Nothing is too dangerous or threatening for Him. This is why knowing God is so crucial for having peace. When a believer knows who God is and how powerful He is, and when the believer is assured that God is on his side, fears slip away. "So that we may confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?'" (Hebrews 13:6). The believer can trust God and have peace to the same extent that Jesus did in the storm. "In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety" (Psalm 4:8).

Peace also combats anxiety. Again, the key is found in knowing God. When someone knows God well, he is confident in His character and in His care. Instead of being anxious, the believer takes his concerns to the God he knows and trusts, with this result: "And the peace of God, who surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7). In addition to praying, the believer thinks about God, fixing his mind on Him. This deliberate focus of the thoughts leads to peace, as the Christian trusts in the amazing God whom he is pondering. "The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You" (Isaiah 26:3).

Through Jesus and His peace, fears can be conquered and anxiety can dissipate. Peace reigns when Christians remember and focus upon the God to whom no challenge is too great and no danger too threatening. Knowing Him well makes all the difference in the circumstances, challenges, and relationships of life. Anxiety and fear yield to the believer's confidence in a loving and capable God.

"Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. You shall find peace for your souls." (Matthew 11:28-29)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Seeing Jesus' Joy (Part 3)

"But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18). Believers are instructed to grow in their knowledge of Jesus; as they do so, they will also grow in His graces (visible reflections of divine influence). One of those Spirit-produced qualities is joy.

At first consideration it seems difficult to distinguish Jesus' example of joy. This is true in part because joy is primarily internal, whereas other qualities are primarily displayed externally; the gospels are narratives that record Jesus' actions and words, but not so much His character in and of itself. Also, the Bible does not describe Jesus (to my knowledge) in situations where He is showing exuberance, gushing with excitement, or otherwise displaying light-hearted celebration.

The problem lies in those definitions of joy. To be sure, joy sometimes looks like exuberance, excitement, and celebration. At other times, however, joy consists of a peaceful and pleasant demeanor that remains unruffled by the circumstances of life; it continues faithfully forward without a spirit of complaining, bitterness, or disgust. Jesus unquestionably fits this description.

It is without debate that Jesus possessed joy. As He spoke to His disciples, He said, "These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full" (John 15:11). When He prayed to the Father, He petitioned, "But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves" (John 17:13).

Jesus' joy was based in His understanding of His life and mission. Psalm 40:8, which is most likely prophetic of Jesus, proclaims, "I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart." This statement wonderfully expresses Jesus' entire mode of existence. The gospels are filled with His statements that He was on earth to do the Father's will. He was fully committed to the Father's plan and completely at peace with carrying out the Father's bidding and speaking the Father's words. Jesus delighted in His mission, and this was the basis of His joy.

Jesus' joy is expressed in the account of John the Baptist's death. "Now when Jesus heard about John, He withdrew from there in a boat to a secluded place by Himself; and when the people heard of this, they followed Him on foot from the cities. When He went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and felt compassion for them and healed their sick" (Matthew 14:13-14). Jesus was in personal pain due to the death of His cousin, but even in that circumstance, He was able to lay aside His own sorrow and minister willingly to others. There was a quality in Him that rose above circumstances and fulfilled its mission.

Jesus was able to have joy because of His long-term perspective. "Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). Suffering was not easy or pleasant for Jesus any more than it is for anyone else, but He looked beyond the pain. He looked for the joyous end of the story and the wonderful conclusion that would result.

Because Jesus knew what was coming, He was able to maintain joy through the necessary intervening events. In the same way, Christians are challenged, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:2-4). Looking toward the end result makes all the difference in responding to the necessary but unpleasant process of the present.

Jesus Himself provided perspective on one source that brings Him joy. "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance" (Luke 15:7). Jesus rejoices when someone accepts the Father's gift of salvation. This rejoicing is completely in keeping with the preceding discussion; Jesus had joy because He delighted in the Father's will and because He looked toward the end result. Both of those considerations really boil down to the salvation of souls.

God's plan for believers is not identical to His plan for Jesus, but the principles are the same. If a believer delights in doing God's will for him, even though it is challenging, he will have joy. If a believer looks toward the end result of what God is doing (even if he does not fully comprehend it) instead of focusing on the present circumstances, he will have joy. If a believer values the salvation of the lost and attempts to involve himself in the process, he will have joy. The joy that Jesus had can be passed to His followers, and Jesus desired and prayed for that very thing.

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!" (Philippians 4:4)