Facing Impossible Tasks

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Mark 8:22-26

Prior to modern mining machinery, mules were once used for underground mining. There was no reason to bring the mules to the surface into daylight, so the mules lived their lives underground. They stayed underground, worked underground, fed underground, and finally died underground. The handlers of the mules noticed that after an extended time underground, the mules would lose their ability to see. These mules that lived in continual darkness, became blind.

Spiritual darkness does the same to the human spirit. As we spend our time in darkness, sin cuts the optic nerve of our spirits. We eventually will no longer even see our sin as sin. The longer we live in darkness, the blinder we become. When we choose darkness, we choose blindness.

The healing of the blind man occurred when Jesus passed through Bethsaida Julias on his way to Caesarea Philippi. Jesus took the blind man by the hand, and led him out of the town; and when he had spit on his eyes, and put his hands upon him, he asked him if he saw ought. Jesus led him out of the town, probably to avoid excessive publicity – savior rather then healer. Here, as in the case of the deaf man (Mark 7:33), saliva was used, not as a healing application, but as an aid to the sightless man’s faith. Mark 7:32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Be opened!”.

The Gospel of John drives home the point more than any other New Testament book; that people are always looking for signs or miracles. There is nothing wrong with that, however, it shows a great deal of immaturity of faith and a lack of trust in a God who is ever present. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?” This healing was unique in that it consisted of two stages. After the first touch, the man saw people indistinctly as moving objects, like trees walking. Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. The second stage of healing was preceded by the touching of the eyes. The Greek text does not say that Jesus made him look up, but rather that the man looked intently. And when he did so, he began to see all things clearly.

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, `Wash and be cleansed’!” So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. (2 Kings 5:13)

Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with it’s king and it’s fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.” (Joshua 6:2)

Without the signs, the people would have never believed that it was God who had acted! It was the summer of 1982, my family and I were living in Fresno, California. We had decided to take a day-trip to Yosemite National Park, which was only an hour and a half drive. We were thoroughly enjoying the splendor of the park. Sometime around midday, we stopped along the river that flows through the floor of the valley for a picnic lunch. After we had eaten, I was holding our infant daughter Rachel. I was watching some children play along the banks of the river. It was still early summer and the snow-pack in the upper elevations had not completely melted yet; so the river was rushing on its course through the park. I was standing on a rock ledge about six feet above the river watching with keen interest twin boys playing in the stream. The father stood on a small gravel island also watching, but not very closely. I thought to myself, “If they’re not careful, they are going to get caught in the current and swept downstream.” Less than a minute later it happened — one of the boys slipped on the wet stones and was gone. The river had him. I ran to my wife who was still sitting on the picnic blanket, and almost threw our baby to her. I then ran alongside the river for a short distance and jumped in the river just behind the boy, as we entered a small set of rapids. Somehow, I reached him in the middle of the rapids and was able to pull him to shore and return him to his father. The boy was powerless against the force of the river’s current.

It took someone bigger and stronger than himself to save him. On that particular day, I became his savior (with a small “s”). I had to take a risk in order to effect the rescue. People are continually being swept away in the currents of life. They, like this young boy, need someone bigger and stronger than they are to pull them to a place of safety. They too need a Savior (spelled with a big “S”). In order for them to be rescued, it may require a total commitment to the effort. It requires risk to affect any rescue.

Matt 28:20 And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Does Jesus Care?

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Mark 4:35-41

Said the Robin to the Sparrow: “I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings, rush about and worry so.” Said the Sparrow to the Robin: Friend, I think that it must be that they have no heavenly Father, such as cares for you and me!” Jesus has been teaching by the Sea of Galilee and now decides to cross over the sea. That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. Mark doesn’t record the Sermon on the Mount as does Matthew. This boat ride probably takes place right after the giving of the sermon. Why go to the other side – it is desert. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

A couple had not had a date night for at least two months. Their mutual birthday time had arrived and the wife had planned a surprise party for him — a small group of friends was to meet them at a familiar oriental restaurant. With the babysitter armed with instructions and snacks, they headed for the car. Behind the wheel, her husband suggested, “Let’s go for Mexican food!” That would have been a delightful idea — except that their friends would be waiting at the other restaurant. She tried to remain unruffled and said sweetly, “I think Chinese sounds better tonight.” The retort came swiftly, “No. I want a big enchilada!” After some haggling, it became apparent that he had chosen tonight to be demanding, unreasonable, and interested only in his own food cravings. Dark thunderheads formed inside the car. Finally, she screamed in frustration, “You dope! I have a surprise party planned at the Chinese restaurant. We have to go there.” He laughed — and that made her even angrier. He laughed so hard it took him five minutes to tell her that he had planned a surprise party for her, too — at the Mexican restaurant. It was the one fact she didn’t know.

When we are tempted to be impatient with someone we should try to observe the “one fact rule”: We have to learn to look for at least one hidden fact that might offer a logical explanation. Faith is filled with many hiddens!

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing our true self. To place your ideas, your dreams before the crowd is to risk loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try at all is to risk failure. But to risk we must, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The man, the woman, who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing.

The challenge for the Christian is how to live each moment with faith. We believe that God has the power. We believe that God can and even does perform miracles. The challenge is how to live believing that God cares enough to take care of this moment in our lives.

Fred Craddock tells the story of one of his students in seminary. The young pastor was visiting an old, very sick woman in the hospital. He asked her upon leaving, “What would you like me to pray for today?” With her last ounce of energy she replied, “That God will make me well.” He sighed, then prayed, “Lord, if it be thy will, we pray that this sick sister might be healed. On the other hand, if it is not thy will, we pray that she might be given a positive attitude, a willingness to accept her situation.” As soon as he finished his prayer, her eyes opened. She sat up in bed, threw her feet over the side, stood up and said, “I’m well. I’m really well.” The young pastor stumbled out of the room, headed out of the hospital into the parking lot. Before he pulled out his key to unlock his car, he looked up and said, “Don’t you ever do that to me again!”

“Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Sure, He cares, and He calms the storm.
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. (Mark 1:40) “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, `Father, give me my share of the estate.’
So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in the whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. “When he came to his senses, he said, `How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Said the Robin to the Sparrow: “I should really like to know, why these anxious human beings, Rush about and worry so.” Said the Sparrow to the Robin: “Friend, I think that it must be that they have no heavenly Father,
Such as cares for you and me!”

Exorcism Today

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Acts 19:13-20

Some wrestle with whether or not the Devil is real. Winkelbury Camp is an Iron Age hill fort in Wiltshire, England. According to legend, if you march around it at midnight cursing all the time you can summon the Devil who will appear on a black horse and grant one wish. Of course, that’s a foolish superstition. In the first place you cannot summon Satan to come to you. Secondly, you need not summon Satan to come to you, for he is always near.

Anyone who has read the temptations of Jesus, understands and believes in the reality of the Devil. Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “`He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him. Satan is a better theologian than any of us and is a devil still.

Jesus said, (Luke 10:18) “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. When Satan was thrown out of Heaven and 1/3 of the angelic host followed him. The devil decided to have a garage sale. On the day of sale, his tools were placed for public inspection, each being marked with its sale price. There were a treacherous amount of implements: hatred, envy, jealousy, deceit, lust, lying, pride, and so on. Set apart from the rest was a harmless-looking tool. It was quite worn and yet priced very high. “What is the name of this tool?” asked one of the customers, pointing to it. “That is discouragement,” Satan replied.
“Why have you priced it so high?” “Because it is more useful to me than the others.

A materialist is one who does not believe in demons and has no interest in what they do. A magician is one who believes too much in demons and has an unhealthy interest in them. As for the demons, they care not which you are, for both are equally in error and thus leave you open to the demons efforts.

Many American adults believe in psychic phenomena, but few have ever consulted an astrologer, medium, tarot card reader, or psychic. That is the conclusion from a CBS poll of 984 adults. The study found: – 64 percent believe in psychic phenomena – 25 percent say they have personally experienced such a phenomenon – 10 percent consult a medium, etc. regularly.

1 Peter 5:8 Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. I think we understand and feel the effects of the Devil in our lives, especially with temptation. It is the demonic forces, the fallen angels, that we do not understand.

Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.” Seven sons of Sceva were doing this. [One day] the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

Luke cites this incident in Ephesus. Traveling Jewish exorcists were common in the ancient world. The name of a person or of a deity was thought to have special power that could control the person concerned if the name were used in the right way. These Jewish exorcists, witnessing the miracles done by Paul in the name of Jesus, attempted to use the name in the practice of their magical spells. When Simon saw that the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money and said, “Give me also this ability so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” Peter answered: “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! (Acts 8:18)

We have never really understood “demonic possession.” We see it portrayed on TV and in the movies. We know that some is based on fact but then becomes greatly embellished.

What do we know about demon possession and what to do about it? First of all, we know very little, and that in and of itself tells us something. There was to be no fear of evil because Christ has won the battle. David writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me….” 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. (Matt 8:28)

Secondly, demon possession can be found in some illnesses but not all illnesses. Clearly we know that most illnesses come from viruses, bacteria or some cell that goes crazy. Some illness like VD, may be the result of living a promiscuous lifestyle and a consequence of sin. Clearly Paul is convinced that some illness is brought on ourselves by our choices. Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep. (1 Cor 11:27) I think it is easier to find demon possession in mental illness than in other types of illness. Please do not misunderstand, not all mental illness is demonic. Some mental illness is of a genic connection. Some chemical or others growths. There is some mental illness where no connection can be made and the behavior is bazaar, and may just be demonic. They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you evil spirit!” (Mark 5:1)

Third, demon possession can be found in some life styles. Probably far more common is the issue of life style and demonic possession. Without realizing it we surrender our lives to many things. I am not convinced that some forms of alcohol and drug additions are not a form of demonic possession. Even after you have purged the person of the alcohol there is a tremendous temptation to return. “When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, `I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that man is worse than the first. (Matt 12:43) There is no proof, but it is widely believed that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute prior to meeting Christ. Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out….She was set free and lived her life for Jesus. Fourth, by the power of Christ, all prisoners can be set free. A safari hunter was startled by the loud screeching of a bird. When he caught sight of the bird, it was darting back and forth around its nest. He was perplexed by all the racket until he noticed a huge snake moving up the tree. The hunter could have easily aided the bird with one shot from his gun but he was captivated by the drama before him. As the snake slithered up the tree, the bird became silent and flew from the nest. It now seemed as though the snake would dine without resistance. But before the reptile could reach the nest, the mother bird returned with a leaf in her beak. She carefully placed the leaf over her babies then flew to another tree. The snake raised his head to strike but then hesitated. It froze as if it had met a foe. Slowly it recoiled from the nest and wound its way down the tree. The puzzled hunter related the event to native Africans when he returned to the camp. The leaf that the mother had used to cover her nest was poisonous to the snake. What looked like nothing more than a leaf was in fact a life-saving shield. Our faith may at times feel as flimsy as a leaf, but God’s Word reminds us that it is a shield against the attacks of our serpentine enemy.

Were You There When Bartimaeus Received His Sight?

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There is a story that comes out of Matthew’s Gospel (Matt 9:27). As Jesus traveled doing healing, two blind men followed him, calling out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” Please note that the two are blind. They follow Jesus wherever He goes. When he went indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Why does He ask such a question? The fact that two blind men have followed Him (with difficulty) should answer the question. “Yes, Lord,” they replied. Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith will it be done to you”; and their sight was restored.

As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city of Jericho, a blind man, Bartimaeus was sitting by the roadside begging.
When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Almost like Jesus words, “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Jesus invites us to examine our lives to find the blindness that exists within. The tragic irony is that we can remain by the roadside (as “Blind Bartimaeus” could have) continuing to beg. We can ignore the presence and the power of Jesus if we desire. To do so is to continue in our blindness. It’s possible to be surrounded by the wonders of God’s grace and complain bitterly about not getting what we want out of life. It’s possible to complain about our bills and unhappiness while Jesus has the potential to bring meaningful wholeness to our lives if only we will turn to him with our need.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.

It is frightening to look within – to allow the darkness to disappear and the light to reveal everything. We lose our innocence and come face to face with reality. A summer visitor was asking a local farmer how to get off Southport Island in Maine and find his way back to Boothbay Harbor. The farmer began to explain how to find the road back to the bridge. The visitor insisted, “But I didn’t cross any bridge to get here.” The Farmer looked at him skeptically and replied, “Well, now, if you didn’t cross any bridge, then you ain’t here in the first place, so you got nothing to worry about.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (John 4:15-20)

There is an old Sufi story about a blind man and a crippled man who stumbled into each other in a forest. They were both lost, and they struck up a conversation sharing their stories about wandering through the forest for as long as they could remember. The blind man said, “I cannot see to find my way out.” The crippled man nodded and responded, “I cannot get up to walk out.” As they sat there sadly talking, the crippled man cried out, “I’ve got it! You hoist me up onto your shoulders and I will tell you where to walk.” Together, they found their way out of the forest.

An elderly gentleman was out walking with his young grandson. “How far are we from home?” he asked the grandson. The boy answered, “Grandpa, I don’t know.”
The grandfather asked, “Well, where are you?” Again the boy answered, “I don’t know.” Then the grandfather said good-naturedly, “Sounds to me as if you are lost.” The young boy looked up at his grandfather and said, “Nope, I can’t be lost. I’m with you.” Ultimately, that is the answer to our “lostness” too. We can’t be lost if He is with us.

(John 8:31-32) To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”