testimony

Faith, Frailty and Miracles (John 4:46-54; John 5:1-17)

John 4:46-54 As Jesus traveled to Cana (the village in Galilee where He transformed the water into fine wine), He was met by a government official from Herod’s court. This man had heard a rumor that Jesus had left Judea and was heading to Galilee, and he came in desperation begging for Jesus’ help because his young son was near death. He was fearful that unless Jesus would go with him to Capernaum, his son would have no hope.

Jesus said, ”My word is not enough; you people only believe when you see miraculous signs and wonder.”

The official replied, “Sir, this is my son; please come with me before he dies.”

Jesus said, Go home. Your son will live.”

He believed and returned to his home. Before he reached his village, his servants met him on the road celebrating his son’s miraculous recovery.

The official asked, “What time did this happen?”

His servants replied, “Yesterday about one o’clock in the afternoon.”

At that moment, it dawned on the father the exact time that Jesus spoke the words, “He will live.” After that, he believed; and when he told his family about his amazing encounter with this Jesus, they believed too. This was the second sign Jesus performed when He came back to Galilee from Judea.

JOHN 5:1-17

When these events were completed, Jesus led His followers to Jerusalem where they would celebrate a Jewish feast together. In Jerusalem they came upon a pool by the sheep gate surrounded by five covered porches. In Hebrew this place is called Bethesda.

 Crowds of people lined the area, lying around the porches. All of these people were disabled in some way; some were blind, lame, paralyzed, or plagued by diseases; and they were waiting for the waters to move. The people believed that from time to time, a heavenly messenger would come to stir the water in the pool, and whoever reached the water first and got in after it was agitated would be healed of his or her disease. In the crowd, Jesus noticed one particular man who had been living with his disability for 38 years. He knew this man had been waiting here a long time.

 Jesus said to the disabled man, “Do you want to be healed?”

The man replied, “Kind Sir, I wait, like all of these people, for the waters to stir; but I cannot walk. If I am to be healed in the waters, someone must carry me into the pool. Without a helping hand, someone else beats me to the water’s edge each time it is stirred.”

Jesus replied, “Stand up, carry your mat, and walk. ”At the moment Jesus uttered these words, the man was healed—he stood and walked for the first time in 38 years. But this was the Sabbath Day; and any work, including carrying a mat, was prohibited on this day.

The Jewish Leaders said to the man who had been healed, “Must you be reminded that it is the Sabbath? You are not allowed to carry your mat today!”

The formerly disabled man replied, “The man who healed me gave me specific instructions to carry my mat and go.”

Who is the man who gave you these instructions?” The Jewish leaders asked, “How can we identify Him?”

The man genuinely did not know who it was that healed him. In the midst of the crowd and the excitement of his renewed health, Jesus had slipped away. Some time later, Jesus found him in the temple and again spoke to him. ”Take a look at your body; it has been made whole and strong. So avoid a life of sin, so that nothing worse will happen to you.” The man went immediately to tell the Jewish leaders that Jesus was the mysterious healer. So they began pursuing and attacking Jesus because He performed these miracles on the Sabbath.

 But Jesus said to them, “My Father is at work. So I, too, am working.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

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Though the primary reason of these miracles is to establish Jesus' divinity (more on that next Sunday), there are three secondary topics here that I want to address:

  • How Jesus works in the world in the midst of our faith and frailty.
  • The importance of the question, “Do you want to be healed?”
  • How our lives can point toward the awesome work of Jesus

I think you will find that I’m only scratching the surface, and I encourage you to read, pray, and meditate on this passage on your own.[1]

1. Jesus responds to both our faith and our frailty

The royal official sought Jesus and asked for his help. When Jesus told him that his son would be okay, the official believed; specifically, he ‘trusted in Jesus to aid in obtaining or doing something.’ He had faith in Jesus’ power, which was at least a start. After he found out about his son’s healing, he began to embrace what Scott Norris called a ‘full-body faith.” He went from believing in Jesus as healer to believing in Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The lame man didn’t even know who Jesus was. This man made no cry for help. He didn't grab Jesus and say, "Son of David, have mercy on me." When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, he basically dodged the question (more on that later). The text doesn't record that he ever worshipped Jesus as a result of being healed, yet Jesus healed him and encouraged him.

Though the city official exercised a form of belief, neither man was what we would call “saved” when Jesus performed miracles on their behalf. We could even include the Samaritan woman (whom we read about earlier in chapter four) in this discussion. She was worshipping idols when Jesus encountered her, yet he saved her and her village.

There is a perspective in Christian circles that we must reach a certain threshold of faith before God can move. The Bible is clear that it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11). But these miracles show that God seeks and even helps those whose faith is not full (the city official) or strong (the lame man).

I hope this brings us all great hope. If you wonder if you have enough faith for God to act on your behalf, take heart. Don’t assume that God has given up on you. Pray; ask God for move and work in you to build your faith, but don’t forget - God moves in in our faith and in our frailty. He brings us life and hope not because we are strong, but because He is.

2. “Do you want to get well?” is a question we must all answer

So, Jesus moves in our faith and in our frailty, but if we want God's miraculous intervention in our lives to deepen our spiritual maturity and bear long-term fruit, we must want to be healed. Let me explain.

The Bible does not unpack the lame man’s personality, though there are hints in the story. There are differences of opinion about how to view the lame man, but I side with the majority of commentators:  I believe Jesus chose to heal a man who  lacked faith (the Bible never records that he became a follower of Jesus) and whose life on the margins of society was probably compounded by his poor choices. I will give you several reasons.

  • Most Jews associated sickness with sin. The rabbis said, "The sick arises not from sickness, until his sins be forgiven." (Later, when Jesus heals a blind man, he makes clear that this one-for-one correlation is not true, though he seems to allow that it is true in this case).
  • When Jesus asked if he wanted to be healed, the lame man dodged the question. He didn’t say ‘yes’. He basically responded, “I don’t have any friends.” After decades of being lame, he had no family or friends who cared enough to get him to the front of the line. That seems like no small matter.
  • Interestingly, he was probably taken care of decently by the Jewish community – which might actually explain his apparent unpopularity. A story in the Talmud gives us some insight[2]"A beggar once came to Rava who asked him 'What do your meals usually consist of?' 'Plump chicken and matured wine' answered the beggar. 'Do you not consider this a burden on the community?' asked Rava. The beggar retorted: 'I do not take from them – I take what God provides.' At that moment Rava's sister, who had not seen him for 13 years, appeared bringing him a fat chicken and matured wine. 'Just what I told you!' said the beggar."

That story is one of many in Jewish literature that captures some of the tension in the Jewish community: God commanded them to take care of the poor and lame, but they sometimes took care of them so well that it was advantageous to be poor or lame, and the broader community became resentful.

James Baldwin wrote, “Nothing is more desirable than to be released from an affliction, but nothing is more frightening than to be divested of a crutch.” Why? Because with great healing comes great responsibility (sorry, Spider-Man.).

  • If he became well, the community provision would go away.
  • If he got well, he couldn’t complain about his circumstances.
  • He couldn’t blame those who didn’t care enough to help him into the water.
  • He may need to address sin in his life.[3]

Jesus’ question is loaded with insight into human nature - which makes sense, since He created us as image bearers. And because He knows us, he knows that  if we aren’t careful, we can begin to love our sickness.

  • Have you ever avoided doing something you didn’t want to by stretching that cold or flu out one more day?
  • Have you ever used a stressful day at work to get out of some chore at home that you could have done, or to excuse grumpiness or laziness?
  • Have you ever used something from your past as a crutch, a way to justify something you are doing now that you know you should change? (“I know I’m really fixated on money and things, but I grew up poor!”)
  • I already find that “I had a heart attack” is a really easy way to not do something I could do because everybody will give me the space.

If we are not careful, our physical, spiritual, or emotional illnesses can give us a reason to blame others, to think God owes us something, or to avoid responsibility. I am not saying we automatically do that; I’m saying we have to be careful. Sometimes, we don’t really want to get well because we can leverage our inability to our favor.  Surrendering to the lordship of Christ will involve taking ownership of your life.

If you have ever been in a recovery group or know someone who has, you know this principle to be true. Individuals must want to be clean and sober; if they are forced into it, they almost inevitably revert. They did not want to be healed.

Now let's take this principle to a deeper level. If Jesus really was pointing out the connection between the man’s health and his sin, he is offering an observation that is of eternal importance: some people love their sin so much that they would rather remain spiritually sick then be made well. They might not like what they reap, but they don’t want to stop sowing. They want to be healthy, but they don’t want to be well.

“Do you want to get well?” is a question that must be answered honestly.

  • Do you want your marriage to be better even if that means you have to address the dysfunction that you bring to it?
  • Do you want your addictions to be gone even if it means rehab and accountability?
  • Do you want to fix your relationship with your kids (or parents) even if that means owning the damage you cause with your words and attitude?
  • Do you want to let go of that anger, that lust, that pride that has been such a close friend for so long?

Jesus healed the lame man, but the man turned around and reported him to a clearly hostile group of Pharisees. In addition, the Bible does not record that the man became a follower of Jesus after this miracle. Jesus healed a man who was lame of almost four decades, and there was no fruit. How is this possible? Because even though God moves in our faith and our frailty, we must want to be healed if we want God's miraculous intervention to make disciples of us.

3. God intends for our past to point others to Jesus.

Jesus told the lame man to pick up his bed and walk. What better conversation starter was there to point toward Jesus? I can see people who knew him saying, “What on earth happened? How is this possible?” It’s an almost guaranteed way for this formerly lame man to point to Jesus.

The lame man apparently did this, but I don’t think he did it in the way Jesus intended. That unnecessary bed was meant to be a sign pointing to Jesus, an opportunity for others to hear about what Jesus can do – and so point to the Jesus as Lord.

We don’t carry our beds, but we have equivalent opportunities. Karl did that last Sunday. He said, and I paraphrase, “I was a grease fire – and then Jesus.” That’s a powerful story. One of the best ways to point toward the awesome majesty of Jesus is to let people see what God has done in our lives. It’s one thing to say that Jesus saves and heals; it’s quite another to show that Jesus does these things.

  • People need to know that God can deliver from pornography – which might mean you have to tell them how he delivered you.
  • People need to know that God can heal people with destructive personalities and habits– which might mean that you have to tell them how God healed you.
  • People need to know that arrogant, judgmental fools can be refined and matured – which might mean you have to tell them how that happened in you.
  • People need to know that those who are spiritually dead in their sins - hurting those around them, imploding through bad choices, ignoring or shaking their fist at God – can be forgiven, restored, and transformed into the likeness of Christ. And that might mean you have to tell them about you.

An author named Asia Mouzone said, "Never silence your testimony. It's meant for someone else; not you." God intends for our past to point toward Jesus. ‘Believing’ and ‘trusting’ includes surrendering our shame, our guilt, our pride. We are meant to take up the beds to which our brokenness had condemned us and carry it with us to a world that needs to see that Jesus saves.

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[1] This passage occurs in a broader context. The gospel of John is famous for Jesus’ Seven Miracles. They progress in interesting ways:

  • Water to wine – Jesus shows the power to change elements, and he only reveals this to his mother and servants, two classes of people looked down upon in Jewish culture.
  • Healing the official’s son – Jesus shows power over temporary sickness as well as distance (he doesn’t have to go to the man’s house). This miracle was shown to a Gentile from Herod’s court, one of the oppressors of God’s people.
  • Healing the paralytic – Jesus shows power over long-term sickness as well as his power over the Law. This third miracle is done once again for one of the culturally marginalized.
  • Feeding the 5,000 – Jesus shows power not only to multiply elements rather than just change them , perhaps linking him to God’s provision during the Exodus. This is his first very public miracle, shown to thousands.
  • Walking on water – Jesus shows his power over elements once again, perhaps as another purposeful connection with God as revealed in the Old Testament. The Spirit of God moved over the water in Genesis 1; now John, who made a clear connection to Genesis in the beginning of his book, records the Word of God moving over the water.
  • Healing the man born blind – Jesus shows he has the power of creation; he doesn’t just heal eyes that had once been good and then gone bad, he creates working eyes where there had been none.
  • Raising Lazarus – Jesus shows his power over physical death, which establishes his power over spiritual death (John 11:25-26)

[2] “Begging and Beggars,” http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0003_0_02291.html

[3] Commentators have different opinions on this. That his particular sickness had been caused by his particular sin seems to be implied by the text. However, Jesus may be telling him that if he thought being physically sick was bad, it was nothing compared to being spiritually sick and going to hell. Or perhaps Jesus was taking the opportunity to remind him of both.

The Importance of Remembering

The past can be a tricky thing: it clearly forms us, but how much? Do we need to remember in order to move forward? Do we need to forget?  Is our history control our destiny or does it merely influence it? And most importantly, whatever has happened in our lives up to this point, is there hope?

Bob Kelleman, a Christian counselor, author, and speaker (http://www.rpmministries.org/blog/), has a great perspective on this. His claim is that the Bible reveals to us not only the importance of remembering our past, but making sure we grow in Christian maturity as we do so.

 

Remember (humbly)

“Remember” is used 167 times in the Bible (at least in the NIV), reminding us of the importance of remembering. We see it both in the Old Testament and the New. Usually, it has to do with remembering events in order to remember that God was at work in the midst of those events 

  • Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.  Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock.  He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.”  But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.”  Deuteronomy 8:11-18
  • In Deuteronomy 32, God warns Moses that the Israelites will break their covenant with him. He tells Moses to write down a song of God’s presence (with all the interaction, faithfulness, and blessings and cursing of the covenant) and teach it to all the people so it will be a witness. One portion of the song says, “Remember the days of long ago; think about the generations past. Ask your father, and he will inform you. Inquire of your elders, and they will tell you.” Deuteronomy 32:7
  • When Jesus and disciples participated in what we call the Last Supper, Jesus said, “Keep doing this to remember me” (Luke 22:19).

 There are times we read about forgetting the former things, but this idea is often misunderstood. Here are the two verses I hear quoted the most:

  •  After citing all the ways He has redeemed or saved the Israelites, God says through Isaiah, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” (NIV) Isaiah 43:18-19
  • Paul writes in Philippians that “…forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) Philippians 3:13-14

The writers were not urging people to develop amnesia. In both cases, it means not being distracted by success and blessing. Isaiah was referring to good things, not bad ones (and actually tells them several verses later to “review the past for me”). Philippians is referring to good things in Paul’s life that could lead to self-righteousness, pride in personal accomplishments, and complacency. Bruce Springsteen was right: Glory days really will pass you by. Remembering the past is important for at least two reasons: our past clearly forms or informs who we are today, and God was present (and He is worth remembering).

 

Reflect (honestly)

Trying to suppress bad memories can become a refusal to face and deal with life. We talk a lot about “coping mechanisms” such as drinking and drugs and food, at least when they are used to numb our pain, emptiness, or guilt. But what about when we simply refuse to be honest about the things that have formed who we are?  Is that not an unhealthy coping mechanism too? Here’s a daunting verse: “Remember and never forget how angry you made the LORD your God out in the wilderness.” Deuteronomy 9:7 

Never forget how angry they made God!?  This is not a verse we see on coffee mugs or taped on bathroom mirrors. That’s a reference to the whole Golden Calf Episode, though Moses promptly lists four more places where they really made God angry because of their disobedience ( “You also made the Lord angry at Taberah, at Massah and at Kibroth Hattaavah…Kadesh Barnea.” 22-23). This was hardly a shining moment in Israelite history, but there it was. Nobody was allowed to dodge it.

We should be honest with ourselves, God and others regarding our past.  Can you remember times when you angered God – or your spouse, kids, parent, boss, friends – because of your sin? If this principle holds true, don’t forget how it impacted those around you. It can be a great incentive to stop your drifting back into that part of your life, and it can give clarity about what kind of person you are striving to be. Reflecting on the devastation of sin also reminds us of the grace of a God who forgives us even after the worst of our sins, as well as the forgiveness people around us have offered to us.

 

Repent (sincerely)  

In Revelation, after John gives props to the church in Ephesus for their perseverance and godly deeds, we read an admonition as well: “You have forsaken the love you had at first. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Revelations 2:5). 

I am more and more convinced that true, life-changing repentance can only happen after honest acknowledgment of who we are and what we have done. The goal – at least when it comes to memories of things we have done wrong – is not shame but repentance and then renewal and restoration. In Psalms 51, written after his disastrous affair with Bathsheba, David modeled what to do after falling from the heights: remembering and repenting of his heart and his actions – and then receiving God’s renewal:

“Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight… Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:1-4; 10-12)

Notice how David adds repentance to his recollection of events, then anticipates the forgiveness and mercy of God on the other side of the chaos that resulted from his sin. Remember….reflect, repent….God will be faithful.

 

Reinterpret (carefully)

Reflecting and repenting have a lot to do with looking at our choices and our lives. There are also plenty of times when things are done to us that greatly impact our lives as well. Joseph makes this comment to his brothers, who sold him into slavery: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20)

The language in Hebrew captures both a physical or symbolic weaving together, like a tapestry with a good or evil plan. Joseph looked back at his life and found where and how God intervened in his story to create some type of beauty and life where there would have been none. In this situation, Joseph was able to see in a very practical way that God had brought a good result (“the saving of many lives”) from a bad situation.

I preached on this a number of years ago, and in looking back at my notes I think I got something wrong. I said this was about Joseph. It’s not. It involves Joseph, but it’s about “the saving of many lives.” Joseph wasn’t saying, “They intended harm for me and now God has intervened by my good.” He’s saying, “They intended harm for me and now God has intervened for the sake of the world.” The story of Joseph is rightly highlighted as pointing toward the arrival of Jesus, [1] so I am not going to tell you that you are Joseph. Joseph was Joseph, and God used his life uniquely. 

However, his story highlights an important point: God can take a life that has absorbed a lot of harm and bring about good - for the sake of the world. Many times we look at our lives and assume we are worthless in the overall scheme of things. (“Do you know what has been done to me? Do you know how I have been betrayed and used?”) But God is not stumped by sin and chaos. Just read the Bible – God is very, very good at taking broken, sinful, messed up lives and redeeming them for His glory and for the good of the world.

Reinterpret does not mean lie, ignore or make up stuff to make the story better. It just means that we should not give up on a God who is very, very good at taking situations or people that have been harmed and using them in the healing of the world (think of all the people whose past makes them such good ministers of the hope of the gospel now).

Reinterpret is a challenge to see how your past experiences allow you to minister to others for their good and God’s glory.  

 

Retell (boldly)

We engage in an act of worship by retelling our stories in a way that shows how God weaves goodness into the world. Our testimony of God’s involvement in our life is never meant to be just about us – it must honor and glorify God and His role in redeeming our past, and it is meant to give hope to the world. Look at how David wraps up Psalm 51 (the one about Bathsheba): “Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you... Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.”  (Psalm 51:13)

 Really? How will David teach this?  Well if the previous verses in chapter 51 are any indication, he will tell his story. He speaks as a transgressor and sinner in whom God was at work even in the midst of his sin. It is often in the retelling where we see that even the worst parts of our past can be reclaimed and retold for the glory of God. We don’t remember to wallow in our past sin and shame, but to remind ourselves and others of a God who present, faithful, and redemptive. 

[1] http://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/july-1985/08_joseph_jesus

Trustworthy Sayings (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

"I thank our Lord Jesus the Anointed who empowers me, because He saw me as faithful and appointed me to this ministry. Despite the fact that at one time I was slandering the things of God, persecuting and attacking His people. He was still merciful to me because I acted in ignorance apart from faith. But He poured His grace over me, and I was flooded in an abundance of the grace and faith and love that can only be found in Jesus the Anointed. Here’s a statement worthy of trust: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, and I am the worst of them all." (12-15) 

There were a number of hymns or of catechetical teaching in the early Church. This appears to be one: "Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." But then Paul adds to it: “I am the worst of them all.” He talks about his new life in Christ in other places in his writings:

  • ‘If any man be in Christ Jesus, he is a new creation; old things are passed away’ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in this body I live by the faith of the Son of God’ (Galatians 2:20)

So Paul is new!  There is no doubt about it! But nothing can alter the fact that Paul was the man that did all these things and is capable of doing them again without the presence of God in his life. You’ve heard the phrase, “That’s gonna leave a mark?” Sin leaves a mark. I will bear the scar of my shoulder surgery. No matter how healthy I get, I am the man with a repaired shoulder. Paul bore the scars of his sin even as those scars revealed the kind of healing only God can give.

 The apostle Paul never forgot his former sins and the grace of God that transformed him. The story of Paul’s conversion is repeated no less than six times in the New Testament (Acts 9, 22, 26; Gal. 1 & 2; Phil. 3; 1 Tim. 1).  And as Paul himself tells it, his awareness of his sinfulness actually escalates:

  • 1 Corinthians 15:9 - “I am the least of the apostles.”
  • Ephesians 3:8, written later – “I am the very least of all saints.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:15, written later still, and after probably about 25 years of walking with God -  “I am the chief of all sinners.”

He does not say, “I was the chief of sinners.” He says, “I am the chief.”  He does not single out the sins that previously defined him. He does not say, “I am the chief of persecutors.” He is not wallowing in a past that haunts him. This is more of a general realization.

“The sign of growing perfection is the growing consciousness of imperfection.... The more you become like Christ the more you will find out your unlikeness to Him.” – Alexander Maclaren

“When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less.”  C.S. Lewis

Paul doesn't kill Christians anymore, but he is more aware than ever of his constant need for God’s mercy.  The closer a person walks with God, the more he is aware of the depths of his sinful nature, which in turn drives him to a deeper appreciation of the grace of God.

"But it is for this reason I was given mercy: by displaying His perfect patience in me, the very worst of all sinners, Jesus could show that patience to all who would believe in Him and gain eternal life." (v. 16)

Notice: the main reason Paul was given mercy was not so that he could be awesome. It was so he would have a testimony for the Kingdom of God. Christians can see in Christ's dealings with Paul the pattern which they can expect for themselves. (The word translated “who would believe” is literally “who are about to believe.”)

Any testimony that points to the saved instead of the Savior misses the point. Paul didn’t want Timothy to think about Paul; Paul wanted Timothy to think about Jesus. God saves us not because we are awesome, but because he is awesome. We give our testimony so that others gain hope: if God is patient and loving with them, God will be patient and loving with me.  No case is too hard for God. He delights in hard cases. If Paul can be saved, you can be saved.

A side note about testimonies: Paul is writing this to Timothy, who knew Paul’s story. Paul is trying to show Timothy the proper kind of humility he needs to have. I think Timothy is supposed to take up this mantra: “I, Timothy, am the chief of sinners. If anyone is in desperate need of God’s grace, it’s me.” Yet Timothy did none of the obviously bad things Paul did. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation. ALL have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. While WE were sinners, Christ died for us.

We have a tendency in Christian circles to put certain kinds of testimonies on a pedestal. I know why we do that – it is meant to find a “chief of sinners” whose life gives us hope (if God can save them, He can save me). I wonder if, at times, we kind of slip down in our chairs and think, “I will never give my testimony. I am just too ordinary…my sins are not that exciting…no one will be in awe when I am done talking.” Don’t ever think that God can’t use your life to show the glory of his patience and love. Every testimony counts as a story of how God has shown patience and love to a sinner in desperate need of salvation.

"May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever. Amen." (v.17)

Paul’s acknowledgment of who he is does not push him into a dark corner of shame and despair. It brings out worship, as if the only way we can appreciate the beauty and grace of God’s forgiveness is by continuously seeing the ugliness of who we are without God.

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The “gospel” we hear preached in our day is a positive message that will help you achieve your full potential or feel good about yourself, succeed financially, or solve your problems.

That’s not the heart of the gospel. Biblical principles will help you in practical ways, but that’s not the good news. The Gospel is that Christ came to save sinners. If you think you’re a basically good person, you are not going to fully understand why Christ came to save you. If you think you have few faults and shortcomings, you will not understand what it means that Christ came to save you.

In Luke 7 we read a story about the connection between honest acknowledgment of who we are and deep response to Christ.  Jesus contrasts the casual and even disrespectful way that one of the Pharisees treats him and the way a local prostitute responds to him. She knew she was in desperate need of Christ and needed an ocean of forgiveness. The Pharisee thought he was tight with God and barely needed any.  What does Jesus say? “Those who are forgiven little love little. Those who have been forgiven much love much.” 

In other words, grace flows from us to the degree that we recognize the grace that has flowed into us.

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you don’t care about other people, or you lack empathy or kindness, or you feel lukewarm in your faith? If so, you may not need to work on feeling kinder or more passionate. You probably are forgetting how much you have been forgiven, how much God loves  you, how much he has given you grace when you were a mess.

You know when I love my wife the best? On the days I realize how much she puts up with from me. I melt inside. I am humbled and amazed at her love.  In fact, the more I am aware of my faults, the more it keeps me in a place of humility, gratitude, and service. On the days I forget, I am a jerk. On those days, I am better than her; I deserve her respect and admiration; I have the right to be treated as if I am awesome! And that never ends well. But if every day I am humbled by an awareness that I must be forgiven much – that in our marriage I am the worst of spouses, the chief of sinners – than I have to approach every situation from a place of gratitude and perhaps even awe at her capacity to love me.

To remember how much we have been forgiven is the surest way to fill our hearts with gratitude. Paul says, “May the King eternal, immortal, and invisible—the one and only God—now be honored and glorified forever and ever."

Look at the God he praises: eternal, not limited like us; immortal, not mortal like us; Spirit, not bound in flesh like us. In other words, only a God can save me – more specifically, only this God, revealed in Christ, can take the disaster of a man and make something beautiful.

I often hear the longing expressed that it’s hard to have a heart of worship.  A heart of worship cannot be taught. It cannot be forced or orchestrated. You can go to the biggest conference with the biggest band and the most emotional preacher and the coolest arts and have a great emotional response to all that’s going on around you. That’s an experience of a particular kind of worship, but I don’t think that’s the heart of worship.

We see hear in Paul’s letter to Timothy where the heart of worship begins: a recognition the wretched, broken life that we bring to the table – followed by an awareness of an indescribably powerful and holy God who loves us anyway, who offers us enough grace and forgiveness to cover any amount of sin and damage we have accumulated. That’s when the overflow of our hearts becomes the worship of our lives as we humbly take the grace we have been offered and pass it on to those around us.

That’s a statement about life in the Kingdom of God that is worthy of our faith and trust.

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“Unless you have been down into the depths of your own heart, and seen the evil that is there, you will not care for the redeeming Christ, nor will you grasp Him as a do those who know that there is nothing between them and ruin except God’s strong hand… Unless we feel the common evil, and estimate by the intensity of its working in ourselves how sad are its ravages in others, our kindness to others will be as half-hearted as our love to God…. Those who know the plague in their own heart, and how Christ has redeemed them, will go, with the pity of Christ in their heart, to help to redeem others.”
- Alexander Macleran

We may say, “I am a thief,” or, “I am a liar,” meaning that I have committed these sins, they weigh upon my shoulders, they are the splinters of my self-hewn cross... We say so in shame. But we do not thereby express an ultimate or God-ordained identity. Quite the contrary. We mean, “This is what I am in a disordered sense, because of what I have done, and because of the evil that I am still fearfully tempted to do.”  Or we might put it this way: “This is the fashion in which the image of God has been deformed in me, so that I am not myself, and my face, my very identity, is sludged up with sin.” - Hutchens and Esolen, “Identity Thievery,” Touchstone