How Did the Disciple Obey?

For most of my Christian life, which encompasses all of my life except the first fifteen years, I have obsessed over the things I didn’t do. There are times I didn’t obey God, at least by my standards. I would have saved myself some wasted days devoted to depression if I had measured myself by Jesus’ standard.

Three words leaped off the page in Jesus’ prayer before he died. Not the prayer at Gethsemane when he asked God if there was another way to save humanity. The one he prayed after he told his disciples they would abandon him. Those three life changing words were “they have obeyed your word” (John 17:6).

What gave Jesus the audacity to tell his father that his disciples obeyed! His disciples quarreled with one another and forbid children from approaching the savior of humanity. They tried to silence blind Bartimaeus lest he disturb the healer. They failed to heal the son of a desperate father. James and John jockeyed for the number two spot in God’s kingdom causing the rest of the disciples to be indignant. They gloried in the power to command spirits instead of glorying in God’s love for them. They wanted to destroy an entire city by calling fire down from heaven. None of them had a clue Jesus would die a tragic death even though he told them how he would die more than once.

These are the same disciples Jesus knew would abandon him when he suffered. Jesus knew Peter would deny him. He also knew they would forsake their calling and return to their fishing boats. Yet, Jesus said, “they have obeyed your word.”

Jesus told us in his prayer what gave him the audacity to say his disciples obeyed.

I have passed on to them the message you gave me. They accepted it and know that I came from you, and they believe you sent me.  (John 17:8, NLT) 

They accepted the things Jesus taught and believed God sent him. Using Jesus’ standard of what it means to obey I have obeyed as well. Have you?

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A Subtle Suggestion

We were visiting a church in another city when my son announced that he wanted to return that evening for the youth meeting. He is a young adult more than youth but the topic, music, interested him. We returned thinking there would be a discussion. Instead, the youth minister played a DVD. My son immediately wanted to leave. I vetoed his request. We should have left.

The entertaining minister on the DVD told an interesting story. He started his message with King David, the man after God’s own heart. David’s music drove away evil spirits from the wayward King Saul. Since music could drive evil spirits out Craig reasoned music could drive them in.

Skepticism immediately surfaced. A person can invite an evil spirit into his life. Disobedience may open the door for an evil spirit to come in. But I had my doubts God left us so helpless that listening to music would deposit evil spirits into our lives without our consent.

Craig’s story became dramatic. A well-known musician and friend of Craig’s decided to leave the music industry. The musician’s devils, 42 of them, were not willing to release him. The musician’s wife made a 911 phone call to Craig’s house pleading for help. He reluctantly drove to his friend’s house to cast the devils out.

Craig successfully cast out 41 devils in the name of Jesus. The last devil proved stubborn. Apparently, Jesus’ name was not enough to conquer this devil. Craig asked the Holy Spirit what to do. Allegedly, the Holy Spirit told Craig that this devil was played in and would have to be played out. Craig, also a musician, ordered someone to play music. The wife played a song Craig had written and recorded. You guessed it. The song he wrote had more power than the name of Jesus.

This powerful story of deliverance awed some people in the church. I wasn’t among them. I didn’t understand why the name of Jesus failed to cast out devil #42 when God gave Jesus “the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth . . . (Philippians 2:9-11, NIV)

I seriously doubt Craig meant to suggest that his music contained more power than Jesus’ name, but that is exactly what he did. These kinds of messages undermine our confidence in a loving God and instill fear. Wouldn’t it be better to fill us with the knowledge of God?

I’ve seen more than one minister with a crusade regarding a specific subject fall by the wayside. One minister built his ministry around saving marriages. For twenty years, his conferences proved helpful at salvaging many a shipwrecked relationship. Apparently, he didn’t follow his own advice. Divorce ended his marriage and ministry.

Another minister focused his ministry on preserving the messages and biographies of famous preachers. He believed clergy could learn how to have a successful ministry studying the success and failures of these men and women. He was wrong. His homosexual affair ended his ministry.

“Pray one hour a day” reverberated throughout Christendom in the 1980s. The man who lead this crusade had proof. He prayed one hour a day and became the pastor of a large church that sprang up practically overnight. Was his church a beautiful flower in God’s garden or a weed uprooted when his church fell apart practically overnight?

Okay. Enough examples! I’ll leave you with a question.

When will Christians learn that it’s not what goes in us that defiles us but what comes out of our mouths?

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An Education in Human Behavior

A decision to leave a writer’s group I had attended for five years gave me an education in human behavior. I owe a debt of gratitude to the man who started the meeting. My writing improved dramatically during my time with them.

The first meeting I attended comprised three members. I wrote non-fiction. They wrote fiction. They made an exception. I wrote about God. The Lutheran did not mind. The pagan was not pleased but tolerated me. Even though the leader intended the group to consist of one genre, he decided the purpose of the meeting was to encourage the craft of writing and swung the door open for all genres.

We met weekly to refine our craft. The rules were sparse. A common goal of helping one another held us together. “Suck it up” became the golden rule. When the members commented on our work, we could not reply until we had been sliced, diced and roasted. Was it difficult to remain quiet while people pointed out every detrimental item in your writing? Yes, indeed, but it worked wonderfully.

Everyone’s writing improved except our leader who rarely submitted work for a critique.  He seemed content to sit among us as a shepherd who provided a place for the flock to graze as we found our own way. If he was late, or didn’t appear at all, we started without him. We were adults, not children who needed someone to hold our hand.

Over the years, writers came and writers left. Some left in wonderment we did not perceive their genius. Some left in anger when we suggested their writing needed improvement. Others left upon the realization they would not be an overnight success depositing a million dollar royalty check in the morning.

We developed into a core group of writers who rarely missed a meeting.  Our writing steadily improved until some among us were paid for our finely crafted work. We rejoiced and high-fived the proud authors. The playwright among us won a competition. We attended the sold-out opening night when a local playhouse produced her play.

We were happy until strangers appeared desiring what we had. Fear invaded the group.  No longer were we reviewing one to three members work per meeting. We had to wait weeks for a critique, and then we had to wait months. Grumbling rumbled through the group.

“This group is too big,” said one of the members. “Something needs to be done,” affirmed another member. “Patience,” I cried. “Nothing happens fast in publishing, so what does it matter if we have to wait.” Some scowled in disgust. We discussed new rules but the submissions that came in like a flood subsided and the group breathed a sigh of relief.

Our relief was short-lived. The bookstore that nurtured us blessed us with advertising. More strangers arrived wanting what we had, but the group no longer wanted to share. If we share, we have to wait. Our needs required instant gratification. None of us had a publishing deadline or even contest deadline, but we had a rule. If someone had a deadline, his or her work would move to the top of the list.

“Why can’t we welcome these strangers and wait if we must,” I inquired.

“These new people will destroy our group,” someone huffed.

Our leader shed his shepherd clothes and crowned himself sovereign king. He extended his scepter and decreed that the strangers must prove their worth first. They must wait for weeks and then we will read their writing to see if they are worthy to sit among us.

I don’t think the minority within the writing group realized what they did. They saw the strangers as loss. I saw them as gain. What did we have to fear – new ideas, fresh perspectives, more talented writers giving helpful critiques? Unfortunately, the minority had the power to determine which path the group would take.

Instead of encouraging writers new writers, we nitpicked about the rules. The strangers did not destroy us. The rules did. I knew from many years of Bible study that the letter of the law kills; the Spirit gives life. But my opposition to the influx of unnecessary rules fell on deaf ears. I didn’t want to quarrel with people who had become my friends, so I moved on hoping to recapture what I once had. A group of writers with a common goal of encouraging one another.

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Just What You’re Looking For

When my baby started college a car became a necessity. The last thing he needed was unending car repairs sucking up his limited funds, and I wanted the impossible – a new car at a used car price. God is able to do the impossible, but I don’t expect him to do the unreasonable. I prayed he would lead us to a reliable car that fit our budget with less than 30,000 miles thinking that is the closest we would get to a new car.

Before we left the house, my husband called from work and said he wanted Tim to look for a new car. I didn’t think he could afford a note for a new car, but dutifully drove onto the new car lot. Tim test drove a car and wanted to discuss the price with the salesman. I reluctantly consented. He had saved a substantial down payment, and I was present to guide him, not choose the car.

When the salesman assured us a $200 a month car note, Tim was ready to buy. The note was reasonable, but I reminded my eager son, “You have to pay insurance too.” The salesman smelling a sell offered to call our insurance for a quote. He dialed the number and turned on the speakerphone. The secretary recorded the information and then informed us we could not get a quote today but someone would call us tomorrow.

The salesman looked up from doodling on a piece of paper in shock. “We call this agent all the time. I’ve never had that happen.”

At this point, I took over the negotiations. “My son won’t commit to a car until we know how much the insurance will cost.” Feeling the sale slipping through his fingers, he spun the phone around and quickly dialed the national office of the insurance company.

“How may I help you,” said the secretary.

“I’d like an insurance quote,” I said.

A voice squawked over the speakerphone, “You’ll have to contact your agent for a quote.”

My son and I patiently waited another forty minutes while the frustrated salesman labored in vain to find someone who would give us an insurance quote. I finally thanked the salesman for his efforts, and we left the dealership.

“Don’t worry,” I told my son. “Our agent will call tomorrow with a quote, and we’ll come back if it’s affordable.” He nodded in agreement.

This time I pulled onto a used car lot. “What do you have for about $10,000, I asked the salesman. He led us to a car with 44,000 miles on the speedometer. “Do you have anything with less mileage?”

He looked thoughtful for a moment. “I think I have just what you’re looking for.” He made us comfortable in his office, and then left. The wall was covered with awards for best salesman. Next to the awards were photo’s of him with a former mayor of New Orleans and a famous boxer.  I was reading a prayer tacked on his wall when he returned with a key in his hand.

“We just got this car in and haven’t cleaned it up yet,” he warned, “but it’s has 15,000 miles.”

Tim took the car for a test drive and liked it as much as the new car. “How much?” I asked the salesman. He led us back to his office. I sighed. Why couldn’t he quote a price while we stood outside?

He jotted numbers on a sales order and then handed the paper to me. When I saw the bottom line, I tried to keep my jaw from hitting the floor – $9,995 including tax, title and license. The price and mileage exceeded our expectations.

Tim had saved $8,000 to buy a car. I could put the balance on my credit card, and he would have the car paid in full before he attended his first college class. I studied the figures again and concluded this offer was too good to be true. There must be something wrong with the car.

“May I see a Carfax report,” I inquired.

A few moments later, the salesman returned with the report: one owner, personal use and then sold in an auction to the present dealer. Carfax guaranteed no problems with the title, no reported mechanical issues or accidents and no recalls listed.
The salesman left his office while I called my husband. We decided Tim could buy this car if he so desired. I motioned for the salesman to return and Tim proudly announced, “Sold.”

The salesman smiled and said, “Before I left for work this morning, I asked God who I could help today.”

His comment reminded me of my prayer for guidance. “I believe he just answered your prayer,” I said, “and mine.”

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God Did

The Children’s Bread 12/12

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know…(Acts 2:22, KJV, emphasis added)

In Acts Chapter 2, Peter is speaking to people perplexed by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. He quoted from Joel to prove God’s promise to pour out his Spirit on all flesh had been fulfilled. Then he makes an amazing statement. Jesus did not do the miracles, wonders, and signs that marked his ministry. GOD DID. God did the miracles to confirm that Jesus taught them the truth.

Our faith does not control nor dictate the miraculous power of God because the intent of miracles is to confirm the truth. Have you ever noticed volumes of teaching on how to “get a miracle” yields few and questionable miracles. I’ve known more than one person who believed God healed them of cancer. I’ve also attended their funeral when the cancer returned and nothing could be done to save them. The truth is the cancer went into remission. God never healed them.

If we shut our eyes and ears to the truth, we will never see true miracles, because we will never correct our doctrine. We don’t need someone to teach us how to get a miracle. If we worship God in Spirit and in truth, God will work with us performing the miracles people need.

Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works” (John 14:10, NKJ).

If God’s sinless son refused to speak his own words, we should follow his example.

Heavenly Father, Please forgive your ministers for spreading error about you and send laborers who speak your words that you might visit us with the miracles we need.  Amen

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A Healing Cloth

The Children’s Bread 11/12

God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Acts 19:11-12

Trying to reproduce something that happened in a different time, place and culture is a bad idea. Many years ago, I received a letter from a famous evangelist with a small piece of cloth. The letter instructed me to lay the cloth on my body to receive healing. The cloth was a point of contact to help me release my faith and receive from God. The letter concluded with an appeal to send an offering so the evangelist could send more miracle working pieces of cloth. Need I say more? Money is a caution sign that manipulation is involved.

The reason God used prayer cloths had a purpose that had nothing to do with money. The people of Ephesus believed in many gods and faithfully worshipped them. In their religious practices they used curious arts of magic. Barnes Notes state “That such arts were practiced at Ephesus is well known. The Ephesian letters, by which incantations and charms were supposed to be produced, were much celebrated. They seem to have consisted of certain combinations of letters or words, which, by  being pronounced with certain intonations of voice were believed to be effective in expelling diseases, or evil spirits; or which, by being written on parchment and worn, were suppose to ….guard from evil spirits…”

The Ephesians believed touching a parchment or cloth that had been prayed over had power to cure diseases and guard against evil spirits. Whether or not the Ephesian religious practices worked is debatable. Not debatable, they were accustomed to this practice.

God comes to us on a level we can understand and receive him and then lifts us higher. The Ephesians who touched the prayer cloth were healed.  And by the end of the revival, many Ephesians admitted their religious practices were evil and burned the books that taught them to practice sorcery.

LOG ON NEXT WEEK FOR THE CONCLUSION OF THE CHILDRENS BREAD: PART 12 GOD DID

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The Word of the Lord

The Children’s Bread 10/12

 “Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus.  This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord….. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,  so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them. Acts 19:9-12

When the leaders of the Ephesian synagogue slandered Paul’s message that Jesus is the way, he moved to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. All of Asia heard the word of the Lord, not the word of the synagogue’s leaders, not the word of Paul, not the word of the apostles, but the WORD OF THE LORD. Hearing the word of the Lord purged from human additions is another key element to God working miracles among us.

We must not only come out from among people in the church who refuse to believe, we must teach God’s thoughts and ideas. The leaders of the synagogue who refused to accept accurate doctrine and continued teaching their own ideas excluded themselves and those who believed them from the miracles of healing and deliverance that exploded in Tyrannus’s lecture hall.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven to take his place at God’s right hand, he said signs would follow those who believe the truth. Healing and deliverance from devils are two of those signs.

Mark concluded his gospel:

“Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” Mark 16:20, emphasis added

When we speak God’s thoughts and ideas, he works with us to confirm we have spoken the truth. Paul sought to establish his disciples “not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).

In Paul’s list of the gifts of the Spirit we find “to another gifts of healings by the same spirit, to another the working of miracles….(1 Corinthians 12:9-10). If the people in a congregation are plagued with sickness and act like devils, examine the doctrine. Is it full of human wisdom or is it full of wisdom the Lord can confirm?

LOG ON NEXT WEEK FOR PART 11: A HEALING CLOTH

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