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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Touching the Untouchable

Here is the outline for my sermon on Mark 1:40-45, where Jesus heals the leper.

God is able, but is he willing? (40)

  • Leprosy was more than a disease. It was a sentence.
  • Without presumption (If you are willing) and without doubting (you can make me clean), the leper humbly begged Jesus to heal him.

Compassion moves us to scandalous actions (41-42)

  • Moved by compassion, Jesus touched the untouchable. His response was no less scandalous than the leper’s request was audacious.
  • The healing was instantaneous, complete, and visible.

Cleansing + Obedience = Convincing Proof (43-44)

  • Jesus charged the man to keep silent.
  • Jesus told the man to follow the instructions of the law. Only then would he be allowed back into society.

“I can’t stop talking about Jesus” (45)

  • Instead of staying silent, the man spoke of his healing everywhere.
  • As a result of the man’s testimony, Jesus was inundated with people. Though he withdrew to remote places, people kept coming.

Because Christ touched us, we should tell others about him.

 

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Bible Study, Preaching, Scripture

 

A Leper’s Life

This Sunday, I will be using the following story as an introduction to a sermon on Mark 1:40-45. It is a dramatic retelling of the account of how Jesus cleansed a leper. It was written by Ron Peters and found in a sermon entitled, “God Touches,” by Rick Stacy. Powerful story!

There are two days that will forever stand out in my life, though they are completely opposite each other. The first day I will never forget was the day I woke up and found a small, white spot on the back of my hand. I had never had such a spot on my hand before, though I knew what it meant. I did my best to hide it, to prevent my wife and son from seeing it.

But in a few days, the single spot became several spots. I couldn’t hide it from my wife anymore. The pain in her eyes as the realization dawned on her was more than I could bear. My son was still too young to know what was going on, though he sensed the mounting tension in our family. We all did our best to carry on as though nothing was wrong, until one day when my son was helping me sharpen the sheep shears. He was playing nearby, when I heard him let out a cry. I turned to see a look of horror on his face as he looked at my hand which was holding the sharpening stone. At first I thought he was looking at the spots, but then I felt something drip onto my sandal. I looked down to see a pool of red. I had sliced my hand with the shears, and blood flowed from the deep cut. But it was not the wound that made my heart freeze with fear; it was the realization that I hadn’t noticed the cut – the realization that the leprosy had left my hand completely numb. I looked again at my son, whose face was now splattered with tears as he ran to get me a bandage for my hand. As I wrapped the wound, my heart ached at the thought that this would be the last memory my boy would ever have of his father.

That night, my wife and I discussed what to do. The course of action was the obvious – I was to present myself to the temple priests for inspection; but we both knew they would only confirm what we were already certain of. After that, I would be forced to leave the town where I grew up, the friends and family I knew and loved, and sped the rest of my life surrounded only by those suffering the same affliction.

The next morning, I made ready for the journey. For the last time, I embraced my wife. For the last time, I clutched my son, holding him up with my good arm, looking into his face and desperately choking back tears as we said good-bye. He didn’t know I would never be coming back, didn’t know that he could never see me again, and that if he did, he might not recognize me. I studied his face carefully, noting every freckle and dimple, burning them into my memory. Then I put him down, hugged my wife one last time, and walked out the door.

As the priests sent me away, their words echoed over and over in my ears. “Unclean! Unclean!” they cried as they covered their faces and turned their backs to me. And so it began – the isolation, the loneliness, the craving for companionship that was just beyond my reach. “Unclean, unclean!” I was forced to shout if anyone passed by. And so it was. The days turned to weeks, and the weeks to years, every day calling out “unclean, unclean” lest someone should come too close, lest they should be touched with my disease. With each passing day, my affliction spread over my body, forcing me deeper and deeper into exile.

And then, after the years of seclusion, the years of yearning to once again be in the company of those I knew and loved, there came another day I shall never forget.

I awoke that day to the sound of a crowd of people passing nearby. Fearing retribution for being too near, I quickly retreated a safe distance away, but I was intrigued by what might be going on. Staying hidden, I watched as the vast throng moved slowly along. Their attention seemed to be centered on a Man who was speaking to them. As I heard the words He spoke, something long silent stirred within me. I had heard of One whom people were saying was the Messiah, One who could perform miracles. I had even heard He had cured ten men of leprosy, though at the time, it seemed impossible. Not since the days of the prophet Elisha had such a miracle been performed. And yet as I stood there, outcast as I was, and listened to the words He spoke, I became more and more certain that this was more than a mere man, and indeed, more even than a prophet. And the stirring in me grew stronger with each moment, until I suddenly felt myself being drawn to Him, my feeble legs carrying my decaying body closer and closer to His presence.

As I approached, the people scattered in terror. In my eagerness to reach Him, I had not called out the warning, and now the crowds were clamoring over one another to escape coming into contact with me. Some stood between me and my Lord, shouted at me to leave. But He turned and looked at me, and in His eyes I saw a power and a compassion that I could not resist. Weak from the strain and excitement, I fell at His feet, and cried out to Him, “Lord, if you are willing, I know you can make me clean.” At that moment, my strength gave way, and I collapsed on the ground, trembling for what might happen next.

And then I felt the strangest thing. Not strange because it was new, but strange because it was all too familiar, something I had ached for but was certain I would never again experience. I felt His hand upon my shoulder. It was the first human touch I had felt since I embraced my wife and child for the last time years earlier.

He let His hand rest there, and I heard the words, “I will; you are made clean.” From that touch poured healing that brought new life to my whole body. Feeling returned to my fingers and toes, and the scales and spots that had riddled my skin disappeared. I stood up, and felt new strength flow through my body. I was healed! No longer would I have to warn others away; no longer would my days be filled with loneliness, sorrow and longing. Once again I could embrace my wife; once again I could hug my son. With one touch, the touch I had been craving for years, He brought life back to me. With one touch, He gave me a reason to live again.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2011 in Bible Study, Preaching, Scripture

 

The 78-Minute Summer

Scott Sistek, staff meteorologist of KOMO News in Seattle wrote a blog post, “Seattle: Home of the 78-minute summer.” Based on the statistic that a true, warm summer day is when the temperature reaches 80 degrees or better, Seattle has enjoyed 78 minutes of summer in 2011. Now, that’s just sad!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in News stories, Seattle

 

Restless Soul Syndrome

I’ve heard of Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), the neurological disorder where there is the urge or need to move the legs to relieve unpleasant sensations. I wonder if there is a corresponding condition that affects one’s life. If so, I think it has afflicted my soul. I have felt restless for the past few months. While I see, or rather feel, the symptoms, I don’t know how to interpret the diagnosis or prescribe treatment.

Is God preparing me for a change? Am I entering a new season of life? Is this a time of core cleansing? Is God refining my character and/or my motives? Do I need a vacation? A long-term project to work on? A goal to pursue? A class to teach? A ministry trip to prepare for? A new challenge?

My list of questions keeps growing, though I have yet to find the corresponding answers. I do know that I am not content. I want to know God better. I want more of his power. I want to see more fruit in my life, character, and ministry. I want to make more of an impact.

How do I make sense of what I am feeling? That’s one more question for the list. I do know, however, that the answer will come through seeking God.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV)

May God help me find my rest in him.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Character, Personal growth, Scripture

 

Magical education at a bargain price

Centives, the blog of the Economics department at LeHigh University has calculated the cost of magical education in England. Their blog post, “How much does it cost to go to Hogwarts?” estimates the cost of Harry Potter’s first year at the school.

It makes my children’s college tuition at Biola University and Gordon College look like a bargain.

Very fun article.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2011 in Books, Fun, News stories

 

Rethinking the Church – 2

In the introduction to their book, The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church For the Community, authors Eric Swanson and Rick Rusaw propose changing the question we ask about the purpose of the church.

Most churches, blatantly or subtly, have an unspoken objective–“How can we be the ‘best church in our community?'”–and they staff, budget, and plan accordingly. How a church answers that question determines its entire approach to its members, staff, prayers, finances, time, technology, and facilities. Becoming an externally focused church is not about becoming the best church in the community. The externally focused church asks, “How can we be the best church for our community?” That one little preposition changes everything.

On the one hand, I agree that we must change how we think about the church. For too long, the church has maintained a fortress mentality, a circle the wagons and fight off the enemy approach. As a result, we have become inward focused and marginalized. So yes, we must change and become more outward focused.

On the other hand, switching to an external focus alone will still keep the church out of balance, albeit in a different direction. I believe that Scripture calls us to keep three priorities in balance–Upwards to Exalt the King; Inwards to Equip his servants; and Outward to Expand his kingdom. All three are important and must be kept in tension.

That being said, I know I can certainly use some ideas to strengthen the external dimension of my church.

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Books, Church, Quotes

 

Rethinking the Church

In his foreword to The Externally Focused Quest: Becoming the Best Church For the Community, author and strategist Alan Hirsch arrested my thinking with several statements about the church.

If your church is in decline, it is probably because you are organizationally designed for it. Don’t complain . . . redesign! And you need to redesign along the lines that Jesus intended. You see, the church that Jesus built is designed for growth–and massive, highly transformative, growth at that. It was Jesus who said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Hang on! It says that the gates of hell don’t prevail against us! It is the Church that is on the advance here, not hell! Contrary to many of the images of church as some sort of defensive fortress under the terrible, relentless, onslaughts of hell, the Church that Jesus built is designed to be an advancing, untamed and untamable, revolutionary force created to transform the world. And make no mistake: there is in Jesus’ words here a real sense of inevitability about the eventual triumph of the gospel. If we are not somehow part of this, then there is something wrong in the prevailing designs, and they must change.

He later adds,

The attractional church is about getting the community into the church. The missional, externally focused church is about getting the church into the community. Incarnational ministry, at its heart, is taking church to people by helping believers live out their calling among people who do not yet believe and follow Jesus.

Now that the book has my attention, I wonder what the authors will say.

 
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Posted by on July 17, 2011 in Books, Church, Quotes