a monthly devotional journal
Issue No. 52
In this issue:
Perspective 1 - Rubbing Shoulders With the Great Unwashed
Perspective 2 - Tender-hearted God
Perspective 3 - A Mountaintop Kind of Faith
It may have been a vision. It may even have been hopeful imagination, or a trance-induced dream. It may have been something born of wearied expectation.
Whatever it may have been, in reality, it was Christ.
Galeana, Mexico is a small mountain town about 150 miles south of the Texas border. In the year 1969 a friend and I determined to spend our summer doing missionary work in Galeana, signing on with the established group in residence there.
In preparation for our mission, we purchased and renovated a rather cumbersome, retired bread truck. With paint, wood paneling, carpet, and an overstuffed easy chair we made it into a home. True to our teenage lifestyle, we also installed music, in the form of a record turntable and amplifier; while not terribly road-worthy, we knew that this sound system would be workable once the truck was ensconced in Galeana--and connected to electricity.
When summer finally arrived--and upon my graduation from high school--we set out on our journey. Upon arriving several days later, we parked the truck behind the cement block church, plugged in the stereo, and joined the team in its local ministry--which was, primarily, taking the gospel to peasants in the outlying hills and villages.
After awhile, however, I became troubled by some things that were going on. Where the year before (during an earlier visit to the area with a group from our church) I had observed in the leaders an honest love and compassion for the residents, and a tireless zeal to share with them the good news of Christ, now the group was becoming more of a business intent on its own survival, rather than the eternal survival of souls.
We, as a group, seemed to be more detached, and disinterested in those to whom we had come to minister.
Over a period of days I wrestled with what I should do about the situation. In my youth, I felt powerless to affect any change. My personal options seemed to be reduced to two: stay or leave.
When I brought my troubled misgivings to those in charge, rather than the discussion focusing on my spiritual and emotional turmoil, it focused instead on what would become of the money I had paid them.
So, while everyone else was busy in an evening preaching service, I retired into that old bread truck and spent the rest of the evening on my knees.
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. Psalm 18:6
For something more than an hour I poured my heart out to God, seeking His will in the matter. What should I do? After only a few weeks into the summer, should I pack up my things and return home? Or should I stay put and learn to live with the hypocrisy around me? Maybe I was wrong, imagining hypocrisy where none existed. What did He want me to do?
My anguish and confusion filled the inside of that bread truck like a thick, heavy cloud. My tears drenched the seat cushion of that old, overstuffed chair. The truck became a powerful prayer closet as I sought His face.
Then He showed it.
Through the haze of my uncertainty the face of God came to me in the person of Jesus Christ. It was no apparition, no ghost conjured by religious ecstasy. Neither was it the Savior in bodily form.
It was, in reality, the spirit of Christ come to comfort me in such tangible power as to seem that His presence actually filled the interior of that truck. Even then, in the throes of passionate prayer, I knew that what I was seeing through closed eyelids was really emanating from the confines of my own heart--not that my bruised heart was manufacturing this comforting image, but it was somehow releasing, in more tangible form, the spirit of Christ dwelling there.
In my moment of pain and lonely indecision, my very personal Savior came to me, and in His compassionate embrace I found peace--and the answer to my youthful uncertainty.
Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psalm 61:1-2
"His earthiness did not diminish His Deity, nor did His Deity dilute the authenticity of His unassuming personality."
Into the Word
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector's booth. "Follow me," Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Levi's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the "sinners" and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: "Why does he eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:14-17
Years ago I saw the spirit of Christ acted out in the behavior of an elderly lady.
This blessed saint was the unofficial matriarch of the church of which we were a part. She always sat near the front in every worship service, nodding sincere encouragement to whomever was leading from the platform. She was a woman of venerable dignity and great Spiritual depth.
So I was a little astonished, one Wednesday evening, to peer through the window into the Primary department only to see this rather elderly woman physically involved with a roomful of boisterous children. Instead of finding her perched majestically out of reach, directing the session with the quiet dignity that her station would permit, I found her in the thick of the fray, grabbing unruly kids, sweating from the August heat.
When Jesus was actively looking for "a few good men," he came upon a tax collector by the name of Levi. Now just imagine if one of us were painting the character and nature of Jesus; how might this episode have been played out differently?
In the first place, Levi might never have been called at all. He was a tax-collector, after all--a guild known well for its members' greed, and allegiance more to lining their own pockets than to the welfare of their fellow countrymen. Certainly there would be no room for him in that group closest to the Son of God. Surely his character was far too lacking.
But let's say that we're having a good day; we're in a generous mood, and decide to invite this treasonous reprobate to join us:
"Hello Levi. My name is Jesus. Possibly you've heard of me--the Son of Man? I'd like to offer you the chance of a lifetime: to join me in my ministry. Yes, I realize that you are worthless scum, but I've decided to take you on anyway--sort of a challenge. It would just be too easy for me pass up this opportunity to let some of my holiness rub off onto you. Get cleaned up, pack your bags, and meet the rest of us just outside town tonight. I can't wait to get out of here and back into the fresh air."
But, of course, that wouldn't be how the real Jesus would have handled the situation. In fact, the picture painted in Scripture is of a Jesus eager to be friends with Levi, to get to know him and his friends better--indeed, to spend a sociable evening with them. We can only surmise, but the impression is that Jesus rather had a good time, laughing and enjoying the company of His new-found friends: tax-gatherers and sinners.
I wonder how many at that dinner believed in Him, and made the decision to follow?
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor. 8:9
It's so easy to forget the full meaning behind having a Savior who became flesh. It's so easy to forget why the Son of God became, for a little while, like us.
Jesus--the Christ, Son of Man, Creator of the universe--wasn't afraid to get His hands dirty. Yet His earthiness did not diminish His Deity, nor did His Deity dilute the authenticity of His unassuming personality. He never ceased being God, but He translated God into a language we could understand.
The full personality of the Godhead dwells in all its component parts. God the Father is holy; Jesus the Son is holy; the Spirit is holy.
"I and the Father are one." John 10:30
Because God cannot be anything but who He is, the full complement of His attributes is shared by all three members of the Trinity.
But in His wisdom, God "sent forth His Son" so that when we needed holiness packaged in earthly form we would have Jesus. When we needed an understanding shoulder to lean on, we would have Jesus. When we feel abandoned and hopelessly confused, we would have Jesus.
Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"He thinks of Himself as a physician, just as He did in another connection in the synagogue of Nazareth. He is conscious of power to heal all soul-sickness, and therefore He goes where He is most needed. Where should a doctor be but where disease is rife? Is not his place in the hospital? Association with degraded and vicious is sin or duty, according to the purpose of it. To go down in the filth in order to wallow there is vile; to go down in order to lift others up is Christ's mission and Christ-like."
Making it Personal
Do you ever lack the confidence to approach Jesus? (Hebrews 4:16) If so, where do you think this attitude comes from?
Can you imagine Jesus sitting down to dinner and a social evening with you and your friends? Do you think your behavior or speech would be different if He were in attendance? How so?
What is it, for you, that makes Jesus your personal Savior? Put another way, what makes Jesus personal to you?
Into the Word
Imagining Jesus in a social situation, such as dinner with Levi and his friends, locate some Scripture passages that would give you some idea of how Jesus might have conducted Himself, and what His conversation might have consisted of.
"Lost in God's beautiful act of grace in sending His Son for our benefit, it is easy to overlook the fact that God also sent His Son for His benefit."
Into the Word
And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, "If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed." Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, "Who touched my clothes?" "You see the people crowding against you," his disciples answered, "and yet you can ask, 'Who touched me?'" But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Mark 5:25-34
In the caring, compassionate humility of Jesus He does not relinquish His higher self.
Three times in The Revelation, John bows (or crumples) before a supernatural being. In chapters 19 and 22, John is confronted with an angel, the appearance and deeds of which cause him to fall in worship.
Then the angel said to me, "Write: 'Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!'" And he added, "These are the true words of God." At this I fell at his feet to worship him. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers who hold to the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." Rev. 19:9-10
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, "Do not do it! I am a fellow servant with you and with your brothers the prophets and of all who keep the words of this book. Worship God!" Rev. 22:8-9But in the first chapter, John is approached by "one like a son of man." This time the supernatural being does not protest the act of submission, because this time it is Jesus who stands before the apostle.
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." Rev. 1:17-18
Jesus demonstrates for us the true nature of God: compassion perfectly balanced with holy Deity.
The woman was in desperate need of healing. For twelve long years she had suffered not only a weakened constitution from anemia, but the ineptitude of the local physicians. She probably saw this new rabbi as her last hope. The word was out: this man had the power to heal.
What kind of faith did she have? Did she believe that His power to heal actually resided in His garment--that it was the clothing itself that would heal her? Or did she simply believe that that subtle proximity to Jesus would be sufficient to stop the flow of blood?
We will never know for sure--except that when she explained herself to Jesus, her particular brand of faith met His requirements.
"Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your affliction." Mark 5:34 NASB
What tenderness He displayed. Surely, were any of us the one being pressed in on all sides by an insistent crowd, the easy inclination would have been to demonstrate a more testy response to being manhandled by a ceremonially unclean woman.
But not Jesus. Even His term of address establishes a familial connection between them. "Daughter." This story is the only place where Jesus so addresses a woman. These are the words of the Great Physician, who not only heals, but is deeply concerned for the well-being of those under His care.
Yet even in His compassion there is no false humility. His remark to the woman makes it clear that He knows she acknowledges Him as the Son of God. He accepts her act of submission and adoration because He is Lord.
Lost in God's beautiful act of grace in sending His Son for our benefit, it is easy to overlook the fact that God also sent His Son for His benefit. What better way to describe His own compassion and healing mercy than to deliver it in the person of Jesus Christ. We have no better picture of the mercy and tenderness of our most holy and righteous God than in our most personal Savior.
Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. John 17:7-8
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"A king sits with his council deliberating on high affairs of state involving the destiny of nations, when suddenly he hears the sorrowful cry of his little child who has fallen down or been frightened by a bee. He rises and runs to his relief, assuages his sorrows and relieves his fears. Is there anything unkingly here? Isn't this very natural? Does it not even elevate the monarch in your esteem? Why then do we think it dishonorable to the King of Kings, our heavenly Father, to consider the small matters of His children? It is infinitely condescending, but is it not also superlatively natural that being a Father he should act as such?"
Making it Personal
Do you sometimes think of God the Father as somehow too stern or utterly holy to have intimate, loving feelings for you? Do you sometimes think that that relationship with you was assigned to Jesus alone?
Write down some of the finer attributes of your earthly father.
In John 16:27 Jesus says,
"For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father." (NASB)
Spend time this month meditating on God the Father. Take each of the attributes you noted above for your earthly father and apply them to your heavenly Father.
Into the Word
Survey both the Old and New Testaments and draw up two lists of references: one showing Christ's deity, one showing His humanity.
"On the side of the mountain is the 180 degree view, but from the top, the view is twice as wide."
Into the Word
A man in the crowd answered, "Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not." "O unbelieving generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me." So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy's father, "How long has he been like this?""From childhood," he answered. "It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us." " 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes." Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. "You deaf and mute spirit," he said, "I command you, come out of him and never enter him again." The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, "He's dead." But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. Mark 9:17-27
Have you ever noticed how much better the view is from the top of the mountain?
There are many mountains and tall hills in the forests and deserts of the Southwest, and I've climbed a few. On solitary photographic treks I've clambered up the sides of many a rough and tumbled slope, grasping for purchase upon sun-baked stone or sliding sand.
No matter the locale or terrain, every slope always came with a standard set of decisions to be made--and the one most pressing would always be, "How high should I go?"
Considering that I am something less than a superior example of the male physical potential, this decision would present itself with alarming regularity. Every twenty feet or so would come the need to sit awhile and consider my options.
Resting atop a convenient rock after shucking my load of camera gear, sipping something wet and cool, I would contemplate the remarkable beauty of the panoramic view that lay before me. A wide 180 degree view would be spread before me, much more than I had seen from the ground--or even from my last resting stop. And I would always consider the option of stopping where I was, of climbing no higher.
But (almost) always I would press on toward the higher reward. For you see, on the side of the mountain is the 180 degree view, but from the top, just a little higher, the view is twice as wide. On the mountaintop one can pivot in a complete, 360 degree circle, taking in the complete view, as far as the eye can see.
"Patience is a virtue," the saying goes, and Jesus was the most virtuous man who ever lived.
Just back from His own mountaintop experience, Jesus was suddenly faced with disciples with insufficient faith to cast out the demon in the son of a man who also had insufficient faith.
The boy was foaming at the mouth--and if anyone of us had been in the sandals of Jesus, we would have been foaming too. Isn't it always the case; when we've just been to the mountaintop and descend rejoicing, there's always something or someone to give us a real belly-drop.
"O unbelieving generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him to me!" Mark 9:19 NASB
Then Jesus asked the man how long his son had been in this condition. Now, have you ever said something really stupid to someone from whom you were about to ask a favor?
"But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" Mark 9:22b NASB
If I didn't know Jesus better, I'd say maybe He was foaming at the mouth by this point.
"'If you can!' All things are possible to him who believes." Mark 9:23 NASB
In the disciples and the man with the demon-possessed son we have people who have decided to stop midway up the mountain. They've decided, at least for the moment, to settle for the pleasant 180 degree view, instead of pressing on for the breathtaking 360 degree view.
Here we clearly have the lesson to not settle for a faith that is second-best. But look further. We also have the lesson of a patient and gracious Savior who understands the weakness of man.
Was He disappointed in the poor performance of His disciples and the timid faith of the man? Most certainly. Did He reject them because of it? Certainly not.
Sir Thomas More was called "a man for all seasons." I think the title more accurately refers to the Son of Man: Jesus Christ, always there for us, in season and out; Jesus--our very personal Savior.
Digging Deeper--Moving Higher
"Here, then, we have our Lord telling us that faith is omnipotent. That is a bold word; He puts no limitations; 'all things are possible.' The power of faith is the consequence of the power of God. All things are possible to Him; therefore, all things are possible to me, believing in Him. If we translate that into more abstract words, it just comes to the principle that the power of faith consists in its taking hold of the power of God. It is omnipotent because it knits us to Omnipotence. Faith is nothing in itself, but it is that which attaches us to God, and then His power flows into us." 
Making it Personal
How does your relationship with Jesus change when you move from the side of the mountain to the top?
How much of your faith in God depends on what He does for you on a daily basis?
"Are you faithful to Jesus or faithful to your ideas about Him? Are you faithful to what He says, or are you trying to compromise His words with thoughts that never came from Him? 'Whatever He says to you, do it.'" (John 2:5) 
Into the Word
Create your own 'roster of faith' from the people in Scripture. Begin with those found in Hebrews 11; but then go out and find your own.
Issue No. 52
[1.] "Matthew" in Matthew 9:9. (return to footnote 1)
[2.] Galatians 4:4. (return to footnote 2)
[3.] J. Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918). (return to footnote 3)
[4.] Alexander Maclaren, in his Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984), Vol 8, p71. (return to footnote 4)
[5.] cf. Matthew 9:22 and Luke 8:48. (return to footnote 5)
[6.] "The word translated 'healed' (NIV) [and 'made you well' (NASB)] is sesoken ('saved'). Here both physical healing and theological salvation are in mind. In Mark's Gospel the two go closely together (cf. 2:1-12)." , Walter W. Wessell in The Expositor's Bible Commentary (Zondervan, 1984), Frank E. Gabelein, General Editor, p662. (return to footnote 6)
[7.] Jean s. Pigott (19th Century). (return to footnote 7)
[8.] Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Quotable Spurgeon (Shaw, 1990), p6. (return to footnote 8)
[9.] The Transfiguration, Mark 9:2-13. (return to footnote 9)
[10.] Will L. Thompson (1847-1909). (return to footnote 10)
[11.] Alexander Maclaren, in his Expositions of Holy Scripture (Baker, 1984). (return to footnote 11)
[12.] Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest (Discovery House, 1992). (return to footnote 12)
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