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Divine opponent, Divine friend

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Joseph Prince brought out some great insights in his devotional today. It was about the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought Jesus’ help for her demonized daughter. This passage can be hard to understand, and many skeptics have used it to paint Jesus as uncaring and even racist, or at the least, temperamental. For anyone who really knows the Gospels, those charges are impossible, but they have been used to sow doubt in those unfamiliar with the Savior’s character.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

The Prince piece started me conjecturing what was really going on. First, he pointed out that the woman, though a Gentile, approached Jesus using his Davidic messianic title, Son of David. Why did she do this? Desperate for her daughter, she sought to incur Jesus’ favor by pretending to be a Jew herself, or at least by showing that she knew and respected the Jewish religion.

But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

And what did trying to massage Jesus get her? Silence! Hmmm. The woman gets persistent (just as Jesus teaches us to be), but now the disciples want to get rid of her! From the woman’s perspective, things are going downhill, fast.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Finally Jesus answers. But how does He answer? He further stonewalls the woman. This is the story’s crisis point. Everything the woman had planned to do had now been done, to no effect. Out of ammo, the woman was either going to have to give up on her miracle or do something unplanned and desperate.

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

Remember, the Jews would have nothing to do with these Gentiles, yet still the woman dares to cast herself before Jesus. It’s no longer the “Son of David” appellation from afar. It’s now “Lord”, in an intimate voice, up close and personal.

And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus stills opposes the woman, but Prince points out that the Greek word used for dogs here signifies a little dog – we would call it a puppy. Though His words still say “no”, the tone of Jesus voice expresses tenderness toward the woman. She sees a ray of hope and is encouraged.

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  – Matt 15:21-28

All the while Jesus seemed to be uncaring, and even adversarial, He was masterfully drawing the woman out of herself and towards himself. He wasn’t satisfied with distant, impersonal worship, and He certainly wasn’t impressed with religious titles or knowledge.

He pressed the woman to reveal her true self, not out of callousness, but so that she could enter into intimate relationship with her Savior. His actions were borne of love, not disdain. All the while that He seemed uncaring, He wanted her to take up the challenge and overcome the obstacles, and He was delighted when she did so.

As always, Jesus was in perfect control of the situation at all times, and He perfectly engineered the conversation so that the woman – His seeming adversary – not only could gain the blessing for her daughter, she could be forever changed in the process!

There is no one like our matchless Jesus, and there never can be. We can take an important lesson from this. Whenever the Bible presents a difficult passage, adopt the view that there is an explanation even if we don’t know it at this time. God is still in the business of drawing people out, to prove what’s in their hearts and to draw them close to Him.

And whatever our need in life, even when Jesus seems to be silent, even when He seems to be adversarial, He’s really on our side advocating for us the whole time. Never doubt the kind intentions of the Savior. Press in and receive the blessing!

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Overcoming Faith

December 17, 2009 5 comments

Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, – Heb 12:1

Now chastening for the present does not seem to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are exercised by it.

Because of this, straighten up the hands which hang down and the enfeebled knees.

And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed. – Heb 12:11-13

I love stories of overcomers. They tell me that I too can overcome the challenges of my own life.

I once was installing deer fencing on an estate. The path of the fence took us to a small swampy area hidden in a woods. It turns out that trees are like us – if things are hand-fed to them, they take the easy way out. With all the water around, the trees in the swamp didn’t bother to put down deep roots. But roots do more than just draw water, they anchor trees to the ground. Thus, a great windstorm had come and had been able to fell one of the shallow-rooted trees. It lay there just above the water, its dead root system exposed to the air, seemingly a monument to the imprudence that caused its demise.

But on further observation, I was amazed to see that the fallen tree actually had responded creatively to the crisis that should have been its death-blow. The downed trunk had sent out innumerable suckers into the water, forming a new root system. One limb had adjusted itself to point heavenward, and had taken on the role of being the tree’s new trunk. And whereas the fallen tree had been only some nine inches in diameter, this new trunk already dwarfed it at 12 inches in width, and it showed no inclination of stopping its growth.

The tree’s new sucker-roots extended in all directions and now formed a strong matrix over forty feet long and fifteen feet wide, going down into the water and then the earth. It is doubtful that the tree would ever again be defeated by the wind’s destructive power. It had overcome its bad fortune and previous flaw, and out of disaster had secured for itself a future and a hope. Read more…

Forgiveness v. reconcilliation II

December 11, 2009 Leave a comment

Via HotAir.com, here’s an update on the Jenny Sanford story. She just announced she is divorcing her adulterous husband. In Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation, I used her example to illustrate the critical Biblical difference between these two concepts. While we must forgive, reconciliation depends on repentance.

Sanford’s statement today, and the video interview, illustrates grace and class once again. She tried repeatedly to reconcile – true reconciliation does not violate moral principles. She delayed going public with the divorce news so that it wouldn’t influence the impeachment proceedings active against her husband. She admits the pain she experienced, but she draws a line between being a victim and rooting her identity in victimhood, the latter being satan’s enfeebling trap (see Jeremiah’s Complaint). Root your identity in God, and life’s blows will not keep you down.

“Life is pain, princess; anyone who says differently is trying to sell you something”. That nugget is from the classic The Princess Bride. While it is true that we should expect pain, we have the option to respond to life’s challenges and overcome with truth and grace. When we do, we are free. God is glorified in and through us, His purposes for us are restored and we know the joy of His presence. And once our attitudes are out of the way, if any wrong was done to us, God is more free to work repentance into the wrongdoer (Job 42.7; Mat 16.19).

Jenny’s statement and video follow.

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Forgiveness vs reconciliation

July 3, 2009 13 comments

I came across this this morning. You may be aware that South Carolina’s governor had been playing the bad boy and was found out. His wife just came out with a public statement, and despite the pain and anger she must be going through, it is refreshingly morally clear.

She’s definitely not a doormat. And she doesn’t seem to be the “I’ll stand by my man because it’s good career calculus” type (I’ll refrain from citing an example…).

Its abundantly clear that she first of all has a God perspective. And she has a handle on a very significant distinction that so many don’t get: forgiveness is not reconciliation.

Forgiveness in mandatory, because we are neither competent nor called to judge the secrets of men’s hearts in this life. But reconciliation is conditioned on repentance and the willingness to work at rebuilding trust, upon which sincere relationship is built.

God rightly demands that we forgive others if we want to remain in His good graces. Otherwise, we set ourselves up as God, judging others. But He also warns us against casting pearls before swine. In other words, be free of judgment and bitterness, but be careful whom you trust. God cares about His temple, which is us, and He wants it protected from  defilement.

The only way to accomplish this is to separate forgiveness from reconciliation. Those who fail to do so run a dual risk. They can either withhold forgiveness because they fear the inappropriate reconciliation they think it will necessarily lead to, or they go ahead with the forgiveness and reconciliation. In the first case they harbor unforgiveness, and in the second they become unequally yoked in an abusive relationship. Either of these lead to spiritual disaster.

But if we forgive from the heart and then judge reconciliation as a separate issue, we keep our hearts free from both bad internal and external influences. And that is the very “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” kind of wisdom the Lord has enjoined us to practice.

Ms. Sanford sounds like a Proverbs 31 woman to me, with godly integrity. Kudos. Here’s her statement:
Read more…