The Very Natural Gospel

Jesus Healing Work – Restoring the World Back to Normal Again

In my reading and studying for our sermon series on the Gospel of Mark at Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, (You can check it out for yourself if you want: The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World) I keep coming across great quotes and ways of expressing an unavoidable theme – that the miracles of Jesus are not the suspension of the natural order, but the reversal of the unnatural order back to what should be natural wholeness, health and restoration.

Here’s one from the ESV Gospel Transformation Bible on Mark 7:31-8:26

“When Jesus heals people such as this deaf man, we tend to view these miracles in the Gospels as interruptions of the natural order. Yet given the promises of the Old Testament to restore the world to the way it was at the very beginning, miracles are not an interruption of the natural order but the restoration of the natural order. We are so used to a fallen world that sickness, disease, pain, and death seem natural. In fact, they are the interruption. Jesus’ supernatural miracles are a return to the truly natural.”

Tell me, is this how you read and understand the miracles in the Bible? If not, why not?

If this way of thinking is new to you, I’d love to know and hear what thoughts or questions you may have. Take 30 seconds, leave a comment and let’s talk about it.

Make the Most of Bible Reading for 2015

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It’s a New Year, and I’m willing to bet many of us have made it a goal (or a resolution) to read more. For those of us who call ourselves Christians, at least one of these books is probably the Bible.

This is good, and important. The great 20th century theologian, J.C. Ryle said, “‘True Christians delight to read the Scriptures, because they tell them about their beloved Savior.”

We should read the Bible to be able to know and delight in our Savior, Jesus Christ. We also need to read it to know how to live as God’s people in God’s world.

And if you’re like me, and have tried to read through the Bible, you probably have more examples of failures and frustrations than successes. Now over the years, I have read through the Bible. I have taken time to study it, on my own and at seminary. But it is still a challenge to make my way through a regular and disciplined approach to reading the Bible.

This year, I have created a system to help get myself, and our church – Christ Presbyterian Church in Mansfield, TX – along with anyone from our wider community – both online and in Mansfield, TX – to hit the New Year strong with a quick “win”.

We are reading through the entire Bible in 32 days. Think we’re crazy? Probably. But here’s what this means.

We have taken the most significant chapters and episodes throughout the Bible, and singled them out in a 32 Day Reading Plan, so that in just over one month, we can not only create the habit of regular Bible reading and meditation, but also cover the entirety of the storyline of Scripture, from beginning to end.

Below you can find the links to the resources we are using to helps us get through this goal. Once we finish, we will then look at other ways to continue the new habit of reading Scripture – whether it’s utilizing a “Read through the Bible – Old Testament and New Testament in a Year” type plan, or simple “Read the Bible Book by Book” (both available through the Bible App from Youversion).

Let me also encourage you to find some partners in your goal of reading through the Bible. Whether it’s available through your church home, or simply done with some friends, get with one or two others and share what you are reading, learning and how you are applying the Word of God in your life? If you need help with this, and you are in the area, we’d love to help you at Christ Presbyterian Church (email us at info@cpcmansfield.org).

You can also do this online, by using the hashtag #grow2015 and our @cpcmansfield address on Twitter and Facebook, and we’d love to interact with you, engaging your thoughts, insights and questions as you read with the rest of us.

Let’s read the Bible to know, see and savor our Savior, Jesus Christ, and grow in what it means to live as His people in His world, together.

For the 32 Day Bible Reading and Prayer Guide, and Questions to Ask resources, go to http://cpcmansfield.org/#/resources.

To see my example of putting the questions into practice, click https://www.evernote.com/l/AAOfENoBpAhGBZKhaHWjYyDLsDlNDg2U86c

God is a God of Stifling Freedom, or Beautiful Limitations

1“The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:15-17 ESV)

In one of the earliest chapters of the Bible, we come across this verse. What are we to make of it?

For starters, we should probably lose the notion that God is a detached, impersonal, and uncaring “being” in regards to the world. Notice that right after God created everything (Genesis 1), He makes man to “work and keep” all that He has just made. Man was given responsibility to cultivate the “garden” – the arena of all God’s creation activity.

Next, we need to see that God is not a  stuffy buzz-kill.  God gave Adam nearly unrestricted access to everything in creation. There was only one thing that was off limits. Not 10. Not a 187 point referendum on what was acceptable or unacceptable. Not a litany of voluminous pages of do’s and don’ts. One. One simple restriction.  Far from being overly panicky about rules and regulations, we see God as someone who is generous and fairly liberal in what He finds acceptable or unacceptable.

This leads us to consider why the one restriction. Many people have speculated over this for centuries. While there’s much to be said about the distinctions between the two trees in the garden (Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil), I think it’s safe to say that whatever the reasons are for the restriction, the essence of it is whether or not man will listen and heed God, or his own wisdom.

And that my friends is the essence of creation and sin. God was not interested in merely having someone do His bidding – like a robot, and automaton, or simple cog in the machinery of creation. Nor was he interested in letting all of His creation simply go and dow whatever they wanted, or felt right, or thought would be good.

God created everything, man included, for relationship. And the basis of that relationship is trust. Man was given only one restriction in the Garden to see, ultimately, would he trust in God, or himself.

And that is a beautiful and glorious limitation. Far from stifling our freedom, we are free to express ourselves and enjoy all of creation, as we trust in the God who created it and commissions us to cultivate it. In that trusting relationship, there is freedom, joy and life!

But apart from that trust, we have the world we currently live in. Where we need more laws, rules, regulations to keep everyone and everything in line; where boredom and drudgery sap our joy, and where life is exchanged for the status quo of death, destruction and dysfunction.

Which world would you rather live in? One of “stifling freedom” because we all want what we want, no matter the cost or who it affects? Or one of “beautiful limitations” based on listening, trusting and obeying the Word of God?

One of the Best Books for Understanding the Bible for only $1.99 (on Kindle)

Cover of "The Jesus Storybook Bible: Ever...

This is a reposting of a previous entry as this resource is back on the Kindle Cheap list for $1.99.  It is well worth it if you don’t already have it (Links below to Amazon product pages).

People ask me often, “What is a good book to read to better understand the Bible as a whole?”

My answer has been for the past five years, “The best single book to better understand the Bible as a whole is Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Story Book Bible.”

And you can Order it for Kindle for only $1.99 by clicking the link below (this is a steal, trust me).

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name: Sally Lloyd-Jones: Amazon.com: Kindle Store.

Hardcover edition at $10.99 (click here)

What happens when prayer requests and acceptable sins go beneath the socially recognized surface?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder what would happen in my life, and the life of those in the church, if we really believed that God knows everything about us and our sins, and still loved us enough to send His Son to die for those sins? And what if He really did love us enough after that to also send us His Spirit to be free to struggle with those sins, and gave us the gift of community to help us bear up under that struggle without having to fake, hide or pretend we’re anything other than redeemed men and women?

Saw this posing by a friend on Facebook (HT: Jeff Kerr) and thought it worth re-posting here for further discussion:

In a discussion elsewhere on the interwebs, I saw this statement. I think this gets directly to the heart of why most Christians in most contexts are afraid of confessing anything beyond “disorganization” and the like:

“I visited a Mom’s Bible study at a friend’s church years ago. When it was time for prayer requests, all the other moms said, “better time management” and “get organized”. This was met with understanding clucks and nods from the other moms. When it was my turn I said, “I yell at my kids.” I got a lecture about how wrong and damaging yelling was and how concerned the leader was that I would start “hurting my kids.” There was a moralistic lecture because there was no possibility of repentence and forgiveness.

Here’s what I’ve thought since then: Since grace is so cheap these days, our sin isn’t allowed to be very bad. That leads to confessing things like disorganization. Jesus’ blood can cover that one. But REALLY bad things? There’s no cure for them, so let’s not bring them up.”

via (5) In a discussion….