Saturday, February 18, 2017

Desperation and Faith

This morning I’m considering the story in Luke 8 about the woman who had the debilitating problem of a chronic flow of blood that had lasted twelve years. Luke’s text tells us that she had seen every physician she could find, had spent literally all her money on the search for a medical solution, and had come up empty, both financially and physically.

Somehow, this woman hears that Jesus is in town. The gossip had spread, the word had gotten around that He was a healer, maybe the Messiah, and that amazing things seemed to happen whenever He showed up. So, she decided to go and see if she could encounter Him, and what might occur if she did.

This is where the story gets interesting to me. What kinds of emotions and thought processes were at work in this woman? Twelve years of unrelenting physical difficulty, weakness due to blood loss, despair due to economic impact, embarrassment at being in public with such a malady – all of these factors play into her decision to try to see Jesus. In a word, her situation was one of desperation. She had run out of options, and He was her one remaining hope.

It was under those circumstances that faith rose up in her heart, although I doubt that it felt like faith. My guess is that it felt more like the ragged despair of an “I’ll try just one more thing” reality, and that any feelings of confidence and positivity were off in the distance somewhere.

Her desperation caused her to force her way through the crowd, getting just close enough to touch the tassels attached to the hem of Jesus’ garment. Perhaps her thought was that if Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of Righteousness might indeed have healing in His “wings,” the picture Malachi painted so many years before as he spoke of the One the nation was looking for.

It worked. She touched His robe, power flowed out, and Jesus noticed. He turned to find her, and listened as she told the story of her desperate attempt to encounter Him. Jesus then declared that it was her faith that healed her, and she could now be cheerful, for her issue was resolved.

Desperate faith. Faith that will not be denied because there are no other options. Maybe – if we want greater faith – we’ll need to realize that the other options aren’t working that well, allow hunger and thirst for the Kingdom of God to grow, and approach Him with the desperation that He calls “faith.” Maybe then we’ll see what we say we want.

Gary Wiens

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Boldness of Standing in the Truth

This morning I’m gazing at the account in Luke 4 in which Jesus, in front of His hometown folks, read the prophecy of Isaiah 61 and applied it to Himself, declaring that on that day the prophecy was fulfilled. I read that passage from the perspective of 2000 years of history, a theological conviction that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, and that He absolutely spoke the truth in that moment. No problem, right?

What is harder to get hold of is that in that moment, Jesus was saying these things as a man filled with and led by the Holy Spirit, in the context of people who didn’t believe Him because they knew Him from childhood, one of the kids from the neighborhood, the son of Joe and Mary (and conceived illegitimately, too!). His boldness and confidence in saying what He said had to be rooted in something deeper than the opinions of the people around Him. Jesus had to know the voice of His true Father, the God of Heaven and earth, and He had to define Himself by that voice and no other. Only then could He make bold statements about Himself that appear to be fantastically egotistical, unless they are true.

Here’s the point for you and me: what are we saying about ourselves and our relationship to the purposes of God in our lives, the reasons for which we are filled with and anointed by the Holy Spirit? Who are you, and who am I, in God’s opinion? If we are going to stand in bold truth, and accomplish that for which we have been called and saved, we need to be settled in what God says, and not trying to find our identity and destiny in the opinions of others.

Paul the apostle said it in Philippians 3: “I want to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus laid hold of me!” In other words, Paul wanted to find out what was in God’s mind when He conceived of his life. What was the story God was writing that would be played out on the earth through the life of Paul? That was Paul’s goal, to fully discover the truth that enabled him to live boldly in the face of contrary opinion and opposition throughout his life.

Here’s the challenge – let us go before God in the confidence provided by Jesus’ finished work on our behalf, and hear what He has to say concerning us, you and me. Let us eliminate any other opinion from our self-definition that does not agree with what God says. And then, let us dare to stand boldly and declare, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, and He has anointed me to …” Then, fill in the blanks concerning what God has given you to do, and, standing boldly in that truth, go do your assignment in the grace and power of His presence upon you.

Monday, February 6, 2017

She Did What She Could

I’m meditating this morning on the story in Mark 14:3-9 in which a woman ignores all the social conventions of the day and anoints Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Several things in this story touch my heart today.

First, the woman is not named. She is simply someone who loved Jesus, and valued Him above anyone’s opinion, or above the reality of her own material needs. Nothing was more important to her than loving and honoring Jesus, regardless of the cost or any negative implications concerning her. I find that I’m considerably less ardent in the expressions of my love for Him, and way too concerned about things that really don’t matter, like the imagined opinions of people I may not even know.

Second, this was a costly act. The perfume poured out was worth a year’s wages, a lot of money especially for a minimum-wage laborer. That sort of emotionally motivated expression of love is offensive to the mind, because it explodes the concept of common sense. Our minds recoil and our hearts shudder when someone is so effusive in expressing love to such a degree that our own lack of love is exposed. We struggle to find reasons to argue with the over-done outpouring, such as “she should have given it to the poor.” These arguments likely are nothing more than a cover-up for hearts that are too small.

The third thing is that Jesus is probably the only one in the room who knows this woman, and is in touch with what motivates her. To Him, she’s not just a profligate street walker with no sense of appropriate boundaries. To Jesus, this woman is someone motivated by the Spirit of God to anoint Him in preparation for His death and burial. Jesus’ declaration of blessing over her assures that, even nameless, she will be remembered forever.

I want a bigger heart. The one I have now is too small to pour out love like that, without concern for the consequences. If the most important commandment is to love Him with everything I am and have, then my prayer must be this: “Oh, Holy Spirit, carve out more space in my heart! Open my eyes wider to the beauty of this Man, and let the fragrance of my love fill the room. If that means I look foolish, so be it, for You alone are worthy of such a pouring out.”

Gary Wiens

Friday, January 27, 2017

Making First Things First

So many options! The reality of endless options faces most of us as believers on a daily basis, and the satisfaction, success and joy that we hope to experience is ultimately tied to the choices we make among the options that are before us. We carry the world in our hands through WiFi connectivity, instantly and constantly available to anyone, able to buy anything or see anything or hear anything we want to at the touch of a finger. We call it freedom of choice, but does it actually lead us to freedom?

Jesus, on the other hand, invites us to another choice, a narrower way – the option to seek success and joy on His terms. In Matthew 5:6, He uses the word “righteousness” to articulate the access point to satisfaction, success and joy from His perspective, the perspective of God’s Kingdom.

“Righteousness” is a difficult word, because it has come to mean a restricted, religiously narrow, and (by implication) boring view of life. For me, as a kid growing up in a religious home, “righteousness” simply meant not doing bad things, avoiding most activities that seemed fun or exciting, and it carried a connotation of restriction and boredom. Not a very inviting concept!

But I believe “righteousness” has gotten a very unfortunate and wrong reputation, because when we begin to examine the term from a Biblical basis, our perception changes to one that makes the pursuit of righteousness the most obvious and worthy pursuit imaginable. Let’s look at a couple of things:

In Psalm 45, which is a prophetic passage fulfilled in the person of Jesus, we’re told that the King, Jesus, loves righteousness and hates wickedness, and is therefore anointed with the oil of gladness above all His brothers. Get this: the love of righteousness is attached to the greatest possible joy!

In Matthew 5:16, Jesus says that hungering and thirsting after righteousness leads to ultimate satisfaction, the fulfillment of every human desire! In other words, focusing the most basic of human needs – hunger and thirst – on the pursuit of righteousness leads to complete satisfaction that cannot be found anywhere else, even if we keep trying (just ask Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones about that!).

One of Jesus’ most notable followers, a guy names Paul who wrote the Biblical letter to the Roman church, defined God’s Kingdom as “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Once again, the highest human desires – peace and joy – are associated with righteousness.

So, the question is, what is righteousness? Well, I believe it is the reality of being conformed to the way God designed each of us in the perfection of His plan. We’re told in Psalm 139 that each of us were “knit together in our mother’s womb” by the hand of God, and that His work concerning us is “marvelous”!

In other words, righteousness is much more than boring “good behavior.” It is the degree to which we come into alignment with how we were designed, agreeing with and pursuing God’s pattern for our lives which was formed in His mind before He created anything! There is no other identity or destiny for us than the one He has planned, and the choice to search for that reality is the most important choice we can make in the vast array of options that face us every day.

In order to know joy and peace, we must choose to make the first things our first priority. We’re told in Psalm 25:14 and in Isaiah 45:3 that there are secret things hidden in the heart of God concerning us, and that if we seek after Him, He will tell us the deepest truths about who we are and why we exist. Jesus said in Luke 10:42 that only one thing is necessary, and that is to sit at His feet and listen to what He says.

Jesus alone has words of life, and we will never find the fulfillment of our desires if we put secondary things ahead of listening to Him. He will speak to us about ourselves, our relationships, our purpose, our destiny, and how we can come into agreement and alignment with His wondrous design for our lives that is the only way to experience ultimate joy and peace.

The pursuit of righteousness through loving God and listening to Him is the most important choice we can make, today, tomorrow, and every day following. Go there, and be blessed!

Gary Wiens

Monday, January 16, 2017

A Template for a Miraculous Lifestyle

The focus of my morning meditation today was on two closely-related events in the life of Jesus and the disciples, recorded in Mark 8 and in Matthew 14. As the Gospel writers report these two startling situations, we can gain understanding of the invitation that Jesus gives each of us to live in the miraculous flow of His life.

I want to suggest three components that make up a template for a miraculous lifestyle which, though revealed in these two stories, typify what Jesus imparted to His disciples, and what the Holy Spirit desires to impart to us today. These components are: close proximity to Jesus, hearing a word or command from Jesus, and obedience to that word or command. Let’s look at each component in turn.

The disciples, first of all, were in close proximity to Jesus. He had invited them to follow Him, to be with Him, and to accept the yoke of friendship and discipleship that He offered them. I’m reminded of an encounter that my wife Marie had with Jesus in a night vision some years ago. In the vision, she was with Jesus, and He spoke these words to her: “Stay close to Me, and I will give you the desires of your heart.”

What Jesus wants from us is not first of all some religious performance. Rather, He desires close relationship, friendship with Him through the Holy Spirit. This simply means spending time with Him, listening to His voice, receiving the strength that comes through His words of life. Two of the individuals in the New Testament who model this place of intimate friendship for us are John the Baptist and Mary of Bethany.

John’s statement in John 3:29 is powerful: “The friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice.” Mary has a similar style – in Luke 10:39 we find her sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to His teaching. Being in close proximity, standing and listening, focusing our attention on what Jesus is saying is essential in developing a miraculous lifestyle.

The second essential component is to hear when Jesus speaks a word of command or permission. His own testimony was that He lived in constant response to the Father’s voice, saying and doing only that which the Father was saying and doing. In Mark 8 and Matthew 14, Jesus first tells the disciples to feed the hungry multitude, and then, in response to Peter’s request, tells Peter to come out of the boat and walk on the water! The miraculous deeds that follow are in response to the directive and permissive words spoken by Jesus.

We’re told in Psalm 45 that grace is poured out on the lips of the King. Part of the reality of grace is the enabling power to do what He says to do. When we have a word from Jesus, faith arises in our hearts (Romans 10:17), and the power and authority to do what He says is included in the word that He speaks. If we don’t have a word of command or of permission, the miracle is not likely to happen.

The third essential component is obedience. There is an essential connection in the New Testament between hearing and obeying. Faith, which comes by hearing, is only alive and powerful when accompanied by obedience. Otherwise, it’s just a dead thing that affects nothing.

So, the conclusion is simple: if we want to live a lifestyle characterized by the miraculous, these three components must be in place – close proximity (intimate friendship) with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, hearing His voice and discerning the command or the permission to act, and then actually obeying in the moment. When His word comes, the power is there – we just need to get out of the boat and do what He says.

I want to live like that! I’ll wager that you do to – so, go for it!

Blessings, Gary Wiens

Friday, January 6, 2017

Living In The Flow of the Holy Spirit

We are hearing much these days from the prophetic voices in the Body of Christ about living in the flow of God’s river of life, and I believe this is absolutely a right and good perspective. In fact, it has been Jesus’ desire for us literally forever, one that He articulated clearly in John 7:38 – “Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”

This theme of the flowing river as a metaphor for the Spirit-filled life is found throughout Scripture in places such as Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17, Ezekiel 47, and Revelation 22. It’s a beautiful picture, and one that moves our hearts with anticipation to see that never-ending stream of God’s life flow into us and through us as His people.

Here’s the practical reality of it for you and me as we seek to live in that flowing dynamic: This life is absolutely rooted and grounded in an ongoing, fresh relationship of intimacy with Jesus through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. The flow of living water in and through us is not a doctrine, it is a reality of intimate friendship with Jesus, a day-by-day encounter with Him that fills us to overflowing, again and again and again.

Jesus lived this way. He did what He did and said what He said because He was in a constant, dynamic relationship of intimacy with His Father through the presence of the Holy Spirit in Him. He lived in the reality of Isaiah 50:4, where the prophet speaks of Him:

The Lord God has given Me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning He awakens; He awakens my ear to hear as those who are being taught.

Do you see the constant, daily dynamic of the life of the Spirit? First of all, the Spirit-filled believer is a listener, a receiver of something from God. Jesus said in John 8:28 that everything He said was from hearing the Father say it, and in John 5:19-20 that everything He did was from watching the Father do it!! Secondly, the voice of the Father to Jesus was filled with instruction in how to strengthen the weary ones around Him – a collaborative effort between Father and Son to speak life in every situation. Third, this was a day-by-day reality to Jesus, morning by morning being having His human spirit awakened by the Holy Spirit in intimate, fresh communion for the encounters that the day would bring. This is how Jesus lived the Spirit-filled life, how He experienced “the river of life” flowing into Him and through Him for those around Him.

Everything is rooted and grounded in this reality. We are designed to live from the place of encounter with Jesus. Our positional standing means little if we do not have the listening ear of the ones being taught. How does this happen? It’s really very simple: sit at the feet of Jesus and listen. It’s the one necessary thing for which Jesus praised Mary of Bethany and instructed us in Luke 10:38-42. Everything flows from intimacy. The River is simply a life of intimate friendship with Jesus by the Holy Spirit, listening to the Father’s voice, and then following His instructions for the day ahead.

Do you want to live in the dynamic of the river of life? Then do the main and plain thing of cultivating intimacy with Jesus – being with Him, listening to His voice in the Scripture, listening to the Holy Spirit as He whispers to you through the day, and following His direction as He leads you to the weary ones that you encounter as you go.

Listen up! And be blessed.
Gary Wiens

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Relationship of God's Beauty and Laws

This morning as I’ve been meditating on Psalms 96-98, I’m struck by the connection between the recognition of God’s awesome beauty and majesty, and the realization that His judgments and the justice that He brings are absolutely right! It’s made clear in several places in the Scriptures, where the writer is overwhelmed by the beauty of God, and suddenly comes to the conclusion that the God who would create such beauty and order in the universe can be trusted to judge rightly and bring true justice and righteousness to all the created order.

Take, for example, Psalm 19. David is rejoicing in his observation of the beauty of the created heavens – they declare the glory of God, the wonder and majesty of His ways, and how the message of God’s power and eminence are shouted through the ages by creation itself! David is seemingly awestruck by the sunrise, and suddenly realizes the testimony of the Bridegroom God’s passion is revealed every morning to anyone who will consider it!

Then, with no transition, he goes into a declaration of the perfection of God’s laws, how His Word is perfect and brings everything else into restoration and order. It’s as though he sees that just as God has made the created order perfect in beauty, so His Word would bring beauty and order to all of life. Any God who would be so perfect in His ordering of the creation can be trusted to bring order to human existence through His Word.

The same thing happens in a human example in 1 Kings 10. The Queen of Sheba comes to visit King Solomon because she has heard of his fame and wisdom. There is no doubt that she has a measure of glory in her own right, but when she sees Solomon’s situation, she is dumbfounded. She marvels at the beauty of Solomon’s courts, the majesty of his servants’ attire, and comes to the conclusion that he is qualified to “execute justice and righteousness.”

Here’s the point – the beauty of God expressed in His created order, and revealed to us in the place of worship and adoration, convinces our hearts that He is qualified to establish the order of things, that His order is absolutely right and good, and that His process of justice – bringing all things into conformity to His order – is absolutely right and good. The result? All creation rejoices when the judgments of God are released in the earth.

The application for us is this: before we try to argue for the laws of God to be established in the lives of those around us, let us first be captivated and filled with wonder at His beauty and grace. Then, those around us will see the reflection of that glory in us, see the wisdom of God’s order in our lives, and be stirred in their hearts to embrace His ways for themselves. God created us to be captured by beauty. When we are, we come to see that His laws make perfect sense.

Gary Wiens