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Do You Believe?

Written by Dawn Rutan

In his book Life in Christ: Lessons from Our Lord’s Miracles and Parables, Charles Spurgeon has a chapter on Jesus’ encounter with the blind men in Matthew 9. When the men cry out for mercy, Jesus asks them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” Spurgeon writes,

“Faith is pointless if you only believe in the Lord’s power over others but declare that you have no confidence in him for yourself. You must believe that he is able to do whatever concerns you; or you are, for all practical purposes, an unbeliever… Each man is accountable for himself. You must be willing to be honest with yourself. Jesus asks each one, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’”

It seems that many Christians tend to trust God for salvation, but then assume that everything else is their own responsibility. I’ve been convicted by this question myself. As I prayed about a particular issue and wondered why God hasn’t intervened as I wish, I found myself confronted by the Word—“Do you really believe that I, the Lord and Creator of the universe, am perfectly capable of dealing with this problem in your life?” After thinking about it, my honest answer is, “I know I should believe that and I want to believe that. Lord, help my unbelief!”

An added challenge to our faith is that God’s answers don’t always look the way we think they should. Rather than leveling the path ahead, He walks with us through the valleys and over the mountains. Rather than removing a difficulty, He uses it to make us depend more on Him.

Spurgeon makes this comment, but I’m not sure I fully agree with him:

“You will wonder where the burden has gone and look around and find that it has vanished, because you have looked to the Crucified One and trusted all your sins to him. The bad habits you’ve been trying to conquer, which have forged fresh chains to bind you, will fall off you like spiders’ webs. If you can trust Jesus to break them and surrender yourself to him to be renewed by him, it will be done and done immediately.”

Sometimes the chains don’t seem to fall away—so is that due to lack of faith, failure to pray, or is there some other lesson to be learned? I do believe that surrender to Christ and seeking His aid is a daily, hourly, and sometimes even moment by moment need. We have an adversary who loves to trip us up. Spurgeon says of our enemy:

“[Satan] has spent thousands of years perfecting his skill to make Christians doubt their faith in Christ, and he understands it well. Never answer him. Refer him to the one who speaks for you. Tell him you have an Advocate on high who will answer him… The best evidence a man can have that he is saved is that he still clings to Christ.”

So when the darkness lingers, when the valley seems too long or the mountain too steep, when the briers start to choke or the chains don’t fall off, cling to Christ. Remember His presence, provision, and protection. Remind yourself that He is able to do all things well (Mark 7:37), and every good and perfect gift comes from Him (James 1:17). Rest in Him.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21 ESV).

 

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

Risky Prayers

Written by Dawn Rutan

I woke up rather early this morning, and since returning to sleep seemed unlikely, I was praying about various things. After a while I found myself using phrases that I don’t normally use because they seem too risky. It is far easier to pray safe, benign prayers. Here is part of my prayer:

Lord, Creator, Sustainer… You raise up kingdoms and nations and You bring them down. You raise up those kingdoms that will glorify You, and You bring down those that don’t. And it’s not just the big kingdoms, but all the smaller “kingdoms” of our denominations, churches, homes, workplaces, hobbies… We build our own Towers of Babel for our own glory and satisfaction. But anything that doesn’t glorify You is an idol that must be torn down. Do what You desire with these things. We don’t want to stand in Your way. We don’t want to hold on to programs or traditions or habits or even the praise of man. While we don’t like to see the end of anything that appears good or beneficial, we want Your will more. It is Your name, Your kingdom, and Your will that matter, not ours.

I repeat, this is not my usual way of praying, and I’m sure I’m not alone. It almost seems crazy to give God free rein to do what He wants, but then again, He is God and is going to do so anyway. Surely it is better to admit to ourselves and to Him that we don’t know what is best, that we have mixed motives, and that we are not the ones in control of this world or our own lives. If we truly thought about the words of the Lord’s Prayer and its implications, we might be more reluctant to pray it frequently. It is no comfortable prayer.

Another risky prayer I encountered this week was Psalm 51. “Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean… Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (7, 10 ESV). If we’re honest, do we really want God to take away our bad habits, favorite sins, and wrong desires? There have certainly been periods of my life when all I really wanted from God was for Him to remove my guilt but not the desire to sin. “Clean up the outside, but leave my heart alone.” C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:

“I think that many of us, when Christ has enabled us to overcome one or two sins that were an obvious nuisance, are inclined to feel that we are now good enough. He has done all we wanted Him to do, and we should be obliged if He would now leave us alone… But this is the fatal mistake. Of course we never wanted, and never asked, to be made into the sort of creatures He is going to make us into. But the question is not what we intended ourselves to be, but what He intended us to be when He made us” (174-75).

It gets a little dangerous and uncomfortable when you start praying the words of Scripture. It is easy to pray “bless them,” “be with them,” “protect them,” but those phrases are almost meaningless in the way we tend to use them. Do we dare to pray things like:

  • With my whole heart I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! –Psalm 119:10
  • Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in Your ways. –Psalm 119:36-37
  • Reprove and discipline me according to Your love. –Revelation 3:19
  • Show Your greatness and Your holiness and make Yourself known. –Ezekiel 38:23
  • Lord, look upon their threats and grant to Your servants to continue to speak Your word with boldness. –Acts 4:29
  • We pray to God that you may not do wrong… Your restoration is what we pray for. –2 Corinthians 13:7, 9
  • Open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to the power of God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith. –Acts 26:18

If we want to see God at work in our lives and in the lives of those we love, let’s stop praying comfortable prayers. I yearn for God to be glorified in my life through the visible evidence of His grace and mercy in justification and sanctification. I don’t want to settle for comfortable Christianity.

“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of His calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by His power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” -2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

 

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

True Family

Written by Dawn Rutan

I’m writing this at Appalachian Family Camp. As I was thinking about why I enjoy Family Camp, the first thing that came to mind was the opportunity to spend time with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Though none of my biological family attend camp, I am not alone there. I had a similar feeling at the recent Triennial Convention. There is a unique sense of unity and fellowship among believers in Christ.

I wonder sometimes whether the local church has lost sight of the family-hood we have in Christ. I wonder if your church is like this—after the service ends on Sunday there are a few minutes of conversation in the sanctuary or foyer, but before long each family gets into their own vehicle and goes home and they don’t see each other again until the next church-sponsored event. Aside from a few limited exceptions, there is not much effort made to reach out beyond the boundaries of the family units. Parents get so tied up with their family responsibilities that they forget that there are those who have no family around. The busyness of daily life overshadows the eternal reality of our relationships in Christ.

In the creation of the man and woman, God gave them the commission to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28 ESV). Throughout the Old Testament, family units were really important. In the Exodus each of the tribes had a specific place to camp each time they set up the Tabernacle. If a woman lost her husband, there were provisions for her to be integrated into his brother’s family in order to carry on the family name. Boaz is the classic example of the kinsman redeemer in the book of Ruth.

But when Jesus came, a new type of family came into being. The first glimpse we get is when Jesus is twelve years old and stays behind in Jerusalem. At Mary’s question, “Son, why have you treated us so?” Jesus answered, “Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:48-49). He wasn’t dissing His mother, but was pointing to a higher reality.

After He started His ministry, His family came looking for Him. His response was, “Who is My mother, and who are My brothers? …Here are My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother” (Matt. 12:48-50). Jesus prioritized spiritual family over biological family, yet the church today seems to have done the opposite. Church programs tend to be geared toward families, perhaps with the intention of keeping whole families involved in the church. But the end result is that individuals are not connected to the church outside of their immediate family. And when they leave home they also leave the church.

Our culture is increasingly mobile, and individuals often don’t stay in one community for a lifetime as they once did. Unfortunately many churches have not caught up with this trend. When a new person or family comes to church, they can have a hard time really connecting with others. I’ve been at my church 20 years now, but I still often feel like the new kid on the block. Other folks have come and gone because they felt like they didn’t belong.

It is hard to change a long-standing church culture, and I don’t know what all the solutions are. I think it begins with frequent reminders that spiritual family is eternal, while biological family is temporary. Then we can build on the eternal foundation by reminding one another that we are responsible for building each other up in the faith (1 Thess. 5:11), caring for one another (1 Cor. 12:25), bearing one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), encouraging one another (Heb. 10:25), and stirring one another to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24). Until we accept that responsibility and begin to live it out day by day, we won’t truly begin to experience what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ.

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

What Do You Want Me to Do for You? | Matthew 20:29-34

Guest speaker Rev. Ron Thomas

I came across three different sources that state there are between 200 – 300 questions Jesus asked as revealed in the Scriptures. Some may be repeated, but still, the number is impressive. They are at times probing, searching, convicting, revealing, enlightening, inviting and assuring. As many of the Lord’s questions were directed to those who called out to him or chose to follow him, or more specifically his disciples, I believe they are worth asking again and for us to respond if Jesus were asking us some of those same questions.

The question Jesus asked of two men who called out to him from their world of despair and darkness is the focus of our study.

Matthew 20:29-34

29And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. 30And behold, there were two blind men sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was passing by, they cried out, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 31The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” 32And stopping, Jesus called them and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” 33They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” 34And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

This event in the life of Jesus occurs about fifteen miles outside of Jerusalem, only a couple of days before he enters the city where he would be arrested, tried, crucified and buried. The pilgrimage had begun, as every male Jew over the age of twelve was required by the law to attend Passover. One of the main roads traveled to Jerusalem ran through the center of Jericho. William Barclay describes in his commentary the scene.

It was clearly impossible that such a law should be fulfilled and that everyone should go. Those who were unable to go were in the habit of lining the streets of towns and villages through which groups of Passover pilgrims must pass to bid them godspeed on their way. So then the streets of Jericho would be lined with people… Jericho was also the home many of priests and Levites, living there awaiting their rotation to serve in the Temple in Jerusalem. Very many of these priests and Levites resided in Jericho when they were not on actual temple duty.”

According to our text, Jesus had attracted a crowd. Remember he has been recognized by the masses as one who taught with authority. Again, Barclay writes:

“When a distinguished Rabbi or teacher was on such a journey it was the custom that he was surrounded by a crowd of people, disciples and learners, who listened to him as he discoursed while he walked. That was one of the commonest ways of teaching.”

Two blind men were siting at the side of the road where they would be begging for their very livelihood, and what an opportune time with so many people traveling through their home town! Possibly through the conversation among those traveling with Jesus, or by their own curiosity, they learn that it is Jesus who is passing by. It is then they shout out; “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!”

Immediately, they were rebuked by the crowd with Jesus telling them to be quiet. The desire to silence them could have been for different reasons.

  • Those who were listening to the teachings of the traveling Rabbi would have certainly considered the shouts from anyone were distractions and making it difficult to hear the teacher.
  • There would be those who considered the journey of paramount importance and to call a halt to the procession only delayed the anticipated arrival at the Holy City, Jerusalem.
  • There were also those in the crowd, or along side the road who represented the priestly duties of the Temple, men who were not all that enamored with this popular, itinerant preacher. Their dislike for Jesus would have only been agitated by the titles of respect and reverence the two beggars proclaimed: “Lord and Son of David.” They needed to be silenced, so that others would not be encouraged to bestow any such titles upon Him.

How these men had learned the truth of whom Jesus is we can only guess. Their faith in Jesus must have come by hearing. In the Gospel of Matthew, there are four other accounts to Jesus healing the blind, prior to this encounter. Or, like Peter, great confession, could their proclamation have been the prompting or inward illumination by the Holy Spirit?

Regardless of the objections and rebukes, the men “cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” At this point, Jesus must have already passed by the two men, for we read that he stopped and then called to them. The parallel accounts in Mark and Luke show that there was the invitation by Jesus for the men to be brought to him. The question is then asked:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

If Jesus were to ask you this question, what would be your answer? Life’s circumstances will often determine what we would ask of Jesus. For these to men, it was the deep desire to be able to see. The confines of blindness deprived them not only of sight, but also a livelihood. Their existence was totally dependent upon the compassion of others. Their physical infirmity was their sentence to poverty, to a life lived outside the acceptance of others. They had good reason to call on the One they believed could free them from their hopeless station in life. Their plea was for something much greater that the ability to see. It was a request of the Lord to give them a new life.

Jesus, by his very question was probing deeply into the hearts of these men. They wanted more than just the coinage that might be deposited in their laps as the crowd walked by. They want much more than a handout for the day. They called out to Jesus, the Son of David, the One to set the captive free. They wanted to experience life like they had never experienced it before.

And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him.

The elements of prayer are revealed in petition of the two blind beggars:

  1. They acknowledged the lordship of Jesus, the Son of David, savior of God’s people, the One who gives sight to the blind and sets the captive to free.
  2. It is with humility that they called out to Him; “Have mercy on us.”
  3. Even as they are put off by the crowd, they were not to be discouraged. William Barclay: It often happens that we are easily discouraged from seeking the presence of God. It is the man who will not be kept from Christ who in the end finds him. Pulpit Commentary: Faith resists opposition and triumphs over all impediments.
  4. Theirs was an imperfect faith, but they acted upon it. These two blind men had an imperfect faith but they were determined to act on the faith they had. It was as Son of David that they addressed Jesus. That meant that they did believe him to be the Messiah, but it also meant that they were thinking of Messiahship in terms of kingly and of earthly power. It was an imperfect faith but they acted on it; and Jesus accepted it.
  5. These two blind men were grateful. When they had received their sight, when they saw the very face of Jesus, they did not go away and forget; they followed Jesus. Hopefully, we don’t forget what Jesus has done for us and our prayers keep us close to him.

So, Jesus asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?” How are you going to respond?

Standing Firm

Written by Dawn Rutan

Lately I’ve been thinking about Truth; not just facts but Scriptural truth as taught and personified in Jesus Christ. Jesus prayed for His followers, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17 ESV). Biblical truth matters for all who call themselves Christians, and yet there are so many ways in which Christians fail to cling to the truths of Scripture out of fear, conformity, or ignorance.

In today’s news, Lifeway will probably stop carrying Eugene Peterson’s books because of his recent comments that he doesn’t think homosexuality is wrong: “…it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.” For someone who considers himself a theologian and a Bible translator to make such a statement is baffling. [Update- Peterson has since retracted his statements.] Yet there are many who agree with him for one reason or another. When those who proclaim to be Christians can’t even agree on what the Bible actually says, our witness in the world is greatly hindered.

Ed Shaw, a person who experiences same-sex attraction, wrote in Same-Sex Attraction and the Church:

“We have a plausibility issue: what the Bible clearly teaches sounds unreasonable to many of us today. And so it is (not unreasonably!) being rejected all over the place. A few high-profile leaders in our churches have already broken ranks…” (21).

“But what helped me was that, back then [the 1990s], embracing a homosexual lifestyle was clearly a no-go area for an evangelical Christian like me… The parameters set out for me were crystal clear—celibacy and a daily battle to avoid even a hint of sexual immorality in what I thought or did (Ephesians 5:3)… And although I found the consequences of that clarity immensely hard, the lack of ambiguity was incredibly helpful. It made the choice I’d taken seem plausible” (25-26).

Whether we’re talking about homosexuality, marriage, the sacraments, the nature of God, the structure of the church, or any other matter addressed in Scripture, we should be clear about what the Bible says and how it should inform our beliefs and actions. Then from the solid ground of Scripture we should have no fear in stating our beliefs.

It seems to me that fear is a driving force behind a lot of people who are bending to cultural norms. I understand that we don’t want to cut off opportunities for ministry and sharing the Gospel, but I think that we are presuming too much about our own ability to convert people. Only the Holy Spirit can bring someone to repentance and faith, not any human effort. Trying to sugarcoat Scripture is not sharing the Gospel. If a clear statement of the truth of Scripture causes someone to pull away, then it is still in God’s hands to soften their heart. If the seeds we are trying to plant are not grounded in Scripture, then they shouldn’t be bearing fruit anyway, and I don’t think God will allow them to bear fruit if it compromises His Word or His sovereignty and glory.

Jesus came as the embodied Word of God (John 1:1-14), and because of the Spirit’s work in the early believers we have the written Word as our foundation for faith and practice. The Word matters because it is the Truth of God. If we choose to abandon the truths of Scripture we might as well stop calling ourselves Christians, because it is not Jesus Christ we are representing but ourselves. Jesus repeatedly stated the importance of abiding in the Word:

  • “If you abide in My word, you are truly My disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32).
  • “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples… If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:7-8, 10).
  • “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul reiterates the fact that only God can open the eyes of the blind. Our responsibility is to be true to the Word of God:

“But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (4:2-5).

May we not be tempted to tamper with the Word, but “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

 

© 2017 Dawn Rutan. The views stated may or may not reflect the beliefs of the pastor or leadership of Dulin’s Grove Church.

Let’s Pray Together

This post is for my fellow Dulin’s Grovers. I wanted to share some things I’ve been praying through, and ask you to pray with me.

We’re cruising through those tough summer months as a church when so many (including me!) are traveling. Several of our House to House groups have taken a break, and Sunday attendance is low. This happens every year, but there’s more going on among us than just the “summer slump.”

  • We’re contending with the increasing challenges and limitations of aging, leaving some isolated and lonely.
  • We’re failing to engage some among our younger generation–those in their 20’s and 30’s–in the life and ministry of the church.
  • Some are suffering in a variety of ways (familial, emotional, physical, financial, etc.).
  • Some are falling out of fellowship with the church, and possibly with Christ.
  • Some are straining under the stresses of modern American life, which leave little time and energy for devotion to our shared life in Christ, and our shared mission to reach the world with the gospel.

Of course, there are more good things going on among us than bad, and there are other issues not included in the list above, but these things have been especially on my mind lately, and I wanted to share them with you. And please don’t get me wrong. I’m not discouraged by all this. This is what church life looks like. We’ll always have various struggles and issues to pray through together. These are the opportunities for us to depend on God together.

Speaking of which, I came across a couple of sermons I wrote four years ago that seem timely: Jesus Will Build His Church and Church Devotion. I’d encourage you to read them sometime. The bottom line: “The Christ, the Son of the Living God is working on building up his chosen people. Look to him. Rest in him. Let him do his work in your heart and among his people. Jesus will build his church.”

God is awesome, and he is up to awesome things among us and through us. In Christ, we have every reason to rejoice and be at peace. But there’s also good work to be done together, even during the summer slump. “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). So let’s renew our devotion to:

  1. Trusting and following Jesus together (encouraging one another in the faith, and helping one another live by Jesus’ teachings)
  2. Loving God and people together (worshiping God together, and combining our efforts to help people in need)
  3. Sharing the gospel and building up disciples together (spreading the good news in daily life every chance we get, meeting with younger believers to encourage them in their walk with Christ)

More specifically, let’s…

  • Visit, call, or send a card to our home-bound brothers and sisters, and those who are ill and unable to come to church gatherings.
  • Connect with someone who is disconnected to the life of the church over dinner or a cup of coffee.
  • Check on those whom you know are going through hard times.
  • Check on those whom you know have fallen out of fellowship.
  • Encourage someone who is stressed out with a bit of grace and truth.

In Christ,

Matt

Ashlyn Wilson Summer Ministry Update

Hey Everyone!,

Matt asked me to write like a blog kinda thing every so often and I totally forgot, sorry. This experience has been the best thing ever! Flying over here when I was getting water on the plane and pulled the tray down a New Testament bible fell and that was my sign that God was with me that day and the rest of the summer. Like he said in Joshua 1:9 “I am with you where ever you go”. The past 3 weeks have been fantastic. My team is hilarious. The family camp that we were at was so welcoming. It felt like I have been going to Camp Maranatha forever. But this past week we were in inner city LA at Lincoln Heights Tutorial Program. It was a summer day program that also tutors the kids during the summer. We stayed in a house with 9 other college students who were also involved in the staff. I knew this week would probably be my favorite week but I didn’t know it would be coming from the people I was staying with. They were the most spiritual people I have ever meet. They were apart of a group called LAUP (Los Angles Urban Projects) through a club that they were apart of at whichever university that they went to. We were invited to attend their worship service on Thursday with everyone involved and I never felt a room praising God so loud and joyful. It was something I have never felt before that it actually brought me to tears. Every day my love for the Lord grows more and more. It’s is just an overwhelming love that I now understand. It was so hard leaving them. We wanted to stay another week! But now we are heading to Camp Maranatha for Kids/Teen camp! Thank you everyone for all the prayers because not only is God working so much through my life I know he is through others! I love you all!

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