Associated with the account of the healing of the man who had been an invalid for thirty eight years in John 5:1-16 is some strangeness. What I refer to is the clearly implied recognition that through the stirring of the water at the pool of Bethesda, someone was actually healed when they were the first to get into the pool upon the stirring.
It is interesting that the Lord makes no comment at all upon this strange happening. And we simply have to accept it as a strange happening, with there being no explanation given. The Lord did not even rebuke the invalid for looking to get healing in the pool. Simply the account in John 5 leaves the whole happening as a mysterious event.
The important thing though, that the Lord does is to direct the man to look to Himself and Himself alone for help. He directs him away from the pool to Himself as Lord of this situation; Lord of his physical and spiritual welfare. The man must know that it is in the Lord himself that He will find transformation. So we read: Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked (John 5:8-9a).
There are many unexplained happenings that we might come across in life and ministry. Such occurrences are not to pre-occupy us though. Sometimes strange things happen; we might not now why; the Lord gives no explanation of what happened in this instance and very likely we might not be able to explain many things. What is important though is that we should not get diverted by seeking to dwell upon and investigate these strangenesses.
Rather we should always be pointing people to the Lord Jesus. I fear that many Christians if they had been eye-witnesses of this event would be thrown into a state of ferment, not by the Lord’s miracle, but by the pool’s stirring and all that happened as a result.
There are so many things that we can’t explain whether they be natural or supernatural. What really matters though is whether someone has embraced the transforming grace that is in Christ Jesus. Let us give up our fascinations with strange events and give our full embrace and attention to the mighty saving grace of our Lord.
I returned from India to the UK on Wednesday (18th). It was a good journey back. It included the interminable waiting in queues at Chennai airport and a three hour stopover in the majestic Muscat airport. It is good to be home.
It is simply remarkable that in all my travelling on the roads in India I did not see one accident or vehicular altercation; nothing. It is remarkable because of the seeming chaos of so much of the happenings on the roads. Vehicles and pedestrians so often mingle in a whirl of confusion and throw in a few cows and dogs and superficially you have a cocktail for carnage. Yet all emerged to see another day on the Indian roads I witnessed. I really did see some crazy stuff and of course plenty of horn blowing, particularly in Chennai.
Being served so attentively and graciously by so many people was a real privilege. This was particularly manifest at meal times. The general pattern was for the ladies to serve you and then eat later. I found this somewhat uncomfortable given our pattern in the West of all eating together. Eating together also displays a sense of how food is bringing us together around one table. However, this does not take away from the beauty of the attitude of serving that was continually on display.
It was marvellous to encounter so many different people. One striking memory is of the family from Cochin who have given themselves to scripture memorisation. And we are not speaking of odd verses, we are talking about whole books. Ephesians, Colossians and more. It was a privilege to hear the father recite Ephesians 1 in Malayalam. Made me think much about the need to encourage scripture memorisation and recitation. How valuable it is to hide the Word of God in our hearts.
And amongst the believing communities of God’s people i encountered there was the desire to work out their faith. Different ones struggling in different ways. Some strict some less strict. Some working out their faith amidst struggles of childlessness, Hindu persecution, communal Christianity, missionary work, doctrinal weakness etc. Yet all wanting to serve Christ.
It was great to participate in the baptism of a lady and her grandmother in Machillipatnam. Beautiful to see them confess their faith. It perplexed me somewhat that it was at about 7.45 on a Saturday morning after all the church had been busy serving the previous evening till after 10.00.pm. But nevertheless a joy to see Lily Grace and her grandmother of Hindu background profess the Lord.
The reality of poverty and wealth is very much on display. The Phoenix Centre in Velacherry, Chennai was very much like any mall that you would find in the West such as Westfield in Shepherd’s Bush. But shacks and beggars told another story.
And there was so much more. I have experienced so much and am inevitably am changed. The degree and detail of that I am unsure of. Certain matters were the Lord’s personal dealings with me. I thank the Lord for the privilege of being able to visit India.
Criticism comes in the normal course of life. Criticism comes in seeking to serve the Lord. There should be no surprise that if the master suffered criticism then won’t that be true of his servants as well? So we read in Matthew 10:24-25:
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
But what do we do when criticism comes? Are we “pig-heads” or “snowflakes”?
Pig-Heads say “Stuff you with whatever you say, I am going to do it this way and if you don’t like it you will have to lump it.”
Snowflakes says “If you have said it, it must be right. I must do what you say straight-away. I will do whatever you say, yes sir, no sir; three bags full sir.”
So where do each of us sit with these responses. I suggest we are all somewhere on a spectrum here between pig-heads and snowflakes.
But how should we respond to criticism. I have written about how we should respond to a rebuke here. I post some further thoughts;
- Always listen to what the person has to say. Seek calcification if necessary, but don’t pursue every detail ad nauseam.
- Listen courteously and thank them for their observations which have very likely not been easy to deliver.
- Consider what has been said and pray over it.
- Seek advice and other counsel from those you trust.
- Consider who has made the criticism and of what character, wisdom and maturity they are.
- Respond and adopt the observations which you think are legitimate.
- Reject those which you believe do not hold up.
Then move on with your life. We need to embrace something of Paul’s attitude: But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.(Phil 3:13b-14). Continually revisiting what has been said can keep you from the task in hand which is to serve God and be for Him.
We read theses words at the end of Esther concerning Mordecai: he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people (Esther 10:3b).
Let us consider some of the attributes of this man which made him such a great leader:
- In the believing community multitudes warmed to Mordecai. It does not say all warmed to him, but a vast majority did. True elders among God’s people can never expect universal acclamation. However, if he is not popular with the majority of the church then questions need to be asked as regards to the suitability of a man to be a leader.
- He was not seeking a position for himself, but seeking to use whatever position he had for the benefit of others. Those who are seeking to gain postilion for self-seeking gain should not be elders among God’s people.
- He was looking out for the welfare of God’s people. he wanted the best for them; he cared for them. Mordecai expended his energies in order that God’s people would prosper in the Lord’s ways.
- He spoke peace to God’s people. He was not set for harshness or division, but for harmony and peaceableness among God’s people. We must notice that this was for all the people even those it was not so easy to love. Speaking peace does not exclude speaking firmly, but it does prohibit nastiness.
In all these things we see shadows of our great true leader; our Lord Jesus. The ultimate One to seek the welfare of His people; the One above all others who speaks peace to all His people. The One who with overwhelming sacrificial love came to bless his people.
India continues busily. I have attended the Golden Anniversary Celebrations of Central Baptist Church, Machillipatnam. This was from Thursday 5th to Sunday 8th.
Everything was translated into Telegu. There was a Pastor’s Conference on Thursday and Friday. And also the general celebrations. I preached several times with a few impromptu things thrown in.
It was great to see people wanting to hear and receive the Word. Apparently, there were 700 people there on Saturday evening. Amazingly, they seem to give a full meal at lunch and dinner for all who are there at all the sessions.
There were lots and lots of presentations to people who have faithfully served the Lord, or are connected to others who have faithfully served. Some beautiful singing and music. Interestingly, it was all very loud through big amplification. It was great to see that the vast majority of the songs were indigenous songs. I think, during the days, I only recognised one which seemed to be a translation from English.
So much beautiful food to enjoy.
My stomach has generally held up well. However, I am a little queasy this morning with some diarrhoea.
The highlight of the conference for me was probably going to a small village church yesterday morning to preach. Such a blessing to see these dear people wanting to hear and know the Lord through His Word.
It seems to me that we Christians in the UK are far too complacent about the loss of our buildings. When a church has ceased to function in a building the normal recourse is to dispose of the premises on the open market. Such an event leads to the accrual of certain funds. This can lead us to being happy that we are being faithful servants of the Lord in the dispersing of funds for gospel purposes.
I am not saying that this approach is to be rejected. It may be the appropriate course of action. Such situation would be, for example, where an area has been depopulated and there are little or few people in an area. Also it may well be an application of the principle that our Lord set for his disciples that if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town (Matt. 10:14).
However, I still would want to make two strand assertions on this subject:
- The loss of a building generally equals the loss of a testimony for our Lord in an area. In the losing of the building there is a losing of a place where the gospel of our Lord Jesus is honoured and declared. Accordingly, we have to ponder upon whether we have lost our gospel vision to make sure that many can still have opportunity to hear the gospel. This loss is compounded in its significance and poignancy when false religions take them over to propagate lies.
- Many churches normally meet in public buildings such as schools and village halls. There are many good reasons why this is a sound approach to existing and living as a church. However, we need to get real and realise that this cannot be a situation that continues indefinitely. The fact that the biblical perspective on homosexuality and transgenderism is so at odds with that of the present zeitgeist in our country means that the doors to public buildings will metaphorically and literally soon be closing. When this happens will we be woken up and wonder why we did not take more action to keep church buildings within the church.
I urge some thinking on this issue.
This is essential for the Christian; you must have your personal time alone with Him. You put your life in peril if you do not. Church fellowship is essential and we need to be experiencing that to grow in the Lord. Worshipping in the family at home must also be there in our schedules. But we must not neglect being in the secret place with the Lord.
You have to find out what works for you. You may be able to operate on a spontaneous basis, whereby in the natural flow of life you are having space to worship the Lord and be with Him. However, for most of us, I suggest, that this is not the case, We need to be more disciplined. we need to set aside a specific time to be alone with our Father and our Lord Jesus. Regular habits are normally good in this respect.
And if your Quiet Time or personal time with the Lord is becoming dull and lacklustre then mix it up. Try whatever works. Try reading a few passages of good Christ centred books. The Puritans are good here and Richard Sibbes is always a good place to start. Try prayer lists. In all this make sure that your prayings and worshippings are Bible framed so you must have the Word.
Living Christians are always God’s presence Christians. No time in the presence of the Lord means death to your soul and impoverishment in spiritual desires and worship.
And of course our Lord Jesus sets the pattern here. He was so keen to spend time with his Father that he would get up early to make sure it happened. Perhaps that is what you need to do (and me). You need to be thinking about getting up a bit earlier and having time in His presence.
I have written about personal devotions at further length here if you are interested.