And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.” And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”
Let me ask you… is it more impressive that Jesus forgave the man’s sins or gave him the ability to walk? If you’re a Christian, you know the “correct” answer is that he forgave the man’s sins. However, the paralyzed man was brought to Jesus to be healed of his physical ailments and not to be forgiven of his sins. We ourselves would be upset if Jesus didn’t heal our ability to walk. If Jesus only healed the man’s legs, at first he would be ecstatic, but it would only take a month or two before he felt the same eternal longings he felt before, leading him to turn to something else to fill that emptiness.
We all have things we think we need more than Jesus: this is called idolatry. An idol is literally anything you worship other than God. Sometimes I believe that if only I had a husband, my life would be perfect. Obviously this is false, but there are times when I let that be the driving force in my life, and not Jesus. The second most important commandment God asks of us in Exodus 20 is to have no other God before him, yet we mess that up every day. God tells us not to have idols because he knew we will!
I once heard a sermon by the Austin Stone Church pastor Matt Carter that acknowledges we all struggle with idols. He says idols aren’t things like working, money, or drinking -- those are all symptoms of something bigger. Instead, he believes there to be 4 main root idols in which all sins originate from: comfort, power, approval, and control. Essentially he’s saying all things we long for fall into one of these 4 categories. When we crave Whataburger or an afternoon of binge-watching Netflix, we are longing for (1) comfort. When we get mad when our accomplishments aren’t recognized at work/school, we are longing for (2) power. When we are upset when we aren’t invited to a party we are longing for (3) approval. When we don’t like deviating from our set schedule, we are longing for (4) control. There are many other ways in which idols rear their ugly heads in our lives, these are just some common examples.
I think recognizing them is the first step toward repentance. I personally struggle with letting the approval of others come before my desire for God’s approval. And after a long day, I want to be comforted by being alone and watching “Friends” instead of resting in the presence of Jesus. Idols can even be good things, like exercising or saving money, but those things shouldn’t be what we live for, God should be. God should always be first in our lives. Wherever you are today, run to Jesus. He may or may not fix your present circumstances, but he will fulfill the deepest longings of your soul.
Written by Alexa
Occasionally, I have stubbornly resisted doing or following…or even investigating a suggestion offered by someone whom I deeply respect. Such is the case with my husband’s recommendation that I read the works of C.S. Lewis.
Even though I long ago read The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters, since my husband and I married about 16 years ago, I’ve not been tempted by any other of the C.S. Lewis books hubby brought to our home. Lately, I’ve discovered that this was a mistake!
One of my husband’s books is a collection of “short-novel-length” works entitled The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. In it is The Great Divorce, an allegory examining the idea that no evil of the smallest amount can exist in Heaven.
Recently, The Great Divorce was mentioned at church (in a sermon, maybe), and it piqued my interest.
“Well! If TWO people are talking about it, perhaps I should at least skim it. “
I’m a very fast reader, so, I DID try to skim it. Wrong.
Another mistake I made while reading The Great Divorce was to read a bit each night after I went to bed. I kept falling asleep, and the crazy dream of the narrator was making little sense to me. However, after several nights of rereads, I finally understood the message.
One of Lewis’ most interesting points in The Great Divorce is about the difference in the sizes of Heaven and Hell. The dreamer’s heavenly Teacher tells him that Hell and all of its evil is “smaller than one atom” of Heaven. Such a comment set my brain whirring.
I thought about all sorts of earthly applications, including the idea of “small-minded” people. (That comparison did not work out for me, btw.) Finally, I came to some conclusions…and I’m still thinking about it, which was probably the author’s intent for his readers.
Overall, Lewis believes that we cannot expect to get to Heaven with even the most miniscule remnant of evil within us.
Nonetheless, as Christians, we know that we are imperfect and sinful creatures.Therefore, we must have faith in and accept Christ as our Redeemer. He alone is capable of washing away all of our sinfulness.
HOWEVER, each of us is responsible for accepting Christ completely and letting Him direct our lives. In fact, Lewis talks about the essentiality of risking all we know and are comfortable with for the gift of Heaven.
Thus, if we are unwilling to accept Christ completely, perhaps our door to Heaven may be a bit more difficult to open than we have anticipated!
With this in mind, my next point to ponder is how I can improve my acceptance of Christ.
Plus, I may want to pay more attention to my husband’s reading suggestions!
Promises are fragile things. They are ephemeral ties that bind us, encouraging us to do exactly as our words have dictated. Inevitably, whether by choice or situation, those promises are sometimes broken. How many times have we in our day to day lives forgotten to live up to our word? I know I have made promises to those I love that I have unintentionally broken. It happens. We are human. Our words have so much meaning, but often, it is the actions that prove to mean the most.
This time of year always makes me think about why our promises matter. The Easter story, which tells of Jesus’s death and resurrection, is both a story of sacrifice and promise. Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross embodied God’s covenant as a man with all people. A promise of life after death. Of the opportunity for us to redeem ourselves. Who hasn’t needed that? A second chance, an opportunity for compassion. I can say, easily, that I require that almost every day.
When I think about my relationship with my faith at this time of year, I try to focus on how I can honor such a sacrifice. What can I do that would make such an act of love seem worthy? And this year my thoughts have turned to the people surrounding my life that need an equal measure of forgiveness and love. Because we try, as human beings, to give each other compassion and understanding, right? We need it so often ourselves, isn’t it fair to offer it in equal measure?
But so often we don’t always succeed.
That guy cut me off!
This person is totally weird, they are so different from me.
I don’t agree with that point of view at all, they are wrong!
They have such different political views, they must be crazy!
I have seen it in my life. I have seen it in my social media feeds. I have witnessed this as I have grown up. Contention and anger because we are different. And here at last I am finally beginning to understand why this time of year is so crucial to christianity.
“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you, always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20.)
It is a reminder that Jesus died for all people. For those who believe and those who do not. For every last soul on Earth. And if he can make such an all encompassing promise, how can we not offer one another the gift of compassion? Recognizing our strengths and our differences with tolerance and with love? To all nations and all peoples Jesus made this promise. So perhaps, with this reminder, we can make a promise to try to offer love instead of hate. Understanding, not anger. Forgiveness. And in doing so, perhaps become an embodiment of the Easter lesson that was taught to us with such sacrifice.
Written by Meredith
Recently I’ve been struggling with how to better relate to someone I don’t like. Seeing this person only occasionally, I’ve been able to deceive myself about the state of our relationship for some time and avoid owning up to my feelings. But as our paths have started intersecting more and more, I’ve slowly awakened to the depth of this struggle.
For a few weeks now I’ve been praying about this particular relationship. I was in conflict with myself, uncertain how to reconcile my feelings of uneasiness around this person with the call placed on me as a Christian to love my neighbor as myself. I somehow convinced myself that the uneasiness I feel around this person was only known to me, that it had no real bearing on how I treated this person. I was comfortably convicted, thinking recognition and prayers would be enough. But then I found out this person had questioned some of my actions that were the result of my uneasiness.
I’d like to say that I immediately saw the error of my ways and mended fences, but unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. I was ashamed. Ashamed for having been found out. Ashamed for failing to live out my beliefs. With the shame came the painful realization that I couldn’t keep brushing this off: I had to figure out how to love someone I cannot stand to be around.
How? That’s the question plaguing me. I’ve had some intellectual answers, none of which sparked a change. Then last week I dropped in a Sunday school class. The thought-provoking question of the lesson was, What does love require of me? I was practically dumbstruck, the topic was so timely for me. The pastor giving the lesson said, “You will change someone by hurting them deeply or loving them profoundly.” Wow.
As someone who’s been hurt deeply, this message hit home. It changed how I’d been approaching this struggle and turned it into a matter of the heart rather than the head. I saw how I’d unintentionally reduced this person down to their actions and was disregarding their humanity. I got to thinking about this person’s story, so much of which I do not know. My heart began to soften towards this person as I imagined myself walking through some of the challenges they’ve faced, wondering what I would have done if it had been me.
What I’m learning through this is that oftentimes relational problems cannot be solved with the head. Attempting to do so may help me in some small way, but it likely won't change the relationship much because the other person is left out of the process. If I want to be someone who loves profoundly, putting myself in the other person’s shoes is a good place to start.
Written by Whitney
When I was a freshman in college, I felt very far from God. I had gone almost 7 months without going to church, without having any Christian friends, and without being a part of a ministry group, which was far from my Christian upbringing. I felt like I had forgotten about my relationship with God, or worse, that He had forgotten about me. Even though I was completely unaware of how lonely I was at the time, I knew something important was missing in my life. And the longer I went without God, the farther I got away from Him with my words and actions. Then one day a friend in my math class invited me to her Bible study.
I showed up to the study, weary of what would be said and fearful of feeling like an outsider. The speaker, Josh, set up an insane situation where he had us imagine being on a plane that was going down. He said, “You only have 1 more minute of life before the plane crashes. You are thinking about your life. Do you believe you are going to heaven?” And he went a step further: “If you think that you would go to heaven, raise your hand.” Wow, this was not a good week to decide to come to this Bible study.
Since this was basically a room of believers, everyone in the room raised their hand. Except for me. I felt like I wasn’t worthy of going to heaven since I had ignored God for so long. At that moment, envelopes containing a single piece of paper were handed out to each person. I heard a collective grumble as everyone else opened their envelopes, so I held back on opening mine. Every person’s envelope said the word “Hell.” Josh said this was not real, just a means of humbling us and a conversation starter. However, Josh looked confused and asked, “Wait… who got the one different envelope?” I read my piece of paper and it said “Heaven.” I was the one person not to raise my hand and yet the one person whose paper said Heaven. I have never felt God speak to me more clearly than in that moment. He went out of his way to find the person furthest from Him and said, “I want you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
I think this is a lot like the story of Zacchaeus. He was an outcast because of his profession: tax collector. He was infamous for being a crook and stealing people’s money. However, the Gospel of Luke describes Zacchaeus as being curious about Jesus. He went to town where Jesus was passing by, and when he couldn’t get past the crowd, he climbed up a tree and literally went out on a limb for Jesus, just like me going out on a limb and showing up for the Bible study. And it paid off for Zacchaeus as well: Jesus looked directly at Zacchaeus, invited him to come down, and asked Zacchaeus to dine with him that evening. In return, Zacchaeus repented and repaid all the money he had stolen!
Luke 19:10 declares: “For the son of man came to seek and save the lost.” The Bible doesn’t say seek and save the perfect. And I think that’s all of us out there. None of us has it all together—we all equally need Jesus today. Let’s all go out on a limb for Jesus; you might just be surprised to see how He shows up.
Written by Alexa
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.