The Greater Miracle

(I’ll be posting the full version of this later.)

Seeing their faith, he said to him, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

– Luke 5:20 (WEB)

There were two miracles when the paralytic was lowered through the roof into the room where Jesus was teaching. One was obvious: the man was healed of his paralysis. He took up his bed in full view of everyone and went home. The second was not obvious. Nobody in the crowd noticed it. But it was a far greater miracle. The man’s sins were forgiven.

Here are four reasons why forgiveness of sins is a greater miracle than any physical healing:

Forgiveness is eternal. If you get healed physically, it’s a great thing. But that healing is only temporary. It only affects your life here on earth. If you get the use of your legs back, you still might having something else happen to you later on. You could go blind, get cancer, or lose your mind. Even if you retain your health for the rest of your life, you’re still going to die anyway and face the judgment. But forgiveness of sins (not just “a” sin but all sins) is much better. It is eternal. It is a miracle for which the consequences continue long after death into eternity.

Another thing that sets forgiveness of sins apart from other miracles is with our relationships. Forgiveness restores our relationship with God. Physical healing can restore relationships with our fellow man. For example, those Jesus healed of leprosy no longer had to live apart from the rest of society, and the healed paralytic could go for walks with his friends. But forgiveness of sins restores man’s relationship with God. Sin is like a spiritual leprosy. In sin we have to live apart from God because we are “unclean”. But when God removes our sin and cleans us up, we have fellowship with Him, and He with us. That is why Jesus could say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” And that is why the Holy Spirit can dwell in us.

Third, the scriptures mention only one emotion in heaven over what happens down here on earth. We read nothing about heaven’s response when Jesus raised the dead or gave sight to the blind. But we are told there is more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner than over 99 that don’t repent. The angels rejoice when one sinner repents and receives forgiveness of sins! Forgiveness brings more joy to heaven. I think that goes to show what heaven thinks is more important. (True, Luke 15:7 doesn’t mention forgiveness, but it is implied. Why would the angels rejoice over a repentant sinner if he’s going to go to hell anyway?)

Once more thing that makes forgiveness a greater miracle: We all need it. Not all of us need our sight or hearing restored, or cancer removed, but we’re all sinners with the need for God’s forgiveness and He offers it freely to anyone who asks. Jesus fed thousands of people at one time, and they eventually got hungry again. But millions have received God’s forgiveness, which lasts for eternity!

Can you think of other reasons why forgiveness is a greater miracle?

Idolizing God

During the years Israel was in Egypt, they all but forgot Yahweh. I’m sure they heard stories of how God appeared to their forefathers in the distant past, and how He made promises to bless and multiply them. But 400 years of silence had turned all that into legends. When God appeared in a burning bush, Moses had to ask His name so he could tell his people which diety was going to deliver them.

Then God revealed Himself to His people by delivering them from their oppressors through great and mighty works. There were the plagues, the death of the first-born, the parting of the sea, the water from the rock, the manna and the quail. By the time the children of Israel reached Sinai, they knew a lot about God from what He did. There was no mistaking Who did all of these amazing things. And yet they didn’t know Him.

Moses went up the mountain to receive the Law, and by the time he came down, the people had made an idol in the form of a golden calf. This wasn’t any idol. According to Aaron, this was supposed to be what Yahweh looked like.

He received what they handed him, and fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made it a molten calf; and they said, “These are your gods, Israel, which brought you up out of the land of Egypt.”

– Exodus 32:4

Obviously, after all they experienced, Aaron wasn’t saying some other god saved them out of Egypt. They knew it was Yahweh. They were first-hand witnesses. And yet, they got it all wrong on the nature of their God.

One definition of an idol I hear today is “anything that takes the place of God in your life”. This is a good definition, but it is not the only one. As this account shows, an idol can also be any false or incomplete (one-sided) representation of the one, true God. I think even as believers, we probably idolize God to some degree or another in this way without knowing it.

None of us can fully comprehend what God is like. Pick any one of His attributes (i.e. omniscience, omnipresence, holiness, love, etc.), make it your life’s work to study that attribute, and you will only barely scratch the surface in understanding Him in that way. Yet, even if you could comprehend one attribute of God, you would idolize Him if you ignored the other attributes. God is love, but He is not only love. God is holy, but He is not only holy. God is good, but He is not only good. It is a deceptive and dangerous thing to focus on only some of God’s attributes while ignoring His others.

I encourage you to seek to know God in all His fullness. Don’t focus on one or two of your favorites sides of God’s character and nature. Know your whole God, not just a subset. Avoid making an idol of Him.

Derailing God’s Purpose?

…you will conceive and give birth to a son. You must never cut his hair, because the boy will be a Nazirite to God from birth, and he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.

– Judges 13:5 (HCSB)

Then his brothers and his father’s family came down, carried him back, and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of his father Manoah. So he judged Israel 20 years.

– Judges 16:31 (HCSB)

Sandwiched between these two verses is the story of the life of Samson. It began with a promise that God would use him to start to deliver the Israelites from their enemies, and it ended with the destruction of the rulers of the Philistines after having judged Israel for 20 years.

Samson was a miracle child, given to Manoah and his barren wife. He was to be holy, a Nazarite, dedicated to the Lord all the days of his life. His physical strength, supernaturally given to him by the Lord, was tied to one aspect of his dedication: his hair was to remain uncut.

According to Numbers 6:1-21, a Nazarite was someone who made a special promise to the Lord, and lived for a time in a manner that set himself apart to God. He (or she) could not eat or drink anything of the fruit of the grape vine. He could not come near a corpse, and he had to let his hair grow the entire time of his separation. When the term of his vow was complete, he would shave off all the hair of his body, which would then be offered as a burnt offering, symbolizing the giving over of that period of his life to the Lord. If something happened to interrupt the vow, such as inadvertant contact with a dead body, then the Nazarite’s hair would have to be shaved off, a sin offering and burnt offering made, and the time of the vow started over again from scratch. (Think about the Philistines cutting of Samson’s hair in light of this.)

As a Nazarite, Samson was unusual. He was born into the condition involuntarily – he made no vow, and the term of his separation was for his entire life. Considering how he lived, I wonder if he despised being set apart from birth.

Samson was to live in a manner holy to the Lord – his strength depended on it. And yet, in some ways he was worse than the countrymen he was intended to save. He lived for his own pleasure. He ate honey out of a lion’s corpse. He married a Philistine woman against the advice of his parents. He slept with a prostitute. He let another Philistine woman seduce him into compromising the secret of his strength. Samson lived a very unholy life. It appeared that God’s purpose for Samson had been derailed. And yet, in spite of Samson’s failure, God’s purpose was fulfilled – not just at the end, but throughout his whole life.

We are told in Judges 14:4 that it was of God that Samson demanded to have a Philistine woman as wife. God was “seeking an occasion against the Philistines” – to cause them trouble. The honey incident was an integral part of God’s plan, for it formed the basis of the riddle Samson gave to his enemies, eventually leading to his killing 30 Philistine men under the Spirit of the Lord (Judges 14:19), then causing more trouble for them throughout the next chapter.

Most of the things Samson did were very wrong, and yet God still worked through him to accomplish His purposes. More than that, God knew the kind of life Samson would live, and yet He still chose him from the beginning. God used Samson in spite of his weaknesses.

Samson was not unique. What I learn from this story and others is the absolute surity of God fulfilling His purposes, even though He uses the most imperfect people. Just think about the weaknesses of the patriarchs, or even Jonah. Nothing they did thwarted God’s plan to the slightest degree.

Bringing this truth forward to the present, I know that there is nothing I can do to screw up whatever purposes God has planned for me. He always gets His way. I may suffer the consequences of my sins, and others may suffer wrongly for my sins, but no matter what I do, I can’t derail God’s purpose.

When Repentance Happens

It really bothers me when I see no results after putting a lot of time and effort into something. As an electronics technician, I have to troubleshoot various electronic equipment problems. I enjoy doing this so long as I make some kind of headway. But if I spend weeks working on an especially stubborn problem with little or no progress, I get frustrated as I run out of ideas and energy.

Sometimes I forget that success, in any area of life, belongs to the Lord.

One of the things many pastors desire to see for their communities and congregations is people coming to repentance. Ceasing from sin, and humble submission toward God are great things to see, and very beneficial to the church as a whole. But many pastors get frustrated when they see little or no results after investing much time and effort into preaching repentance. Instead of fruit, the people get hardened to the message, and the pastor gets burned out and depressed.

Lately, I’ve been mulling over some examples of repentance in the Bible, thinking about the events that led to the change of heart. I’ve discovered that sometimes repentance happened seemingly out of the blue. A chief tax-collector repented after Jesus invited Himself over for dinner at his house. A prostitute showed up at a Pharisee’s house ready to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears. And Peter was suddenly convicted of sin in response to an unexpected blessing…

When he {Jesus} had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.”

The fishermen were cleaning their nets after a sleepless and fruitless night. They were fatigued and disappointed, and looked forward to just going home and getting some rest. But Jesus had another idea: “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Exhausted, that was the last thing they wanted to hear.

But even though they had no hope for success, Peter decided to humor his Lord to prove the fish were elsewhere. But when he did, the unexpected happened!

When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

– Luke 5:4-8 (NET)

Suddenly, it seemed the sea was full of fish! As the nets filled, the men forgot their fatigue. They whooped it up, while straining with all their might to bring the catch into the boats. Jesus didn’t just provide an adequate haul of fish, but an overabundance of fish – to the utter limit of what both boats would carry. All of the fishermen rejoiced… except Simon. He had a different reaction. He fell at Jesus’ feet and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord!

Now this is not the reaction I would have expected. Of all the times Peter could have been convicted of sin, why did it happen at this time?

As much as preachers and evangelists would like, most people don’t truly repent when called to. It does happen sometimes, but not that often. Job repented (Job 42:6), but not because God told him to. Isaiah repented, even though nobody said, “You are a sinner!” (Isaiah 6:5). Even the prodigal son didn’t have a change of heart due to an encounter with the message of repentance.

Not that preaching repentance is unnecessary. I believe it’s very necessary. The way I see it, preaching the message of repentance is like sowing seed. You scatter the seed everywhere, but you shouldn’t expect a harvest right away. Instead, after scattering the seed, you let it sit for a while. The message needs to remain undisturbed for a time so it can sink in. You can carefully water the seed or even sow more, but after sowing, you don’t plow the soil (i.e. aggressively push for a decision), otherwise you have no reason to expect any harvest!

The important thing to remember is that God is in control of the harvest. He is the One who grants repentance (Acts 5:31, 11:18, 2 Corinthians 7:10, 2 Timothy 2:25, Ezekiel 36:26). It happens when God brings about some circumstance that triggers germination of the seed that was sown earlier. That circumstance is supernaturally engineered to bring the message from the head to the heart. It may not make sense to us, but it doesn’t have to.

In Peter’s case, the seed was sown in his life through the message he heard from John the Baptist and his own Master: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” Jesus engineered the miraculous catch of fish as the trigger for the message to cut to Peter’s heart. I can’t explain how this event had such a powerful effect on one disciple, not on the others. But I do know God knows what He is doing. He accomplishes what He sets out to do.

Sow the seed, but rely on God for the harvest. Only He can open the eyes and ears of the lost.

Something To Think About

So when they had eaten their breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?” …

– John 21:15-19

Three questions. Three answers.

This encounter between Jesus and Peter is usually paired with Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus. It is seen as Jesus’ restoration of Peter to His service. I have no problem with the idea, but it creates a significant question for me.

At the trial, the servant girl accused Peter of being with Jesus, and Peter crumbled, denying that he knew Him 1. Now at breakfast, Jesus asked Peter a much deeper question: “Do you love me more than these?”

What if the servant girl came to Peter with a different accusation:

“I know you spent a lot of time with this Man. I know that you love Him!”

Peter failed when confronted with a more shallow question. Imagine how much more painful denying this accusation would have been!

Thankfully, Peter was spared having to respond to this question. But this raises the thought in my mind: What about me? What might the girl have accused me of? And what would my answer be?

(Regardless of what would have been, Jesus would still have restored Peter, for He is faithful even when we are not.)


  1. Matthew 26:69-75

Visions of Our Future

(First, a little insanity. Bear with me on this one…)

Atheism is a very optimistic belief system. After all, look how far we’ve evolved! As our intelligence and power increase, we are better able to control ourselves and our environment. Many well-known atheists and agnostics have given us exciting glimpses of where mankind is heading. The Star Trek series revealed Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the eradication of poverty and war open to us after man abandons the concept of God 1. Friedrich Nietzsche saw mankind eventually evolving into a race of supermen, again without God. Yes, atheists are very optimistic!

The Bible, on the other hand, is a very depressing book. Its pages are full of negative and offensive words like “sin”, “hell”, “iniquity”, “judgment”, and the like. Man is not described as essentially good, with an occasional slip-up, but as evil, wicked, even from birth (Psalms 51:5, Job 15:14). According to that book, there isn’t one good man on earth (Psalm 14:3, Isaiah 53:6, Isaiah 64:6, Romans 3:9-12)! Good thing we’re much more enlightened about ourselves today!

The Bible also talks of man’s future. It says things like, “in the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3:1), and then goes on to describe how increasingly wicked man will become. It says eventually man would destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18), and but for God’s intervention, even himself.

Unless the Lord had shortened the days, no flesh would have been saved; …

– Mark 13:20 (WEB)

Get real!

… No, really. It’s time to end this insanity.

Question: As you watch the news on TV tonight, which world-view seems more true? Is man getting better or worse? Think about it.

In spite of the seemingly negative world-view of the Bible, I hold what it says to be true. What I read in the paper, see on the news, and experience in real life fits strongly with what I read in the pages of scripture. The Bible speaks the truth about the nature of man. Man was at his best when he was created. Today he is a mere shadow of what he was, and contrary to evolutionary theories, he’s not getting any better.

Now, I know I haven’t properly represented the views of all or even most atheists, let alone a lot of Bible believers. There are plenty of pessimistic atheists who recognize the world is in serious trouble and going downhill fast. The problem is that the atheist thinks solutions to these difficulties must lie with man alone, and that man is fully capable of developing an ideal society, whether it happens or not. This frightens me, considering how much evil idealistic, optimistic atheists have generated in the world!

Atheists like to blame much or most of man’s problems on religion. After all, look at how many people have violently died in the name of God. But while they have a point, they conveniently forget those who have been systematically tortured and killed in the name of atheism in Soviet Russia, China, North Korea and other places. Isn’t it ironic how many human rights violations happen in countries where the governments have such high views of humans?

The truth is, religious people do not have a monopoly on heineous forms of evil. If all of the religious people in the world were eliminated, moral evil would still exist and flourish, because the problem is not with religion. The problem is with the heart of man – something the materialist overlooks because it is a spiritual problem.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, atheist, Christian, or whatever. Everyone, including myself, naturally has an evil nature. Any religion or philosophy that ignores this only empowers that nature.

Neither religion nor atheism can solve our problems. Education cannot solve our problems. Money cannot solve our problems. Better laws cannot solve our problems. Technology certainly cannot solve our problems! (Technology isn’t evil, but it has a way of empowering evil.)

Looking to ourselves cannot solve our problems.

Our only hope is to turn to the one good, holy, and righteous God, confess our great sin against Him, and put our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, to save us. God gave His Son over to death to rescue us from the power and consequences of our sin, and to give us real hope.

The saying is faithful and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; …

– 1 Timothy 1:15 (WEB)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

– John 3:16 (WEB)

To those who believe God and trust in Jesus, the Bible is anything but depressing. It contains the best possible news, a message of comfort and the assured hope of rescue from sin and its consequences.

If you choose not to believe this, you’re welcome to go on believing whatever you want to. But know that eventually everyone will come face to face with the consequences of what they believe. You owe it to yourself to personally investigate the truth.

… As I live, says the Lord Yahweh, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn, turn from your evil ways; for why will you die, …

– Ezekiel 33:11 (WEB)

(By the way, I do enjoy watching Star Trek. I just don’t agree with the philosophy behind it.)

Church Impossible: Pride-induced Blindness

When Robert Irvine of Restaurant Impossible first shows up at a restaurant in trouble, he talks with the owners. After the introductions, he asks them how they came to own the restaurant, what business was like at the beginning, and what it’s like now. Obviously, the current state of business is dire, otherwise Robert wouldn’t be there. But, for the most part, the owners don’t know the cause, and any blame tends to be placed on external factors, such as increased competition, the economy, etc.

Robert then observes a ‘service’. He sees the restaurant in action: how the waitresses serve the customers, how quickly the food arrives, and what the customers think of the food. He also samples from the menu himself. Most of the time the food Robert tastes is, to use his word, ‘Garbage!‘, and he’s not afraid to say so openly. Problems with the meal range from the food being undercooked to it being overcooked, the use of canned or frozen food, under or over seasoned food, or even dangerously spoiled food. In spite of this being the norm, I don’t recall seeing any episode where the owners admitted from the beginning, “Our food is garbage!” They’re usually convinced the opposite is true.

So when Robert gives his verdict, there is usually disbelief, and sometimes anger. If the chef takes offense, saying, ‘Everyone likes this!’, Robert responds if that’s the case, where are all the customers? That usually silences them. If not, then he brings back a customer or two to back up his ‘garbage’ claim.

Blind pride on the part of the owners and/or employees tends to be a very common problem on the show. The most difficult restaurants Robert has to deal with are the ones who stubbornly cling to their belief that their food is good. Unfortunately, with no humble admission of the problem, there can be no solution.

The pride-blindness problem also exists in many churches today, and it’s the primary stumbling block that gets in the way of solutions to other serious problems.

Church pride typically manifests itself through finger-pointing: one member points at the sins and weaknesses of another, or a whole congregation points at another congregation or denomination. There may be some truth to the accusations. However, those that like to blame others tend to be blind to their own serious issues.

You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

– Romans 2:21-22

It is easy to think and say, “The problem is not with me!” Pride-blindness has very selective vision. We see the sins of others but not our own. But what would happen if someone comes from outside to examine you – a spiritual Robert Irvine, if you will? What would he find after you deny you have a problem?

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

– Revelation 3:17

I’ll venture to predict there isn’t going to be a TV show called Church Impossible. No expert is going to come from outside to fix your church problems in two days with $10,000. A solution is going to have to come from within.

Guess what? God has provided the solution for all of our sin problems within the church! The Holy Spirit is the solution! He is fully capable of opening our eyes to see our problems, and fully capable of correcting those problems within us. But just as with the television restaurant expert, the Holy Spirit can’t do a thing if we refuse to humble ourselves and submit to His most thorough search of our hearts, and submit to His leading. (Actually, the Spirit can do something: If we refuse to humble ourselves, He may do the humbling for us, but it would be much more painful that way.)

The first step toward the solution to problems in our churches today is humilty. We in the church need to abandon our pride. We need to humble ourselves and stop pointing fingers at others (even if they are worse than us), so that the Holy Spirit can reveal our spiritual state. (The Spirit will do a much more thorough job of revealing our problems and correcting them than any TV celebrity ever could! Don’t be surprised if the Spirit shows us a whole lumber yard of two-by-fours in our eyes to be removed before we can see clear to remove the toothpicks in the eyes of others.)

* Only with humility are we enabled, with the Holy Spirit’s help, to see our sin (Psalm 139:23-24) and accept responsibility for it.

* Only with humility are we able to confess our sins and repent.

* Only with humility will we be able to submit ourselves fully to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

* Only with humility can we grow as the body of Christ after our sin problems have been put in the past.

On Restaurant Impossible, virtually all of the chefs who were offended with Robert’s initial assessment of their food “repented” once they tasted food cooked the right way. They swallowed their pride and benefited by it. Likewise, a church that consists of believers who live in humble submission to the Holy Spirit know the benefits of this change of mindset, and will not want to go back to their old ways.

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.

– Revelation 3:18-19

Church Impossible

I’m not big on reality TV, but I’ve been watching Restaurant Impossible lately on the Food Network (and occasionally Kitchen Nightmares on BCC and Fox). For those unfamiliar with these programs, here’s a short description.

Each Restaurant Impossible episode features a failing restaurant on the verge of going out of business. Celebrity chef Robert Irvine comes to the restaurant, samples the food, observes how it operates, interviews the customers, inspects the kitchen, food storage, management, workers, etc. Then he gives his brutally honest assessment of the problems to the owners and workers. From there it’s a matter of quickly correcting the problems, with the owners and employee’s cooperation, so the restaurant has a new start.

As I watch various episodes, I see many common problems: poor quality food, preparation, and recipes, dirty kitchens, outdated decor, and perhaps most common, lack of humility in the owners, cooks, and other workers that prevent them from seeing the obvious.

Those restaurants that accept chef Robert’s assessment and embrace his recommendations and new menu are more likely to experience a successful turn-around. But some fall back into their old ways when Robert leaves, and end up closing soon after.

The concept of the TV series could be applied to many other kinds of failing businesses. However, I wonder what it would be like to apply it to the church, i.e. Church Impossible. A mature believer comes from outside to a failing congregation, observes how it functions, confronts them with the problems and gives them good biblical solutions, teaching them how to get back to the basics, etc.

(Actually, there is a ministry that does something similar, minus the reality TV cameras. It’s called Metanoia Ministries. If your church is struggling with internal conflict, contact them. They can help.)

Many of the problems in churches today are very similar to those of the struggling restaurants. Perhaps you are part of a congregation that is stagnant or failing apart, and you want to know how to turn it around. While I don’t have all the answers, in the next series of posts I hope to uncover the causes of some common problems and give their biblical solutions.

(By the way, out of curiosity, I googled ‘church impossible’ and found other bloggers and pastors who had the same idea. I didn’t look at anything they wrote because I want to keep to keep my posts as original as possible. It will be interesting afterward to compare to see how we all differed in what we found.)