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Looking Back

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Scripture: John 5:8-15 (NIV)

8 Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” 11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” 12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. 14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” 15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.


What does a person learn in 38 years lying helpless at poolside?  There would certainly be plenty of time to think.  Sometimes too much.  In all likelihood there would be a perspective on life that would serve an invalid well if they could survive.  That would be no small feat.  Today we speak of “quality of life”.  I think of my father in his last few years and wonder about that.  My 93 year old grandmother just was admitted to a home in Milbridge, Me.  If she is to live much longer she will have to adjust her way of thinking from a lifetime of relative independence to total dependence.  When people fail to make those adjustments then the will to live fades and death approaches as an invited guest.

This story – we looked at it a few weeks ago, is positive in that it goes in the opposite direction.  A man is now healed and set free.  Life begins to look better – if he spent the rest of his days as a penniless beggar he would die a happy man.  One would think so at least.

Too many forget their deliverances and their reprieves all to easily and quickly.  So you’ve had a heart attack and survived.  The doctor tells you that if you are going to live – and you are indeed fortunate – then you’ll need to adjust the way that you eat.  You have all the resolution in the world in your corner at that moment when you know that you will make it and your heart is flooded with thanksgiving.  You go on that diet and you lose a few pounds.  You are feeling healthier than you have in years with this new lease on life. 

As time passes however, the will to eat returns famished in the middle of the church potluck.  It all starts with a sliver of cheesecake, a taste of homemade pie.  You saw it there, lurking on the buffet table.  You couldn’t keep your eyes off it all through the meal.  You stole a furtive glance over your shoulder just to make sure it was really there.  And there it was, crying out to you as you tried to pass by the second time. 

You’re not sure why you came through the line again the second time.  You had already decided that you’d forsake your dessert.  But the flaky crust was blued with the berries barely concealed beneath the surface.  Someone had thoughtfully cut it into pieces to make it easier for you to grab and growl.  The “cut lines” are marked with the deep purple filling oozing sweetly upward. 

You are salivating even now thinking about it.  You remember your last taste of homemade blueberry pie.  It’s been months now but it seems more like a lifetime.  Just one piece won’t hurt.  You’ve been a good boy or girl and you deserve to reward yourself.  Not only with the pie but a scoop of the genuine chilled, whipped cream that sits beside it calling as a false prophet with a voice that you hear in the pit of your empty, bored silly stomach.  The battle is over and you reach for it.  The problem is perhaps not this time but what is lost today with some struggle will in all likelihood be lost again with less struggle and less the next time and before you know it the will to eat has supplanted the will to live.

And so what should have been a turning point in your life was nothing more than a stay of execution and you’re living on death row and loving it.

How many times do we do the same thing?  We turn away from things in our lives that we need to turn away from.  The things that take a toll.  Some times small little withdrawals that seem insignificant until the statement comes and we become aware of the cumulative effect of or carelessness and failure to monitor the price that we pay on Life’s Hwy. 101.

God blesses us or mercifully heals us or He employs medical technology as a cooperative agent of healing in tandem with the natural ability that he gives every body to heal itself to a degree.

Until we start thinking that we are gods ourselves.  Our scratches heal and we go back to the things that scratch us.  And because we have survived we think that we are nearly immortal.  Bad things happen to others but not to us and we are once more on the slippery slope of destruction.  You see you can take the boy out of the pool hall without taking the pool hall out of the boy.

In this last Sunday AM of 2003, what do you see over your shoulder?  Were you generally happy with your experience in the last 12 months or so?  Next week we will be talking about the spiritual adventure.  God’s strategy and direction to make next year a different and a better experience.  But before we go ahead, let’s take a few minutes to turn around.  Take a look at where you’ve been.  Ask yourself if God is bringing you to a turning point ion your own life.  Are you ready to make a break with the past and ask Him to create something new for you and for your loved one sin the months ahead.  Please don’t misinterpret.  I’m not sowing idle fancies in your mind.  I’m not offering you a lottery ticket.  Really I’m challenging you to stop looking for easy ways to get rich or beautiful or successful or famous.  I’m asking you to turn your back on you and look fully toward Him – to look full in His wonderful face.  Coram Deo – it means, “We live in the face of God!”

I have a wonderful brother in the faith – a number of them actually.  Some of them spend more time with me than others.  The ones who invest regularly in my life aside from my family, meet me in the morning at 5:30am.  Other have become a part of a group called the “Wild Bunch”.  These men have made a commitment before God to pursue Him shoulder to shoulder with other men through vital relationships and genuine accountability.  There will be a “Wild Bunch 2” beginning in March.  It’s open to anyone who is willing to make the commitment to attend.  If you want more info, see me later or talk to one of the men currently involved.

Anyway, one of these guys is a soldier.  One of the terms that he uses regularly is the term, “Good To Go”.  It suggests the idea that before a person embarks on a mission they need to check their equipment, their personal inventory.  Everything on that list should be vital to the success of the mission.  You can’t afford to “leave home without it”.

I believe that the pool man and his interaction with Christ gives us some insight into healthy living beyond the pool.  I don’t preach to waste my time, your time or words.  When I preach, I do so believing that God wants to anoint His word to make a difference in all of our lives.

Are you “good to go” today?  Ready to turn the page and step forward.  God never takes us backward.  There are both good and bad things that must be laid aside in favor of continued growth in Christ. 

Let’s look at the checklist.

q       Am I ready to cease having my life defined, by the company that I keep?

3 Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.b [2]

I’m not preaching a sermon today to tell you that you need to ditch your friends for the welfare of your Christian life.  You can have as many cruddy buddies as you wish.  But what I am telling you is that you have a responsibility to them to become the presence of Christ in their midst.  I don’t care who you are or how long you have been a Christian, this is your calling.  It would be desirable that the “badness” of you buddies would be called in question by your goodness, that their reputation would be improved by yours.  This is what it means to be a Christian.  It is not always measured by what you say to them but always determined by the way that you live among them.  The problem is not your friends – they do not impact you negatively so much as you hide your light from them because you fear that they will no longer want your company.  In effect you choose them over Christ by the way that you live before them.  If your friends reject you because of your faith then so be it.  But let it be Christ in you that they reject not some misplaced zeal that manifests itself in rudeness or judgmentalism.  Anyway – we need to begin to define our company rather than letting them define us.

q       Am I ready to cease having my life defined by my handicaps or my disease or my weakness?

5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. [3]

You are no longer what you were before you met Christ.  I don’t care what you were.  My Bible tells me that:

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. [4]  2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (NIV)

Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. [5] 2 Corinthians 5:16-19 (The Message)

People will choose to remember your past and they will make present judgment of you based on the past reputation that you have.  You cannot argue your way out of this.  It is crucial to remember that God does not see you this way.  It is His approval that must be your greatest source of delight and encouragement.  People at their best are fickle.  They have a necessity to form opinions of people and circumstances and they tend to do this on limited information. 

Blessed are those who do not feel that they need to have an opinion on all things.  Blessed are those who reserve judgment.  Blessed are those who form their own opinions rather than inheriting them.  Blessed are those who do so based on their personal experience.  Blessed are those who understand that people change.  Blessed are those who understand that people that they do not warm to can be as forgiven as they are.  Blessed are those who do not insist on everyone agreeing with him or her.  Blessed are those who appreciate the differences in people.

The real sin is not in what others think of you.  The bad comes when you allow them to determine your future by giving too much attention to what anyone else says and too little to what God says.

4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [6] Romans 14:4 (NIV)

Shake it off brother!  It doesn’t matter what anyone else in this world thinks of you.  What matters is what you think of what God thinks and says about you.

q       Do you have your “nit-picker” repellent?

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.

There are always going to be people who will deliberately or inadvertently discourage you.  When God does something great they will miss it completely and they will center on some insignificant detail that doesn’t meet a criterion that they have established and they will pick at that until it becomes a major wound.

These dear folks are much more difficult to tolerate in the early days of faith.  God’s grace can help you to pity and then ignore them.

A part of the process of spiritual maturity is learning to gracefully ignore petty people who strain at the the gnats and swallow the camels.

And it is crucial that you learn to leave these people behind. 

q       Am I ready to stop blaming others?

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’” [7]

The blame game is counter productive and growth inhibiting.  This man responded quickly to establish the fact that it was not his fault that he was carrying the mat.  He tried to pin the blame on his healer.

God help us to own our decisions and our blessings.  I remember in earlier days of ministry when someone would question me as to why I did something.  I was thrown off because the reasons seemed so plain to me and it seemed that there was no defense required.

In these days, when an explanation seems likely to be beneficial, I take time to articulate my rationale.  When there is no discernible ground to be gained by offering an explanation, I listen as politely as I can, thank people for their comments, assure them that I value them as individuals regardless of our agreement or lack of it and then go forward.  There are those times when you know that people are looking for understanding and other times when you know that they are looking for an argument.  Some time ago I decided that I would not attend every argument that I was invited to.

q       Am I willing to deliberately develop a greater awareness of and sensitivity to people

12 So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?” 13 The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there. [8] John 5:12-13 (NIV)

Our own issues can make us as insensitive to others as we accuse them of being toward us.  It strikes me as odd that this man would not have asked who his healer was.  Wouldn’t you want to know the name of the person who made such a difference in your life?

q       Am I ready to reconcile my life with God’s design for it?

14 Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” [9]

If you are going to blame God this year when things don’t turn out as you plan, remember that He has His own plans for you.  God’s plans are not knee jerk ones and they are not short-term plans.  His overarching desire is to recreate in you the likeness of His Son.  He will not give you anything that will conflict with this goal.  He will not answer any prayer that will frustrate His plans.  As a matter of fact, I believe He will at times say no in order to precipitate the conflict that He is determined to win.

12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.  [10] Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)

You see this is the crucial battle in every one of us.  Who will be Lord of our lives?  Will we rule or will we allow God to rule?

Jesus sought and found this man in the temple and carried a warning to him.  He called for a change with a reminder that sin can take us to a far worse state than physical affliction. 

And sin is a far greater issue than what we do.  It is an issue that involves the fabric of our being.

q       Am I ready to unlearn the thought habits/patterns that keep me handicapped?

7 “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” [11]

Being and doing – I must first become then I do.  My behavior naturally flows out of what I am.  If you are struggling today with what you do, it is because of what you are.  God can heal a cripple physically but it still requires their deliberate and direct will for him to change or to heal them spiritually.  It comes only when we become sufficiently sick and tired of what we are apart from his healing grace.  God’s forgiveness covers the things that I have done but does not change who I am.  I have talked with people who live with people who are controlled by addictive behaviors – things that master people.

q       Gambling

q       Abusers

q       Sexual addictions

q       Pornography

q       Food addictions

q       Drug Addictions

q       Smokers

q       Gossips

q       Greed

An addiction keeps us from loving anyone but ourselves supremely.  It causes us to make choices that put our habits ahead of other things.  God does not want to shame us into running away from Him but to make us so tired of the things that master us and to make us sick of the weakness that we have that we acknowledge that He is the only hope – the only answer.  You can try to quit any of these things on your own but all that you will do is take an addiction “fast” or a diet – time out.

Am I ready to accept personal responsibility for my life in the areas which are under my control?

You are leaving port under sealed orders and in a troubled period.

You cannot know whither you are going or what you are to do.

But why not take the Pilot on board who knows the nature

of your sealed orders from the outset,

and who will shape your entire voyage accordingly?

He knows the shoals and the sandbanks, the rocks and the


He will steer you safely into that celestial harbor where

your anchor will be cast for eternity.

Let His almighty nail-pierced hands hold the wheel, and you

will be safe.

... Peter Marshall (1902-1949)


[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

b  Some less important manuscripts paralyzed—and they waited for the moving of the waters. From time to time an angel of the Lord would come down and stir up the waters. The first one into the pool after each such disturbance would be cured of whatever disease he had.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[5]  Peterson, E. H. 2003. The Message : The Bible in contemporary language. NavPress: Colorado Springs, Colo.

[6]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

[7]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[8]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

[9]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[10]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

[11]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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