And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” [Mark 5:34 (RSV)]

Queen butterflyIn Mark 5, we have three miraculous healings: the demoniac in the Gerasenes, the bleeding woman, and the daughter of Jairus. A Gentile, the demoniac didn’t seek out the Lord. What did he do to deserve healing? I have a dear friend, a man of faith, whose wit, intelligence, and joy have been stolen by severe dementia. Countless prayers have been offered on his behalf but he only gets worse. My uncle was a man of faith but he descended into the hell of psychosis from which he couldn’t escape even in his sleep. In spite of prayers for release from his demons, that release only came when he died. Why was the demoniac healed and not them?

The woman with the blood issue had been suffering for twelve years and, after spending all her money to find a cure, she’d only gotten worse. Sure that just touching His robe would heal her, she fought her way through the crowd to Jesus. He told her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” What about all of the other people with faith for whom there is no healing? My mother had deep faith and even took part in the healing ritual of the laying on of hands but she died of cancer at forty-seven. Her faith didn’t bring healing and my prayer list is filled with the names of suffering people who, like that woman, have exhausted every possibility searching for a cure. Their faith is as strong as that of this nameless woman and yet they are not healed. Why her and not them?

Then there’s Jairus, the man who fell at the feet of Jesus and begged him to heal his daughter. By the time they arrived at his house, the girl was dead. Jesus held her hand, told her to get up, and she did. What did Jairus or his daughter do to deserve healing? As the local synagogue’s leader, had he been one of those in the synagogue who criticized Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath? He may even have been with the Pharisees when they accused Jesus of being possessed by Satan. Why was his daughter restored and not the little girl for whom I pray every day? Her parents and countless others have knelt before Jesus and begged for healing and it doesn’t come. We’re not even asking Him to raise her from the dead; we just want her to live!

There is no satisfactory answer as to why God restores health to some and not to others. Someday, in heaven, we’ll understand but, for now, we must have faith and trust in God; that’s not always easy. We must never think that healing is deserved. It is neither proof of our faith nor of God’s love for us and we can’t allow bitterness or anger to fill our hearts when healing doesn’t occur.  While there are many instances in Scripture where Jesus links faith and healing, there are many others where the healing seems almost random. Let us remember that Jesus healed only one person of the many who were by the pool in Bethesda. Even for the most faithful, miraculous healings are the exception and not the rule!

Jesus told the bleeding woman her faith made her well and then he told her that she was healed which tells us that being well and healed are not necessarily the same thing. Faith makes us well (or whole) in a way that health can’t. Jesus healed ten lepers but only the one who returned was told that his faith had made him well. He wasn’t made well when his leprosy was cured; he was made well when his gratitude and faith allowed the power of Jesus to enter his heart. Faith in Jesus is what makes us well; while it may or may not restore health, faith will always make us well. Lord Jesus, it is well with my soul.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul.
[Horatio G. Spafford]

Then said Jesus, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” [Luke 17:17-19 (RSV)]

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You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! [Mark 16:6 (NLT)]

empty tomb - north naples churchYesterday I mentioned the wooden cross and rustic nail on my desk that serve as reminders of the terrible price Jesus paid for our salvation. Although early Christian symbols included a dove, ship, lyre, anchor, and fish, the cross has become the universal symbol for Christianity. While Coca-Cola’s logo, Nike’s swish and McDonald’s golden arches may come close, I doubt there is any so recognizable sign in the world. Nevertheless, a gruesome instrument of Roman torture seems an odd symbol for a faith that preaches such things as reconciliation, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope, love, and peace. While I’d never wear a miniature gallows, guillotine, or electric chair on a chain around my neck, I do wear a cross. Although it symbolizes everything that happened to Jesus on that dark Friday two thousand years ago, the cross would be meaningless if the tomb had not been empty Sunday morning.

As we walked out of worship service on Easter morning, we came upon a large replica of a stone tomb. The boulder that had covered its opening since Friday was rolled away and it was empty except for some linen cloth resting on a ledge. Like the women who came early that first Easter morning (and Peter and John who arrived later), a few curious children entered the tomb. No angel was there to reassure them, but they didn’t need one. They’d come from Sunday school and know the Easter story well. At worship services, they’ve joined their parents in saying: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.” Rather than frighten them, that dark empty tomb reassured them of Jesus’s continual presence in their lives.

Jesus’s death upon the cross is important but it is His rising from the dead that demonstrates triumph over evil, sin, hate, and death. It is the empty tomb that allows us to say these words in the Apostle’s Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ…[who] was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again… I believe in…the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.”

Out of curiosity, I searched the stock of several Christian supply stores using the word “tomb.” There were plenty of books, choral collections, CDs, and songs with “tomb” in the title, some Easter stickers depicting an empty tomb, and even a “Raiders of the Empty Tomb” kit, but there were no empty tomb t-shirts, paper weights, jewelry, or wall décor. Apparently, there is no danger of an empty tomb replacing the cross as the universal symbol of Christianity. Nevertheless, when we see a cross, let us never forget that the story of God’s love for us did not end at Golgotha. It didn’t even end with the empty tomb three days later. The story of God’s presence, grace and love continues today.

Christians do not believe in the empty tomb, but in the living Christ. [Karl Barth]

So you see, just as death came into the world through a man, now the resurrection from the dead has begun through another man. Just as everyone dies because we all belong to Adam, everyone who belongs to Christ will be given new life. But there is an order to this resurrection: Christ was raised as the first of the harvest; then all who belong to Christ will be raised when he comes back. [1 Corinthians 15:21-23 (NLT)]

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And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him. [Hebrews 9:27-28 (NLT)]

Zermatt - Switzerland - crossAfter warning us not to put them in our pockets and accidentally take them home (or put them in the dryer if we did), small pieces of paper were given to everyone in attendance at last week’s Good Friday service. Following the sermon, we were asked to write a sin (or sins) for which we repent on the papers, come forward, and nail them to a cross resting on the steps before the altar. Listening to the hammering echoing in the sanctuary, I thought of what it must have sounded like two thousand years ago when Jesus and the others were hammered to their crosses: the loud pounding of the hammers, the commotion of the crowd, the mockery of the soldiers, and the cries of agony from the men as those blunt tipped nails pierced their bodies.

Those slips of paper were made of nitrocellulose; often used by magicians, they are commonly known as flash papers. Once we’d nailed our papers to the cross, the pastor ignited them and they instantly disappeared in a brilliant display of fire. Nothing, neither smoke nor ash, was left of them. What a powerful illustration of the way Jesus’s blood, shed on the cross as those nails were hammered into Him, made our sins disappear forever.

Next to the small olive wood cross on my desk, I now have a three-inch square-cut nail, a souvenir from Good Friday’s service. The cross, with its distinctive grain, artistic shape, and smooth finish, is so beautiful that it’s easy to forget it represents an instrument of torture. The dark rustic nail beside it will better remind me of the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Paying the price for our sins, His death brought us back into fellowship with God the Father. After the joy of Resurrection Sunday, however, it’s easy to forget the magnitude of that sacrifice until Lent rolls around next year. Let us never forget the miracle of forgiveness that occurred when a suffering bleeding and totally sinless Jesus endured torture and death for the forgiveness of our sins.

He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. [Martin Luther]

Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit. [1 Peter 3:18 (NLT)]

Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us. [Ephesians 2:18 (NLT)]

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For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. [Romans 1:20 (NLT)]

ViceroyWe were discussing when and how we came to believe in the existence of God. Some, who’d been brought up in families of faith, said there never was a time they weren’t aware of God’s presence. Others spoke of believing in God because He is visible in His creation of flowers, mountains, birds, sunrises and sunsets, the vastness of space, or the miracle of birth. Apologizing in advance for grossing us out, one woman shared her experience while in med school.

Not a believer, she’d thought science explained everything that needed explaining until she dissected a human brain. As she cut into the tissue and started labeling parts, she began to wonder. While slicing through the 100 billion neurons of a man’s brain, she questioned where the part was that loved stroking his wife’s hair, that knew the sound of his children’s laughter, that built model airplanes with his boys or a dollhouse for his daughter. Which part learned the alphabet and times tables, loved his parents, knew how to play the guitar, spoke wisdom to his students, called blue his favorite color and enjoyed both the Beetles and Bach? With each slice she asked things like, “Is this the part that knew sorrow at his child’s death or joy at his daughter’s wedding? Where is the memory of his first bicycle, first kiss or honeymoon?”

She held the most fascinating and complex organ of the body in her hands and knew the parts and the functions of every part of it but she couldn’t find the answers to her questions. Touching his brain, she knew this man more intimately than anyone but she couldn’t uncover what made him who he was. When she couldn’t find his essence—his very soul—she realized he was greater than the sum of his parts. Understanding that inside us all is something unique that cannot be seen, cut into, labeled, or even explained was her “Aha!” moment. It was then that she realized something or someone far greater is in charge. It was then that she finally understood God—the creator of heaven and earth and all things in between.

When she finished speaking, the room was absolutely silent; she started to apologize again for talking about cadavers and dissections. We reassured her there was no need for apology. Her compelling story had not turned our stomachs; rather, the beauty of it had taken away our breath! We sat in stunned silence as we each reflected on this great and marvelous Creator God who reveals Himself in such wonderful and unique ways.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. [Psalm 139:13-15 (NLT)]

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Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” … “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” [Mark 2:4b-5,11 (NLT)]

monarch butterfly - cannaJesus had returned to Capernaum and the word was out—the rabbi from Nazareth could heal. People were flocking to Him and the crowd followed Jesus right into the house where he was staying. Four friends of a paralyzed man carried him to see Jesus but the house was so full they couldn’t get through the door. Determined to get to Jesus, they carried the paralyzed man up the outside stairs to the rooftop and started to dig through the thatch. Picture the scene. The room is jam-packed when a disturbance is heard overhead. Dried mud and straw start to fall into the room, a head peaks through, more straw and dirt come spilling through the opening, a mat is dropped, and then four men lower their paralyzed friend down to the ground right at the feet of Jesus.

Rather than heal the man, however, Jesus forgave his sins. Then again, Jesus always put first things first; even more important than health is the forgiveness of sin! Scandalized, the scribes thought His words blasphemy since only God can forgive sins. To prove His authority to forgive, Jesus then healed the paralytic. While the forgiveness of the man’s sins couldn’t be demonstrated, the scribes couldn’t refute the validity of his healing when the once paralyzed man jumped up, grabbed his pallet, and walked. Imagine the gasps of the astonished people as he worked his way through the crowded room to the door.

This story tells us we must be stretcher bearers. When our friends are weak, we should bring them to God as did those four men when they placed the paralytic at Jesus’s feet. We often think that Jesus healed the man because of his faith. Look more carefully at the words; Jesus healed the man because of the faith of his friends! They were so sure that Jesus could heal him that nothing discouraged or stopped them. Like them, nothing should stop us from carrying our friends (or even people we don’t know) to God in prayer. Yet, how often do we offer to pray for someone and pray just once, haphazardly, or not at all? Our faithful prayers can make a difference!

For the last several months, I’ve been praying for a toddler with metastasized cancer. Hundreds of us, many of whom don’t even know her (including fifty from my Tuesday Bible study), have joined in bearing her stretcher and placing it at Jesus’s feet. What looked absolutely hopeless in October looks hopeful today; her scans are good and she’s begun physical therapy. Knowing she still has to face a transplant, radiation, and immunotherapy, her stretcher bearers will continue to carry her until the day she lifts up her pallet and goes home—which brings me to another lesson from this story. It is God, and God alone, who has the authority both to forgive our sins and to answer our prayers. No matter how deep our faith, not everyone whose stretcher we bear will be healed. Some may pick up their pallet and go home to their family but others will pick up their pallet and go home to God. Nevertheless, let us never forget that before Jesus healed, He forgave; while health is not guaranteed, forgiveness is. Thank you, God, for your saving grace!

Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. [Romans 12:12-13a (NLT)]

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Tent Rocks - NMDon’t be afraid, I’ve redeemed you. I’ve called your name. You’re mine. When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down. When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—Because I am God, your personal God, The Holy of Israel, your Savior. [Isaiah 43:2-3a (MSG)]

When visiting New Mexico, we often drive from Albuquerque to Santa Fe. The shortest route is north on I-25. If we’re not in a rush, however, the best way is the longer Turquoise Trail, a national scenic byway on the east side of the Sandia Mountains. In theory, this route should only add about a half-hour to the trip but it always takes longer. The whole point of going that way is to enjoy some breath-taking scenery, take a hike in the high desert hills, check out one of the bizarre roadside attractions (like the Tinkertown Museum), visit various art galleries along the trail, and stop for lunch (and more shopping) in the reborn ghost town of Madrid. Sometimes the journey is as important as the destination.

When the Israelites escaped from Pharaoh, God didn’t lead them the shortest way to the Promised Land; His reasoning, however, had nothing to do with sightseeing or shopping. The most direct route would have taken them northeast along a coastal road and directly into Philistine territory. Instead, God led them south southwest into the desert on the eastern edge of Egypt. Although they were armed for battle, the Israelites were anything but ready to face a military conflict. Having been oppressed for generations, rather than a mighty nation, they were a ragtag band of former slaves. While the longer route made sense, God’s next instructions certainly didn’t! He told Moses that Pharaoh’s men would give chase but that the Israelites should turn back and camp in such a way that they were exposed and trapped against the sea. Although God promised this strange tactic would demonstrate his power and glory, I can’t help but think that Moses was shaking in his sandals when reassuring the people that God had everything under control.

If the Israelites weren’t ready to face the Philistines a few days earlier, they were no more ready to face Pharaoh’s mighty army then. In fact, from a logistical point of view, by turning back, the novice warriors moved into an utterly indefensible position. That, of course, is exactly why God arranged it. Whether facing Philistines or Egyptians, the Israelites’ reaction to either would be panic. With the Philistines, they could have fled, even if that meant returning to Egypt. With Pharaoh’s army, however, they had no escape route. Although their sarcastic complaints to Moses revealed their lack of faith, pinned against the sea as they were, they had no choice but to trust in God. Since we know the rest of the story, that trust was well-founded. The people of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground and Pharaoh’s army perished in its waters. After experiencing God’s miraculous deliverance, the Israelites no longer feared Pharaoh. They did, however, fear, trust, and believe in the Lord!

Sometimes God takes us the long way around for a reason; while it may be for the scenery, there’s a good chance it’s to take us away from trouble. On the other hand, sometimes God takes us on detours that seem to make absolutely no sense because they lead us into trials and difficulty. That usually happens when there’s something we need to learn. When we find ourselves between an army and the sea or a rock and a hard place, there’s no need to panic. We just need to trust in the Lord.

And Israel looked at the Egyptian dead, washed up on the shore of the sea, and realized the tremendous power that God brought against the Egyptians. The people were in reverent awe before God and trusted in God and his servant Moses. [Exodus 14:30-31 (MSG)]

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