PRAYERS FOR HEALING

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [Isaiah 53:5 (NLT)]

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

rabbitWe know Jesus was capable of big miracles: twice He ended up with leftovers after feeding thousands with only a few scraps and He brought the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus back to life. Nevertheless, when Jesus was at the pool of Bethesda and surrounded by a crowd of sick, paralyzed, blind and lame people, He healed only one man before disappearing into the crowd! That crippled man didn’t even ask for healing. From his later encounter with Jesus, we know he was a sinner so he couldn’t have been more deserving than anyone else gathered at that pool! Jesus could have healed, not just everyone at that pool, but every malady in all of Palestine. Why just that one man?

Recently, three people, all with serious health concerns, gathered around the pastor and we prayed with them for strength, courage, wisdom for their doctors, and healing. I will rejoice if God provides healing for those people and I have no doubt that He can. We have a God of miracles and nothing is impossible for Him.

Last year I prayed equally diligently for two people facing stage 4 cancer. Neither was more deserving of life but, today, one is cancer free and the other is dead. When our prayers for healing are unsuccessful, does it mean we didn’t pray hard enough or with enough faith? There are some who would say so but I disagree. When we look at the Apostle Paul, we see a true prayer warrior: a man of deep and abiding faith. If anyone had a direct line to God’s ear, it would have been Paul. Yet, in spite of his prayers, his infirmity (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) remained and there was no relief for him.

People often claim that Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:28 are promises of God’s healing. Indeed, they are; but a look at their context tells us the promised healing is spiritual rather than physical. The verses are about sin, righteousness, forgiveness and salvation rather than sickness or disease. It is our troubled souls, not our ailing bodies, that will receive the promised healing.

It is never wrong to pray for healing but we should remember that physical healing is not promised. Some people will have healing and others will have an opportunity to share Christ’s suffering. If our prayers fail to bring healing, it’s not because our faith isn’t real enough, our requests not earnest enough, we’re not righteous enough, God isn’t big enough, or that He doesn’t love us enough. It’s simply because it’s not in His plan to offer healing on this side of the grass. Let us remember our hope in not in physical healing; it is in salvation.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced that fiery furnace, they knew the God they served was fully able to save them but they also knew that He might choose not to do so. Their faith was not limited to a God of miracles; their faith was in a sovereign God and they trusted their destiny, whatever it would be, to His hands. We must have that same kind of faith.

All physical healing is temporary—the crippled man from the pool eventually died, as did the man born blind, the woman with the bleeding issue, the ten lepers, Peter’s mother and even Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. Whether or not the three people for whom we prayed receive healing, at some time or another, they also will die. It only will be then that they truly receive God’s healing along with new bodies that are designed to last for all of eternity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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RETRIBUTION THEOLOGY CONTINUED

The Lord curses the house of the wicked, but he blesses the home of the upright. [Proverbs 3:33 (NLT)]

The godly eat to their hearts’ content, but the belly of the wicked goes hungry. [Proverbs 13:25 (NLT)]

Backsliders get what they deserve; good people receive their reward. [Proverbs 14:14 (NLT)]

blue flag irisWhen writing about the faulty theology of Job and his friends, I thought of when Jesus’s disciples questioned why a man had been born blind. Showing their belief in retribution theology and never considering that sin might have nothing to do with it, they asked whether the man’s blindness was because of his sins or those of his parents. Jesus’s answer, however, makes it clear that no one’s sins were the cause: “This happened so the power of God could be seen in him.” [John 9:3] After Jesus restored his sight, the man testified before the Pharisees that, “If this man were not from God, he couldn’t have done it.” [John 9:33] Disliking that answer, retribution theology reared its ugly head again when the Pharisees accused the once blind man of being born a sinner and threw him out of the synagogue.

People made wrong assumptions about the Apostle Paul’s troubles when he was shipwrecked on the island of Malta. A snake bit him as he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire. Seeing the viper hanging from his hand, the islanders automatically assumed he was an escaped murderer and that dying from a snake bite would be exactly what he deserved. Paul shook the snake into the fire and, when the snake’s venom didn’t kill the Apostle, he proved their first assumption wrong. Then, because Paul survived unscathed, they assumed he was a god! Wrong on both counts: neither snake bite nor miraculous recovery indicate sinner or saint!

A quick reading of the blessings and curses in Proverbs can make us think that retribution theology is correct. Rather than God’s promises, however, Solomon’s proverbs give us wide-ranging wisdom on life. Generally speaking, godly living usually results in a good life and what goes around often comes around when it comes to wickedness, but there’s no guarantee of either on this side of the grass. That sightless man didn’t deserve to be born blind any more than Job deserved his suffering, Joseph deserved being sold into slavery, Jeremiah deserved getting thrown into a mud-filled cistern, Naomi and Ruth deserved widowhood, James deserved beheading, Stephen deserved stoning, or Paul deserved the snake bite, imprisonment, beatings, or the “thorn in his flesh.”

Although the concept of sowing and reaping is Biblical, we must be wary of being like the people of Malta, the disciples, and Job’s friends by judging people’s righteousness (or unrighteousness) by their external circumstances. There is no easy explanation for human suffering and we can’t possibly see into people’s hearts to know the depth of either their wickedness or righteousness. We must never presume guilt before innocence, assign blame without reason, assume people have caused their own troubles, or make presumptions based on stereotypes. Let us never forget that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to the bad. Someday, God will judge the world and there will be perfect justice. A day will come when every man will reap exactly what he’s sown but, until then, let’s be cautious in our assumptions about guilt and innocence.

Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. [Galatians 6:7-9 (NLT)]

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WHY? 

Bryce canyon - sunriseEverything I did was honest. Righteousness covered me like a robe, and I wore justice like a turban. I served as eyes for the blind and feet for the lame. I was a father to the poor and assisted strangers who needed help. I broke the jaws of godless oppressors and plucked their victims from their teeth. I thought, “Surely I will die surrounded by my family after a long, good life.” [Job 29:14-18 (NLT)]

No one enjoys reading the book of Job; it’s difficult to read about someone who, through no fault of his own, loses family, wealth, reputation, and health in one fell swoop. Complicating matters is that, while six voices are heard, only God’s voice is completely correct and we don’t hear from Him until the end. As for the rest of the speakers, while there are nuggets of truth in every speech, much of what is said both by Job and his friends, is incorrect and based on faulty assumptions. Eliphaz, for example, is correct when he says it is a joy to be disciplined by God when we’ve done wrong, but his belief that Job’s troubles are because he’s done wrong is incorrect. Although they make different points, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar and Elihu all base their arguments on the assumption that Job’s suffering is because he’s a sinner. Urging him to repent and turn back to God, Job doggedly maintains his innocence.

While Job is correct that his suffering is not because of his sinfulness, like his friends, he is operating on a retribution theology: that we get what we deserve. Because he’s been righteous, Job believes he doesn’t deserve his trials. Sure that his suffering is in error, Job is determined to speak with God to defend himself. Neither Job nor his friends have the right answer; good fortune is not necessarily because of righteousness any more than misfortune is necessarily because of sin. When Job eventually repents, he does not repent of any sin that led to his suffering because sin wasn’t the cause. Instead, Job repents of questioning God’s wisdom and falsely accusing Him of injustice.

Like Job, it is easy to question God when troubles rain down, but do we ever question God when blessings are showered upon us? Do we really think we deserve only the good and never the bad? God doesn’t owe us blessings for righteousness. Good times are undeserved and hard times often come to those who least deserve them. Just as we are unable to fathom God’s omnipotence and generosity in his blessings to us, we are incapable of comprehending why our almighty and loving Father allows evil to shatter lives. We no more deserve God’s grace and blessings than Jesus deserved to suffer on that cross!

Suffering and hardship happen because we live in a fallen world; God offers no more explanation to us or to Job. The only answer is to put our hope and faith in God, secure in the knowledge that He is in control. Evil wins only when we turn away from God in pain and confusion and stop trusting in His infinite power and wisdom.

If I ask, “Why me?” about my troubles, I would have to ask, “Why me?” about my blessings. … I take the good with the bad, and I try to face them both with as much calm and dignity as I can muster. [Arthur Ashe (tennis champion, winner of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, who died of AIDS after being infected by a blood transfusion)]

Then the Lord said to Job, “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” Then Job replied to the Lord, “I am nothing—how could I ever find the answers? I will cover my mouth with my hand. I have said too much already. I have nothing more to say.” [Job 40:1-5 (NLT)]

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TO GOD BE THE GLORY

The Grand Tetons - Jackson LakeHe [Herod] put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to them. At its conclusion the people gave him a great ovation, shouting, “It is the voice of a god and not of a man!” Instantly, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with a sickness so that he was filled with maggots and died—because he accepted the people’s worship instead of giving the glory to God. [Acts 12:21b-23 (TLB)]

Our voices, our service, and our abilities are to be employed, primarily, for the glory of God. [Billy Graham]

When it comes to compliments, it’s not only more blessed to give than receive, but often far easier. Praise is a beautiful gift of encouragement and, like any gift, it should be acknowledged with thanks. But what then? None of us want to end the way Herod Agrippa did when he failed to give the glory to God! God is the source of everything that is good in our lives and He has blessed each of us with an array of aptitudes and gifts that enable us to do His work and bring Him glory. While we may put forth a great deal of effort to develop them, our talents, skills, insight, and achievements are not ours alone; they come from the grace of God. It is only right to acknowledge his greatness and give Him the honor and praise. So, when we receive praise, how do we give God the glory that is His?

While I occasionally see, “To God be the glory!” at the end of an actor’s biography in a theater program, I’m not sure it works so well in conversation. Responding to a compliment with, “To God be the glory!” is a Christianese phrase that could be off-putting, especially to non-believers. It might even seem a little boastful—as if God gifted me but not you or my God-given gift is better than yours. Yet, not acknowledging God in our response to sincere praise means we’ve wasted a valuable opportunity to share the gospel. After thanking someone for their encouragement, how do we use their words as an opportunity to celebrate all that God has done in and through us? Of course, I’m going on the assumption that whatever we’ve done that earned the compliment we truly did to glorify God.

While saying “To God be the glory!” may seem a bit flippant or trite, other responses might work better. We could say something like: “I’m thankful to God that you liked my work,” or “I’m happy to be able to use God’s gifts this way,” or “Anything praiseworthy in me is really Him,” or even, “God’s blessed me with a beautiful gift and I hope to use it wisely.” Whatever we say, our response should be humble, sincere and heartfelt. Let’s always remember to give credit where credit is due! To God be the glory!

To God be the glory, great things He hath done;
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life gate that all may go in.
[Fanny Crosby (1875)]

For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. To him be glory evermore. [Romans 11:36 (TLB)]

O nations of the world, confess that God alone is glorious and strong. Give him the glory he deserves! [Psalm 96:8-9a (TLB)]

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WHAT LANGUAGE DO WE SPEAK?

The leaders saw that Peter and John were not afraid to speak, and they understood that these men had no special training or education. So they were amazed. Then they realized that Peter and John had been with Jesus. [Acts 4:13 (NCV)]

Sometimes, we Christians use religious jargon or “Christianese” when speaking. In fact, we might “testify” or “witness” instead of talk about our faith and “fellowship” instead of meet with friends! If, while speaking with non-believers, we use words we (and our fellow church-goers) can barely define we may as well be speaking a foreign language. Tossing about words like propitiation, sanctification, justification, glorification, conviction and reconciliation show that we can talk the talk, but what does it mean to anyone else? Let’s remember that Christianity isn’t a secret society like a lodge, college fraternity or sorority. There’s neither a secret handshake nor a password required for admittance.

When sharing our faith [witnessing], let’s not make the mistake of making Christianity harder than it is. Man rejected God [sinned] and we all stand guilty before God [condemnation]. Mankind’s sin alienated us from God but Jesus’s actions restored mankind’s relationship with God [reconciliation]. Jesus is God in flesh [incarnation].  Although the punishment for sin is death, Jesus paid that price [redemption]. Because Jesus took our punishment on the cross [propitiation/substitutionary atonement], we are no longer considered guilty [justification]. Jesus rose from the dead [resurrection]. When we believe in [accept] Jesus Christ and decide to follow Him [salvation], we turn from our old ways [repent] and are changed [born again/regeneration]. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we then grow more and more like Christ [sanctification]. Salvation is not something we earn [works], but something God freely gives to us [grace] when we believe in Jesus [faith].

Jesus didn’t use fancy words; he used parables and metaphors to make his point. Better yet, he explained his parables so everyone could understand the point he was making. The men he chose to spread the faith, men like Peter and John, were simple men. They didn’t require impressive words to preach or heal; they just needed faith! The bracketed words in the previous paragraph weren’t necessary and I’m not even sure I even used them all correctly! We don’t need $10 words or a special vocabulary to talk about Jesus; we just need to be sure we’re speaking the same language as the people with whom we’re talking.

Too many of us have a Christian vocabulary rather than a Christian experience. We think we are doing our duty when we’re only talking about it. [Charles F. Banning]

But we hear them telling in our own languages about the great things God has done! [Acts 2:11b (NCV)]

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LOVE SHALL NEVER DIE

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. … Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. [Luke 6:32-35a,36 (NLT)]

One of the hymns at our Easter Eve service was Christ is Alive and we sang, “In every insult, rift and war, where color, scorn or wealth divide, Christ suffers still, yet loves the more, and lives, where even hope has died.”  I thought of how hate must be like another nail in His hands and intolerance another scourging on His skin. The text of the hymn was written by Brian Wren in April of 1968, just two weeks after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. “I could not let Easter go by without speaking of this tragic event which was on all our minds, “ he explained. “The hymn tries to see God’s love winning over tragedy and suffering in the world.”

Little did I know while singing those words that, just a few hours later, there would be tragedy and suffering half-way around the world in Sri Lanka. Coordinated bombings at three churches and four hotels turned Easter Sunday into a blood bath leaving more than 300 people dead and 500 injured. A Sri Lankan Sunday school class at Zion Church met before the service that morning. When their teacher asked, “How many of you are willing to die for Christ?” all of the children raised their hands. As they rededicated themselves to Jesus by lighting candles, little did they know that half of them actually would die for Christ that very morning. As they crossed a courtyard to enter the sanctuary, a stranger exploded the bomb he was carrying in his backpack.

Last week, bullets ripped through a peaceful Passover service at a synagogue outside of San Diego, leaving one dead and three inured. Exactly six months earlier, 11 people were killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue. In March, at least 50 were killed and 20 injured in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. In January, two suicide bombers detonated their bombs in a Catholic church in the Philippines, leaving 20 dead and more than 100 injured. Last October, a gunman attacked a Sabbath service in a Pittsburgh synagogue, leaving 11 dead. The heart of God must be filled with grief at these horrific acts of terror and hate.

We live in a fallen world—a world where war, pain, injustice, violence, anger, and prejudice abound. As we mourn the loss of innocent lives, we must resist the temptation to return hate with even more hostility. Just as we pray for their victims, we must also pray for the extremists who perpetuate these terrible attacks. The war on terror isn’t just a political battle; it’s a spiritual battle against the Prince of Darkness.

Let us remember that Christ’s message is one of love and love is more powerful than hate. As a nation, we must work to resolve the social and political issues that encourage terrorism but, as Christians, peace must begin with us. We are called to love everyone—not just the people with whom we agree. Rather than living in fear, as Christians, we must live in hope. Let us be people of prayer against the ungodly hatred and violence of our world. We must extend the hand of friendship and love to all people, not just the ones who think, look, speak, and worship like us.

“Christ is alive!” we sang at that Easter service. “The cross stands empty to the sky. Let streets and homes with praises ring. Love, drowned in death, shall never die.” Let us answer the hate of the world with His love!

At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially at the sight of human sins, uncertain whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide, “I will combat it with humble love.” If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things and there is nothing like it. [Fyodor Dostoyevsky from “The Brothers Karamazov”]

You have heard the law that says, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. [Matthew 5:43-45 (NLT)]

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