Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What Should A Sick Christian Do?

We continue with the subject of Divine Healing, with a review of some pertinent scripture verses: Isaiah 53:3-51 Corinthians 13:9-10Romans 8:10-11Ephesians 1:13-14John 9:1-3Luke 10:1-12Mark 16:15-18I Corinthians 12Matthew 9:28-30Mark 9:23-24Mark 6:1-61 Corinthians 11:27-32James 5:14-20Revelation 22:1-3

Christians can and do get sick, they get injured, they lose body parts or the function of them. Some are born with genetic or developmental defects or had disease passed on to them in utero. In light of what Christ has done for us, why? We have already touched on the general principle: the dying bodies we were born with are susceptible to such things. So what should a Christian do about sickness?"

My response is that they should call upon God. Call upon God, I must be joking, right? No, that is the biblical answer! There are so many things God does for us without us consciously asking (we all breathe air at his discretion, without asking), but there are others that take the word of our mouth expressing the faith of our hearts to get. Our natural bodies do combat sickness and recover from or adapt to its effects, Christian or not. So it certainly is possible to be healed without asking (i.e. coming to him to receive), but when sickness crosses a certain threshold, I would say that is the exception rather than the rule.

I think the example of Jesus is illuminating here: everyone who came to him, or was brought to him to seek healing from him was healed by him. Have you ever wondered what happened to the sick that heard about Jesus, but didn't bother to come themselves or had no one bring them? What happened to those that did not have faith that compelled them to come and receive? I know it's a supposition, but I'd say they stayed sick, even died that way.

The Bible says flatly, if you're sick it's time to pray, and specifically, to get the church to use it's power of agreement in prayer for you. So whether you look at the pattern of folk getting healed in the gospels, or you hear the teaching of James on the subject, the bottom line is the same: when those in the community of faith get sick, they must ask God for healing! Healing is provided in the atonement, but like the atonement itself, it is not applied to humans generally apart from a receiving faith communicated to God.

Of course, some reading this will say, "I asked, but nothing happened. Doesn't that undermine everything said up to this point?" This is going to be painful for some of you to hear, so brace yourself, but please read on. It is possible to ask things of God amiss or to do so without any real faith. The only time Jesus' power to heal was ever stifled was in Nazareth when he faced unbelief.

As far as we know, the only time the Apostles, in doing Jesus' bidding in the gospels, were stifled was when there was a lack of faith. I hate the expression, "faith healing," but there is a measure of truth in it. When we come and ask Jesus for anything, it will be unto us according to our faith. A double-minded man will receive nothing from the Lord, even though Jesus died to provide it.

When we come to God for healing, we must come boldly, believing he hears us, and realizing that those stripes laid upon the back of Jesus were laid there for our healing. It is God's determined will to act on our behalf and heal us: "by his stripes we are healed!" So when we call upon the elders to pray over us, we cannot merely hope that it will work, we must know in our heart that it will.

But honestly, how can anyone know that? Well, all true Christians know that forgiveness of sins was an outcome of Jesus' atonement. They have no trouble knowing what to do when conviction of sin and a guilty conscience strike them. They go to God, confess their sin, and appropriate the forgiveness won at the cross. Most Christians have little difficulty believing that God forgives them when they ask him to do so.

After all, they have the pattern of the Lord's prayer, they have the historical fact of the passion, and they have the specific teaching of an Apostle. When they ask God to forgive them, they do so with confidence and the burden lifts. Why should they approach healing any differently? We have the pattern of God's management of his flock, we have the historical fact of the passion (specifically, those stripes), and we have the clear teaching of an apostle.

So when we ask God to heal us, we should do so with the same confidence we have that he will forgive us. They are part and parcel of the same thing. But wait a minute, there are believing folk that remain in illness or disability, what about them? We'll tackle that in the next post on the subject.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Letter to the Vision-Driven Church, Part I

‘I know your deeds, and your love and faith and service and perseverance, and that your deeds of late are greater than at first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate...       Revelation 2:19-20a  NASB

In his message to the church at Thyatira, Jesus pinpoints trouble in a church that seemed to know where it was going. Look at his description: notable deeds, love and faith, service, perseverance, and a trajectory in mission that resulted in latter deeds being greater than former ones. I think any of us looking at that description would say, "What a great church, now that's the way to do it!." Particularly, in today's business and marketing laden approach to church planting, church management and growth, those qualities would seem to be the core of producing the right kind of success.

Now please don't misunderstand what I'm saying, those were great characteristics. This church was relational, it was engaged and moving, they were focused. They knew what they were trying to accomplish, and they were getting after it. But as important as these considerations are, what cannot be overlooked is that they were not allowed by Christ to be substituted for proper teaching and upright behavior.

The message to Thyatira that perhaps today's church needs to clearly hear is that passe things like doctrine and discipline really do matter, at least to God. I fear that under the current church-growth regimens so widely practiced by congregations swallowing up whole the population of church-goers, discipline never rises past the level of showing the door to anyone who doesn't quite buy the leader's vision. Doctrine isn't anything more than the joyous knowledge that as long as you fit the profile the church is trying to attract and submit to that leader's vision, God loves you.

It is not enough to have a vision that drives your church. It is not enough to know one's mission and to dedicatedly pursue it. Even if one is successful in that aspect of church life, Christ may find significant and disastrous fault with such a church. Church discipline is a key aspect of church life as Christ would have it. False prophets, false teaching, immoral practices all have to be addressed via discipline. Talk about turning today's wisdom on its head--vision, evidently, is not a suitable vector for close-mindedness in church according to Christ, but doctrine is.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Does God Want Us To Be Sick?

We continue with the subject of Divine Healing, with a reminder of some pertinent scripture verses before we deal with the subject at hand: Isaiah 53:3-5; 1 Corinthians 13:9-10; Romans 8:10-11; Ephesians 1:13-14; John 9:1-3; Luke 10:1-12; Mark 16:15-18; I Corinthians 12; Matthew 9:28-30; Mark 9:23-24; Mark 6:1-6; 1 Corinthians 11:27-32; James 5:14-20; Revelation 22:1-3

As I have said in an earlier post, it was God's justified curse on man for sin which resulted in death and led to decay, infirmity and disease. A reasonable person might assume from that nugget of truth that God's will for fallen humans is that they be ill, at least at times. However, that same God sent his son Jesus to become the curse for us so that we could be freed from its effects. The penalty of death (and with it infirmity, decay and disease) was eradicated by the substitutionary death of the sinless lamb of God. 

Since God's wrath against sin was fully expended upon Christ in suffering his passion, none of God's wrath is left for the heirs of salvation. Logically (even if there was no passage like Isaiah 53:4-5), for the sacrifice of Christ to exhaust and expunge the curse of death, it would also, by necessity, wipe out the effects of death, namely, decay, infirmity and disease. Therefore, people who embrace Christ's vicarious sacrifice for sin through faith, should not only have the blessing of sins forgiven and eternal life, but they should also have the provision of healing, now.

The promise of divine health and healing for those within the covenant of faith is well attested in scripture. It is an established pattern, from of old, that clues us into God's management style. He wants those he redeems to be well. That Isaiah makes it clear that healing is provided for within the atonement of Christ only strengthens the point. Some of the last verses of the Apocalypse underline the ultimate intention of God that those that are his be well.

But wait a minute here, we still grow old, get sick and die. Why, if all that I've written above is true? According to the Apostle Paul, these mortal frames formed from Adam and Eve's flesh (genes) must be put off before new bodies untinged by Adam's sin and not subject to death may be put on. We have a very rich inheritance in Christ, but we can only receive a portion of it now while in these dead bodies. We'll have to wait until the resurrection for the full package.

Until then all humanity, even the believing, will continue to die in their time. And while in dying bodies, even Christians can get sick, despite the provision of healing in the atonement. Is there anything that can be done about that? We'll take up that question and the whys and wherefores in the next post on the subject.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Her Name Rings A Jezebel

" tolerate the woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, and she teaches and leads My bond-servants astray so that they commit acts of immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols."    Revelation 2:20 NASB 

Jezebel called herself a prophetess and unrepentantly led Christians in Thyatira into license. Exactly who was she? I doubt there was a person in Thyatira actually named "Jezebel" at the time of the writing of the Apocalypse, but I do think there was an actual person in Thyatira around that time who was symbolically designated by the reference but was otherwise unnamed. What I feel quite certain about is that whoever was referred to by the name was not a "spirit" or a demon. It's not that I don't think that a demonic spirit could have been behind the activity mentioned, it's just that it's not at all discernible from the text if it is. It's better not to make such a claim.

The name itself hearkens back to some of the dark days of the northern kingdom of Israel during the era of the divided kingdom. In a politically expedient marriage, Ahab, an Israelite king, married the heathen daughter of Ethbaal, King of the Sidonians. Her name was Jezebel. She was willful, a dedicated pagan, and in utter opposition to God and his prophets. Elijah, the one prophesied to reappear in the end of the age, was driven to despair and into hiding by her focused effort to undermine what he said and to kill him.

Whoever the actual person referred to by Christ may have been, the qualities which make her a symbol for all who followed are that she was: 1) a woman, 2) who wanted those in the believing community around her to embrace practices foreign to true religion, and 3) who resisted all correction from legitimate spiritual leadership. Furthermore, this self-appointed authority was associated with teaching the "deep things of Satan." Christians never need delve deeper into the things of Satan than realizing he's on the prowl seeking someone to devour. Learning his secrets is not the means of overcoming him, rather getting deeper into the things clearly, openly revealed in Christ is.

My experience over the last 30 years leads me to doubt any claim to "deep things" from contemporary prophetic figures, so when I hear the phrase used by teachers today, my mind translates it into: "reading into the text something completely alien to it". I do not doubt the Jezebel referenced by John the Revelator would have foisted her teaching in a similar vein. In fact, since I see these letters as prophetically representative and therefore in force for types of the local church as it exists in various places at various times, I would expect that at any given time some local church would be dealing with such a figure in their midst. If and when that happens, even though the false prophetess' name may not, her way most certainly should ring a Jezebel.