Can we really expect Jesus to protect us?

Recently as I stood worshiping in church, the Lord showed me a vision. I saw a large crowd of people standing to the right in my vision and they were raising their hands high in worship, singing to the Lord and praising Him. At the front of this crowd several people held a banner high. I knew that these people were standing their ground but I wondered why they were not moving. No sooner had I thought this, when He expanded my vision and I saw the hordes of hell on my left, and they were shooting flaming arrows at the people praising God. Then something amazing happened; the arrows hit an invisible barrier, like a force field, and fell to the ground. The people of God were protected.

The next morning as I sat reading the Bible, I starting reading Psalm 47 and I realized that the whole psalm literally described what I had seen in the vision. The psalm is only 9 verses long so I highly recommend that you read the whole thing yourself, but let me give you just a small sample of what I read. Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth…God has gone up with a shout, The Lord with the sound of a trumpet. Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!…The princes of the people have gathered together, the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; He is greatly exalted. Psalm 47:1,2,5,6, and 9. What really caught my eye in this psalm is the word “shields” in verse 9. This word in the Hebrew literally means defense, a protector, a small shield or buckler. God is indeed our shield of protection.

When I look around me however, I see very little evidence of this. I see fear in the news, fear in sermons, fear in conversations, and I see a lot of people who do not believe that God is protecting them. There is a great deal of fear over what is coming onto this earth in these end times. There is so much fear, that at times, we could easily be led to believe that the enemy is stronger than God; that the enemy is in control, not God, and that God is simply reacting to the enemy’s power and strength. It is a constant battle of the mind, to take God at His word and trust Him that He will protect those that are His. So how do we overcome this battle? How do we walk in His protection, and how do we overcome this fear?

If you look up the word shield as used in this psalm, you’ll notice that it is used 60 times in the Old Testament, and in over 20 of those references, it is talking about God being our shield. As I read through each of the more than twenty verses, I began to see a pattern and I thought I would share that pattern with you.

God is a shield to those who walk uprightly, and have an upright heart. (Proverbs 2:7, Psalm 7:10 and Psalm 84:9-12)

God is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. (Psalm115:9-11, Psalm 18:2 and Psalm 28:7)

God is a shield to those who hope in His Word, and trust in His promises. (Psalm 119:114)

God is a shield to those who allow Him to train them and believe that He is their refuge. (Psalm 144:1-2)

God is a shield to those who believe that He saves them. (Psalm 18:35)

God is a shield to those who wait for the Lord. (Psalm 33:20)

God is a shield to those who allow Him to comfort them. (Psalm 3:3)

God is a shield to those who walk in the light of His countenance and who rejoice in His name. (Psalm 89:15-18)

If we go to the New Testament Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:11-17 to put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. But he also tells us to take up the whole armor (vs 13). What he is saying here is that you can’t just put it on, you have to actually use it! So let’s break it down into something manageable and easier to understand.

The first weapon is truth. He tells us to wrap truth like a belt around our waist. The belt holds things up. Who is the truth? Jesus! We are to wrap Jesus around ourselves like a shield of protection. He will hold everything up for us, and He will keep everything together for us.

The second weapon is the breastplate of righteousness.  Who is our righteousness?  Again, Jesus! His blood covers our sins and pays the price for our iniquities and trespasses. Have you repented and trusted that you are covered and protected with His righteousness, not your own?

Next, put on your feet the preparation and the knowledge that God wants to be at peace with His children, through Christ. He wants to be reconciled to us. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) We must believe that God loves us and wants to be reconciled not just with us, but with those around us.

The shield of faith is next. The interesting thing about this word shield is that although the word shield which I used earlier from the Old Testament is a small one, or a buckler, the shield that Paul talks about in this verse is a large one. It comes from the root word door. It is a large, door shaped shield. Full body protection!  When we put our trust, our faith in Jesus, He is like a shield of protection for us. We can hide behind His blood. He is our righteousness. He is our truth. He is our peace. He is our salvation. But we must have understanding about this. David tells us in Psalm 47:7 that we are to sing praises to God with understanding! God does not cover our sins, He washes our sins in the Blood of Jesus through our repentance.

Finally, Paul tells us to put on the helmet of salvation. A helmet protects our head, our brain. It is our mind that the enemy loves to attack. There is good reason why Paul tells us that the only way we can be transformed is through renovation of our mind. (Romans 12:2) Yes, I said renovation. The word renewing comes from the Greek word renovation. We have to tear down the old beliefs, the old strongholds that the enemy has used to put us into bondage before we came to Christ, and renew our thinking. Our trust must be in Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2)

I couldn’t help but notice that the armor of God in Ephesians and all those verses about God being our shield of protection in the Old Testament, are talking about the same thing. Nothing has changed except this: we now have the knowledge of Christ our Righteousness, which they did not have. But it is still our faith in God, our trust that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, and then rose from the dead, and our obedience to His word, that prompts Him to be our shield of protection. Psalm 91:1-2 tells us that “He who dwells (remains or sits down) in the secret place of the Most High shall abide (stay or live) under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust”. This Psalm goes on and on about God’s protection. Truly, nothing has changed.

Jesus tells us in Revelation 3:20,  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and he with Me.”

What door is Jesus standing at? He is talking in this verse to the lukewarm church of Laodicea. This is a church that thinks it is rich and wealthy, and needs nothing. Yet Jesus is ready to spew them out of his mouth because He thinks they are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked (vs. 17) Why is Jesus standing at the door of a church? What door are they using to protect themselves? What is their shield of protection? It certainly cannot be Jesus, or He wouldn’t be knocking at their door and telling them this.

Jesus tells us in John 10 that He is the door of the sheep. He is the door to heaven. He is the door for our salvation. He is the door of protection. So if He is the door, then I ask again, what door of protection is He standing at and knocking?

Is it their money? Pride? Denial that He will judge us? A mental graven image of who they think He is? A belief system that has worked for them in the past? Denominational glasses? Jesus is standing in front of that door they are using to protect themselves with, and He is knocking.

What are you using to protect yourself with in this life? Is He standing at your door and knocking? Will you open up and let Him become your shield of protection?

Why becoming aware of your 5 spiritual senses is so important.

I’m an early riser and my favorite part of the day is the time before dawn, when the world is still quiet and it’s just me and the Lord. I got up this morning and it seemed like any other day, except this morning I was distracted. I couldn’t seem to focus on what I was reading in the Bible, and when it came time to just talk to the Lord and listen for what He wanted to tell me, I couldn’t hear a thing. Nothing. Now you might think that I’m not alone in this problem and I’m sure I’m not. But what I would like to share with you is how I overcome these kind of mornings. What exactly do I do, to push through the darkness, the distractions, the worries, and the cares of life?

Let me ask you a question first of all and you’ll understand why in a moment. What would your life be like, if you did not have any physical senses? How about if you were just missing one of those senses, like for example, your ability to see? Or how about your ability to hear? How about taste, or touch or smell? Which one would you be willing to give up? I think that most of us would answer quite readily, none of them. And why would that be? Because our physical senses connect us to the world around us. They allow us to interact with other people, to enjoy creation, to read a good book, listen to music, or enjoy a good meal.  The list of things that we do with our senses is endless. Life would literally not be the same if we were missing even one of them. But how about all of them? What would your life be like, if you had no physical senses? None? Think about that for a minute.

With that thought still fresh in your mind, I want to show you a verse in Hebrews that you might have missed, or never really thought about. “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” Hebrews 5:12-14

Did you catch the word senses? Now I know that whoever wrote this book did not mean our physical senses. He’s referring to the spirit realm when he talks about discerning both good and evil. Paul tells us quite plainly in 1 Corinthians 15:44 “There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body“. Jesus Himself tells us in several of the gospels “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, Fear Him!”  Luke 12:4-5. So what exactly is cast into hell? The spiritual body. The eternal body that each of us have.

Now let’s go back to Hebrews 5, where we are told that in order for us to become spiritually mature, we must learn to use our spiritual senses. The word used is exercise. It means exactly that. Just like you get better at biking or jogging by doing it over and over, you must exercise your spiritual senses. In other words, you must use them regularly, in order to get better at using them.

I remember when I first learned this, I was a little overwhelmed. Wait, I have a spiritual body? Ok, technically I knew that. After all I knew that this part of me, my spiritual body, would spend eternity in heaven with Jesus. But no one, and I mean no one had taught me that I was to somehow use that body here on earth. I thought, or maybe I didn’t really think, that it was just something for the future. Something that somehow came alive when I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, but then sat there dormant. I’m not sure what I thought. Perhaps my spirit man was just hanging out, loitering around in my physical body, doing nothing. Waiting for eternity. I mean, come on, be honest, unless you’ve had any teaching on this, what else would you think?

But what if I was actually supposed to utilize this spirit man? What if I am actually told to protect this spirit man? Yes, I said protect. Why else would Paul tell us in Ephesians 6:11-16 to put on the whole armor of God? Now if you read this passage, it becomes quite clear that He’s not telling us to put on physical armor. No, he tells us quite plainly that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” So which body am I supposed to put this armor on? It has to be my spiritual body! But how can I put armor on a body that I’m not even aware of? And that is the problem, isn’t it? We are not aware of our spirit man, we have not learned to exercise our spiritual senses, and we have left our spirit man unprotected. I will not lie, but confess openly, that this passage in Ephesians has always puzzled me. I could never really figure out how I was to put this armor on.

Remember all those physical senses and how much they help us to communicate with the world around us? Now imagine if you were aware of your spirit man, and your spiritual senses were functioning as they should? Imagine how different your spiritual walk would be?

My mother died 14 years ago this past Spring. I remember the night before she died, as I was driving away from the hospital, I asked the Lord why He hadn’t taken her home yet. She was suffering greatly, and I couldn’t understand why she had to linger on. I will never forget what He said to me during that dark evening. He told me that when He had finished all the work on the cross that needed to be finished, the Father allowed Him to die. See John 19:30. He then proceeded to tell me that when my mother finished all the work that she needed to do, she too could die. Although I was perplexed, I trusted Him. The next day my brother who had been estranged from my mom for years came to her hospital room and they were reconciled. Within one hour of his leaving, she died. Her work was finished. Why am I sharing this? Because it was the ability to hear His voice and feel His comfort that got me through that dark time in my life. I could have been angry at the fact that she lingered, angry at God, but instead I was able to hear His voice so clearly that I felt His comforting presence and saw what He did in her and in my brother’s life.

I’ll give you another story, this time from the Bible that also speaks of our spirit man. In 2 Kings 6:8-23 we read about Elisha the prophet and his conversation with a fearful servant. They are surrounded by the Syrian army, and the servant asks Elisha what they should do. Elisha says to his servant “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Elisha then prayed and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Which eyes did God open in the servant? It certainly was not his physical eyes, because he had already seen the physical Syrian army. God opened his spiritual eyes! And I’m sure that the comfort he felt when he saws those horses and chariots of fire was amazing. Why did Elisha have such confidence in God? Because he could see in the spirit realm.

And that takes me back full circle to those mornings when I am distracted and find it hard to focus on the Lord. What if I am aware of the spirit realm around me? What if I knew, because I have exercised my spiritual senses, that Jesus is right there beside me? Would I still be bored with prayer? What if I knew there were angels all around me, protecting me, would I still be afraid? What if I knew that God has already won the battle, because I saw Him for who He really is, the Almighty! What if, when I walk into church on Sunday morning, because my sense of touch is functioning properly, I could feel His presence? What if my spiritual sense of taste was awake and when I read His word, it becomes alive in my mouth and I taste and see that the Lord is good? Oh my goodness.  I think our Christian walk would be so different if we could walk in the spirit, and not in the flesh.

But I want you to think about this for a moment. If you were missing even one of your physical senses, would life not be less enjoyable, even harder? Take that thought and apply it to your spiritual senses. If you can’t hear Him, see Him, feel Him, taste Him, or smell Him, is it any wonder that you are bored with prayer, looking at the time during worship, and thinking about lunch during the sermon?

So what do you do, now that you are aware that you have these senses, but you realize that you aren’t using them? First and foremost, if you have not received Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you must repent and ask Him to forgive you for your sins. You do not want to activate your spiritual senses without being a Christian because there are many evil spirits out there who will be more than happy to lead you astray.

Once you are sure that you belong to the Lord, ask Him to activate your senses. Ask Him to open your spiritual eyes so that you can see into the spirit realm. Ask Him to give you ears that hear so that you can begin to hear His voice. Tell Him that you want to feel His presence when He is near; that you want Him to let you smell His sweet fragrance. Let Him know that you want to taste and see that His word is good. Once you have asked, realize that using your spiritual senses is not a logical, or left brain activity. It is a right brain activity. You must have faith that you have these senses and that He wants you to use them, and that He wants to reveal Himself to you through them. Faith is not a logical activity. It makes no sense. Your spiritual senses might not make sense to you either. But in order for you to grow up, to become mature, you must learn to exercise them. (Hebrews 5:12-14)

For me personally, becoming aware that I had them, was huge. I knew I had spiritual ears and that was probably my most developed sense. But it changed my life when I begin to see in the spirit and started using the other senses as well.  It was definitely a leap of faith for me. The enemy loves to come in and tell you that this is silly. That it is all just your imagination. But if you are still reading this, then I know you want more of God. Ask Him. He wants to give you more of Himself. But He is spirit and we must worship Him, and experience Him, in spirit and in truth. (See John 4:23-24)

 

 

Are you praying for a prodigal?

I love the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. Why do I love it? Because the son comes home, every single time. I have never once read the story and not had the son come home. You’re probably thinking well that’s kind of silly! Of course he always comes home. It’s the same story. Exactly! The son always comes home.  There is no other story that Jesus told about a son that did not come home to the Father. But notice the word son. He’s not talking about people who have never accepted Jesus. He’s not talking about the heathen, although a prodigal will no doubt behave like a heathen at times. He’s talking about a son! And according to Jesus, sons always come home. Let me explain why I believe this.

I grew up not knowing the name of Jesus. My parents went to church while I was young, but I have no memory of ever being taught that Jesus loved me or who He is. When I was 6 years old my parents moved to a new country with a new language and they stopped going to church. I was a very lonely child, the youngest of three with two brothers 10 and 14 years older. Perhaps because of this, I would pray at night. The funny thing is that I had no idea who God was and I certainly didn’t know He had a Son named Jesus. So I would pray to the unknown God. I loved the name Charlie and being a kid, I decided to call God that. So each night I would go to bed and pray to Charlie. I know this sounds almost sacrilege but I believe that God wants children to come to Him. I think He even mentions this a time or two in the Bible. Anyway, one day when I was about 9 years old, I happened to watch a Billy Graham crusade. They were very popular in the 1960’s. Dr. Graham was having  regular crusades and the TV networks would always carry them. So I watched one and I couldn’t believe my ears. God had a name and it was Jesus! I was thrilled and immediately that night I prayed the sinners prayer that I had been taught on TV and accepted Jesus into my heart. But then I decided the next day to share my story with my father. I told him what I had done. His response leaves me speechless to this day. He told me that there was no God!

You can imagine what happened next. I was a child and I believed my father. Never again did I pray to God. Not once. It reminds me of the parable of the sower as told in Luke 8:5-15. “A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture”. That was me right there. The seed that Dr. Graham sowed  into my heart that night sprang up but immediately withered, because no one watered it. Actually, I have often wondered if the seed got stolen by the birds.

When we pray and accept Jesus into our hearts as our Lord and Savior, I believe that we actually create a covenant with God the Father. Let me explain. The word covenant, which is used in both the old and new testaments, means to enter into an agreement, to create a contract, a treaty or a deal. It is considered a legal contract. Did I break my part of the contract that day when I believed my father more than I believed God? Absolutely. I walked away from my covenant. But I don’t believe that God walked away from me. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 18:12-14 that if a man has a hundred sheep and one wanders away, he will leave the 99 and go find that one.

I think that even though I lost whatever tiny bit of faith I had to pray that prayer, God honored it. I might have wandered off, but God went after me. I entered my teen years as a true prodigal! The word prodigal means “riotous” in the Greek. I looked up what riotous means and yup, that was me. Riotous: characterized by wild and uncontrolled behavior. Synonyms are unruly, loud, out of control, ungovernable, unmanageable, etc.  Yet here I am, years later, writing a blog about Jesus! So what happened?

God began to send people into my life who would talk to me about Jesus. I rejected them. He also sent people unbeknownst to me that prayed for me, sometimes for years. And when I hit rock bottom at 17, wanting to take my own life, He gave me someone who shared the gospel with me. He gave me the grace to take another look at this Jesus and this time, I repented. He turned my life around in days. I was set free from all that prodigal living in a heartbeat. Literally.

Why did God do that for me, even after I had rejected Him? Let me lead you on a little Bible journey that I believe answers this question. In Matthew 13:31 Jesus tells His disciples that “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…which indeed is the least (or smallest) of all the seeds”. He then goes on to tell them in Matthew 17:20 that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed, they could move a mountain from one place to another place.

Now let’s go back to the parable of the sower that I mentioned earlier, in Luke 8:5-15 where Jesus talks about the word of God being a seed that is sown into our hearts. He describes 4 kinds of soils which the seed lands on. The first is hard ground, the wayside that people walk on as they are working their garden or going somewhere. When seed lands on this  ground, it is trampled on and the birds of the air immediately come and eat it. This type of soil is interesting if you do a word study. The Greek word trample means to treat with rudeness and insult. In other words, the seed that lands on this kind of heart is immediately rejected by the person. They want nothing to do with it. Clearly, the seed that Dr. Graham sowed into my heart that night did not get trampled on. No, I actually received it with gladness and rejoiced that I finally knew His name.

The second kind of soil that is described in the parable of the sower is rocky ground. If you’ve ever worked a garden you will know that seed does not grow on rocks, at least not for long. This is exactly what Jesus said to the disciples when He described this kind of soil or heart condition. “But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away”. If you look at the story, you will notice that there are two other kinds of soils, the third being filled with thorns, which choke the seedlings, and finally the good ground, which allow the seed to spring up and yield a good harvest.

It is the second soil that I want to focus on for this post; the rocky soil. I think that it is significant that the kingdom of heaven, the word of God and our faith, are all compared to seeds, two of them to mustard seeds. Now as I mentioned earlier, the mustard seed is the smallest of the seeds. It is quite tiny. Could it be that when God sows His seed into our hearts as children, knowing that a time of temptation would come as we grow up, he in fact hides some of his mustard seed in the crevices of the rock? Interesting you might say. But what about the fact that seed can’t grow on rocks? Good question.

Remember when Jesus told His disciples in Matthew 17:20 that if we have faith as small as a mustard seed, we can say to a mountain “Move from here to there, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you”?  You and I have authority to move mountains! I would like to point out a detail you might have missed in all of this. The rocky soil that His seed often lands on is filled with rocks, not mountains. It says this: “Some fell on rock;  (Luke 8:6) They were rocks. Just rocks. Why is this so important? Because my faith might be tiny, too tiny to move a mountain, but I think I can move a rock.

King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:5 that there is “A time to cast away stones”. I’ve never connected this verse in Ecclesiastes to the story of the sower who went out to sow. Until now.

Think about this. There is a time to cast away stones! If you have faith as tiny as a mustard seed, you can speak to a mountain, or even a stone or a rock and command it to go somewhere else.  When we pray in the name of Jesus, we have authority to move rocks and stones and mountains. Mountains move at the mention of His name. Why? Because He is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is Almighty God. His name has power!

Now let me ask you a question. Are you a Christian? Do you have faith as small as a mustard seed? Surely you must have or you would not have accepted Christ into your heart for the forgiveness of your sins. Did your children accept Christ into their hearts when they were young? Did they receive the message with joy? Even if your faith is that tiny, as small as a mustard seed, you have authority through the name of Jesus to say to those rocks in their lives, “MOVE“! It’s not a mountain. It’s just a rock! Command those rocks to move and be cast out of their hearts, so that the seed you sowed into their lives all those years ago, will be on good ground and will spring up, and grow into a good harvest of salvation.

And that is what happened to me. God brought people into my life, strangers who prayed for me. They had faith to keep praying even when they looked at my life and things appeared to be getting worse, not better. But they kept praying. They kept moving rocks. And when I hit rock bottom, things changed in an instant.

Remember the Father in the story of the prodigal? He was watching and waiting for his son to return home.  “But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him“(Luke 15:20)  The father could not have seen him while he was still a great way off, unless he had been watching and waiting. I want to encourage you to keep praying. Keep watching and keep waiting. Your prodigal will come to himself and remember. And they will come home. They always do!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why are you not getting healed?

A few weeks back a friend of mine died.  She is only one of many friends that I have lost over the years to cancer.  Quite truthfully, I hate cancer and I hate it when people die before their time and I’m sure I’m not alone in how I feel. However, her death brought me face to face with the reality of sickness and that got me thinking about what I would do if I got sick? I’ve never faced a terminal illness in my own life, so it’s easy for me to sit here and be an armchair critic on why people I once knew personally didn’t get healed, even though they prayed for healing. I realized that I needed to really question what I’ve both believed and been taught about healing.

I have always believed that Jesus wants to heal people because He tells us in the Gospels that He does. On three different occassions Jesus tells people “I am willing” to heal you when they ask him for healing. (Matthew 8:1-3, Mark 1:40-41, Luke 5:12-13) Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13:8-9 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.” The writer of Hebrews is warning us that God never changes and to not be blown about by teachings that are different from the Bible. This doctrine that God is our healer is already present in the Old Testament. Exodus 15:26 says “I am the Lord your Healer”.

The real question then became, if I were tested in this area, what would I do? There is only one way to answer that, apart from actually getting sick and writing about it later, and that is to go back and look at all the stories of all those thousands of people who were healed in the Bible and try to find out if there is a common denominator. Have I, have we as the church, missed something? Is there a key that we somehow haven’t seen that unlocks this mystery? I invite you to join me on my journey of discovery.

The New Testament is full of stories of thousands of people who were healed by Jesus, and in some of those stories we are given the details of what happened. Each of those stories is unique and different. I began to realize that Jesus took the time with each person and dealt with them on an individual basis. Although it tells us that on some days Jesus healed all that were sick or diseased, I think that we make the assumption that those were mass healings, with no interaction with Him. For example in Luke 5:17 we read a story about a day when Jesus was teaching and Pharisees and teachers of the law had come from every town of Galilee, Judea and Jerusalem. “And the power of the Lord was present to heal them.” I would assume that anyone who wanted to be healed and had the faith to believe, could have been healed that day. Easy peasy right? I know that I’ve just assumed that He somehow waved His hand in the air, and poof, everyone was healed.  But is that really what happened? I don’t think so.

Look at the story in Matthew 15:29-32 where Jesus gets up on a mountain, sat down and great multitudes came to Him to be healed. Matthew tells us that these people brought the lame, blind, mute, maimed, and many others and they laid them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them. Imagine how long this must have taken. The line must have reached for miles, with people waiting for their turn. These people were bringing their parents, their children, and any and all family members that needed healing. In verse 32 Jesus tells His disciples that it had been 3 days and He had compassion on the crowd because they had nothing to eat. Think about it. It had been three days waiting in line, no food, no water, no bathrooms, you get the idea. Would I be willing to stand in line in the heat or the cold and wait for some faith healer to heal me? They couldn’t look Him up on the internet to see if He was legit. They were going on word of mouth. Someone they knew, or had met, had told them about Jesus. Would I wait that long in the hopes that this person named Jesus could heal me? I know I probably wouldn’t. I would have taken one look at that crowd and gone home. How do I know? Because I’ve done it in the past. Maybe I just wasn’t desperate enough to wait that long. Is that the key, desperation? Perhaps.

So often when we seek healing we are looking for a formula, like a slot machine, where if we find the right combination of buttons to push, the right prayers, the right things to say or do, then maybe just maybe, we will get our desired outcome: healing. I know I’ve done it, I’m sure we all have. We begin to treat God like some kind of impersonal force, that will bend to our will if we find the right combination of things to do to please Him and get His attention. But God is not a force. He is not an energy source. He is a Person, namely our Heavenly Father and what He desires most is a relationship with each one us.

Then there is the story of Jesus coming to a town called Nain, in Luke 7:11-17. As Jesus approaches the gate of the town, he encounters a funeral procession. A man had died, the only son of a widow woman. This woman was grieving her son, and as far as we know she didn’t ask Jesus for anything, yet the story tells us that when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.” Then He came up and touched the open coffin, and those who carried him stood still. And He said, “Young man, I say to you arise”. So he who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He presented him to his mother. In both of these situations, and in many others in the Gospel, healing was initiated by the Lord himself because He had compassion on people.

I find that most of us focus on these two kinds of healings, the easy ones. When we talk about God healing us from sickness and disease we want our healing to be simple, easy, initiated by God and without effort, or at least not much effort on our part. We have created entire doctrines using these type of stories, to justify that healing has to be initiated by God. If we ask and it doesn’t come easy, then God must not want to heal us.

But as I continued to study the stories in the Bible of people who were healed, I noticed that sometimes Jesus asked people offensive questions such as “Do you want to be healed“? Such was the case in John 5:6 when Jesus finds a man lying near a pool by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, waiting for an angel to stir the waters, so he could be healed. The man had obviously positioned himself correctly, yet he had been there for a long time. When asked if he wanted to be healed, the man came up with excuses. Clearly, there was something going on in this man’s heart, that Jesus was addressing that day. Sometimes God wants to deal with something else first, something that we may not even be aware of or want to deal with, before He heals us. Sickness gives us attention. It makes people feel sorry for us and spend time with us. Are we really ready to give that up in order to be healed? Sometimes, as was the case with this man, I think we like being sick more than we would like to be healed. That doesn’t mean He won’t heal us, because He clearly did heal the man. But, maybe we need to deal with this issue in our hearts first, before we can receive our healing.

There is also a story in John 9:1-7 where Jesus spits on the ground, made clay with His saliva and anointed the eyes of a man blind from birth. He tells the man to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. So he went and washed and came back seeing. Now at first glance, this may seem like one of those easy healings, but it actually reminds me of the story of Elisha the Prophet and a Syrian army commander named Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-13. Naaman was a man of valor but he was also a leper. Naaman finds out that there is someone in Israel who can heal him, so he goes to Israel and asks the king for healing. The king of course can’t heal him, but Elisha steps into the situation and tells the King to send this man to his house. When Naaman arrives, Elisha sends a messenger to him and says “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean”. Naaman’s reaction is priceless because I think that it is such a wonderful example of how we so often react when God wants to do something in our lives, but He does it in a way that offends us! Listen to what Naaman actually says, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He (meaning Elisha) will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.” Ah, yes. We get it in our minds exactly how God is going to heal us, and when He doesn’t do it the way we want, we become offended, just like Naaman did. Fortunately for Naaman, he had some wise servants around him because they encouraged him to do it anyway, even if it didn’t make sense to him and Naaman was healed when he did. Why are these two stories similar? Think about what Jesus did. He spat on the ground and made clay with His spit and put it on the man’s eyes. How many of us would allow someone to do that to us, and then obey when they tell us to go to a certain pond and wash it off. Yuck! I mean isn’t that your reaction too? It certainly was mine. Forget that it’s Jesus. It’s spit! This blind man could easily have said “Get away from me, don’t put that on me and no I’m not going to go wash in that pool”. But he didn’t, he allowed Jesus to heal him the way Jesus wanted to. Would I? Would you?

I think my favorite story of being healed is probably in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Canaanite woman comes to the Lord and cries out to Him, begging that He have mercy on her because her daughter is severely demon-possessed. It tells us: But He answered her not a word. This must have gone on for hours if not days because the disciples got so fed up with her that they said to Jesus “Send her away, for she cries out after us“. Jesus ignored her but then turns to his disciples and tells them “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. Let’s put this into a modern context. You are sick, crying out to the leaders of your church for healing but you don’t get healed. They are getting tired of you pestering them, so they actually pray for Jesus to do something. Jesus then tells your pastor that He doesn’t want to heal you! Bam. The pastor conveys the message and you walk sadly away. But wait, she doesn’t do that. She ignores the leadership (disciples) and worships Jesus saying to Him again, “Lord, help me!” His response to her is once again negative. He tells her “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Ouch. He is now insulting her. I’m not sure I could have continued at this point but she does. She does not give up, instead saying to Him these very famous words “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” And suddenly she has His full attention because He not only gives her what she desired, healing, but He commends her for her great faith! How many of us would have continued down this path the way this woman did? I’m not sure I would have persevered  the way that she did. I really have to think hard on this one. Would I cry out to Him until I got what I wanted? I hope so.

Now please understand that I am by no means trying to judge my friends because they didn’t get healed. I have no idea what went on in their lives and far be it for me to come up with a simple formula or solution that gets us all healed. But I do want to suggest that perhaps we, in this microwave society, give up too easily, get offended too quickly and get it in our minds that healing has to come a certain way. Maybe just maybe, sometimes God is trying to accomplish something in our lives and in our hearts that transcends our physical healing. Maybe He is trying to deal with some issues of pride, offense, learning to persevere, and trusting Him when He asks us to do things that don’t make sense, in order for us to become healed.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 that we should examine ourselves before we take communion, “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” He goes on to tell them that for this reason (Not examining ourselves first) many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep (suggesting death). 

My purpose here is not to offend, or judge, but merely to get us all, including me, thinking about these things. First and foremost God is God and we are not. He knows what each one of us needs. Perhaps that is what each one of these people had to learn when their healing didn’t come easily or simply. Maybe they had to learn that He can heal them whatever way He wants to, and our job is simply to worship Him and not give up. Food for thought!

 

The Hidden Benefits of Forgiveness

Several months ago I wrote a post called “The Hidden Benefits of Praying for your Enemies” and  I’ve been very surprised by how many people have read it. It seems that everyone around the world is struggling with this issue. I’ve had people from dozens of countries read that post. As I contemplated the response to it,  I realized that praying for your enemies and forgiving them actually go hand in hand. It’s really hard to pray for someone if you hate them and won’t forgive them. But according to the Bible, forgiveness is not a suggestion, it is a command!

Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 11:25-26   “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive you your trespasses”.

Forgiveness is a tough concept to comprehend. The image that often comes to mind is that we are somehow doing the other person a favor by forgiving them; as if in some way we are absolving them from the guilt of their actions and no longer holding them accountable, if we choose to forgive them. It makes us cringe because we feel as though we are telling the offender that their actions didn’t matter and didn’t hurt us.

But nothing could be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, I believe that forgiveness has very little to do with the other person, because often times, the other person is not sorry and doesn’t ask for forgiveness. And that’s the reason why it’s so hard to forgive them. If they were truly sorry and asked for our forgiveness, it might be easier to forgive.

So what do we do with this command of forgiving our brother when the other person is not sorry, when they don’t care that they hurt us, and wouldn’t dream of owning up to their faults and telling us they regret their actions or words? How do we reconcile our pain and our anger with this command? I think that the only way that we can, is if we see it from a different perspective. Let’s look at what forgiveness does for us, not the person who is forgiven. When I began to study this issue, I realized that the benefits for me personally are overwhelming, not just spiritually, but also emotionally and physically.

I’m going to start with the physical and emotional benefits of forgiveness. I actually got this information from the Mayo Clinic online. Yes, the Mayo Clinic has an article about the benefits of forgiveness. That really blew my mind. According to the Mayo Clinic, a well know nonprofit academic medical center here in the United States, forgiveness improves your mental health, lowers your blood pressure, creates a stronger immune system, improves your heart health, allows you to live with less anxiety, stress, hostility and depression, and last but not least, creates healthier relationships in your life. Now I would have to say that those are some powerful reasons to forgive!

But what about that command made by Jesus himself?  He didn’t just tell us to forgive once or twice. He said it several times in different situations. Peter even came to Him in Matthew 18:21-22 and asked Jesus how often he should forgive his brother, suggesting that perhaps seven times was enough. But Jesus answered Him in the following way: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven”. Jesus told several parables about forgiveness to His disciples and He also taught them what is commonly called the Lord’s Prayer. One of the lines in it says the following: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. So why would God put such a strong emphasis, such a strong requirement on us over such a daunting task? If I start with the belief and the understanding that God is good and that He only wants good things for each of us, then it must follow suit that forgiveness has enormous benefits to me personally.

I would suggest that the reason is because He loves us and He knows what is best for us. God thinks forgiveness is so important to us, that He says that we ourselves will not be forgiven by Him, if we don’t forgive others. Why? Because if we are harboring anger, bitterness, resentment, rage, revenge, etc. then we cannot truly repent. If I come to Him and ask Him to forgive me for my sins, but I decide which sins, then it’s not really repentance. It’s like saying “Here Lord, you can forgive me for those sins over there, but I’m holding on to these ones over here, because I feel justified in keeping them. After all, that person really hurt me, and he did it over and over again. So I choose not to forgive him or her. Unfortunately it doesn’t work like that, although we’d like to believe we have that option.

Let me put it another way. Jesus tells us in Matthew 22:37 “You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind”. The word all means whole, complete, or throughout. Now tell me how I could possibly love God with ALL my heart, ALL my soul and ALL my mind if part of my heart and part of my mind and part of my soul is filled with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness. It’s not possible, is it? So He is in fact telling us that if we want to be forgiven and truly be able to love Him, then we have to give up our right to be angry and bitter.

There’s a story in Luke 7:36-48 that really shows us this concept in action. Jesus is sitting down to dinner at a certain Pharisee’s house when a woman, who everyone apparently knew was a sinner, came in and while weeping, she anointed Jesus’ feet with some fragrant oil. The Pharisee was indignant at this and He spoke to himself the following: “This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner”. I guess Jesus overheard him because He goes on to tell this man, named Simon a story. He actually asks him a question. “There was a certain creditor, who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing which which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered that he supposed it was the one who owed more, which Jesus affirmed was correct. He then points to the woman and tells Simon that this woman, whose sins were many, is forgiven because of her love for Him. He also tells Simon, that his love for Jesus was very small because he did not believe he needed any forgiveness, because he didn’t consider himself to be a sinner.

If you have ever read the Bible, you will know that God thinks sin is sin. He doesn’t care if it’s immorality, anger, pride, rebellion or murder, to name just a few. It’s all sin. We are all sinners and we all need a savior, Jesus Christ. But until we come face to face with our own sins and realize that our own righteousness is nothing but filthy rags in His eyes, that we cannot truly be forgiven.

The older I get, the less rocks I pick up to throw at others.  If we are honest with ourselves, then we all have to realize that if we haven’t committed that exact sin, we probably have committed a variation of it at some point in our lives. I know I have.

God desires for us to be healthy. He is our healer. He calls himself that. But he cannot heal us if we don’t forgive. I would encourage you today if you are reading this, and you are struggling to forgive someone, stop focusing on the other person, and think about the benefits of forgiveness to you personally. You will be amazed at how much better you will feel if you choose to forgive. I know, because I had to choose forgiveness as well. It was hard, but it was so worth it. My life is so much better, so much happier because I chose forgiveness and let go of my anger, hurt, resentment and pain. By forgiving, I was able to receive the healing that Jesus Christ had for my heart.

 

 

 

Finding Light in the Darkness

We all go through dark times. Grief, sorrow, disappointment, and loss happen to all of us. Unfortunately, it is not hard to get stuck in that darkness and allow it to overwhelm us.  It is easy to get trapped in anger, fear, unbelief and bitterness. Going through the stages of grief is healthy and important. We must feel the pain of our loss; denying what happened only works for a very short time. It is important to move into anger, depression, bargaining and then acceptance. Why? Because those are all natural human responses to loss. The problem is when we get stuck in one of those emotions. Getting stuck in anger turns us bitter. Living in denial means we never allow ourselves to truly live and even love again. Being depressed for a period of time after a loss is normal. Being depressed for years and never accepting the loss incapacitates us and keeps us from once again feeling joy and happiness and ultimately living our lives to the full again.

I went through a season in my life where it seemed like everything around me was falling apart. It was a very long season, lasting almost 10 years. My church split and fell apart, my parents both died within a couple of years of each other, my marriage ended in divorce and many people who I had considered good friends deserted me. I could easily say that those years were the darkest years of my entire life. I wasn’t sure at times if I would ever come out of them, but I did. How did I come out of such a long and dark season? How did I find hope and joy once again? I chose to press into God and ask for His help.

During those difficult years I learned that often God’s light shines the brightest in the darkness. I learned that only He could help me to move through my pain and sorrow and come out the other end of the tunnel with hope and joy.  It often felt like He was hiding from me, but what I learned when I called out to Him and searched for Him, was that I could hear His voice very clearly in my darkness. I discovered that pressing into God when I saw nothing but darkness around me, caused Him to actually reveal Himself to me, often times in new and surprising ways. I learned that even in the darkness of my soul, in the darkest hours of my life, God reigns supreme. He is King, even in the darkness. I could in fact access Him in the midst of my darkness, if I persevered.

Scripture is filled with examples of God speaking in the darkness. As a matter of fact, it tells us that He is surrounded by clouds and darkness (Psalm 97:2).  Solomon tells us in 1 Kings 8:12 and 2 Chronicles 6:1 “The Lord said He would dwell in the dark cloud” (the Hebrew is thick darkness or gloom). In Deuteronomy 4:11-12 and 5:22 God speaks to the children of Israel with a loud voice “from the mountain that burned with fire to the midst of heaven, with darkness, cloud and thick darkness“. My favorite is Psalm 18:9-11 where the psalmist tells us that “He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies“. God dwells in the midst of our darkness. He makes it His secret place.

Let’s look at that term “secret place”. In Psalm 91:1 David tells us “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty“. This really threw me for a loop because the implications here are enormous. So let me paraphrase   Psalm 18:11 and Psalm 91:1 into one sentence.  God makes darkness His secret place, and if I dwell in that secret place with Him, then I will abide in His shadow and He will protect me. I’m sure that I don’t even begin to comprehend what this really means, but as I follow this concept of the secret place in Scripture, I discover there is even more revelation. In Psalm 27:5 the psalmist tells us the following: “For in the time of trouble, He shall hide me in His pavilion; In the secret place of His tabernacle He shall hide me; He shall set me high upon a rock“.

Psalm 32:7 says “You are my secret place (often translated as hiding place); You shall preserve me from trouble; You shall surround me with songs of deliverance. Look at this one in Psalm 81:7 You called in trouble, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder. What does it mean? I’m sure that I can only begin to understand the depth of what it means,  but this much I do know. When I called to Him in that darkness, He heard me and He delivered me. He protected me from getting bitter and helped me to work through my anger and pain. He helped me to forgive those who deserted me when they should have been my friends. He helped me to move through the stages of grief and allow myself to be healed and love again.

If you’re still not sure that you believe that God is in the midst of your grief and pain, then let me share this story with you. In the gospel of John chapter 11 we are told the story of Martha and Mary and their brother Lazarus. Lazarus gets sick and dies. Jesus is in a different place of the country when He gets the word about Lazarus being sick. Now I don’t know for sure why Jesus waited, knowing that Lazarus would die during his delay, other than that He tells His disciples it would bring glory to God. But what I really want to point out is the reaction that Jesus had to Mary’s grief, when she fell at His feet. It says, Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Why did He weep? He knew He was about to raise him from the dead. It would have been natural for Him to ignore her pain, knowing what He was about to do. But He didn’t ignore it. He wept because He felt the depth of her pain and loss. He cared about the way she felt, even while knowing that He was about to bring her tremendous joy, by raising her brother from the dead, which He did.

God cares about your pain as well. Your anger and your grief do not bother him or inconvenience Him. He’s big enough to handle the anger you feel at your loss. As a matter of fact, your pain makes Him weep because He loves you. Just as your children’s pain hurts you, our pain hurts Him.

If you feel enveloped by darkness and you cannot see Him in the midst of it, then let me encourage you that God is very near to you, not far away. The prophet Isaiah encourages us in Isaiah 50:10  with the following words: “Who among you fears the Lord? Who obeys the voice of His servant? Who walks in darkness and has no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord and rely upon his God“.

I notice something important however, when I read this passage in Isaiah 50:10. Isaiah starts off by asking a question. “Who among you fears the Lord?” Do you fear the Lord Jesus Christ?

Do you feel surrounded by darkness, for whatever reason, and see no way out? Then call out to Jesus. Cry out to Him and believe that He is God Almighty. He is sovereign over everything, including your darkness.

Allow Him to comfort you, deliver you, protect you, heal you and maybe even raise your dead.