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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Call for Unity in the Church

I watch a lot of YouTube videos. Perhaps you can relate. I really enjoy listening to different Bible teachings and sermons from various people and groups. YouTube is filled with some really good information and some really bad information. If you have spent any time at all on it you will know what I mean. Sometimes it is hard to discern if someone is speaking truth or lies. Sometimes it’s not so much that people are lying so much as they are deceived. Deceived people can sound really earnest and believable. It never ceases to amaze me how earnest people can sound, while speaking about things that are completely contrary to scripture. So why does it bother me so much, you might ask? Who cares what people are teaching or talking about? Does it really matter if what they speak is truth, lies or deception? Yes, I believe it does and here’s why.

When we call ourselves Christians and we go onto public forums such as YouTube for example, we have a lot of people who will listen to what we have to say. And our words will influence them. Those words will either lead them to the truth or away from the truth. James tell us in James 3:1 “let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment“. He goes on to say in vs 8 “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison“. Our words can literally poison people’s minds and affect their hearts. If we are not careful, our words can lead people astray and cause them to walk away from the truth, and away from God or worse, never know Him in the first place.

The story that caused me to think about this issue is found in Matthew 11. John the Baptist has been thrown into prison by Herod and he is so depressed and offended with God over the way his life turned out, that he sends two of his disciples to Jesus to ask the question: “Are you the coming One, or do we look for another?” Now I’ve always focused on the question that was asked by John whenever I have pondered this story. I mean didn’t John baptize Jesus? Didn’t he announce early on that Jesus was the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world? So why did he ask it in the first place? How could he not know the answer?

So today as I was reading this story again, I suddenly saw it from a different angle. I began to wonder why John the Baptist still had disciples, when Jesus was now on the scene? And worse, why could those disciples not answer this question themselves? Why did they have to go to Jesus and ask Him who He was?  Who were they really following, Jesus or John? I mean you would think that if John had done his job correctly, those men would have known Jesus as their Messiah and therefore could have spoken words of encouragement to him and helped him through this dark time in his life. They could have pointed him back to the truth, in the midst of his depression, despair and confusion. So I ask again, why did these men, these disciples of John, not know who Jesus was? Yeah, I never thought of that before either.

And that brings me to an even scarier question. How many leaders in the church have created disciples for themselves and not Jesus?

After the resurrection, In John 21 we read the story about Jesus talking to Peter and restoring him after he had denied Jesus three times during the crucifixion. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. As Peter responds each time with “yes”, Jesus tells him to “Feed my lambs“, “Tend my sheep” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17) The words that Jesus uses in this conversation create the imagery of a shepherd taking care of, protecting and feeding the sheep. Notice that Jesus asks Peter “Do you love me?” Why does He ask this? Because the insinuation is that if Peter loves Jesus, He will take care of Jesus’ sheep. Not Peter’s sheep, Jesus’ sheep!

Now this leads me to two different issues. The first one is the responsibility of leaders in the church, whether they be the pastors of a church, or the speaker on a YouTube channel, to be very careful that they don’t create disciples for themselves instead of for Jesus. And the second issue is one of personal responsibility. We have to be careful that we do not allow ourselves to become deceived by someone in leadership who is creating disciples for themselves and not for Jesus.

Paul warns the Corinthian church about this issue in Co 3:4 when he tells them “where there is envy, strife, and division among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men? For when one says, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are you not carnal?” He is very clear when he points to Jesus as the foundation of their faith. He admonishes them with this: “For we are God’s fellow workers“. If this isn’t clear enough, Paul brings up the subject from a different angle further on in the book. He writes on the subject of spiritual gifts (Co 12:1-30), and then reminds them that not only do they each have different gifts but that those gifts are going to look different. Using the human body as an illustration, he points them to some pretty obvious facts. Reminding them that we are all one body and that that body has not one member, but many (vs. 14) he goes on to give some interesting visuals. “And the eye cannot say to the hand,  I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” I would like to suggest that the church is doing this exact thing.

Now you might ask me, how is this issue of gifts related to leaders making disciples for themselves? Actually it’s pretty simple and when you see it, it will make sense. All those denominations you see out there in the world, I would like to propose that they are actually different members of the same body. And not just members, but members with different gifts. And they are all looking at each other and saying, “I’m a foot or I’m a hand or an eye and you don’t look like me so you’re obviously not part of the body of Christ”! Their disciples are following the leader who originally had this gift and attracted others with the same gift. So now all the feet of the body go to First Church of Whatever and all the eyes go to Second Church of Whoever and on and on it goes. I’m obviously oversimplifying things here, but I think you get my drift. We are disjointed and flinging mud at each other because we don’t like hands or ears or noses because they don’t look or act like us.

Now with all that in mind, I would like to point you to a better way. Jesus tells us in John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Paul tells us in 1 Co 13 that the greatest thing of all is love. Without love, none of the gifts profit us anything. John tells us in 1 John 2:9-11 that he who loves his brother abides in the light and those who hate their brother, are in darkness.

I have seen too much hate disguised as teaching in the church. It must stop. We will never be the church of brotherly love or as Jesus called it, the church of Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7, if we continue to be divided and hate each other’s gifts. We are called to unity not division. And it is not a suggestion. It is a command. Perhaps it is time for the leadership of the church to repent and begin to love each other and point to Jesus instead of to themselves and their own opinions.

Imagine what a united church of Jesus Christ could accomplish in this world? I bet we could turn the world upside down for Jesus!

 

 

 

The Hidden Benefits of Praying for your Enemies

The other day my husband and I were driving in the car together and I made this comment to him, that opened a pandoras box for me. I commented that I hoped that a certain evil person who had done much harm to the community, would die this year. I thought that this world would be better off without them. I won’t name the person I spoke this over because they are a well known public figure, but I felt very justified in pronouncing this curse.

A couple of days later I woke up to do my devotions and read my Bible in the morning, and having forgotten all about the curse I had pronounced on this public figure, I came across a passage in Psalm 106 that stopped me in my tracks.

Psalm 106 is a history of God’s goodness to Israel, a history of both their rebellions and provocations and yet also begins and ends with praising God. The verses that stopped me short are verses 29-31, where the psalmist, who many believe could have been David, says that Israel provoked God to anger with their deeds. Consequently, a plague broke out among them. What happened next is what struck me : “Then Phinehas stood up and intervened  (prayed) and the plague was stopped. And that was accounted to him for righteousness to all generations forevermore”. Phinehas interceded for the nation of Israel, in spite of their wickedness. He asked for mercy and God’s response was amazing. Not only did He listen to Phinehas, he actually counted the intercession as righteousness towards him. That is pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me.

So I decided to do a word search for the word intervene that is used in this passage. In most passages it is simply translated as pray but along with intervene it means to mediate, to judge, to intreat or make supplication. I came across two more stories very similar in nature. In each story, people had sinned and made God angry, and someone had interceded on their behalf, and God blessed the intercessor. In the book of Job, at the very end of the book, when Job is talking to God and things are making more sense to him, it says the following: “And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before”. (Job 42:9) There it was again, Job got blessed because he prayed for his friends, who had been telling him things that were not true.

And to make matters even more interesting,  I came across this passage in 1 Samuel 12:23 that says that I actually might be sinning by not praying for people who are in rebellion. “Moreover, as for me (Samuel) far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you, but I will teach you the good and the right way”. Wow!

So if I’m understanding this correctly, then I see three blessings that happen, when I pray for sinful rebellious people that God is angry at. First, it is accounted to me for righteousness, second it actually blesses me with restoration of whatever I might have lost, and third, it stops me from sinning against the Lord! That is quite a list.

But, I had to continue in my quest to see if I could find evidence of this in the New Testament. Immediately I remembered Jesus’ words about loving your enemies. So I looked it up and found this in Matthew 5: 43-48: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for he makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

I  noticed two things that are associated with loving and praying for your enemies. Did you catch the word reward? It’s there. Although Jesus doesn’t say what the reward is, He very clearly says there is a reward. Mind you, it is subtle. It’s actually implied but it is there. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” The word  Jesus used is literally dues paid for work, wages, reward or pay for service. I have to wonder if some of those rewards are the ones mentioned in the Old Testament that I spoke of above?

But there’s more! Jesus goes on to suggest that if we pray for our enemies, we shall be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Now that’s a mouthful. I will be perfect like my Heavenly Father, if I pray for my enemies? That’s right. So what does perfect really mean here? The original Greek means complete in various applications of labor, growth, mental and moral character. It means to be of full age. In other passages it is actually translated as mature. In Hebrews 5:14, Paul says solid food belongs to those who are of full age, perfect, or mature. Same word. John tells us in 1 John 4:18 that “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. Again, the same word is used. Mature love casts out fear.

Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24-29 that he wants to present every man perfect in Jesus Christ. There is therefore a call, a warning that we should be perfect like our Heavenly Father. Paul makes it plain, that this perfection, this maturity can only be achieved in Christ Jesus yet, “to this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily.”

Why would such a difficult task be given to us? Why would God want us to love and pray for people who hate us, people who hurt us, people who persecute us? Because it perfects His love in us. Because it makes us become like our Heavenly Father. Because it makes us become mature in nature. Because it makes us overcome the wicked one! John tells us in 1 John 2:14 “I have written to you, fathers, because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the wicked one.”

And this brings us full circle. What was it that caused Christ to overcome the wicked one? His love! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) And this scripture in 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is…longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

Now if God loves the sinner, the evil man so much that He would not spare His only Son, but sent Him to the cross to die for his sin, how dare I curse someone because they are my enemy? How dare I not pray for mercy in their lives? How dare I not pray that God would soften their hearts, open their eyes, unplug their ears and allow them to hear the message of the Gospel? How dare I place myself as judge and jury and condemn someone that God loved enough to die for?

Needless to say, I repented for my words that I had spoken over this person that I mentioned at the beginning. And yes, I prayed for them.

Do you want to be a friend to God?

Recently I have been pondering what it means to be a friend to Jesus. Many of us might remember the song we sang in church “What a friend we have in Jesus”. Jesus tells us in the book of John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”. Well, He did exactly that when He died on the cross for your sins and mine. So if I accept that He is my friend, then that makes me question whether or not He considers me to be His friend. Having a friend is not the same as being a friend! Facebook has unfortunately taken the word friend and dumbed it down to mean anyone I happen to be acquainted with or play games with, regardless of whether or not I’ve even met the person.

So in my quest to understand what it means to be His friend, I believe He has shown me that there are two parts to this mystery. And I really do believe it is a mystery. The first part involves our relationship with Him and the second involves our relationship with others. He kinda summed it up for us when He said in Luke 10:27 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”.

Scripture tells us that both Abraham and Moses were considered friends of God. My question then becomes “Why?” I believe that the Lord showed me several reasons why He considered them to be His friends.

Our Relationship with Him

First, they believed God. They had faith in what He told them. Genesis 15:6 says “Abraham believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness”.  In Numbers 12:4:8 the Lord tells Aaron and Miriam the following about Moses: “He is faithful in all My house.” That word faithful means to believe. It is actually the same word that is used in Genesis 15:6 where it says that Abraham believed God. The meaning behind this word is so powerful that God rebukes Aaron and Miriam in verse 8 when He tells them the following: “I speak with him (Moses) face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; and he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?” The Lord makes it very clear here that He takes His relationship with Moses very seriously and the reason is because Moses believed Him. Moses is faithful in all His house! Oh that I would be faithful in all His house and would believe Him!

Second, they obeyed God’s commands. In Genesis 22:1-19 we are told the story of Abraham being tested by God and obeying God’s voice in offering his son Isaac up as a sacrifice. It’s a brutal story, if you think about it. I cannot imagine being told such a thing by God and having the courage to obey. Yet we are told that Abraham did as God asked. He got up early in the morning, took his son and went to the land of Moriah to sacrifice his son. I discovered an interesting little tidbit while researching this story. Moriah is the exact location on the eastern edge of Jerusalem, where many centuries later, Solomon built the first temple. Coincidence? I think not. Something took place that day that laid the spiritual foundation for that temple to be built. We may not always understand what God is doing, or what He is requiring, but we must learn to trust that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

In Exodus, we are told the story of how God delivered the Israelites out of the land of Egypt through great signs and wonders. He did those miracles through Moses and Aaron. Again, it is so easy to just read the story of the Exodus and think, wow, that’s cool. But put yourself into Moses’ shoes, just for a minute. God speaks to you from a burning bush. He tells you to go to the land of North Korea and confront Kim Jong-un, Supreme leader of the country. He tells you to tell the man “Let my Christian people go!” This dictator is known world wide for his labor camps. He is a cruel, uncaring leader, much like Pharaoh was during his time. The Israelites were also in bitter bondage, doing hard, cruel labor for Pharaoh. Would you do it? Moses did. Yes, he argued about it, and we talk about his so called speech issues, but in the end he did it, didn’t he? Would you? Would I? Yet Jesus tells us quite plainly in  John 15:14 “You are My friends if you do what I command”. 

Third, they spent time alone with God. Exodus 33:11 says “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” If we make time to be alone with Him, He will speak to us. He desires to share the secrets of His heart with us. He told the disciples in John 15:15 “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you”.  He is willing to share his secrets with us but it requires our time. We must spend time alone in His presence, to get those secrets. Are you willing? Are you curious to hear some of those secrets?

Finally, they interceded and prayed on behalf of others. When Abraham prayed for deliverance and God’s mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah, God listened to Him and rescued Lot and his family before destruction came. As a matter of fact, it was God who initiated this intercession. In Genesis 18:17 it says And the Lord said, “shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing”. Abraham had just spent the entire day with the Lord. It was at the end of this incredible time with the Lord, that He told Abraham what His plans were so Abraham could intercede for the situation. First came fellowship, then came the secret, then came intercession. If you want to pray accurately for people, spend time with Him in the secret place and fellowship with Him, because only then will He tell you the secrets of His heart.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there are two parts to being His friend. The second one of course involves other people. Jesus is very clear in scripture about how we are to relate to others.

Our Relationship with Others

First and foremost we are to lay down our lives for them. Just as He laid down His life for us, so we are to lay down our lives for Him by serving others. He tells Peter in John 21:15-17 “Feed My lambs; Feed My sheep”. He tells him three times, thereby reinforcing the importance of feeding or nourishing others. How do we do this? By spending time with Him and hearing His voice. In John 5:19 Jesus is talking to the Jews and He tells them this: “Truly, truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself, unless He sees the Father doing it. For whatever the Father does, the Son does also.” What makes us think that we can do things for others without spending time with Him, if He Himself could do nothing by Himself without first spending time with the Father? Perhaps laying down our lives involves spending time with Jesus?

Second, we are to love others. In John 15:16 He says “This is My command: Love each other.” Love is not a feeling, as much as the world would like us to believe it.  It is an action word. Remember, in Matthew 25:40 Jesus tells us “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for Me.”

Finally, we are to preach the good news, the Gospel. He told the disciples in Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” 

When you look at the lives of  both Moses and Abraham, they did these things. They believed, they obeyed, they loved others and they spent time with Him. I think so often we think that being a friend of God is optional or even worse, automatic. But it’s not. Why else would Jesus tell us in Matthew 7:21-23 “I never knew you. Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” That is a frightening thought, and it should put the fear of God into our hearts. I don’t want to stand before Him one day and hear Him say those words. Do you?