Let me tell you one of the perils of writing a post. I know what I want to say, but I am seldom happy about the end product. I suppose it comes as part of the job description and, yet it chafes me to no end.
And, if the truth be told, many others experience the same thing. We really do strive for clarity but end up terribly misunderstood. (I am fairly certain there are those who know this frustration even as they read this.)
Proverbs blares out a desperate warnings to our souls. We must listen to them.
We’re all communicators by nature; some do a bang-up job of it, others, not so much. Being misunderstood is the norm of many, and the strange occupational hazard of the believer.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”
The book of Proverbs speaks directly to this dilemma. Healthy words smash through our issues bringing light and hope to others. It’s clear God wants our words to matter. We learn to share things by His Spirit. How exciting though! To speak love and grace to those who need it most is a rare gift these days.
Then there are those who cause death by words. We can ‘slice and dice’ people we love. Isn’t it any wonder why people around us struggle so? Many understand the power of evil words and even use them intentionally. (Sometimes I flinch inside when I hear a mother berate her young son in the grocery store.)
“There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
Here in Proverbs we read of people whose rash words are compared to a bloody sword thrust. They jab, slash and cut. They are malicious and hurtful. We can cause far too much pain. God forgive us. Satan gets his glory by things we say. Lord, have mercy.
Others have the opposite outcome. Their words bring healing. I have known people like this. They have an aura about them–a special superpower. They say profoundly simple things of wisdom. Healing seems to follow them around. (Yet I also have seen other believers stall, because they couldn’t control their mouth.)
When will we understand that words are powerful; they pierce or they can heal? It’s your choice. Between you and me, I want to say and write that which has a lasting and a healing effect on others.
I must remember that I’m the custodian of the words I speak. My tongue speaks only what is going on in in my heart.
Give me a true heart, O God. I want to carry healing to others. Help me to bridle my tongue. Amen.
In thebook Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C.S. Lewis writes of Reepicheep. He is a mouse of exceptional courage and with a strong faith. People seem to always misunderstand a talking mouse, especially one who dresses like a swashbuckler.
He is determined to reach the utter east and join the Lion, Aslan (a type of Christ), Reepicheep is heard to say,
“While I may, I will sail in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I will row in my coracle. When that sinks, I shall paddle east with my four paws. Then, when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, there I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”
Compare this to the Apostle Paul’s testimony:
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what is ahead,14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Paul transmitted an example to his generation of Christians. He put himself as a model of what is to motivate a believer. The apostle Paul pressed into what the Holy Spirit had for him. Both Paul, and Reepicheep are great examples, they would rather die than to miss their calling.
Everything depends on what God allows of course. But I believe He makes a special place at His side to those who mix their faith with authentic desire like Reepicheep of Narnia and Paul of Tarsus.
God may be making you brave and full of faith. Deep down, this is exactly what your soul is really wanting. Give Him permission to do this work in your heart. Then stand back and see what happens.
“David asked, “Is there no one still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?” Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan; he is crippled in both feet.”‘
2 Samuel 9:3, NIV
This crippled man was named Mephibosheth. He acquired this injury by the actions of a nurse; she dropped him as she was trying to escape the palace (2 Sam. 4:4.) It was not of Mephibosheth’s doing, but someone else made a mistake and totally and irrevocably changed his life.
He would never ever be normal again. (It’s noteworthy that Mephibosheth’s name means “shame.” This would’ve been an integral part of how people treated him). But David was putting on a feast, and wants to include him.
Interesting. But there are a great many people like Mephibosheth. They’ve been injured by someone else’s stumbling. It seems we pass these things on to each other. And the lameness we inflict may not be physical. It may be spiritual or emotional. Sometimes we injure without knowing what we have done to someone else.
Some of the most vicious and evil wounding that are done are usually on a moral, or spiritual level. People can heal physically over time, but the wounds of the spirit are incredibly devastating. When someone harms us on this level it can completely undo us, for a lifetime. (And perhaps, maybe forever).
Jesus made some powerful statements about people who injure others. It is imperative that we evaluate ourselves; we may find that we are guilty of drastically hurting another’s faith or well-being, knowing that lasts for an eternity.
We are capable of much evil. We affect others in ways we don’t understand. We need to seek God’s grace right now; we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of diminishing or minimizing what we have done. A point to consider: We cannot go on crippling others without injuring ourselves.
Wounded people wound. But healed people can very often become healers themselves.
We can read of King David’s majestic treatment of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9. He actively blessed him, and perhaps that is the proactive action we ought to take. We must make an effort– to bless. As king, this was a very minor incident. Hardly worth recording in the lofty affairs of state. But as a man, it was perhaps one of his greatest decisions. Kindness should always be foremost to someone who is in authority.
In all of this however, there is something that is profoundly wise in the New Testament. It is found in Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus. It is here, in this place, that God our Father acts like David, and receives Mephibosheth; just like God receives us to Himself. And that perhaps is the greatest lesson in this portion of scripture.
“5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”
Before I entered college I hardly gave a thought to cancer and terminal illness. But ever since those college days death by disease has walked beside me all the way. Two of my college acquaintances died of leukemia and cancer of the lymph glands before they were 22. At seminary I watched Jim Morgan, my teacher of systematic theology, shrivel up and die in less than a year of intestinal cancer. He was 36. In my graduate program in Germany my own “doctor-father,” Professor Goppelt, died suddenly just before I was finished. He was 62—a massive coronary. Then I came to Bethel, the house of God! And I taught for six years and watched students, teachers, and administrators die of cancer: Sue Port, Paul Greely, Bob Bergerud, Ruth Ludeman, Graydon Held, Chet Lindsay, Mary Ellen Carlson—all Christians, all dead before their three score and ten were up. And now I’ve come to Bethlehem and Harvey Ring is gone. And you could multiply the list ten-fold.
What shall we say to these things? Something must be said because sickness and death are threats to faith in the love and power of God. And I regard it as my primary responsibility as a pastor to nourish and strengthen faith in the love and power of God. There is no weapon like the Word of God for warding off threats to faith. And so I want us to listen carefully today to the teaching of Scripture regarding Christ and cancer, the power and love of God over against the sickness of our bodies.
I regard this message today as a crucial pastoral message, because you need to know where your pastor stands on the issues of sickness, healing, and death. If you thought it was my conception that every sickness is a divine judgment on some particular sin, or that the failure to be healed after a few days of prayer was a clear sign of inauthentic faith, or that Satan is really the ruler in this world and God can only stand helplessly by while his enemy wreaks havoc with his children—if you thought any of those were my notions, you would relate to me very differently in sickness than you would if you knew what I really think. Therefore, I want to tell you what I really think and try to show you from Scripture that these thoughts are not just mine but also, I trust, God’s thoughts.
Six Affirmations Toward a Theology of Suffering
So I would like everyone who has a Bible to turn with me to Romans 8:18–28. There are six affirmations which sum up my theology of sickness, and at least the seed for each of these affirmations is here. Let’s read the text:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. (RSV)
1. All Creation Has Been Subjected to Futility
My first affirmation is this: the age in which we live, which extends from the fall of man into sin until the second coming of Christ, is an age in which the creation, including our bodies, has been “subjected to futility” and “enslaved to corruption.” Verse 20: “The creation was subjected to futility.” Verse 21: “The creation will be freed from slavery to corruption.” And the reason we know this includes our bodies is given in verse 23: not only the wider creation but “we ourselves (i.e., Christians) groan in ourselves awaiting sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Our bodies are part of creation and participate in all the futility and corruption to which creation has been subjected.
Who is this in verse 20 that subjected creation to futility and enslaved it to corruption? It is God. The only other possible candidates to consider would be Satan or man himself. Perhaps Paul meant that Satan, in bringing man into sin, or man, in choosing to disobey God—perhaps one of them is referred to as the one who subjected creation to futility. But neither Satan nor man can be meant because of the words “in hope” at the end of verse 20. This little phrase, subjected “in hope,” gives the design or purpose of the one who subjected creation to futility. But it was neither man’s nor Satan’s intention to bring corruption upon the world in order that the hope of redemption might be kindled in men’s hearts and that someday the “freedom of the glory of the children of God” might shine more brightly. Only one person could subject the creation to futility with that design and purpose, namely, the just and loving creator.
Therefore, I conclude that this world stands under the judicial sentence of God upon a rebellious and sinful mankind—a sentence of universal futility and corruption. And no one is excluded, not even the precious children of God.
Probably the futility and corruption Paul speaks of refers to both spiritual and physical ruination. On the one hand man in his fallen state is enslaved to flawed perception, misconceived goals, foolish blunders, and spiritual numbness. On the other hand, there are floods, famines, volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, plagues, snake bites, car accidents, plane crashes, asthma, allergies, and the common cold, and cancer, all rending and wracking the human body with pain and bringing men—all men—to the dust.
As long as we are in the body we are slaves to corruption. Paul said this same thing in another place. In 2 Corinthians 4:16 he said, “We do not lose heart, but though our outer man (i.e., the body) is decaying (i.e., being corrupted) yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” The word Paul uses for decay or corrupt here is the same one used in Luke 12:33 where Jesus said, Make sure your treasure is in heaven “where thief does not come near and moth does not corrupt.” Just like a coat in a warm, dark closet will get moth eaten and ruined, so our bodies in this fallen world are going to be ruined one way or the other. For all creation has been subjected to futility and enslaved to corruption while this age lasts. That is my first affirmation.
2. An Age of Deliverance and Redemption Is Coming
My second affirmation is this: there is an age coming when all the children of God, who have endured to the end in faith, will be delivered from all futility and corruption, spiritually and physically. According to verse 21, the hope in which God subjected creation was that some day “The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” And verse 23 says that “We ourselves groan within ourselves waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” It has not happened yet. We wait. But it will happen. “Our citizenship is in heaven from which we await a Savior, the Lord, Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our lowliness to be like the body of his glory” (Philippians 3:20, 21). “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet, for the trumpet will sound and the dead will be raised incorruptible and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:52). “He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there shall be no longer any death; and there shall be no longer any mourning or crying or pain; the first things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
There is coming a day when every crutch will be carved up, and every wheelchair melted down into medallions of redemption. And Merlin and Reuben and Jim and Hazel and Ruth and all the others among us will do cartwheels through the Kingdom of Heaven. But not yet. Not yet. We groan, waiting for the redemption of our bodies. But the day is coming and that is my second affirmation.
3. Christ Purchased, Demonstrated, and Gave a Foretaste of It
Third, Jesus Christ came and died to purchase our redemption, to demonstrate the character of that redemption as both spiritual and physical, and to give us a foretaste of it. He purchased our redemption, demonstrated its character, and gave us a foretaste of it. Please listen carefully, for this is a truth badly distorted by many healers of our day.
The prophet Isaiah foretold the work of Christ like this in 53:5–6 (a text which Peter applied to Christians in 1 Peter 2:24):
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (RSV)
The blessing of forgiveness and the blessing of physical healing were purchased by Christ when he died for us on the cross. And all those who give their lives to him shall have both of these benefits. But when? That is the question of today. When will we be healed? When will our bodies no longer be enslaved to corruption?
The Lordis my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Psalm 23, KJV
The Lord wants to escort you to someplace wonderful, it’s where there is a rich rest and a sweet intimacy– in spite, of conflict. It is revealed in Psalm 23; it is more than poetry. It is a way of life.
There is a preciousness just beyond our ‘status quo.’ It is an abundant life for eternity. When you have apprehended it, you will understand what I am talking about, and wonder why you’ve missed it for so long. Eternal life has already begun even though many of us don’t walk as if it did. We have eternal life, here end now!
There is a place which we can enter into where Jesus is all there is. His dear presence pervades everything, and there is no doubt about His lordship. He rules completely, and He is “all-in-all.”
There is real evidence when you have appropriated this deeper life. There will be a surrender of all you have, and you will fully understand what it truly means to be His follower. There will be a complete renunciation of all rights to yourself. You will give it all up, with an insurmountable joy, just to walk with Him.
Live on earth as if you’ve already died, and are now living in heaven with Him.
There must be a definite place where you turn your rights over to Him. Perhaps His love has already pressed you into this. Often there will be a disillusionment and cynicism with this planet and its ugly ways. You want to escape all its dullness and jadedness. You will step into ‘life-effervescent.’ He intends to walk you through many issues, but if He is close I will suggest you trust Him fully.
If you struggle with a mental illness: clinical depression, bipolar, anxiety issues, or schizophrenia, I want to reassure you, you are not a “lesser” Christian. And my comments include you. You are not on the ‘scrap heap’ of the Spirit. In so many ways, you can enter in while normal people will struggle. And you do need to step into this, and discover a life worth living.
A “Psalm 23 life” is yours for the asking. Take it up, humbly and true. It’s your birthright to be with your Shepherd forever.
“O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.”
Song of Solomon 2:14, KJV
“The dove is in the cleft of the rock”—that is, the open side of our Lord. There is comfort and security there. It is also in the secret places of the stairs. It loves to build its nest in the high towers to which men mount by winding stairs for hundreds of feet above the ground. What a glorious vision is there obtained of the surrounding scenery.
It is a picture of ascending life. To reach our highest altitudes we must find the secret places of the stairs. That is the only way to rise above the natural plane. Our lives should be ones of quiet mounting with occasional resting places; but we should be mounting higher, step by step. Not everyone finds this way of secret ascent. It is only for God’s chosen.
The world may think we are going down. We may not have as much public work to do as formerly.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
It is a secret, hidden life. We may be hardly aware that we are growing, until one day a test comes and we find we are established.
Have you arrived at the place where Christ is keeping you from willful disobedience?
Does the consciousness of sin make you shudder?
Are you lifted above the world?”
Albert Benjamin Simpson, (Dec. 15, 1843 – Oct. 29, 1919)
FOUNDER OF THE Christian and Missionary Alliance, Albert Benjamin Simpson was born in Canada of Scottish parents. He became a Presbyterian minister and pastored several churches in Ontario. Later, he accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that his life and ministry were completely changed in that, during a revival meeting, he experienced the fullness of the Spirit.
He continued in the Presbyterian Church until 1881, when he founded an independent Gospel Tabernacle in New York. There he published the Alliance Weekly and wrote 70 books on Christian living. He organized two missionary societies which later merged to become the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.12 We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;13 when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.”
1 Corinthians 4:11-13, NIV
The apostle Paul isn’t ashamed to be called ‘scum.’ He realizes that this is his ‘standing’ in this world’s opinion. He is regarded as a nobody and of little value. A tension exists between the believer and the world system. The expectations that the world has is part of the package that we have been given. The message of the Cross is the ultimate foolishness. Jesus told his own disciples that:
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.19 The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.”
John 15:18-19, NLT
The world hates us because we belong to Jesus. It is his reproach we bear. We should not see the trial and sorrows as our issue, and we shouldn’t get upset by the world’s snub. The tension is real and we can expect being ostracized. In fact, we might do well to be concerned if we don’t see it.
After all, hatred is a hard word. And the stigma should humble us— it has a supernatural origin. We shouldn’t expect otherwise. To follow Jesus means we will only experience what he is already gone through. Some of us will follow him even to martyrdom. The hardships and challenges do not invalidate our walk, rather they confirm what he said would happen. The world is under seige by Satan, it is his spirit that controls the unbelieving world.
“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Father of all comfort, please come to your servants who are suffering for their faith in you. Meet them and hold them close to you. Give them boldness and awareness. Seek them out and make them your witnesses in a hostile world. Give them the Spirit of Jesus and help them overcome by their love. ~In Jesus Name, Amen