“He who masters his passions is a king even if he is in chains. He who is ruled by his passions is a slave even while sitting on a throne.”
Sometimes, I absolutely need a spiritual ‘wake-up call.’ The last few days for me have been taking on the general theme of freedom. It’s very easy for me to accept being a slave.
The bait that’s used is very desirable and attractive. (It’s hard to let such wonderful morsel go by without a taste!) I will sin– and repent later. But hidden deep inside me there is something very small, but very potent. It is a desire to be free from sin. God has placed that within.
Freedom, or that characteristic of walking unencumbered, doesn’t seem incredibly important, at times. But it is a question of identity.
As a Christian believer, am I really a child of the King, a prince in a spiritual world?
Royal blood was spilled to set me free. Is choosing to sin really in my calling?
Added to these concepts are many things that ‘trigger’ my Bipolar depression. Triggers are those things which set off symptoms, ‘kindling’ a sequence of events that leads to total catastrophe. All it takes is one–a lie perhaps, or a delusion that gets ‘airplay.’ I just slide right into the ‘paranoid’ trap set just for me. I essentially experience a total collapse of mood and emotion. Life will crash in all around me. I am left sitting in ashes, in a heap. I have become a ‘king in chains.’
My hospitalizations all have come as a result of giving myself over to ‘twisted thinking.’ My suicidal tendencies are often intensified, in part due to becoming enslaved. I become chained and held captive to these dark forces. Meds and ‘talk therapy’ can really help. But they are limited though to what they can do to push back the inky darkness. What does work are:
prayer, as intimate as I can make it
reading the Word, searching for insights
and fellowship, anything more than a handshake
There is a ‘recipe’ for freedom. But, I must initiate a believer ‘s response. I would like to suggest that “freedom” and “intimacy” are synonyms. You can’t have one without the other. Is Jesus real to you? Is His presence more-than-life itself?
Whoever you are–it’s time to get free. Really free. Fall in love with Jesus again and the chains will fall off. Unless you do, they will remain.
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
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 Gospel of John describes a wonderful image of the vineyard— branches and vine. This illustrates our relationship with Jesus. We must abide and remain in him to be fruitful. He is the vine, and we, we are merely the branches. He is the sole source of everything.
Notice the clear implications of John 15.(Come to Me, remain in Me, stay connected to Me.) He didn’t advise or suggest we attend a seminar, go to Bible school, or attend a prayer meeting.
He said, “Come to ME.” He, and He alone is the one we are to center on. He insists that He is to be our total focus. There is no other (Matthew 11:28.)
This is either an egotistical religious fanatic intoxicated with His power and self-importance, or He really is reality.C.S. Lewis comments,
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher.
He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
Jesus insists that we worship Him. That much is clear. “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. I am the only way to the Father.” And of course, “He who believes in Me has eternal life, and he who doesn’t is condemned”(John 14:6.) We just breeze through these verses and never truly grasp the ramifications. A mere man could not say these things (at least not with straight face) and be considered sane.
He either was what He said He was, or a liar or lunatic. And we must decide who He really is.
As believers we need to realize Jesus’ His rightful position. The One who sits on the throne is the center. All things derive their life, meaning and essence from Him. We must not forget that He is the Risen Lord. We need to realize that He has asked us to worship Him. Point blank.
Many of our struggles come when we try to reduce Jesus to something less than what is real. If He really is the only way to the Father, we had better pay attention.
“A rule I have had for years is: to treat the Lord Jesus Christ as a personal friend. His is not a creed, a mere doctrine, but it is He Himself we have.”
Often, we will benefit from reading the Word in a fresh new way. We approach it much in the same way every time, and we just as often will get the same sense. But the Bible is alive, and it will declare to us its vitality and relevance.
The author of the letter will determine its value. If it’s coming from a Nigerian Lottery, you quickly dismiss it. From your grandparents, not so much. When we read we look for wisdom and joy, and peace for our souls. When you get an email from a close friend, you just want to find a place and time to sit and read. This is perhaps the first step. You don’t want to be distracted, but really just want to enjoy the read. If the letter is very good, we will save it to reread later.
We value the message when we seek to make it permanently available; printing it would the first step to that end. And memorizing it would be a next step, especially if the note was of a very important significance. Sometimes, you may read it out loud to others! The New Testament is the Church’s collection of letters which we deem as “inspired” to speak to us. These “emails” were saved and treasured as coming from the Spirit of God to us by association. they are infused with a a living presence, They can be like a sponge saturated with God Himself.
Some “letters” are read quickly– these are read in just 10 minutes or less.
2 & 3 John.
Others can be read in less than 20 minutes or so.
1 & 2 Timothy,
1 & 2 Peter,
The following letters can be read in about an hour, or more.
1& 2 Corinthians.
Trust and read, there is no other way… try other versions, or an old favorite. All are excellent, if the Holy Spirit speaks to you. (I’m reading the NLT– the New Living Version, lately.) But I do remind myself, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT
Alwyn Wall, Jano Wall and Tom Hooper at Calvary Chapel Melbourne, Florida, playing“Fool’s Wisdom.”
“The Bible is alive; it speaks to me. It has feet; it runs after me. It has hands; it lays hold of me!” – Martin Luther
“The Word of God is creative. It is a hammer that crushes the hardness of our insubordination. It is medicine that heals the broken-hearted. And it is light that gives us guidance and hope on our way.” — John Piper
I have gained much from reading Spurgeon over the years. I read this this morning, and I could hear the Holy Spirit speaking into my soul. I need more of this “peaceful perseverance” working in me.
From Charle Spurgeon’s “Faith’s Checkbook” Wait for the Finals
“Gad, a troop shall overcome him: but he shall overcome at the last.”
Genesis 49:19, KJV
“Gad will be attacked by marauding bands, but he will attack them when they retreat.”
Some of us have been like the tribe of Gad. Our adversaries for a while were too many for us; they came upon us like a troop. Yes, and for the moment they overcame us; and they exulted greatly because of their temporary victory. Thus they only proved the first part of the family heritage to be really ours, for Christ’s people, like Dan, shall have a troop overcoming them.
This being overcome is very painful, and we should have despaired if we had not by faith believed the second line of our father’s benediction, “He shall overcome at the last.”“All’s well that ends well,” said the world’s poet; and he spoke the truth. A war is to be judged, not by first success or defeats, but by that which happens “at the last.” The Lord will give to truth and righteousness victory “at the last”; and, as Mr. Bunyan says, that means forever, for nothing can come after the last.
What we need is patient perseverance in well-doing, calm confidence in our glorious Captain. Christ, our Lord Jesus, would teach us His holy art of setting the face like a flint to go through with work or suffering till we can say, “It is finished.” Hallelujah. Victory! Victory! We believe the promise.“He shall overcome at the last.”
One of the weightiest issues of caring for a mentally ill spouse, child, or friend, is that it is so phenomenally relentless. The disease is so unpredictable, in its intensity and its spontaneity. You think you have the situation in hand, and it breaks out somewhere else, and often in public and causing major problems. This is wearing on anyone, including the Christian believer. And sometimes that can even make it more challenging.
You will need a support network, if you’re going to be a caregiver. This support is received in three different ways.
First, emotional support. Without someone who can listen and give words that encourage you, you’ll grow in resentment and frustration with your particular “lot”.
Second, I would suggest physical support. You will need someone to help you make sure the practical issues are met. (washing the car, fixing the shower, etc.) My wife as a caregiver has had to do things that she would normally wouldn’t be called on to do (fix the stove, do the taxes, etc.) because of my illness.
Third, spiritual support. It has three concentrations. Worship, prayer, and fellowship. These three have obvious effects on the caregiver. Just a word to the wise–when you pray you are going into it as two people (as well as for yourself). You must maintain and strengthen yourself and for the person you are serving. I think this is critical to your relationship. Try to see challenges, not obstacles. Don’t forget the power of a worshipping heart or the warmness of good Christian fellowship.
God gives special grace to the caretaker. My advice is to take it, and then use it. Draw upon Jesus who is your caregiver. Present your afflicted one to Him. Be supernatural in the mundane. The story of the paralyzed man on his cot being brought into Jesus’ presence by his friends fascinates me. It has many parallels for you to be a good caregiver.
“And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus,”
Luke 5:18, ESV
My last word of advice is that you don’t be self-critical or feel guilty. Remember, it is your friend or family member who is the sick one. Don’t get consumed by your responsibilities. Don’t fall in the trap of judging yourself by how well you do or don’t do as a caregiver. Remember, you are not performing for others, but for an audience of One, who sees all.
Educate yourself, use the internet to track down information. If I can help you further, please feel free to contact me. I’m not a rocket scientist but if I can encourage you I will. May the Holy Spirit touch your heart. You are going to need it.
In the last several years, I have grown very skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel. For the most part I have refrained from doing so, and rather have attempted to introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus. Its like a triangle– Jesus, them, and myself occupying each corner. All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord. Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.
Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information. Your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she opens up in that situation. Almost all of the the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place”. A key fact is getting your “permission to counsel.” This must happen in order for the counselee to really receive.
Usually when I meet with someone, I do not attempt to sound profound, or wise. Far from it! Instead, I am wary of myself. I think I’m like a flare shot up in the inky darkness, I just want to give a few brief moments of illumination before the moment passes. But when God speaks he will enlighten fully and bring understanding. “In his light, we see light”, (Ps. 36:9).
Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors. The problem came when they began to verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place. Very often I find that people have a need to be needed. They give counsel so they can feel good about themselves. There is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.
Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall. Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged. Just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative. It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Yes, mistakes will be made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.
“Peer-to-peer” counseling is very much a blessing. A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry. But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience. We should beware of the pitfalls, and wary of our flesh and its desire for greatness, glory and fame. To be a counselor can be quite dangerous and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.
“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.” Martin Luther
“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” Thomas Fuller