Today, through the marvel of modern medicine, we can do heart bypasses, heart transplants and install artificial hearts.
But no one can make an unclean heart clean once it becomes dirty. We cannot fix it to live in eternity with a infinitely holy God. It is through the process of biblical discipleship that you and I are being prepared for living with Him.
Discipleship is the methodology God has ordained for us to change our hearts. But because discipleship is so challenging and so demanding, we’re tempted to avoid the Gospel’s call. Sometimes it seems like there are many believers and just a few disciples.
Nothing but discipleship is an acceptable response to His sacrifice on the cross for me.
1) A true disciple will love Jesus Christ above all.
“Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
“It never cost a disciple anything to follow Jesus; to talk about cost when you are in love with Him is an insult.”
2) A true disciple must deny himself.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
3) A true disciple, intentionally and deliberately, embraces the cross.
“And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
“The cross of discipleship is that I daily and hourly delight to tell my human nature that I an not my own; I no longer claim right to myself.”
4) A true disciple is close to Jesus and follows Him.
“If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.”
5) A true disciple will love other disciples.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
1 John 4:7
It is incredible to see the fervor with which the people of that religion help each other in their wants, They spare nothing. Their first legislator [Jesus] has put it in their hearts that they are brethren.”
–Lucian, Greek writer (120-200 A.D.)
6) A true disciple abides (continues) in the teaching of the Lord.
“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples.”
John 8:31 (John 15:8-9)
7) A true disciple lives to follow the words and teaching of the Lord Jesus.
“Jesus said to him, “’No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’”
A word about joy. The Holy Spirit turns all the hard things of discipleship into sweetness. Perhaps the difficult part is found in the first few minutes of the decision to follow in a specific matter. But the peaceful presence soon follows and your life will be flooded with light. There is incredible joy in this life of discipleship.
A word about obedience. The Holy Spirit rushes in to touch the weakest act of obedience. He understands our feeble and cowardly hearts and promises to help us to obey Him.
A word about becoming unique. The disciple is a rarity among the world (and even the Church). Following Him in your walk may set you apart as odd and peculiar. If you will follow it will mean you will die to what people think. You should love them anyway. You may be persecuted and spoken evil of. Forgive them, they won’t understand.
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.
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.
“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
The Psalms are a classical example of self encouragement. The writer sometimes fell in to some moments of depression and he would write encouraging words to uplift his spirit. Today these have become encouragement verses or scriptures for us to emulate. Read Psalm 42. It is somewhat an unusual portion of scripture, in as the writer addresses his/her own soul. That alone makes it unique. And if we think it out, we become aware of an awesome truth.
“I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self . . . Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them, but they start talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment was this; instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul?‘ he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says: ‘Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.’ Do you know what I mean? If you do not, you have had but little experience . . . We must stand up as this man did and say: ‘Why are you cast down? Why are you disquieted within me?’ . . . instead of listening placidly to him and allowing him to drag you down and depress you. For that is what he will always do if you allow him to be in control.”
D. M. Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1982), pp. 20,21.
When I allow myself to indulge in anger, impatience, worry, pride, or spite, I provide an entrance for Satan to enter my life and run rampant through my mind. He doesn’t have to scheme, plan or deceive me. He can walk right in and begin chasing my self-centered emotions all over the place.
Notice the flow– My impatience breeds irritation; irritation– anger. Anger chases bitterness, and bitterness– unkindness. Satan just keeps bringing more and more situations and circumstances in my life that wreak havoc with fruit of the spirit. In my weakened state, my heart is left vulnerable to more and more assaults.
“He who has no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls.”
The Bible teaches us that we are responsible for our behavior. As believers we simply do not have the option to allow depressive self-talk to go on unedited and unchallenged. If we think about it, as we are depressives and the mentally ill, we must take a stand! This idea can help us through much anguish of soul. The concept of ‘kindling’ a depressive bout can lead us to ‘flare up,’ and get out-of-control. Remember, depression is both physical, emotional, and spiritual issue.
“Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;the Lord has forgotten us.”
Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,
I would not forget you!16 See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”
Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT
Some of us need to be persuaded of God’s love. We are unconvinced. But Isaiah understands. We grasp the theology, but not the meaning. Our own native ideas keep us in disbelief. Perhaps the greatest liability we have as believers is this doubt that God really feels this way about us. But, He does.
Isaiah claims the impossible, yet grounds himself in what is real. The Father loves us and we’re His very own. Even if we don’t seem as holy as we ought to be. In His out reached hands, we discover scars. This is the price He has purchased us with. We once were blind, and very lost— but now we are His own children.
We are given the impression that He more than ‘loves’ us; He ‘likes’ us. That dear ones, is not a point I’m prepared to support with scripture— it doesn’t exist except in my own thinking. I know that He theologically loves me.
But I also believe God also likes me as well. Surely, there is such a fine line here, between ‘like’ and love. The more I walk with the Lord, and it’s been almost 35 years now, the more I do love/like Him. I have learned to like Him as much as I love Him. And if God doesn’t like me, I think it diminishes His love.
Some of us must be persuaded again and again of God’s love.
Regardless, Isaiah speaks for the Lord with tender things. Among the people they had the mindset that God had somehow forgotten them. They thought that they were ‘the lost ones.’ God uses the analogy of a mother. A nurturing mother. This metaphor is strong and sure. No, God hasn’t forgotten His people. Look at His hands, your name is ‘tattooed’ on them. You’re His, forever.
“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!”