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We Are Truly Marvels to Behold

power-and-weakness

“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.”

Acts 4:13

“God created the world out of nothing, and so long as we are nothing, He can make something out of us.”  

Martin Luther

Consider this: the jawbone of a donkey, a sling shot. and barley loaves, a woman’s tears, a young boy’s lunch, a young colt, and a talking donkey, they all suggest that God touches the common and the insignificant. He uses what we consider of minor importance. We often turn to the talented and gifted far too readily.

Peter and John are being seen by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish “Supreme Court”). They are to give account of themselves before the highest court of the land. There had been a healing, and there was the matter of preaching as well. Both Peter and John exude a confidence that these religious leaders couldn’t deny. Their perception was that they were ignorant men. Uneducated and common. But. They also knew they had been with Jesus.

In the minds of the leadership, they were nothing more than religious “white-trash.”

God loves to use what we consider common. His revealed history has been to take anything at His disposal and utilize it to redeem lost souls. A staff or a sling-shot are used with an adroitness that seems extraordinary among men. The things we think are simple and common are used to further God’s work among mankind.

But the message always returns back to the preachers. The Sanhedrin knew of the disciples preaching. They had absorbed the fact of a miracle; a crippled man had just been healed. (This they couldn’t deny.) But they were troubled. And they didn’t really know what to do.

What more could this be, but a direct intervention of God? And yet, God is working through “common people.” Then look…

“…if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed,”

Acts 4:9

Within this preaching was woven this healing. The Holy Spirit was ‘rocking their  world.’ The people who came in contact with these disciples would never be the same. Paul tells the Corinthian church that:

“Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”

1 Corinthians 1:27, NLT

If God has a specialty it would be this. He desires all the glory. He goes out of the way to use the broken and weak. He shows His strength through insignificant and minor things and people.

“We are all wounded. But wounds are necessary for his healing light to enter into our beings. Without wounds and failure and frustrations and defeats, there will be no opening for his brilliance to trickle in and invade our lives. Failures in life are courses with very high tuition fees, so I don’t cut classes and miss my lessons: on humility, on patience, on hope, on asking others for help, on listening to God, on trying again and again and again.”

Bo Sanchez

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Forgiven First

Forgiven-drop

This evening I got tired of the TV. Or maybe tired of the control it emits over me. I picked up one of the many Bibles I have in my loft. I do think it is ‘funny/sinister’ of the real pressure it takes to open its pages. I have no doubt it is the darkness of my flesh and the wickedness of demons. Melodramatic? I think not.

But this is what I read and thought.

“Jesus climbed into a boat and went back across the lake to his own town. Some people brought to him a paralyzed man on a mat. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man,“Be encouraged, my child! Your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:1-2, NLT

Jesus is mobile. He moves and goes where His Father goes. At this moment He is needed in Capernaum. He is to meet a small crowd– and a paralyzed man on a mat. Jesus travels, but this man can only be carried. So Jesus Christ the Son of God, comes to him.

The Lord’s eyes alertly move over these people. People are the reason He came. This crippled man has been waiting. Jesus looks, and all He sees is “faith.” And He knows that the Father has led Him here.

The Word says that He could see their faith. Funny. What does faith look like? It seems like that is the first thing He saw, and noted. I’m not sure about the man on the mat. Did he have faith? Or had it been ‘burned out of him’ by too many doctors, and too many ‘treatments’? It is good to surround yourself with others who will believe when you can’t.

Jesus finally spoke, and its worth noting His first utterance was to proclaim forgiveness. Not healing. Forgiveness! What did this man’s friends think? I see them feel tenative, and maybe a bit shocked about this. What evil did their friend commit? What had he hidden from them, the way we try to hide things from each other?

The healing is going to come. This man will stand. He will carry his mat and go home. (V. 6). But perhaps the paralysis wasn’t the main reason he was there.

Maybe, his biggest need was to be forgiven?

Man has two basic needs.

  • One, to be forgiven of awful sin. Washed and cleansed. Forgivemess.
  • Two, to become a good person. Kind and humble. Healing.

There will always be those looking on who will condemn and challenge what is taking place. For them, it has nothing at all to do with the hearts of people. That means nothing to them. Rather for these, it has to do with a rigid and lifeless religion– with its 613 laws, and tithing of dill and mint.

What do you really need? Forgiveness? Or something else? Psalm 103:3-4, are verses for the redeemed.

“He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.”

*

“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness.”  

Henry Ward Beecher

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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998

The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.

I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.

Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.

THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL

Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:

Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.

The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.

According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”

The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.

Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.

This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.

The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.

shooting
Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”

MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.

God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS

When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.

Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.

I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.

This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.

Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.

 

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Leaving a Wilderness [w/ A Lot of Help]

Stranded by Snow
The bitter cold was intense in the car.

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
      Leaning upon her beloved?”  

Song of Solomon 8:5

 _________________

Once while stranded in the Alaskan wilderness I almost froze to death.  It was cold, 20 F below zero.

About 30 years ago, a friend and I felt directed to bring in Bibles and discipleship materials into the village of Minto, very near the Arctic Circle.  We were driving in a little red Datsun through about eight inches of snow late at night. Suddenly, the car just quit running.  We looked at each other, and we started to assess our situation. No cell phone, on a very remote road with no heat.  We both knew that unless God made a direct intervention, we would never survive the intense cold.  We prayed, and waited and thought. We had to fight the panic.

There is a wilderness we all must traverse.  It can be as difficult and extreme as an Arctic landscape.  The Shulamite girl in Song of Solomon knew this terrain.  It is a desperate place to be.  This world is a bitter place, and provides little in the way of solace and comfort.  We are called to be “pilgrims and strangers,” making this journey of faith to a heavenly city.

The opening verse has witnesses or observers making a declaration.  They seem to be shocked, and amazed by what they see.  The Shulamite girl was spotted, making her way, slowly threading her way up from the wastelands.  The path has been difficult, it would’ve been easier to quit.  It has taken everything she could muster up.

But the crescendo in this verse is the declaration, “she is coming up…leaning on her beloved.”  She found the help she had to have, at the side of One who loved and beloved.  He had come, at just the right time to lift her up and lead her out her extremity.  She has found that He is her strength.  It is He who has come to deliver her.  The verse suggests that it is the bridegroom that is the determining factor.

His presence changes everything.

We were miraculously rescued after about 20 hours.  How we survived in that frigid isolation is beyond me.  Freezing to death was truly imminent.  I remember squeezing through the car window when it became first light.  The snow had completely covered the car, and as I surveyed our surroundings, I remember thinking how desolate it was.  We had stalled on a high ridge, and it seemed like the loneliest and most isolated place on Earth.

This afternoon I sat out on my deck, looking and thinking.  This verse entered my brain like a bullet.  Walking with Jesus through my wilderness has challenged and wearied.  I have fallen more times then I can count.  Each time I have picked myself up.  Do you know why? Because when I’m with Jesus, I know I will be fine.

aabryplain

 

 

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Running Together

running

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1

 “For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.”

Matthew 18:20

It is easier to run alone, rather than run in a group. Running with others means keeping pace with those around you. Not so fast that you outpace the slower ones, and not so slow that you slow down the group. There are many who simply prefer running without the ‘constraints’ of others. Consider these:

  • Timing, learning the right stride so you won’t collide.
  • Encouragement, for those who are weary or limp.
  • Finish line, keep everyone’s eyes on the final outcome.

Perhaps this seems difficult. To be consistent in this kind of running is far too restrictive. It seems more difficult than running alone; there are far too many issues. And yet, I have determined that running with others has its own rewards.

We were never meant to be alone— solitary persons. We were created to engage the personalities of others. We must slow or speed up to keep the cohesion of everyone. We may want to speed up the pace a little bit. But if we do, it would mean the separation of the slower runners. But we are meant to run with others.

We will make these decisions on the spur of the ‘racing’ moment. Yet they determine everything. Will I curtail my desire to win, without you? Can I stand at the ‘winners line’ confidently after leaving you far behind?

We belong together. We simply can’t run solo anymore. Mental illness (as well as a physical illness) has a strong tendency to isolate. We find ourselves alone, far more than what is healthy. We make excuses, far more than is appropriate. We determine to advance, or to just ‘give up’ without affecting the other runners.

At times we must ‘gear down’ if we are to run with others. We must stop thinking ‘me’ and start thinking ‘you’. This so militates against our personal preferences. We don’t want to give up our own quest for glory. We ascribe to the virtue of the ‘first gets the best.’ But at other times we must speed up to keep the pace.

There is nothing in the scriptures about ‘going it alone.’ There is nothing that would suggest this. Yes, there are individuals, and yes they stand out. But the glacial mass is toward a corporate understanding of the truth, we will arrive together, with one another.

I would simply suggest that we become aware of our brother and sister who are trying to run next to us. They are working so hard to keep pace. Some even limp trying to keep up. We can’t ‘blow them off.’ We realize that we’re linked with them. We can’t turn away from that. When we do cross the finish line, it will be together.

“All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

1 Corinthians 12:27

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The Art of Denying Jesus

deny
Peter weeps

“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” And he went away, weeping bitterly.”

Matthew 26:75, NLT

Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.

A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”

John 21:17

The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:

  • being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
  • ‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
  • finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
  • having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
  • in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
  • his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
  • at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8

Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.

Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.

We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.

Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word found in only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”

1 Peter 5:2, NIV

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Your Love Will Define You

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“You were cleansed from your sins when you obeyed the truth, so now you must show sincere love to each other as brothers and sisters. Love each other deeply with all your heart.”

1 Peter 1:22, NLT

This defines us as believers. We will easily admit to falling short in this matter. I know I’m sharing in God’s love for Steve, a backslidden Christian who I meet on the streets. I’m aware that Jesus loves him so much and it seems to burst out of me. I can hardly contain it. The Father loves Steve, and I get to share in that same love when I talk with him.

Love takes on many different forms. But it always is giving. It simply can’t be thinking of itself; it exists for others and takes no thought of itself. That magnificence that is God’s love gets funneled through us (we can hardly contain it) and we’re compelled to share it. We are simply called to be ‘the transfer point.’

“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows.”

1 Thess. 3:12

God initiates the love to be shared. Some of us are weaker than others; we are physically or mentally handicapped. But as believers we are to turn to God to saturate our hearts. When it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter how flawed you are, what matters is the vast ocean of God’s love. Weakness only makes it easier because we’ve quit relying on ourselves to love others. (And it only makes you ‘believable’ and gives God the glory.)

 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”

John 13:35

Our calling is to be ‘naturally supernatural.’ And that will take the dealings of God.

But please remember the joy that is present when you’re communicating His love. The book of Philippians is saturated with Paul’s joy at sharing God’s love. He sees it as his privilege to share it with the Church. And oh how God loves His Church! The Holy Spirit can teach you, how to do this, if you’re teachable.

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