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.
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.
“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing?”
Mark 6:2-3, NIV
Jesus amazed people. When He is brought to the front of the synagogue, He begins to speak. His listeners are driven to silence and an awareness of something else. They attempt to try to decipher these things. It seems they cannot make the connection between the Holy Spirit and their traditions. But as they listened their hair stood up. What is going on? Something isn’t quite right. Too many things are being threatened.
But they remain astonished. The situation is getting out of control. This young man is one of their own. They don’t expect this type of intensity from Him. He says things that very closely approaches a definition of blasphemy. Who is this man, and why is He speaking to us in such a manner or attitude?
And on top of all these pronouncements, He begins to perform miracles!
He does what no one can do, or has done before. And He does it so easy– no theatrics or gyrations. There is no effort. Those who observe Him, are brought into even more astonishment. Jesus is doing things that are unreasonable, and amazing. I can just imagine their thinking. Who invited this guy to speak and why was He invited in the first place? Has He been brought here to mock and shame us?
Our tendency is to consider miracles to be fantastic interventions in our lives; when in fact they’re better understood as revelations of the nature of a Covenant keeping God.
Jesus simply reveals the heart of the Father. He is the son of God. And at this particular junction, no one can compare. As He stands behind that pulpit, He reveals an intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
Jesus clearly stands as the ultimate deliverer of the human race. We will find no hope by looking somewhere else. He has established Himself as the only way to the Father. And He sees us clearly. We may twist, and we may squirm. But Jesus remains our only salvation.
“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
People will sometimes ask me, “What its like to be a Christian and to have a mental illness?” I’m not entirely sure I can really answer, but I do try. It seems almost always there are misconceptions, or even a stigma attached to their curiosity. But here goes.
It’s like I’m a ‘giraffe on roller skates’, It seems like I’m always lurching and tottering— always on the verge of total collapse. (It’s a wonder I’m even ‘standing.’) Careening from one side to another, I’m aware that I’m becoming quite the spectacle, and I imagine I hear whispers about the ‘splash’ I’m making today.
I’m uneasy and unsure. (Am I being inappropriate?) I seem to speak too loud and pressured, I feel conspicuous; like I’m slightly inebriated at a party of Mormons. I’m aware of nervous glances and uneasy whispers.
Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.
I have a mental illness. ‘Rapid cycling’ bipolar disorder is my particular ‘flavor.’ I’m on meds (and have been for some time) but it only seems to do is to take of edge off— but I’m grateful for even that small mercy. Over time I’ve been able to accrue some coping mechanisms. Identifying my paranoia and random delusions is simple ‘Bipolar 101’. It has become the present state of my world. I don’t always do it well— but I do ”do it’. (And I take my lithium daily.)
There is a learning curve to all of this. It must be discovered. I have tried ‘avoidance tactics’, and I suppose most of the time they seem prudent. But life can’t really be lived cloistered in your room. That is safe, but also very dull. The isolation becomes more toxic than ‘the spectacle.’
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and having bipolar disorder creates some problems. I’m aware of the incongruity. But my faith often uses these issues I face; they propel me closer to Him.
Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.
28 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matthew 11:28-29, NLT
The promise of Jesus is for those who carry extra weights (like mental or physical illness). It’s for those whose ‘cheese has slipped off their cracker.’ It’s for giraffes on roller skates. Anything we bear is endurable, and easy. He carries us far beyond every weight and every burden. He alone gives rest to the troubled, and real peace to those troubled by their souls.
30″ For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
What Jesus actively does is to puncture my pride, and then release His spirit and grace over me. But He also makes things ‘light’. The reality is that I bear nothing. All that He does is ‘light’. My blundering is seen and never belittled. But His grace only gets revealed in my weakness.
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.”