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?
“O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.”
Song of Solomon 2:14, KJV
“The dove is in the cleft of the rock”—that is, the open side of our Lord. There is comfort and security there. It is also in the secret places of the stairs. It loves to build its nest in the high towers to which men mount by winding stairs for hundreds of feet above the ground. What a glorious vision is there obtained of the surrounding scenery.
It is a picture of ascending life. To reach our highest altitudes we must find the secret places of the stairs. That is the only way to rise above the natural plane. Our lives should be ones of quiet mounting with occasional resting places; but we should be mounting higher, step by step. Not everyone finds this way of secret ascent. It is only for God’s chosen.
The world may think we are going down. We may not have as much public work to do as formerly.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit.”
It is a secret, hidden life. We may be hardly aware that we are growing, until one day a test comes and we find we are established.
Have you arrived at the place where Christ is keeping you from willful disobedience?
Does the consciousness of sin make you shudder?
Are you lifted above the world?”
Albert Benjamin Simpson, (Dec. 15, 1843 – Oct. 29, 1919)
FOUNDER OF THE Christian and Missionary Alliance, Albert Benjamin Simpson was born in Canada of Scottish parents. He became a Presbyterian minister and pastored several churches in Ontario. Later, he accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Chestnut Street Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. It was there that his life and ministry were completely changed in that, during a revival meeting, he experienced the fullness of the Spirit.
He continued in the Presbyterian Church until 1881, when he founded an independent Gospel Tabernacle in New York. There he published the Alliance Weekly and wrote 70 books on Christian living. He organized two missionary societies which later merged to become the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
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.
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs.
Romans 8:14-17, NLT
As mentally ill Christians, we are often a mixture of good and bad things regarding our faith.
The Good: we don’t have to be convinced of our sin. We live in a broken world, and we’re pretty sure that we have formidable issues. We’re needy.
The Bad: our consistency fluctuates from day-to-day. We never know what our state of mind will be. Some of us have problems socially that hinders us. Attendance at our local church is hard.
From one day to the next many of us struggle. The existence of this ‘flightiness’ is painfully evident. And it is hard to maintain anything, much less spiritual things. But I believe that the Holy Spirit not only makes an allowance, but even pours out extra grace on the afflicted believer. The Lord loves His misfits.
But we must put no confidence in our flesh. We do bounce around; our salvation is not of our own doing. We must seriously commit to the promises in the Word of God.
The engine must pull the other cars. We must look to the promises of God (the Bible) to stay on track. Both faith and feelings must come behind the engine. Some struggle a great deal because they are led by their feelings. Confusion will follow if we get the proper order mixed up.
First facts (the Bible),
and finally feelings.
The Word of God is our only safety. Even our faith is to be connected to the promises of God. For those with a disability, we are to link up to promises that God has made to us. When you encounter the truth we’re to hook up through our faith to them.
Read the Word: Psalms or the Gospels. I also draw much strength in the Book of Romans, chapter 5 through 8, especially.
We have been adopted by the Holy Spirit as sons and daughters. We are deeply loved by God Himself. He has gone and made us ‘heirs’ without any of our effort at all (Romans 8:14-17). These are examples of taking up the promises by faith. We are a people in need of stability. What God gives us is His own constancy. Read the Word, fresh just for you.
“And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.”
2 Peter 1:4, NLT
“In the darkest of nights cling to the assurance that God loves you, that He always has advice for you, a path that you can tread and a solution to your problem–and you will experience that which you believe. God never disappoints anyone who places his trust in Him.”
“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.”
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 foundin 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.”
“Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you.”
Deut. 31:8, NLT
You can go to the British Museum in London, England and view old nautical charts that were made in the early 1500s. Written on them are things like, “Here be fiery scorpions” and “Here be giants” or the classic, “Here be dragons.” These notations were written I suppose, to discourage any kind of exploration.
At this early point a man named, Sir John Franklin wrote on each map, “Here is God.” His sincerity was well noted– and it strengthened the sailors, and helped them to trust in a discovery that would lead to salvation for many.
35 “As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.”
Jesus, all of a sudden stands up. He declares we must go to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. (He says, “Lake.” But this is not a lake.) It is the storm. It rips over the disciples. It confuses them, and causes fear.
There is enough waves, that the disciples (trained fisherman) begin to wonder why their world is “falling apart.” They realize they are in deep trouble, and I suppose many “crossed” themselves and prepared to die. Everything is now lost.
The certainty of death approaching can be quite sobering. It clarifies so much. If you’ve been at this “threshold,” you will understand what I am saying.
“But He was in the stern, asleep on a pillow. And they awoke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 Then He arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!” And the wind ceased and there was a great calm.”
Where is Jesus? There He is, sleeping on a pillow. How can He sleep, when the world is going to end? They wake up Jesus, and pointedly ask Him, “Don’t you even care? We are at the very point of death!
Shaking off His slumber, Jesus stands. He looks at the vicious waves, and then announces, “Be at peace, be still.” Immediately the storm ‘shuts down.’ There is no reluctance, no hesitation. The waves become calm and subdued, instantly.
Jesus turns, He focuses on His own disciples. “Why did you doubt?” He asks. And they can say nothing. “Where is your faith?” And they can say nothing. They are overwhelmed at the authority of Jesus. They dare not offer anything that may confuse others who will encounter Jesus.
Confusion rules when desperation is present. But yet this is not true, confusion will enter in, when everything we see is impossible. We take a look at Jesus, and we see and discover His power and significance. Rightly so, He overwhelms us, and He takes us apart.
The disciples should have realized the strength of Jesus. He was so very tired. Yet He told His followers that He would bring to the opposite side of the lake. Being in the middle of the lake is not a factor.
Our lives should be focused on Jesus leading us through. He is in our small boat, and yet we struggle with our waves. They cripple us and completely dismantles us, the intense waves are breaking over us. But we should never determine that life will work without His presence.
We won’t always travel through calm waters. There will be definite times when we approach peace and confidence. Dangers that will visit us are not in our proximity. We are His children. We must bring our souls to rest. Amazingly, He does love us. We are His property and must believe that we belong to Him, He will bring us all the way home.