“In one of the villages, Jesus met a man with an advanced case of leprosy. When the man saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground, begging to be healed. “Lord,” he said, “if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”
Luke 5:12, NLT
Let’s jump right into this passage from Luke 5. A very sick man desires to become well. The Bible text reveals that his condition is agonizingly desperate. His leprosy has advanced; he is covered with it from ‘head-to-toe.’ He is completely infected; he is ‘unclean’ and without hope. There is no treatment for what he has, doctors can do nothing, so he comes to Jesus.
We must emphasize this, the leper has no illusions of wholeness. He knows it; he doesn’t need to be convinced, or persuaded by anyone else. It occurs to him, that Jesus the healer (of lepers, and the like) may provide healing, or at the least a morsel of comfort. This leper approaches the presence of Jesus, with such humility it is almost painful to witness. This man is completely broken; he has no hope, except Jesus.
There is a fellowship of misery–some of us are “card-carrying” members.
Our diseases differ, but they have affected us completely. Our pain, and our darkness vary. Some have physical pain, others have a mental illness. When we meet, there should be a secret handshake or a password. We share a comradeship— we are all part of the same community. We are a broken club of tired and decidedly unclean misfits.
How do we measure our pain and desperate darkness? What do we use to measure it? For the most part, our lives have been destroyed. I think we can understand it by looking up at Jesus. Lying in the dirt, we believe the unbelievable. Our faith doesn’t activate his healing as much it guides it to our greatest need. The presence of Jesus drives away the pain. His love for us echoes into our emptiness. And he wants to do this! He has come for us. He carries us through this.
I struggle with deep depression and despondency. I have been on meds for a long time. But when I come into Jesus’ presence, all this melancholy is driven out. He comes and injects a true hope into my spirit. Am I a stellar example of perfect discipleship? I think not. (My wife could tell you this.) But isn’t about us becoming “angels”, it’s about us becoming intimate with Jesus.
“The power of the Church is not a parade of flawless people, but of a flawless Christ who embraces our flaws. The Church is not made up of whole people, rather of the broken people who find wholeness in a Christ who was broken for us.”
The leper would be healed by the authority (and touch) of Jesus Christ. What is impossible with men, is possible with God.
“Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”And instantly the leprosy disappeared.” (v. 13)
“Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord was speaking about when he said, ‘I must be respected as holy by those who come near me; before all the people I must be given honor.’ “ So Aaron did not say anything about the death of his sons.”
Leviticus 10:3, NCV
We dare not become casual by our contact we have with the Lord. Intimacy is obvious, but it must be done with certain precautions. He asks for us to respond with a sense of holiness. It is vitally important to Him, and it is vital for us. We must honor Him as the One who is holy.
The closer we come, the more significant our response. We are carefully monitored, to see what we will do after we confront the reality of Him. He insists that we should honor Him as ‘holy’. He passionately desires and requests that we do what is appropriate and honorable as we meet Him.
Giving Him honor is critical. It should be the first thought of every man or woman who presses in to know Him. Honoring Him as holy is not regarded as an option to be debated or brought out for consideration. It is essential to follow Him faithfully.
We live with ‘lightning’, and a flamethrower, it seems. He is a tiger who we have grabbed by the tail, we have but a few options. One is too release our hold and let Him go. The second is too hold on to Him with all our strength. He loves those who make the second choice. Grab hold of the Lord Jesus, and hang on for dear life!
“Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”
Isaiah 33:14, NKJV
He is dangerous, but in a good way.
We should anticipate Him coming and disrupting our Sunday services. We need our ushers to hand-out ropes and life-jackets before the service starts. We should expect Him to explode in our congregations, in a whirlwind of holy love. He wants us to expect Him. We must be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is a sense here in Leviticus 10 of something that is needful and mandatory on our parts. Often we will discover that entering and abiding in His presence requires us to honor His holiness. When we do so, we find we will trigger a response from the Lord, which will it turn be a true blessing to our own souls.
The moment you come to realize that only a holy God can make a man godly, you are left with no option but to find God, and to know God, and to let God be God in and through you.
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. 2 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. 4 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.”
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.
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.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:1, NIV
Those of us who examine scripture, are quickly confronted with this very direct concept of absolutely no condemnation for everyone who believes in Jesus Christ. God’s own Son has died to bring us home. We are under no condemnation, our lives have been brought under His direction. His grace has done all of this, for us.
“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself.”
Romans 8:31-33, NLT
There is absolutely nothing that can touch us. There is no condemnation that comes up against us. Our acceptance is total and complete in Christ. A vital faith in His Word has secured our salvation.
We have been made ‘just’, and this is not a clerical mistake!
He has made us right with Him. He is now in direct intervention of the total immensity of my sin. And He is waiting for me to respond.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’
Romans 5:1, NIV
Our faith has a capacity to make us right. As we seek this out, He makes us righteous. This is in spite of our darkness. He intervenes in our darkness to bring us into the light. We stand clean before our Lord.
Anything that could be smeared on us, has been carried by Jesus as sin we gave Him. He carries us on His frame, with all of our darkness and twistedness. He has become evil, so that we might be made good. He is absorbs sin, drawing in all my evil and taking it as His own. Justification, by faith, is His gift to us.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB
What in the world is there to say? What words can verbalize after what has just happened? Let’s just stop, and think a moment. By faith “it is just as I’ve never sinned.” That is markedly good news.
Christmas is my most favorite time of the year. I was raised in the northern part of Wisconsin, and my most valuable and tenderest recollections are my Christmases. I was raised in a Norwegian Lutheran church (Lutefisk?!) Many memories flow from that; the cold, the snow and the tree and the presents. I have been made a ‘rich’ man through all of these great memories.
I remember our annual Nativity play at Church. I remember the sticky, carmelly ‘popcorn ball’ each one of the kids would get from the church ladies aid. I also remember a very bleak Christmas when there was no money to be had for presents. A local charity came through at the last minute with gifts. I was profoundly touched by all of this, and more. Even when it was bad, it was still good.
I have no real way of instilling any of this to you. Each of us has what we have, and we must make it work. But I do exhort you, go out of your way to touch the young hearts you have contact with. Help them believe. Make it easy for them to touch Christmas magic. Let them leave your presence yearning for God’s presence in this day.
It won’t take much, maybe a little imagination on your part. But those things you do may ignite and become a blaze that will direct them through their lives. Be kinder then you need to. Do things that will impact them, even small things often carry an astonishingly strong influence.
You may be in the thick of it. You have “lost” the purpose and meaning of this day. But I’m pretty sure it isn’t permanent. But at least, try to do what you can.
“Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.”
Thirty-three years ago I became a believer in Jesus. There were a number of things that connected with me. One of those most influential of those was believers who radiated a presence of our Lord Jesus. This was as meaningful to me as any dazzling apologetics or astute Bible study.
These Christians seemed to “glow in the dark.” They “shined” with Him, and were ‘exhibit A’ of the reality of Christ in the real life of the believer. I couldn’t shake their peace and their transparency. Witnessing their countenances, I knew that Jesus was real and that He could transform us in a profound way.
In Psalm 34, there is an indication that believers should be radiant. We cheapen the Gospel when we turn our “dimmer switch” down. I live in Alaska, and the winters here are gray in the most incredible ways. I once tried to count the different hues of gray. I counted at least 20, but I’m sure that there was more. Walking later I came across a child’s sled, it was florescent orange, and it was incredibly bright and very obvious.
We are called to be ‘fluorescent.’ We are to shine like stars in the night sky. We stand out to all who are honest enough to observe. I think of Moses when he descended Mt. Sinai. He had been in God’s presence, and his face glowed. Moses attempted to hide this phenomenon by wearing a ski mask on his face.
Those who move close to Him will be altered. Touching Him will forever change you.
Christians who draw close to the Lord today, become ‘fluorescent believers.’ God’s glory descends on them. They receive this touch, without seeking it directly. The fellowship they have with “the Light” impacts them, and they are changed on a fundamental level.
“Those who are wise will shine as bright as the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness will shine like the stars forever.”
Daniel 12:3, NLT
We really shouldn’t be surprised when this process takes place. (Perhaps we should be more amazed when it doesn’t happen.) It’s critical for us to note this–being a Christian is a supernatural activity. It’s not just changing your mind about certain facts or presuppositions. It just so happens that my favorite activity as a 6 year old boy was sticking nails into wall outlets. I loved the jolt. The resulting shock would hurl me across the room (as you can imagine.) I guess I loved smelling the ozone. (God preserved me even after several experiences.)
Contacting the Holy Spirit is a profound thing. His voltage just lights us up. We are changed as we connect with Him. Supernaturally.
“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”
2 Cor. 3:18
We really should make the decision to seek the Lord more intentionally. As we do that, we are given a key that will open up Jesus’ presence to us, in ways we only have begun to really understand. Reflecting His glory is our real purpose.