Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"So, does God still HEAL? Is physical healing available to all who believe?!"

In my last blog I asked the question:  "Does God still heal?" ... and we took an in depth look at James 5:13-16, the passage many people use to support the belief that God will heal those who call the Elders, confess their sin and have faith.  In the context of the whole book of James and the immediate context of the following verses, it appears that James is not talking about physical healing, but rather, about spiritual healing ... spiritual restoration of those who are "weak and tired" and who have drifted away from Christ.  These are encouraged to call the Elders of the Church and to be anointed with oil and reminded who they are in Christ and restored to the body.

I could say much more about that, but for now I want to answer the original question that is on the minds of many people who believe that God is sovereign over all things, that He is all-powerful, and that nothing is impossible for Him.  Does God still do miracles today?  Does God still heal?  And if He does, why doesn't He heal everyone?  Is there something WE need to do to receive physical healing?  And what part does prayer play in our healing?  These and other questions have been discussed and debated in ways that have often brought more "heat" than LIGHT!!

As with every other subject in which it appears Christians sometimes disagree, the only source of authority to which we can appeal for an answer is God's Word.  I am going to begin with a verse that may "tip my hand" as to what I believe Scripture teaches, but I want to start here because it is a verse that is often overlooked and which I believe sheds an important light on the subject of healing for the Church today.  The verse is II Corinthians 12:12 ...

In the context the Apostle Paul is defending his ministry against those who said that he was not one of the REAL apostles.  After all, he had not walked with Jesus, had not learned from Him or seen Him perform His miracles, like the other apostles.  Furthermore, the other apostles had carried on most of their ministry among the Jews, while Paul was preaching the gospel among the Gentiles.  It was the Jewish religious leaders, his former co-workers, who were constantly harassing Paul.  They had apparently convinced some in Corinth that they didn't need to listen to Paul.  So as he explained his ministry and defended himself against their accusations, Paul makes this statement:

"The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance"  (II Corinthians 12:12).

There are those today who claim to have the spiritual gift of "healing."  It is true that the Spirit gave to some that gift, as it is recorded in the book of Acts.  In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, Paul discusses spiritual gifts in Chapter 12.  "To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy ... " (I Corinthians 12:8-11).

Paul follows that with a discussion of the one body with many parts and concludes by asking, "Are all apostles?  Are all prophets?  Are all teachers?  Do all work miracles?  Do all have gifts of healing?  Do all speak in tongues?  Do all interpret?  But eagerly desire the greater gifts.  And now I will show you the most excellent way ..." (I Corinthians 12:29-31).  He then goes on to talk about LOVE ... the greatest spiritual gift that God gives to His children - the desire and ability to love God and to love one another.

So what about healing and miracles?  It is clear that some during the apostolic period in the early church were given the ability to perform miracles, including healing.  The question is:  Do some receive those "gifts," those abilities, from the Spirit TODAY?  This is where II Corinthians 12:12 must be taken into account:  "The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance."  In other passages Paul points to the working of miracles as confirmation of his ministry and his message (Romans 15:18-19; Galatians 3:1-5).

This was a transitional time in the history of salvation.  The Messiah had come, Jesus had ascended into heaven and poured out His Spirit.  There had never been a time like this in history.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ was being proclaimed for the first time and the Church was being "called out" of the world as those from every people, tribe, nation and tongue were filled with the Spirit and drawn to faith in Jesus Christ, being born again by His Spirit.  There had been two other times when miracles were displayed in powerful and obvious ways:  by Moses when the people of Israel left Egypt, and by Elijah and Elisha at the inauguration of the period of the prophets.  During both of those times God had a special message for His people and the signs and miracles were confirmation of that message for a time.

The writer of Hebrews adds weight to the argument that the gift of healing and of miracles was connected with the first announcement of the Gospel by Jesus and by His apostles.  " ... how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.  God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will" (Hebrews 2:3-4).  Healing and other miracles were not done as an end unto themselves, but as confirmation of the message that was being proclaimed.  The same was true for Jesus.  He called people to believe in HIM, and the miracles were simply evidence that He was who He said He was!  "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" (John 14:11).

The conclusion of all these passages is that healing and other miracles is not normative or common throughout time.  There were specific times when God gave to a few the supernatural ability to heal in order to confirm that they were apostles, sent by Him and speaking His truth, empowered by His Spirit and operating under the authority of His Son, Jesus Christ.  Which brings us to our question:  Does God still heal today?  Do miracles still happen?  After all this you may be surprised at the answer!  YES, He does!!  God is more than able to hear the prayers of His people and to accomplish His purpose through miracles.  The question really is:  HOW does God heal TODAY?

It is important to understand that prayer is a vital part of any person's relationship with "Abba, Father."  Jesus told His disciples to pray and to ask in His name.  The New Testament writers repeatedly encourage God's people to bring their requests to God, knowing that He hears us when we pray.  Prayers for our own healing and for the healing of others are heard by God every single time.  Prayers for jobs, for relationships, for doors to open for ministry and for a host of other things are all heard by our Father in heaven who is intimately involved in our lives and in this world.  Yet, ALL of this is subject to the wisdom of our God and to His intention to bring glory to Himself through those who believe.

God still heals today!  Sometimes He does a miracle and astounds the doctors.  Other times He uses the medical technology that He has allowed us to discover to restore health and the amazing function of the body HE created.  At other times He gives strength and courage to endure physical trials, using them to strengthen those who endure and to testify to others that His grace is sufficient.  And sometimes He brings perfect healing through death and the new life to come.  We should not and dare not limit God, nor should we be telling God what He must do and how He must do it.  It is enough to know that God has promised those who believe in Jesus Christ that He is with us, that He will never leave us and that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and who are called according to HIS purpose!

We exist to glorify our God, and we need to know that patient endurance and strength in the midst of suffering is a testimony to the power of God at work in us.  We need to pray, knowing that God is able to do the impossible.  Miracles still happen.  But our faith must not waver when God, in His wisdom, chooses another option.  He sees the whole picture and He knows how He will use even physical sickness, pain and death for His glory.  We who believe are not victims of an uncaring supernatural being, we are children of a loving Father.  His grace is sufficient and He will bring glory to Himself through our trials.  If He does that through persecution and martyrdom, He can and does do that through other trials as well.

Finally, while God may use a miracle to confirm His Word at various times and in various places around the world today, those who believe are called to testify to the truth of God's Word and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all people, praying that His Spirit would open their hearts and minds to confess Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  THIS is the greatest miracle and the greatest healing that can possibly take place in a person's life.  Through faith in Jesus Christ the dead are raised and become new creations.  We should not focus on physical healing today, but rather on the spiritual healing that comes when a sinner repents and turns to Jesus to find new life!  THIS is the "greater works" that Jesus was talking about His followers doing (John 14:12).  May we be about our Father's business and give all the glory to Him!!

More about this spiritual healing next time!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Does God still heal today ... REALLY?!"

"Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise.  Is any one of you sick?  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.  Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.  The prayer of a righteous man is powerful." - James 5:13-16

I was unable to post last week as I was sick!  Tuesday was perhaps the most miserable day I have had with sickness.  I have had more pain ... when I had my heart bypass, but as far as being very sick, last Tuesday was it!  While I was thankful to be able to get back to the office on Wednesday, I wasn't at "full strength" and the week went by very quickly.  I thank the Lord for the strength to preach His Word Sunday morning and for a return to a good measure of health.

Tuesday reminded me how very quickly the human body can be struck with illness, and of those who suffer with chronic illness as well.  All of us are vulnerable to disease, and sickness often comes without warning.  As I lay in bed (something I NEVER do, even when I am sick) last Tuesday, I had time to think of a lot of things, and one of those was healing.  As I prayed and others prayed for me I had the comfort of knowing that God was with me and that this was probably a very temporary illness. But it did bring to my mind a question I have been asked often:  "Does God still heal today?"

My sickness was pretty much over in 24 hours, but for some, the suffering and trials of physical ailments lasts for months, years, even a lifetime.  I have been told by some that God wants all of His people to be healthy.  Of course, that raises all kinds of problems for those of us who believe in a sovereign God who is able to do anything He desires to do.  His wisdom and power are beyond limit, so if He WANTS everyone to be healthy, why doesn't that happen?  We know that sickness and suffering and death are part of the consequence of the sinful world in which we now live, but if Jesus came to overrule that, why do believers still get sick?  Why do they have heart disease and cancer and other chronic illnesses?  We could understand it if that happened only to unbelievers.   But how do we explain believers being sick and even dying from some physical disease?

One answer (a terrible one by the way!) is that some don't have enough faith to believe that God can heal them.  He would do it ... if they just believed.  Of course, that is not a biblical answer and thus not a true answer, but many people seem to fall for it.  There are countless television ministries that tell people God is waiting for them to "sow a seed" (usually a round figure, like $1,000), and there are "miracles" that can be bought by such supposed obedience.  These charlatans make a mockery of God's truth and of His grace.  God doesn't charge for miracles!

Others go one step further and claim that those who aren't healed may be sick in the first place because of some sin in their lives that is either ongoing or unconfessed.  They tell people that if they confess their sin and repent, God will heal them.  Laying a load of guilt on people who are already suffering hardly seems loving, and is rarely "effective" in bringing healing, except perhaps by coincidence.  Of course, if someone is addicted to drugs, living a lifestyle of promiscuity, ignoring God and going one's own way without any regard for the things of God or His offer of love and forgiveness, then repentance is necessary, but to declare that all or most physical disease is caused directly by one's own sin is, again, not only untrue, but extremely harmful to the spiritual welfare of those who do not experience healing - even after they have done all THEY can do.

Where do people GET this stuff?  And why do so many who claim to be Christians listen to them?  Well, they get it from twisting and distorting God's Word.  Much of this teaching comes from one passage:  James 5:13-16.  While I do not have time or space in this blog to go into all that needs to be said about these verses, let me point out some crucial points that James makes.

He begins by asking two questions in verse 13, and giving brief answers:  "Is any one of you in trouble?  He should pray.  Is anyone happy?  Let him sing songs of praise."  OK, here are two different circumstances that people often find themselves in:  "trouble" and "happy."  In the context, James is writing about submission to God, trusting Him and knowing that He is present.  He is talking about being patient in times of suffering and standing firm and persevering because God is near.  His point in verse 13 is that if you are in trouble, "pray," because God is near.  If you are happy, "sing songs of praise," because God is near.

Then he goes on in verses 14-15:  "Is any one of you sick?  He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord.  And the prayer offered in faith WILL make the sick person WELL; the Lord WILL raise him up.  If he has sinned, he will be forgiven."

Notice that James writes that PRAYER is important and that praying in faith, believing God will do what He has promised, brings healing, restoration.  So what kind of healing is James talking about?  If he is talking about physical sickness and physical healing, then why doesn't more healing take place today - REAL healing?  Here's my answer, and I believe the context demands this understanding of what James writes, inspired by the Spirit of God ...

James is NOT talking about physical illness!!  The Greek word translated "sick" in verses 14-15 can and often does mean "weak, weary and tired."  This fits much better with the context of the verses that precede and those that follow verses 13-16.  To whom is James speaking?  He is speaking to Jewish believers who had been scattered from Jerusalem during intense persecution (Acts 8:4).  He says in chapter 1, verses 2-4:  "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."

This is the subject of James' letter and he begins and ends on this subject:  trials "test" your faith and help you to mature, making you stronger in the end and helping you to persevere, for the glory of God. At the end of his letter James returns to this subject and tells those who are feeling spiritually weak, weary and tired to ask for help, to call the elders and to ask them to pray over them, asking God for the strength He has promised to give.  The anointing with oil symbolized "being set apart for a holy purpose," and served as a reminder to the one being prayed for that they were a child of God through faith in Christ.  When James says that if they have sinned, their sins will be forgiven, he points to the fact that people sometimes isolate themselves from their brothers and sisters and wander away from God and the Church, His people, and that leads to the spiritual condition they are now in.  By calling the elders of the church the person is confessing their need and asking for help and they need to be reassured of God's grace and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.

After using the illustration of Elijah to show the power of prayer offered in faith, James summarizes his message in verses 19-20:  "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth (and become weak, weary and tired) and someone should bring him back, remember this:  Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins." 

As the elders come and pray for a brother or sister who calls them and asks for prayer the lost sheep is found and brought safely into the fold once again where they can be nourished and restored to spiritual health and strength.  Because they have been turned back to the truth of God's love and grace their lives will be spared from the many harmful sins in which they had been engaged and those they may have engaged in in the future.  Repentance "covers over a multitude of sins."

Using James to talk about "faith healing" or even praying for physical healing is taking that passage of Scripture out of its context and making it say something it doesn't.  James is talking about restoring a brother or sister who is feeling spiritually weak and tired, perhaps one who has "wandered from the truth," and restoring them to fellowship with God and His people where they can grow and mature and their faith can be strengthened ("tested").  This is an essential part of the ministry of the body of Christ and it needs to be sought out by those who find themselves in this condition.  God desires to "heal" them and WILL heal them.

So, does God heal?  Absolutely!  God promises spiritual healing to ALL who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ.  Sometimes we need others to remind us, to call us back, to pray for us, to pray with us. Prayer is, indeed, powerful!!  But what about PHYSICAL healing??  Does God still heal people, physically?  Does God still do miracles?  We'll have to leave that for next time, but here's a hint:  the answer is in God's Word!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

"For people who love controversy!"

Well, I got you this far ...

After writing my last blog I noticed something rather disturbing:  if I write a blog on something controversial, like "same-sex marriage" or "shepherds not caring for the flock," 150-200 people will read it, but when I write on something like "you are special" or the importance of being part of the body of Christ, 20-40 people will read it.  What does that say about us as a people living in this world?  What does it say about us as Christians?  Are we only interested in controversy?  Do we only get "fired up" when somebody says or does something we don't like?  Isn't there enough excitement to stir our emotions in being chosen and called by God to be ambassadors of His kingdom?

I've shared this verse with you before, but I do so again to stimulate your passion for Christ and to remind you of the purpose of God's choosing us, calling us, empowering us and sending us into the world.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9).

Peter wrote these words to Christians who were living at that time without the New Testament, who were facing severe persecution and who knew very little "theology."  His greeting states, "To God's elect, strangers in the world ... who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by His blood" (I Peter 1:1-2).  Look what God has invested in us who believe in Jesus Christ!

He says further in verses 18-19:  "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect."  Paul wrote the following to the Corinthians in II Corinthians 8:9: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich."  We who believe are ALL "rich" in the love and grace of God.  God is with us and He "has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Ephesians 1:3).

So why the spiritual apathy that plagues so many in the body of Christ?  Where is the fire, the passion for the cause of Christ that we need to have and should have EVERY DAY!  Many of you might answer:  LIFE happens!  I understand; it happens to me, too.  There are days when I am ready to take on the world, and there are days when "I got nothing."  It's those days when you feel like quitting, when you feel overwhelmed, when you feel like you have nothing left to give ... it's THOSE days that require you and me to remember what we know, to remember who we are and to remember God's calling.  It's those days, when we are weak, that God's desire is to display His strength in us and through us.

Later on in his letter to the churches, Peter writes, "In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (I Peter 3:15).  HOPE lifts us up and gives us inner strength so that we can not only endure, but testify to God's power that is at work within us.  When Paul prayed and asked God for relief from his "thorn in the flesh," God told him, "My grace is sufficient for you, for MY POWER is made perfect in weakness" (II Corinthians 12:9).  Then he goes on to say, "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, THEN I am strong!" (II Corinthians 12:9-10).

Do you get it?  Being "weak" is no excuse for apathy and half-hearted devotion to Christ.  In our weakness, HIS strength becomes real to us and is displayed to those around us.  Some people see me as a "strong Christian" because I am a pastor and because they have seen me and my wife and my family go through some trials.  But I am continually telling people that it is not MY strength.  I know where my help comes from and it is from my Father in heaven.  He is the Creator of all things and His Son, Jesus Christ, is my Savior and my Lord, and His Spirit lives within me.  It is GOD's power and strength you see, NOT MINE!  And you can live with the same strength I have.  You just need to know God, to feed often on His Word and to commit yourself to being His witness, on the good days AND on the not-so-good days.  HE is the same, yesterday, today and forever, and He never fails to give His children what they need to fulfill His purpose.

"You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light" - TODAY!  This is your calling, this is your task, this is your purpose, today and every day.  And God will give you everything you need to praise Him today, as you draw near to Him, as you believe His promises in Christ Jesus, and as you seek His face in prayer throughout the day.  Now go do it!!  Tell someone about the God who called you to be His and about the Savior who died and rose again who now lives within you by His Spirit.  "Greater is He that is in YOU than he that is in the world!" (I John 4:4).  Isn't it time you acted like it?!

Don't get caught up in all the controversial things and forget why you're here:  to proclaim the glory of our God and to praise Him!  Do it today and He will lift you up on eagles' wings and give you strength for the battle!!