684

684 Sundays.

That’s roughly how many Sundays there are until the beginning of the year in which I turn 65, and probably retire.

I know, that’s a long ways off.

But it’s not that far off.

And I won’t get to preach every one of those Sundays. I will be on vacation for some of those Sundays; I will have staff members who will want to speak for some of those Sundays; and I will have special speakers for some of those Sundays for things like Missions Conference or other special events. Over the course of those 13+ years, a conservative estimate would be that I would not preach 8 Sundays per year. That’s at least 104 Sundays I won’t be preaching, and that doesn’t account for emergencies or unexpected opportunities to have special speakers. So that cuts me down to 579 Sundays.

579 Sundays. That’s about 100 more sermon series, with a length of 5 – 6 messages. To those of you who have to sit and listen to me preach, it sounds like a lot of sermons.

But to me? That number is the number of grains of sand left in an hourglass, and they’re slipping through steadily.

Every week, that number decreases.

So for the time I have left, I want to be sure that every message counts,

The truth is that I’ve lived a significant part of my life in fear and anxiety. I’ve thought and worried too much about what other people think. I’ve tried too hard to please people, and tried to hard to avoid offending people so they wouldn’t leave the church.

But that kind of living is foolishness.

The truth is that no matter how hard I try, or how careful I am, I will always offend someone, somehow. I will always let people down and I will always disappoint some people.

So I’ve got to live my life according to what I think God wants from me.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have a license to offend, to alienate, to be inconsiderate, or to just be a jerk.

But I can’t let my leadership of others be governed by fear or by their expectations.

Leadership can be selfish and controlling – manipulative. But it can also be motivational – unselfishly leading people to a difficult place, on a difficult journey, that will ultimately be for their benefit.

684 Sundays. That’s my number. I’ve got to make the most of it. I’ve got to lead differently, invest myself more in young leaders, take more risks, take bigger risks, push other leaders to go where they may not want to go but desperately need to go.

My challenge, my mission, is to fundamentally change the culture and direction of our church so that we are fulfilling Christ’s call. Because right now, while we’re doing some very good things, the hard and honest truth is that we’re failing. And if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll keep getting what we’re getting.

We have to change. I have to lead change. And I know what it will cost, because I’ve gone there before.

684 Sundays.

That’s my number.

What’s your number?

What are you going to do about it?

Good Friday

Good Friday.

It’s the day that Christians have traditionally honored and remembered as the anniversary of Christ’s crucifixion and death.  Because of that, it is generally a day that is solemn, sober – a day that of remembrance and reflection, not a day of celebration.

Because of that, for many, it is a day of repentance and penance – perhaps a Christianized version of giving thanks, while at the same time trying in some way through activities and remembrances and observation to partially repay a debt that can never be repaid.

To be honest, this Good Friday fills me with conflicting emotions.  There is a part of me that finds Good Friday to be a day of hope, optimism, even joy – because it is, after all, GOOD Friday.  While it was not good for Jesus, it is eternally good for those of us who put our faith in Him.  It is good because it is over and done with, never to be repeated.  It is good because we know the end of the story – the resurrection, ascension, and someday, return of Jesus.

It is Good Friday because it is simple – we owed a debt we could never pay; God paid it for us with the life of His Son.  While volumes of theology have been written about this, it is also a message that can be summarized simply – for example, “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  Or theologian Karl Barth’s favorite summary of the simple message – “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong.  Yes, Jesus loves me; yes, Jesus loves me.  Yes, Jesus loves me – the Bible tells me so.”

So simple.

And yet so profound.

Because while part of me sees the hope and the joy and the “rest of the story”, there is also a part of me that sees the deeply convicting, difficult-to-comprehend, even “heavy” side of Good Friday:

  • I’m not nearly as good as I sometimes fool myself into thinking I am.  Although now I am saved by a grace and have a new nature, I entered this world a sinner.  It was my sin – my sins – that put Jesus on that cross, that caused Him to suffer unimaginable agony.
  • And I’m surrounded by people who are the same as me – whose sins also helped put Jesus on that cross.
  • The events of the first Good Friday remind me of just how horrible and depraved people can be, and how inhumane humans can be towards one another.  Then I check out the latest news online and I find out that people are still capable of great cruelty to one another.

And that leads to the most difficult part of Good Friday, at least for me – that God, who loves so much, and yet hates sin so much, could love me – and you – so much that He gave His Son for us.

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I’ve known that truth for most of my life.  I’ve preached about it, taught about it, written about it, heard about, read about it, seen it dramatized, seen it re-interpreted and updated into contemporary settings, thought about it, talked about it…

And I still don’t completely get it.

It’s an incredible mystery.  God – infinite, perfect, holy, just, powerful – also loving, kind, and merciful.

God the Creator and Sustainer – sacrificing the life of His Son so that I could have eternal life.  So that you could have eternal life.

I guess that’s why Jesus said that we have to become like children to enter the Kingdom.  Because we’ll never completely understand it; never fully comprehend the depths of His love and the price He paid.  And so, we have to simply accept it by faith.

Just trust.

So whatever your observance or activities may look like this Good Friday, leave some space for wonder.

Whether you grieve or celebrate, whether you focus on the events of Good Friday itself or are drawn more towards the “rest of the story” – like a child, accept with wonder and gratitude that which cannot be completely understood.

I am thankful that amazing grace doesn’t have to be completely understood in order to be experienced.

The Earth-Shaking Power of Worship

In Acts 16:25-34, we find the familiar story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail.  It’s an important story about the power of worship.  Paul and Silas have been arrested, beaten, and placed in stocks, unable to move their legs.  Depending on the type of stocks that they were placed in, they were either bent over in an extremely uncomfortable position, or they were forced on their backs, causing greater pain to their already wounded backs.

Late that night, in the midst of their suffering, they are praying and singing, worshiping the Lord.  An earthquake hits, destroying the prison where they are held and providing them – and everyone else in the prison – the opportunity to escape.  But they choose not to, and lead the other prisoners in remaining, thus saving the jailer’s life.  (Roman practice was that if a prisoner escaped, the jailer responsible for that person was put to death in exchange for the escaped prisoner’s life, whether the prisoner was re-captured or not.)  Astonished at what had taken place, the jailer asks how to be saved, and he and his family place their faith in Jesus.  The next morning, Paul and Silas are vindicated.

The back story to this whole sequence of events is extremely important in helping us see the big picture of what is going here.  It’s far more than a simple misunderstanding that leads to Paul and Silas being unjustly arrested, and then later released.

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If you read Acts 16, beginning in verse 7, you find a chain of events that lead up to Paul and Silas being imprisoned:

  • Paul and Silas want to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit restrains them.
  • Because of this, they bypass Mysia (where Bithynia is located) and go to Troas instead.
  • Overnight in Troas, Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia begging him to come help them.
  • As a result of the vision, Paul and Silas leave for Macedonia and travel to Philippi, and leading city in that district of Macedonia.
  • In Philippi, they meet an influential and wealthy woman named Lydia.  She becomes a believer, and invites Paul and Silas to stay in her home.  This gives them a base of operations in Philippi, and they establish a ministry there, meeting with Jews at the place of prayer and proclaiming Jesus to them.
  • One day, on the way to the place of prayer, they encounter a female slave who was demonized.  This slave was a gifted fortune-teller because of the demon.  Her fortune-telling was very lucrative for her owners.  For many days, she followed Paul and his group, disrupting their lives by shouting about who they were and what they were doing.
  • Finally, one day Paul became annoyed with her constant harassment, and he commanded the demon to leave her.  It did – and with its departure, her ability to tell the future left as well.  This meant a serious loss of income for her owners, who, angered at this, seized Paul and Silas, brought them before the local magistrates and incited the crowd agains Paul and Silas.  This resulted in the magistrates sentencing Paul and Silas to a beating, and then imprisonment.

That’s a lot of background, but here’s the bottom line – Paul and Silas responded obediently to Jesus, were having an effective ministry, encountered spiritual resistance from the enemy,  won a victory against the enemy, and then were persecuted because of all of that.

In other words, Paul and Silas weren’t in a struggle against the slave owners, or the magistrates, or the jailer – they were engaged in an ongoing spiritual battle against agents of the enemy – a battle for the souls of the men and women of Philippi.

That’s how they ended up beaten and in jail.

Now here’s the key – their response was not to:

  • Put together a legal defense;
  • Send out a fund-raising plea to ask for help;
  • Ask someone to arrange a rescue mission;
  • Wallow in their pain and misery;
  • Question if they had really heard Jesus correctly;
  • Give up;
  • Renounce their faith or fellowship; or
  • Decide to leave their ministry.

Instead, they chose to worship.

They recognized that they were in a spiritual battle, and so, they chose a spiritual counter-attack – they worshiped.

Now, I am NOT a person who sees a “demon behind every bush.”  I believe that bad things often happen in my life because of the fact that I’ve made poor choices, or because others have made poor choices that have affected me, or because I live in an imperfect world that has been distorted by sin, with people around me who have been distorted by sin.

But I also recognize that there is an enemy whose mission statement is to “steal, kill, and destroy.”  And I, like you, am in the crosshairs of his “scope.”  Especially when I am trying to follow and obey Jesus, and am focused on the mission to which Jesus has called me.

Now I know this post is getting long.  “Stick to 650 words or less” – that’s what the blogging experts say, and I’m well over 800 now.

So let me briefly summarize.

When we contend for healing, when we pray for the sick – we are engaged with an important part of Jesus’ mission for us (destroying the works of the devil).  So we are going to encounter resistance, and we are going to find some cases and areas that call for extended battle.

When that happens, or when our prayers aren’t answered, or when we can’t find breakthrough, sometimes worship is the very thing that will get us beyond whatever is blocking us.

Worship refocuses us onto God’s goodness.  Worship changes the atmosphere.  Worship changes our attitude.  Worship releases the power of God in our lives, because worship calls heaven to earth.

So.

Have you been worshiping every day like I asked you to this past Wednesday?

And what struggle are you facing today?

Perhaps you need to stop struggling, disengage from the problem, and engage with the Father.

Choose to worship Him.  Get your eyes off of the problem and onto the Father.

You may be amazed at what happens.

Who knows what “earthquake” God may unleash that ends up being your deliverance – because you chose worship.

P.S. –

Here is our reading list for this week, as we remember the Passion and prepare our hearts for Easter Sunday.  The first 3 readings are accounts of the resurrection; the last 3 readings are writings by the Apostle Paul on the transformative power of the resurrection for our lives personally:

  • Monday – Matthew 28:1-15
  • Tuesday – John 20:1-18
  • Wednesday – Luke 24:1-12
  • Thursday – Romans 8:9-18
  • Friday – Colossians 3:1-15
  • Saturday – Ephesians 2:1-10

Caol Ait

At roughly the age of 16, Patricus, as he referred to himself, who had been born into a wealthy and influential family in Roman Britain, was kidnapped by Irish Pirates.

Although he was the son of a deacon and the grandson of a priest, Patricus himself was not a believer. But after being kidnapped, he was enslaved and held captive for six years.  During those six years, he rediscovered the faith of his parents and converted to Christianity.  At the end of his captivity, he heard a voice telling him that would soon return home and that his ship was ready.  He acted – he ran away from his master, travelled to the first port he could find, and was able to gain passage on the ship.  After six long years of slavery and a spiritual rebirth, Patricus returned home to Britain.

Once home, he continued to study Christianity, eventually feeling called to full-time ministry.  After completing his training, Patricus felt God’s call to return to Ireland to minister to the very people who had enslaved him.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  (Of course, the whole story is history – approximately 1500 years old!)  Patricus, or Padraig, in Irish, had an incredible ministry in Ireland, and eventually came to be recognized by the Catholic Church as St. Patrick.

Old-Celtic-ChurchAn important part of St. Patrick’s ministry to the Irish was his wisdom in bridging gaps between Christianity and Druidic folk practices of the Irish people.

One of the ideas to come out of his “bridging” was the idea of Caol Ait (pronounced “kweel awtch”).  Caol Ait is a Gaelic term that means “thin places.”  The concept is that there are certain places in this world where the barrier between this physical world and the spiritual world are thin – in other words, places where the supernatural is more easily accessible.

Originally, the concept was one of pagan spirituality – thin places were considered to be places where the dead, and angels and demons, something Other than this world, is easier to access.  But Christianity has come to understand thin places as places that are holy – places where the invisible, transcendent Kingdom of God – the supernatural – is somehow closer and easier to access.

The truth is that God is Omnipresent – He is everywhere.  But He also manifests His Presence more tangibly at some times and places (think of Jacob’s encounter at Bethel; Moses on Mt. Hermon; the disciples at Pentecost; times and places where Jesus ministered when “the power of the Lord was present to heal.”  Consider the Lord’s Supper, where somehow, the bread and cup represent the body and blood of Jesus – a tangible expression of His Presence.  Consider the gathering of the Church – the body of Christ on earth.

And consider worship, which as we looked at on Wednesday, draws heaven’s presence.

Worship is you and me together praising God for Who He is, for what He does – and in doing so, we create a “thin place” – a place where heaven touches earth.

My dream for our fellowship is that together, we would create multiple thin places in our region – in our Sunday gatherings, in our Life Groups, in our own homes, in our own lives, in our workplaces.  Thin places where those around us can easily access the Presence of God and encounter Jesus, the Living Way, Truth, and Life.

As you worship today; as you prepare for celebrating Palm Sunday this weekend – be mindful of Caol Ait.  Together, let’s live and love and serve and worship and by our choices, make thin places all around us where people can encounter Jesus.  And let’s continue on Sunday mornings to seek His face, to make space for Him to speak and to move and to minister and to heal.

Together, let’s seek His Presence.  Together, let’s create a thin place as we gather on Sunday morning.

(Note – I know that YESTERDAY was St. Patrick’s day.  However, last night, in our Worship Team Life Group, we had an important discussion about what God is currently doing in our services, and about making space for God.  We thought it was no coincidence that on St. Patrick’s day, God drew us into a discussion of thin places.  And so, even though I had already written my devotional for today, I decided to write this and share it with you.  I hope God uses it to speak to you this morning.)

The Problem With – and Power of – Worship

Few things seem to stir religious people up to anger and to conflict as much as does worship.

When I think back over my many years in ministry, I can see that by far the one thing that most causes conflict is worship.

Many churches in the past 20 years have gone through the “worship wars” – the battle between staying traditional (choosing a worship style that is more liturgical, formal, hymn-based, and employs pianos, organs, and choirs), and shifting to contemporary (drums, guitars, informal, more based on current worship songs.)

(Personally, although I grew up in the church singing hymns, I’ve always wanted more freedom in worship.  I figured nobody I knew drove around listening to organ music on their car radios, so why do that kind of music in church.  I love drums and screaming guitars and a driving bass line.  And you see – there, I did it.  That comment just offended some of you!)

Over the years, I’ve heard and observed people not just comment, not just complain, but actually become very angry, even sometimes nasty over the issue of worship.  Worship gets characterized as:

  • Too long, or too short;
  • Too loud, or too quiet;
  • Too hard to sing with, or too repetitive;
  • Too old, or too new;
  • Too fast, or too slow;

And the list goes on and on.

Why is that?  I think there are a number of reasons, but I think one reason that we often don’t recognize but that is extremely important is this – there is great power in worship.  And since there is great power in worship, our enemy often attacks the worship ministry, often tries to cause dissension around the worship ministry.

Now, I could write a book on the power of worship.  But I don’t need to – many great books have been written about just that.  But let me point out a few important things about worship:

  • Worship is one way in which we can help answer the prayer “Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  What do I mean by that?  Simple.  The atmosphere in heaven is constant worship.  That’s pretty clear in Revelation 4 & 5.  So when we worship here on earth, we draw heaven’s presence.  We imitate what is taking place in heaven.  We participate in what is taking place in heaven.  In heaven, there is joy, peace, health, freedom, and God’s Manifest Presence, among other wonderful things.  So when we worship, we create a similar atmosphere to all of that.  It’s powerful!
  • Worship drives the enemy away.  For example, in 1 Samuel 15, there’s this amazing story of how King Saul was sometimes tormented by evil spirits.  But when David would come and worship in his presence, the evil spirits departed and King Saul found relief!  2 Chronicles 20 shares another story of how King Jehoshaphat defeated an enemy army by sending out the worshipers.  Worship frustrates the enemy and brings freedom for God’s people!
  • Worship gets our eyes off of our circumstances and onto God, thereby changing our attitude and building our faith.  In Acts 16, a story we’re going to look at more closely on Friday and then on Sunday, Paul and Silas were imprisoned, having been beaten and locked into stocks.  But they began to worship despite their circumstances – and God delivered them.  They got their eyes and their focus off of their suffering and onto God, and the very atmosphere were they were shifted because of it.  That’s powerful!

The focus on worship this week comes because of the incredible expressions of worship that were poured out for Jesus on Palm Sunday.  As we celebrate Palm Sunday every year, it’s a reminder of how expressive, how free, how physical, how emotional, how celebratory, how inviting, how sacrificial, and how holistic worship can be.  But as we celebrate this year, in the midst of our series on living Naturally Supernatural, we’re going to focus in on how powerful worship can be.  That’s where we are heading on Sunday morning.

Palm-Sunday

In the meantime, I encourage you to experience the power of worship for yourself over the next few days.  I doubt that there is anyone reading this who doesn’t have some kind of problems in your life.  So I want to suggest that you try this each day from now until Sunday:

Set aside 15 minutes.  Take 2 minutes at the beginning to pray about whatever problem is most consuming to you right now – a relationship issue, a concern for a family member, a problem at work, an illness, an emotional problem, an addiction issue – whatever it may be.  Then once you have prayed about it for 2 quick minutes, spend the next 10 minutes simply worshiping God.  Don’t ask Him for anything; just focus on Who He is and worship Him.  Do whatever you need to do to help you worship – read a couple of Psalms slowly, praying them out loud to Him; listen to some worship music (hymns, if you like!); play or sing some worship music; read Revelation 4 & 5 and imagine yourself in that scene, worshiping with myriads of others; whatever helps you to worship God, declaring His goodness and glory for 10 minutes.  Finally, for the last 3 minutes, give thanks to Him that He is greater than your problems and that He hears your prayers.

If you do that for the next several days, you will be amazed at how your view of God begins to shift and at how your problems, while still important, will seem much smaller compared to the greatness of God.

Will you give it a try?  Will you start today?

Looking Forward to Palm Sunday

This coming Sunday will be Palm Sunday, a familiar celebration and story for most Christians.

Palm Sunday is the most visible, free, public expression of worship for Jesus that we find in the gospels.  It’s an incredible picture of sacrificial worship:

  • People laying down garments on the road for Jesus to ride over on a donkey – garments that were often family heirlooms, passed down from generation to generation;
  • People waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna” – publicly risking the wrath of the religious leaders by proclaiming their belief that Jesus was Messiah; and
  • People forming an impromptu parade and celebration, publicly risking the wrath of Roman authorities by proclaiming Jesus as a coming King.

What does Palm Sunday have to do with our current theme of Living Naturally Supernatural – of leaning into healing and miracles, of praying for people, taking risks for the Kingdom of God, and of learning to experience the supernatural Kingdom of God in our everyday lives?

Palm Sunday

Actually, quite a bit.  Because the truth is that worship is an integral part of experiencing the Kingdom.

God is Omnipresent – He is present everywhere.  But somehow, there are a few things that we find in Scripture that increase God’s Manifest Presence – that bring a greater sense or awareness of God’s Presence.  For example, Jesus promised that when just a few of us gather in His name, He is present in our midst.  When we share the Lord’s Supper, somehow, we are sharing the body and blood of Jesus, a special measure of His Presence.  When we are together with other believers, we are somehow manifesting the Body of Christ in this world.

And when we worship, God shows up in unique ways.

I’m not completely sure how all this works.  I just know that God inhabits the praises of His people, according to Psalm 22:3; the very atmosphere of heaven, where God dwells, is praise (see Revelation 4 & 5); that Elisha the prophet was able to experience God’s anointing to prophesy in one instance because of worship music (2 Kings 3:15); and that King Saul experienced relief from demonic oppression by having David worship in his presence (1 Samuel 16:15-24).

So this week, as we prepare our hearts for Palm Sunday, and as we continue to think about the Lord’s power and His willingness to heal, we’re going to focus our readings on the story of Palm Sunday, and then end the week with a story from the life of Paul where worship provided a breakthrough moment for him and for those around him.  Here is our reading list for the week:

This week’s readings:

  • Monday – Matthew 21:1-11
  • Tuesday – Mark 11:1-11
  • Wednesday – Luke 19:28-44
  • Thursday – John 12:12-19
  • Friday – Acts 16:16-34

As you read this week, I’d like to suggest that each day, you begin by spending 5 minutes worshiping God for some specific things that He has done in your life; then read the passage; and finally, end by worshiping God for what He has taught you or revealed to you about Himself in each passage.  On Palm Sunday, we’ll come together and celebrate, and examine in greater depth the role that worship plays in healing, strength, and deliverance in our lives.

May the Lord continue to transform us as we seek Him and as we honor Him with our praises!

Paul’s “Thorn In The Flesh”

One of the basic, foundational truths that I strongly believe and preach and do my best to live out is the belief that God is good and that He always gives good gifts.

It’s amazing to me how many people struggle with that basic idea, and how many people will argue that “God is good, but He sometimes causes very bad things to happen.”  In other words, sometimes God causes us to be sick because “it’s for our own good.”

(This always reminds me of one of Bill Johnson’s powerful illustrations – none of us would give cancer to our children to “teach them a lesson.”  Yet we attribute that kind of cruelty to God all the time, not understanding that He does not cause sickness, but that He can redeem it.  There is a huge difference.)

Since this is a blog and not a textbook or scholarly article, let me deal with just one example that people use to try to prove that God sometimes causes bad things to happen to His people – Paul’s infamous “thorn in the flesh.”

Here’s the passage:

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.  Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 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.  2 Corinthians 12:6-10 (NIV)

Let me point out a few important things from this passage:

  • Paul was an unusual man who had undergone an amazing transformation – from one who hated Jesus and persecuted Christians to one who personally saw the resurrected Jesus, experienced a vision in which he visited the third heaven, and was called as an apostle to the Gentiles.  I mention that only because the greater our responsibility and the higher our leadership, the more we tend to experience and the greater our burdens can become.
  • Paul says that he was given a thorn in his flesh “to keep me from being conceited.”  So the assumption could be that this came from God to keep Paul humble.  However, in the same sentence, he points out that this “thorn in the flesh” was a “messenger of Satan” – in other words, God was not the source.  It was a messenger of Satan.  It came from Satan, the father of lies, the one who comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy.  The same one, by the way, who wants to steal, kill, and destroy in your life and in my life.  God does not want to steal, kill, or destroy.  In fact, the opposite is true – God sent Jesus so that we could experience abundant life.
  • Paul doesn’t tell us what his “thorn in the flesh” was.  Many assume it was a sickness, possibly poor eyesight or some other physical affliction.  But Paul just doesn’t say.  It could have been a particular person, a relationship, or some other stressor in Paul’s life other than a physical malady.  We just don’t know.  But we do know that it tormented Paul, and that he prayed for deliverance from whatever or whoever it was.
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Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh may not have been an illness…

  • Paul pleaded three times for the Lord to remove this issue.  God’s response was to remind Paul that God’s grace was sufficient to get him through.  This is an incredible promise that we often misunderstand.  Here’s what I mean by this – even though God told Paul that His grace was sufficient for Paul, God DID NOT TELL PAUL THAT HE WOULD DELIVER HIM, AND GOD DID NOT TELL PAUL TO QUIT ASKING HIM TO DELIVER PAUL.  Go back and read that last sentence again, especially the capitalized part.  You see, we read this passage and assume God says “no” to Paul – but He doesn’t.  He basically says, “Not yet, but I am with you in this and I will get you through it.”  GOD DOESN’T TELL PAUL “NO.”
  • Finally, the obvious – God promises grace in trials, and His strength in our weaknesses.  I don’t know about you, but for me, there is incredible comfort in that.  There is peace in knowing that whatever I may go through, God is with me, God will give me His strength, and God’s grace will carry me through whatever I am facing.

So the bottom line – what does this say to you and I today, 2000 year later?

God is a good Father.  He loves you.  He gives good gifts.  Sometimes, because we live in a broken world that will one day be restored, we experience pain and suffering.  Sometimes that pain and suffering is more than we can bear.  Sometimes we cry out and cry out and cry out for God to rescue us, and it doesn’t happen immediately.

But when we cry out, He always hears our cries.  He knows what we are going through; He is with us as we go through it; and His Presence and His grace is more than what we need.  His grace and His strength will shine through our weaknesses.

And it will be okay.

God’s got this, and God’s got you.

The Problem With Suffering

One of the paradoxes of the Kingdom that is difficult to understand and to live with is the fact that:

  • On the one hand, the Lord is our Healer and Provider, Who is able and willing to to heal and provide, Who promises us divine life and health and rewards not only in the age to come but also in this age, and Who is good and gives good gifts;
  • But on the other hand, we have been promised that we will face trials and tribulations in this world, we know that not everyone gets healed, we experience loss and need, we struggle with problems in this life, and we know that some of God’s choice servants – Paul, for example, in our reading today, David as a young man and later as a father of a rebellious young man, and even Jesus Himself – suffered terribly in this life.

Why?  How do we even reconcile those two divergent ideas in our minds?  How can God be good and omnipotent, and yet allow His people to suffer?

The truth is that theologians and philosophers and men and women who are far wiser than I am have struggled with the same question for millennia – have written volumes filled with their opinions and thoughts and discoveries.  So I guess if I’m going to try to answer the issue well, I need to write a book, and not a blog.  But that’s not going to happen today.  The point of this is to give you – and me – something to consider as we go through our day.

So let me point us back to Jesus.

There’s an interesting passage about Jesus and His suffering and His relationship to the Father, found in Hebrews 5:7-9 (NIV):

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…

Let me summarize:

  • While living on earth, Jesus prayed to His Father, the One who could save Him from death;
  • Jesus’ prayers to His Father were heard;
  • Even though Jesus’ prayers were heard, He still suffered and died; and
  • His Father brought great good out of Jesus’ suffering and death both for Jesus (who obeyed) and for all who obey Him.

Jesus-on-Cross

In Jesus’ life and example, then, we see some pretty important truths about our Father, our prayers, and our suffering.

  • For one thing, it becomes obvious that God hears and answers prayer, even though it doesn’t always look like what we request.  Jesus asked, and God answered.  God DID save Jesus from death; but He didn’t save Jesus from experiencing death.  Instead, He allowed Jesus to experience death so that we could live; and then He gave Jesus complete victory over death, thereby saving Jesus from death and defeating death by providing eternal salvation through Jesus.
  • Another thing that becomes obvious here is that while God doesn’t cause the suffering, He redeems it for both the one experiencing it and for others.  He can do that for each one of us.  Jesus, who was already reverently submissive to His Father, learned further obedience from the cross.  God took what was intended for evil and brought a greater good out of it.  During the Passion, Jesus suffered greatly; but when the Passion had ended, Jesus was victorious, His suffering had ended, and both He and those who obey Him would experience greater blessing.
  • Finally, this reminds us that while God wants us to be happy, healthy, joyful, blessed, provided for (He is a good Father, after all), we also must remember that He sees the greater picture.  He wants us not just to be happy in the moment, but in eternity.  And so, just like father who won’t allow a toddler to have everything that they want or think they need, our Heavenly Father, who sees everything and knows everything, is willing to allow us to navigate difficult things and to suffer for a season in this life so that we will be better equipped for the next life, and so that we can (as Jesus did) be a blessing for others through what we endure.

So both sides of the paradox are true – God loves us, provides for us, heals us, and promises blessings; and in this world, we will have trials and problems and will suffer.  But that paradox doesn’t change the fact that God is a good and loving Father.

What do we do with that?  What can we do with that?

I’m learning this – in the good times and in the bad, in the blessings and in our sufferings – look to Jesus, trust our Father, and receive comfort from the Holy Spirit.

What do you think?

Life Happens

Last week, I knew that I was going to be out of town overnight on Thursday, and I wasn’t sure what time I would be home (and have wifi) on Friday.  So I sent out an email to my distribution list to let everyone know that my blog would be late on Friday.

And Friday came and went, and I didn’t get my blog written.  I thought late that afternoon, “no problem.  I’ll just do it tomorrow morning.”

And Saturday came and went, and I didn’t get my blog written.

Life happened.

Life-is-What-happens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I mean, I’ve got some pretty good excuses – reasons – whatever you want to call them.  But the bottom line is that what I wanted to have happen and what I planned to have happen didn’t happen.

Life happens to all of us.  It frequently interrupts our plans for life.

It happens when it comes to healing, too.

All the theology is there:

  • God identifies Himself as “The Lord Who Heals” (Exodus 15:26) – it’s part of His character.
  • Jesus paid the price for our healing at the cross – at the same time that He paid the price for our sins.  The issue of whether or not it is God’s will to heal was settled once and for all at the cross (Isaiah 53:1-10; Matthew 8:16-17; and 1 Peter 2:24).
  • Jesus Himself testified, when asked if He was willing to heal, said “I am willing” – (Matthew 8:3, and repeated in Mark and Luke as well).
  • Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8).
  • Jesus never turned away a single person who came to Him for healing.  He did not heal every sick person in Israel, but He never said “no” to a single person who asked.

But the problem is, that even though the theology is there, not everyone we pray for gets healed.

There’s the tension – it is absolutely God’s will to heal; God is absolutely able to heal; but not everyone is healed.

And I don’t know why.

Neither do you.

Oh, we can come up with lots of reasons – the Kingdom is now and not yet, and has not fully come yet; the world still lies under the sway of the wicked one, and so God’s will isn’t always done (that’s why Jesus taught us to pray “Your kingdom come, Your will be done); it wasn’t the right time; etc., etc., etc.

The truth is that we don’t know all the answers or all the reasons.  And we won’t until we get to heaven.

Life happens.  And we don’t always understand why.

This week, we’re going to walk through that tension.  We’re going to look at the truths that:

  • God is good;
  • God loves each one of us;
  • But there is suffering in this world; and
  • God can redeem our suffering.

So if you’re up for it, we’re going to dive into it.

Let’s begin with a prayer:

Lord, reveal Your goodness to me; and reveal Your truth to me.  Help me to trust Your heart for what I am unable to understand.  May Your kingdom come; and may Your will be done.  Amen.

Here is our reading list for this week:

  • Monday – Isaiah 53:1-10 (a repeat from last week; a reminder of the price Jesus paid for our healing.)
  • Tuesday – Philippians 2:25-30
  • Wednesday – 2 Corinthians 11:16-33
  • Thursday – 2 Corinthians 12:6-10
  • Friday – Revelation 21:1-5, Revelation 22:1-5

Super Tuesday and The Issue of Healing

Unless you live (1) under a rock, (2) somewhere in the Judean wilderness, (3) in someplace where you can’t get the news, cell service, or wifi (in which case you wouldn’t be reading this!), then  you know that yesterday was “Super Tuesday” – a huge day in primary voting in preparation for the Presidential election in November.

Super Tuesday, other primaries, even the election itself are a reminder to us as American citizens that we have a voice in our country’s direction and even destiny – a voice that millions of people down through history never had the opportunity to have.  And it’s a reminder to many of us that the freedom to vote has been paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of men of women who have sacrificed even to the death so that we can live in freedom.

You may not think in these terms, but the truth is that our relationship with God, we also have a voice.  We may not literally cast a ballot and vote, but our actions and our choices and our responses to God have a powerful impact on what we experience – or don’t experience – of God’s mercy and love.

Today’s passage, found in Luke 4:14-44, is fairly long, so I won’t reprint it here.  Please take a moment to either click on the link here, or to open your Bible and read the passage.  I know it’s a little longer than what we usually consider, but there’s a lot going on there.

So here’s a quick summary – Jesus is walking in the power of the Spirit, teaching and doing miracles and drawing crowds.  He returns to His hometown of Nazareth, reads the Sabbath Scripture from Isaiah, and publicly points out that He was the fulfillment of this.  According to Matthew 13’s account of this incident, they “took offense” at Him.  (Interesting, isn’t it – at first they were amazed at His teachings and His wisdom; then as they talked about the fact that they had watched Him grew up, knew His family, etc., they let the wonder be stolen away and took offense at His claims.)  They became furious and ran Him out of town.  Then He travelled to Capernaum, where His teachings were well-received.  But in Capernaum, they didn’t take offense at Him.  He cast out demons, healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever, and then the whole town brought their sick and demonized family members and friends, and He healed the sick and cast out the demons.

IS438-4E-21

A portion of present-day Nazareth

My point is that Jesus did the exact same thing in two places – Nazareth, and Capernaum.  In Nazareth, they let their amazement become judgment and offense, and they ran Him out of town.  In Capernaum, their amazement led them to seek more from Him.

We have the incredible power of making choices.  God has given us this freedom, and we exercise it every day.  It’s pretty obvious to us as Christians that God has given us the choice to believe in Jesus or not (John 3:16 reminds us that salvation is for “whoever believes in Him…”)  But we often forget that we can also choose how much – or how little – of God’s blessings we experience.

Let me explain.

Healing is a wonderful thing and a frightening thing.  Everyone wants to be healed when they’re sick; everyone who has a loved one who is suffering wants them to be healed.  But the reality is this:

(1) Healing can look really strange and can be offensive.  Jesus did some bizarre things when He healed people – spitting in the dirt to make mud; spitting in a blind man’s eyes; casting out demons; telling cripples to walk; touching lepers.  And healing can look strange today – sometimes when the Holy Spirit is working, people do strange things like fall over or jerk around; it’s even more strange when bones grow or move.

(2) Healing can become something that we’re either afraid to pursue, or like the Nazarenes, become offended at and avoid.  This brings us back to probably the most difficult issue with healing – not everyone is healed.  There are people reading this today who either are suffering, or have loved ones who are suffering or dying, and the thought of healing fills you both with hope and with despair.  (“What if they aren’t healed?  Why are they dying?  Why hasn’t God healed them?  Why did that person get healed and not me?”)  All of those are valid questions.  The problem is that when we let our questions lead us into doubt, fear, or even anger, we can become offended at God and choose (sometimes without even realizing it) to “opt out” of healing.  In other words, we give up.  We stop asking for prayer, stop praying for healing, become offended at God as the Nazarenes were offended at Jesus, and even become angry when someone brings up the subject of healing.

Here’s the thing:  when we take offense, we end up choosing to “run Jesus out of town.”  We stop seeking Him; we stop praying for healing and talking about healing.  We stop looking for what He’s doing.  We stop being grateful for what we do have, and we end up focusing only on what we do not have.

God is the Healer.  It’s one of His names.  And Jesus paid the price not only for our sins to be forgiven, but for our sicknesses to be healed.  So when we choose offense and we choose to not pursue Jesus and pursue healing, we are choosing to forfeit part of what Jesus paid for on the cross.

I understand the frustration of not experiencing healing.  I understand the pain and sorrow of watching someone you love suffer.  I understand the pain of trying to reconcile God’s love with someone not being healed.

But here’s what I know – if Jesus paid the price for it, then it’s worth us contending for it.  It’s worth fighting for.  It’s worth learning more about healing, it’s worth pursuing Jesus more, it’s worth more prayer and fasting.  It’s worth “voting” – choosing – that no matter what my experience is telling me right now, I’m going to keep pushing and contending and fighting for what God has promised – healing.  And it’s worth loving and caring for those who haven’t yet experienced healing.

Because God is good.  Always.  And I want to choose to focus on His goodness.  I don’t want to be like the Nazarenes.  I don’t want to choose to take offense, and in so doing, push Jesus away.

I want more of Him.  I need more of Him.

So I will choose Him.

How about you?