Faith for healing…

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Acts 14:In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk.

What stands out for me this morning is v.9 “seeing that he had faith to be healed”. Then, of course, the man was indeed healed. There is a connection between the man’s faith and his healing. There are other instances of this sort of connection in the new testament. While I appreciate this relationship between one’s faith and one’s healing it also gives me pause, mostly because there is the potential abuse of this relationship.

There are those within the Christian community who want to make healing something formulaic. If we have enough faith, if we pray in a particular way, if we truly confess our sins, if we ask the right person to do the praying, if we ___________ then healing will come. Well, God doesn’t work that way. There is no formula in scripture that guarantees a miraculous act of God.

But then there are others who have lost faith in healing altogether. They don’t even bother praying for healing because they no longer believe God heals. They have given up entirely. That, in my opinion, is also a mistake.

And so we are left living in the tension of these two paradigms. No, God does not heal on command. There is no set of rules that, if followed, can assure healing. But it’s also a mistake to suggest God no longer heals. God still performs miracles every day.

This morning I’m struggling with illness that has lingered for almost two weeks now – much longer than I’ve ever experienced this cold/flu/bronchitis/whatever this is. I’ve been praying for healing since day one. Others have been praying for me. Yet I’m still sick. So this morning I’m asking God for faith to be healed. Restore me, O God. Restore all of us who struggle will illness today. Heal us in mind/body/spirit as you designed us to be. I pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sick… and tired…

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Psalm 13:

1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God!
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

5 But I trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.

This is a simple psalm of lament attributed to King David, who is believed to have written over 70 of the 150 psalms. We don’t know the kind of struggle David is enduring, but it has apparently gone on for some time. David wonders, “How long, O Lord?” How long indeed. God can take a while to come to the aid of his children.

I’m into my second week of being sick. Started as a cold, then bronchitis, then something like the flu, now back to a bad cold without the respiratory infection. Some people say it’s a virus that’s going around. IDK. I took a round of antibiotics after I saw a doctor a week ago and I’m still sick. Whatever it is, I’m tired of it. Your prayers are coveted.

How long, O Lord? Seriously. Send your healing into my body, and into that bodies of all who suffer illness today. Amen.

 

My expectations of God…

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Acts 13:42 As Paul and Barnabas were going out (from the synagogue where they were teaching), the people urged them to speak about these things again the next sabbath. 43 When the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy; and blaspheming, they contradicted what was spoken by Paul. 46 Then both Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you reject it and judge yourselves to be unworthy of eternal life, we are now turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”

Here again we see an example of God’s chosen people rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ. Not all Jews rejected the gospel, but many did. And frankly I get it. The idea that the Messiah sent from God would die on a cross was unthinkable. It’s way, way outside the box of orthodox thinking of the time.

I guess one reason that it was easier for the Gentiles to receive the gospel message is that they weren’t brought up with any expectations related to the Messiah. They didn’t have to unlearn anything, so from a logical perspective they would have had fewer barriers to the gospel.

Sometimes God does things that do not line up with orthodox thinking or historical expectations.

This passage has me wondering about my own expectations of God and how faith is supposed to work. I wonder where I might be missing a move of God because it doesn’t line up with my theology, my interpretation of scripture, or my expectations of God.

Lord, open my mind to your presence and actions in the world. If my own thinking is getting in the way, remove those mental barriers by your grace. Amen.

David and the ark of God

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1 Chronicles 13:1 David (newly appointed king over the people) consulted with the commanders of the thousands and of the hundreds, with every leader. 2 David said to the whole assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is the will of the LORD our God, let us send abroad to our kindred who remain in all the land of Israel, including the priests and Levites in the cities that have pasture lands, that they may come together to us. 3 Then let us bring again the ark of our God to us; for we did not turn to it in the days of Saul.” 4 The whole assembly agreed to do so, for the thing pleased all the people. 

Saul was the first king of Isreal, but his reign ended badly. David, the second king of Isreal, sought to do better. In the early days of his reign, David acted to bring the ark of God to the city from which he ruled. V.3 tells us why, “for we did not turn to (the ark) in the days of Saul”. In other words, Saul failed to seek the counsel of God during his brief time as king. David would not make the same mistake. In this way David was a more faithful king than Saul ever was.

This is not to say that David didn’t make mistakes. To the contrary, he was flawed as anyone else. He did a poor job dealing with his own family, particularly his children. He allowed them to run roughshod over people, including himself. David was almost driven from power by his own son! In another case he failed to hold his son accountable for a brutal act of incest against his half-sister. And of course there is the matter of Uriah the Hittite, whom David had killed so he could take Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for himself.

David was a broken sinner like the rest of us.

BUT David was also a man of great faith in the Lord. He made good on his promise to seek the Lord’s counsel regularly during times of trouble. He took time to offer lavish praise in times of celebration. For all of his flaws, David was truly a man after God’s own heart. Frankly, I’m encouraged by this because I have so many shortcomings.

This morning I’m thinking about my own commitment to seek the Lord in my personal life and in my calling as a pastor. It’s time to lean into my relationship with the Lord. To seek his counsel. Lord, give me faith to be more like David – flaws and all. Amen.

 

Fasting…

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Acts 12:1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. 

What gets my attention in this passage is the practice of fasting noted in verses 2 and 3. They were “worshiping the Lord and fasting” then “after fasting and praying they laid their hands on (Barnabas and Saul)…”. Some years ago I embraced the spiritual discipline of fasting fairly regularly but it’s been a while – like 10 years or more.

Fasting is a practice that tends to draw one closer to God. It denies the need of food and acknowledges the need of God instead. When I’ve fasted in the past I haven’t fasted food and drink completely, but have most often practiced a juice fast (no solid food) or the fasting of one meal per day over several days. The results were generally good. I definitely felt closer to the Lord, mostly because I was making an effort to hear from the Lord.

Fasting was one piece of an overall posture of humility before God.

Have you ever fasted? What was that like for you? This is a practice I need to try again. Soon. Lord, give me grace to make it so. Amen.

Peter is set free…

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Acts 12:6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” 

This is a remarkable story of how God sent angels to free Peter from jail, so he might go on to be a foundational leader in the development of the early Christian church. Believe it or not, I once heard a Chinese pastor, Brother Jun, tell a similar story. He was a key leader in a network of rural underground churches in China. Once he became known to the Chinese authorities, he was constantly sought and jailed multiple times. He tells of being awakened by angels in the night and walking out of jail undetected. More than once! I’m pretty sure I believe him. This story in Acts lends precedent to such a possibility.

Where my mind goes this morning, besides to Brother Jun, is to John the Baptist. You’ll remember he was also jailed, but was never released or rescued. In fact, he was ultimately beheaded. In some ways the leadership vacuum left by John’s death made the way for Jesus to emerge as a leader in his own right. You may also recall John the Baptist saying of Jesus in John 3:30 “He must increase but I must decrease”. John knew his time to lead would one day end and Jesus would emerge as overall leader, but I doubt he realized at the time just how that was going  to come about.

Peter was rescued from jail, but John the Baptist was not. How come?

I suppose one could say both Peter’s freedom and John the Baptist’s death served God’s purposes – even if beheading is a harsh method to bring about needed change. There’s a part of me that wants to believe God would choose another path for John the Baptist, something less violent. But God’s ways are God’s ways. And in case you didn’t know, tradition holds that Peter was ultimately put to death in Rome by being crucified – upside down. So it would seem both men came to violent ends for the sake of the Lord.

Heavenly Father, today’s passage reminds me that your ways are not our ways. Give me faith to trust you when life doesn’t make sense. Amen.

Pain and breakthrough…

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1 Chronicles 10:1 Now the Philistines fought against Israel; and the men of Israel fled before the Philistines, and fell slain on Mount Gilboa. 2 The Philistines overtook Saul and his sons; and the Philistines killed Jonathan and Abinadab and Malchishua, sons of Saul. 3 The battle pressed hard on Saul; and the archers found him, and he was wounded by the archers. 4 Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, so that these uncircumcised may not come and make sport of me.” But his armor-bearer was unwilling, for he was terrified. So Saul took his own sword and fell on it. 5 When his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell on his sword and died… 13 So Saul died for his unfaithfulness; he was unfaithful to the LORD in that he did not keep the command of the LORD; moreover, he had consulted a medium, seeking guidance, 14 and did not seek guidance from the LORD. Therefore the LORD put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.

Saul was chosen by God to be the very first human king of God’s people, but he lost God’s favor for reasons named above and died a horrible death. It was in the aftermath of this tragic event that young David was anointed king and ruled in what was to be the golden age of the kings of Israel.

This passage reminds me of the first chapter of the gospel of Mark in which John the Baptist was put in prison, and ultimately put to death. It was in the aftermath of tragedy and heartbreak that the Lord Jesus commenced his earthly ministry, changing the world forever through his death and resurrection.

When we’re in the throes of pain and loss it’s hard to believe things will get better. We can lose hope. But the truth is that breakthrough often comes just after the darkest night. I’m holding on to that truth today. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.