Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spiritual sickness, spiritual healing

When Jesus returned to civilization after being tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He went to the synagogue.  There, He read aloud from the scriptures, explaining that He had come to proclaim that captives would be released, that the blind would see, and that the oppressed would be set free.  (See Luke 4.)

Captive prisoners released from their chains and bondage.
Blind people healed and given sight.
Oppressed people set free from their oppressors.

Jesus came to bring illumination and freedom to a blinded, broken world.

I think also of His healing power.  I keep thinking about this story:

One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby.  (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.)  And the Lord's healing power was strongly with Jesus.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a sleeping mat.  They tried to take him inside to Jesus, but they couldn't reach Him because of the crowd.  So they went up to the roof and took off some tiles.  Then they lowered the sick man on his mat down into the crowd, right in front of Jesus.  Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the man, "Young man, your sins are forgiven."

But the Pharisees and teachers of religious law said to themselves, "Who does he think he is?  That's blasphemy!  Only God can forgive sins!"

Jesus knew what they were thinking, so He asked them, "Why do you question this in your hearts?  Is it easier to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or 'Stand up and walk'?  So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins."  Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, "Stand up, pick up your mat and go home!"

And immediately, as everyone watched, the man jumped up, picked up his mat and went home praising God.  Everyone was gripped with great wonder and awe, and they praised God, exclaiming, "We have seen amazing things today!"

Luke 5:17-26 (NLT)

There are a number of principles that we can learn from this story.  I think the main point is that Jesus came to earth to forgive our sins, a job only God could do.  Jesus performed miracles of outward healing that people could see, in order to prove that He also--and more importantly--is able to perform the inward and invisible miracle of forgiving sin and redeeming lost souls.

I keep thinking of how the man's friends carried his paralyzed body to Jesus, because he was not able to walk there himself.  I think there is a spiritual parallel here for those of us who have loved ones who are spiritually paralyzed, spiritually disabled, spiritually comatose.  We may know someone who is physically able to walk and talk and function, but whose spiritual eyes have thick scales grown over them, blocking out all of the beautiful light of the Lord.  Although we cannot see it on a sunny spring day in March, this person is chained in spiritual darkness, oppressed by the evil enemy who delights in the ruin of man.  This person may be sitting right across the table from us, eating a ham sandwich, but if we could see his spiritual condition with our physical eyes, he would appear withered and crushed, lying prone on the ground, manacled, naked, blinded, unable to hear anything except the sickly sweet voice of the enemy breathing lies into his tattered ears.

Physically speaking, this person can walk out the door and up the street.  But spiritually speaking, he is comatose, with only the faintest of life signs.  He is hanging on by the most fragile of threads, a smouldering wick on the verge of going out.

But God promises that He will not snuff out a smouldering wick or break off a bruised reed.  Jesus came to give life.  Jesus came to save, and not to condemn.

What causes wicks to dim?  What bruises reeds?  Sin does, and sin is the work of Satan, the tempter, the one whose utter goal is to deceive people and lead them away from light and life.  Satan is the one who blinds the eyes of mankind and then leads his victims into oppression and captivity.  But Jesus is the one who protects the smouldering wick, restores sight, and casts off the shackles of the oppressor.

Satan is our enemy, but Jesus is our hero, our Savior.  Jesus knows all about our enemy, every tactic, every stinking lie.  Satan can trick humanity, but Satan can never trick Jesus.

Here's the good news:  Jesus is absolutely on our side.  He is not surprised or shocked by our stumblings.  He knew all about our sin, and this is why He came to save us from the dominion of darkness and deliver us into His own Kingdom of light and life.  He doesn't invite us into His Kingdom because we are good.  He invites us because He knows we need Him desperately, and He has compassion for us.  He is on our side, and the Bible says, "If God is for us, who can stand against us?"  The answer is nothing, absolutely nothing.  Nothing in the physical realm, and nothing in the spiritual realm.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Read Romans 8:31-39 for more details.)

God is for us.  Jesus came to seek and save the lost.  Jesus died for us while we were sinners, because we were sinners, because we needed a miracle from Him to enable us to receive the abundant life that He created us to live.  Jesus died on the cross to save us, beating Satan at his own game.  For a couple of days, I suppose Satan thought he'd won, although I have to wonder if he was a little bit spooked at the quietness that filled that interlude.  It was as though the Lord said to Satan, "You want to kill life?  Life itself, at its source?  Okay, you go ahead and try, and see what happens."  And of course, the life that is in the Lord was infinitely stronger than the death with which Satan tried to bind it, and Jesus burst forth victorious from the grave, vanquishing the power of death once and for all, offering triumphant eternal life to all who will believe.

This is why, when we have someone we love who is spiritually comatose, unable to respond to the Holy Spirit on his own, we can intercede for him.  We ourselves were dead in our sins, and Jesus interceded for us.  Not one of us would have spiritual life without the intercession of someone.  Luke 5:20 tells us that Jesus saw the faith of some friends, and as a result, He healed a paralyzed man.  Our faith can help the ones we love.

We can carry our spiritually sick to Jesus on their metaphorical mats, and trust Him to do His mighty work.  We can trust Jesus to undo the work of Satan, because Jesus specializes in undoing the work of Satan.

Jesus restores spiritual health that Satan has broken.  Jesus restores spiritual sight that Satan has obscured.  Jesus releases captives from Satan's captivity and frees souls from Satan's oppression.

He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine.
Psalm 33:19 (NLT)

Jesus does all this.  Jesus is our hero, our Savior.  Jesus is our hope.

Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless. 

With God we will gain the victory,
    and He will trample down our enemies.

Psalm 108:12-13 (NIV) 

The Lord your God will fight for you.  You need only to be still.
Exodus 14:14

Amen.  Be our Rescuer, Lord Jesus, our Deliverer and Savior.

Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord, for our hope is in You alone.
Psalm 33:22 (NLT)

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The tapestry of beauty

Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)
He has made everything beautiful in its time.
He has also set eternity in the hearts of men,
yet they cannot fathom what God has done
from beginning to end.

So often we cannot see what the Lord is doing.

Trusting Jesus when the circumstances in front of us do not make sense to us -- this is the essence of faith.  Faith is believing that God's unfailing love will bring beauty from ashes when we have no idea how.  We do not need to figure out how.  We need to trust in His goodness.

We know He is good, because while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, to pay the sin debt so we could receive forgiveness.  Jesus became sin for us so that we could be clothed in His righteousness.  The Innocent One died to save rebellious sinners.  This is good, so good we can hardly even grasp it.

God is at work, weaving a tapestry from the fabrics of all our lives, masterfully embroidering together something of amazing beauty.

At the right time, everything will come together in glorious harmony.  Situations that look dire and hopeless will be transformed under the artful handiwork of His fingers, into sections within the tapestry that miraculously enhance the breathtaking beauty of the whole.

Romans 8:28 (NIV)
And we know that in all things 
God works for the good of those who love Him, 
who have been called
according to His purpose.

We know that God can transform tragedy into glory, because that's exactly what He did at Calvary.  He took the darkest day in all history, the day an eclipse covered the sun at noon as the Son of God Himself died, a bloody, beaten victim nailed to a shameful cross.  He took that terrible day, and He used it to overturn sin, death and the power of Satan once and for all.  He broke down the very gates of hell as He rose victorious, the firstfruits and Redeemer of God's great harvest of immortal souls.

Ephesians 1:18-21 (NIV)
I pray also that the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened in order
that you may know the hope
to which He has called you, the riches 
of His glorious inheritance in the saints,
and His incomparably great power
for us who believe.
That power is like
the working of His mighty strength,
which He exerted in Christ
when He raised Him from the dead 
and seated Him at His right hand
in the heavenly realms,
far above all rule and authority,
power and dominion,
and every title that can be given,
not only in the present age
but also in the one to come.

God is always at work.  He never slumbers or sleeps.  He watches over us.  He knows the exact number of hairs on each of our heads.  His ears are attentive to our cries.  He has a perfect plan.  Nothing ever surprises Him or catches Him off guard.

His love is unfailing.  I don't think that merely means He never stops loving us.  I think it means: not only will He never stop loving us, but His love is perfectly effective and will never fail to accomplish His purposes.

Psalm 33:22 (NIV)
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord,  
even as we put our hope in you.

At the end of time, God will not be left holding an ugly, sloppily crafted tapestry of the lives of men, full of holes, loose threads and mismatched seams, regrets and sorrow.  No.  At the end of time, we will see how the plans and purposes of God have come to completion in perfect beauty, how every single detail of every single life somehow works together with all the other details of all the other lives to shine forth in beauty that illuminates the glory of God for the comfort and joy of His people.

We don't need to worry.  We don't need to be afraid.  He will work it all out, and it will be good.

Isaiah 46:10 (NIV)
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A quote from BSF notes

Here is a quote from our BSF notes on Revelation, from Lesson 18, which was about suffering:

Can you move beyond enduring your pain, 
to exulting in God's purposes, 
even when you do not fully understand?
God is often doing something bigger than we imagine
that usually takes longer than we expect.
Will you hold onto God and draw strength from His unfailing love?

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Listening hard

I am listening.

Earlier, I sat at the kitchen table, a bowl of lentil soup cupped in my laced fingers, head bowed, eyes shut.  The wind roared outside, and the furnace hummed in the basement beneath me, while the tea kettle worked on hissing up to a whistle, and the filter in the turtle tank gurgled a strange sounding tropical trickle over the top.

Listening.  Because I want to hear God's voice.  I long for an answer, an affirmation, a yes.

He answers so many prayers with such beauty and grace.  It takes my breath away sometimes to look back and see what He has done, how He has responded, even in silly specifics that He had no reason to attend to, except that He must love me.

He does that sometimes, you know.  You want the mountain moved, the solution to world hunger and child abuse and war.  He remembers that you've been wanting an outrageous flowered chair for your sunporch, and He gives you one of those (a perfect one, maybe even for free), instead.

I have a friend who was going through tremendous stress and upheaval.  The mountains of her life were quaking and falling into the sea.  She was praying for a number of big things, and the solutions were not forthcoming.  But then she walked through the house that she would be moving into, and there in the family room was a fireplace.  She'd had no idea there was going to be a fireplace.  She'd always wanted a fireplace and never asked for one, because there were other things she was asking for, huge things, healings and restorations.  What did God give her?  A fireplace.

Does He do that routinely?  Does He grace you with the little details, secret presents that tell you that He knows you, cares about you, wants you to be reassured during your waiting for the big things?

I think He does this because He is full of grace.  He remembers that we are dust, that we have limited understanding and very little patience.  So, when He is asking us to wait, He sometimes gives us other things, tokens of His affection, to remind us that He is near, He knows our hearts.

If ever I am tempted to doubt the goodness of the Lord, I now know to look back to the cross.

God hates sin.  He hates sin because it disfigures His creation.  The pinnacle of His creation was humanity, so God particularly hates the way sin harms mankind.  Sin will be done away with.  God will put an end to it.  This is justice.  Those who have been hurt by sin will never be hurt again.  God will heal and restore us.  Those who cling to sin will be destroyed along with it, but God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

God has done everything to enable us to be freed from sin.  Sin demanded an impossible price.  God paid that price in the excruciating death of His only begotten Son, His own essence clothed in human flesh, who died in His own perfection, crushed under the cumulative sins of all humanity, to cancel the debt for all of us who were caught in the clutches of sin.  While we were sinners, Christ died for us.  We were dead in our sins, enemies of God, hopeless and helpless to escape our trajectory towards death and destruction.  For a good man, someone might possibly be moved to give up his life, but while we were sinners, enemies, lost in rebellion, Christ died for us.

He did for us what we could never have done for ourselves; He paid the astonishingly great price to gain our salvation.  This is mercy.  Adding mercy to mercy, He holds out the offer again and again, calling people to come to Him, waiting, loving, wooing.

He is good.  He is good.  He is unfathomably good.  He did not withhold His only Son; He will give us everything we need.

The March wind blows.

I listen and I wait and I hope.

For no matter how many promises God has made, 
they are “Yes” in Christ. 
And so through him the “Amen” is spoken 
by us to the glory of God.
2 Corinthians 1:20 (NIV)