Sunday, September 27, 2015

Help! I need Patience.

20080826_04.JPGThe older I'm getting, the more intolerant and impatient I realise I'm becoming. I can make excuses such as lack of sleep, various aches and pains or other people get on my nerves, deliberately.

 How then can I handle Paul's love chapter in 1 Corinthian 13? It opens with 'Love is patient.' That's enough to irritate me. Other aspects are fine, well mostly. We may wonder why he begins with this aspect rather than another. To appreciate his reason we must read the preceding chapters. There we discover a congregation infected with inferior and superior   attitudes mixed with unbelief, ungraciousness or ignorance.

To be fair, these believers had been saved from out of a most immoral, religiously defiled society. The grace of God had transformed their destiny. Now it had to be allowed to penetrate their attitudes, worldview, personality and temperament. This would require an understanding of God's call upon their lives, honesty about themselves and mercy towards others. Such an outlook requires spiritual maturity, nurtured by God's word. The patient facet of Love must flow from knowing God's character. He is holiness and He is love. What we are unable to be and offer, our Lord longs to supply. 

So, when Paul begins with the fact that love is patient it is a reminder of how Yahweh dealt with them.  Now He calls them to express their gratitude to God in extending a similar grace and love to others. Such a love bears the foibles, inconsistencies and annoyances of others. So easy to write and read, so exhausting to do, continually. How can we keep it up? Only through a growing relationship with Christ Jesus and walking in step with His word. Included will be drawing upon His word's wisdom about healthy habits. It is sometimes knowing your limitations and maintaining a type of distant relationship.  Call it spiritual respite care.

Patience feeds upon the hope that God is involved in the relational area through over-ruling, transforming, providing. In the Old Testament especially we can read of people and situations in which God did all that and more. The life of David is a great example on the way to becoming king. His trust in the promise of God kept him from yielding to revenge or succumbing to depression. Time and waiting and enduring situations or people seem to be the arch enemies of  patience. David wasn't perfect, he was however, keen to trust and wait. Yahweh was able, for David, and is able for us, to turn such enemies into forming a faithful patience within.

Being in impatient situations, and failing, allows God to draws us to Himself in Love. When we admit our failure, apologise for it, we find a new beginning. In return, God wants us to do the same for those who fail us, annoy us, don't understand us or reject us. Humanly speaking we may wish them harm. Belonging, as we do to our Lord we are required to express love, His love towards them. Love, however, is a call to express the humanly impossible, by treating others in the way God has treated us. In this aspect that means being patient.

Well, I guess I cannot use old age as an excuse anymore before our Lord. Time for me to practise what I'm writing. But please, be patient with me also.

 Ray Hawkins. Sept 2015.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Healing: False guilt, Faith, and the Cross.

Guilt is able to be pardoned and atoned for. False guilt is another matter. It is that emotion of being told you have failed in some area over which you had no control. It is seen in some children of divorced parents. They have a sense of guilt that they caused the problem.  This is so untrue, yet when believed has tragic consequences, for they are haunted by such ‘ghosts’ most of their lives. Because there is nothing tangible to seek forgiveness about or make atonement over it cannot be remedied, Well, almost nothing. Knowing and taking to heart the truth that they are not to blame can evaporate the ‘ghosts’ over time.  

MP900422834[1].jpgThis also applies to sickness and healing. A false viewpoint by a person as to why he or she hasn’t been healed can strangle a Christian’s spirituality. They try and mask it in many ways with church attendance, prayer and good works. Still, their doctrine haunts and the Devil sprays his doubts about as to their spirituality.

Peter, in his first letter says, ‘Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from our sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed’ (1 Peter 2:24). This verse is used by certain groups to insist followers of Christ should not be sick or infirm. The reason for such conditions is placed strictly down to the individual’s lack of faith. What does such a doctrine produce? False guilt! What effects does it have? A loss of Joy, thinking of oneself as being second rate and trying all types of spiritual exercises to manufacture ‘faith.’

How then can this be remedied? Being a doctrinal matter it can only really be corrected by a proper understanding of the doctrine of healing. This has been the motivation and background to the previous studies. As the verse in Peter is used to promote all-inclusive healing (body, soul and spirit) we must examine it. What does he mean by healing? Can it be understood by the word ‘righteousness’ in verse 24 and in verse 25 ‘astray’ and ‘returned.’ ‘For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.’ The Bible insists that there is no one who is righteous, except Jesus the sinless one. It is by His achievements on the cross that Jesus dealt with our unrighteousness. Our going astray, wandering purposely or aimlessly in our own egos, made God irrelevant. That was until the Holy Spirit grabbed our attention and pointed us to the cross. Here began our return to the Sovereign Lord.

Both those verses by Peter are traced back to Isaiah chapter 53. If you have read the previous studies you will realise this is God’s specific answer to Isaiah chapter 1. There, the whole body, that is the Nation of Israel, is sick, diseased, terminal! God’s remedy? The suffering Servant which pointed to Jesus. The health there mentioned is to national redemption, forgiveness, wholeness,  refreshed covenant relationship and mission. It had no specific reference to individual ailments or infirmities.

Peter’s quoting of Isaiah 53 is particularly relevant when you realise the people to whom he was writing. They were Jewish believers in five countries of the nation’s Dispersion. It would appear Peter was explaining to these persecuted believers that they were in fact the first fruits of Isaiah’s prophecy to the Nation. Therefore rejoice despite being maligned, oppressed and rejected!

How then do we consider the indisputable fact of God’s acts of healing? Grace! He is the Sovereign Lord and His ways and purposes are higher, nobler and wiser than what we can conceive. There isn’t any reason why a sick person shouldn’t pray or be prayed for. The attitude that must underpin all prayer is the Gethsemane attitude,  'not my will but yours be done.’ This isn’t a cop-out. It is an act of faith in our Heavenly Father’s goodness, flavoured by a desire that regardless of personal healing or continued illness, infirmity or disability He will be honoured.

Open Bible Web small.jpgOnly then will false guilt, brought on by a misunderstood or misapplied passage be ‘evaporated’ by the Truth of God’s word. Oh the joy of a conscience at peace and worship without doubt.

©Ray Hawkins Sept 2015.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Sick Servants in New Testament

In Christendom, healing in some circles is considered part of salvation achieved by Christ at the cross. To suffer illness or infirmity is often considered a blight on your faith or a question about your spirituality. In the three synoptic Gospels Jesus commissions His disciples to ‘go, teach all nations.’ Mark’s account is the only one which contains a commission to cast out devils, speak in new tongues, and when ‘playing’ with snakes not be affected when bitten or by poison and to heal.

Over the years various faith healers (so designated) have emphasised the power of God to heal all types of sicknesses and infirmities. They make it part of the work of Christ on the cross. Is this what the Bible reveals? Reading through the history of the disciples in Acts we find only twelve specific, clear cut healing episodes. There is the healing of the lame man (ch.3) demon possessed, paralysed and lame (ch.8)   Paul’s eyes opened (ch.9) bed ridden with palsy for eight years and raising of Dorcas (ch.9) man born a cripple (ch.14) girl with spirit of divination (ch.16) restoring Eutychus to life (ch.20) and Paul’s encounter with a viper (ch.28).

Throughout Acts the emphasis is on preaching Christ from the Judeo scriptures. The clarion call was ‘It is written.’ Even the healing miracles were opportunities to preach Christ and Calvary’s fulfilment of God’s promises. To turn the pages and look at the letters the apostles and others wrote presents us with some fascinating information. Only 1 Corinthians 12 and 14 talks about the ministry of those with the gift of healing. Greater details are not given and how wide spread such a ministry had isn’t mentioned. The other letter emphasising a healing ministry is from James. How different his words are. It is the privilege and responsibility of church Elders to pray for and anoint the sick. Included in this procedure is congregational prayer and mutual confession. Where were those with the gift of healing?

To play the blame game on the sick, weak and afflicted for not having enough faith is counterproductive. Why? Because you have to put the Apostle Paul into that group.  2 Corinthians 12:7-9 speaks of his thorn in the flesh the Lord wouldn’t remove. In Galatians 4:13-15 he writes about his infirmity, many consider eye problems. (Was this due to the appearance of the Lord on the Road to Damascus? Was it the result of his many thrashings by violent mobs? Did doctor Luke’s accompanying of Paul allow him to be the personal physician to the apostle?)

Within certain letters you come across faithful men who had experienced debilitating sickness, weakness and infirmities. Epaphroditus was without strength and near to death (Philippians 2:26-27). Trophimus was left behind because of his infirmities (2 Timothy 4:20). The advice Timothy received to help him with recurring health problems of the stomach was wine, not water, for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 15:23). The pages of the New Testament hold more about the sufferings of the believers than the miracles performed on or by them. Consider the pressures under which they lived and served, the frequent persecutions and punishments meted out to them, is it any wonder they knew infirmities, weakness and illness.

The statement of 1 Peter 2:24 concerning the healing offered by the bruises (stripes) of Jesus will be considered next week. It will finish this particular series of studies. Until then I would like to close with the words of the apostle John in his third letter. ‘Beloved, concerning all things I pray you may prosper and be in good health …’

The word for health is where we get our word for hygiene. There are injunctions in the Scripture to holiness in lifestyle and being renewed in your mind. The word John used is mentioned in Luke 15:27, the story of the Prodigal son. After his return and at the party given by the father, the son is described as being ‘safe and sound.’ Undoubtedly, from his previous immorality and rebellion he would have had physical and mental issues. Despite such limitations his father looked upon him and encouraged him into good hygiene. We are all returned prodigals of some description. How good it is to know our Heavenly Father’s intention is for us to enjoy His hygiene permeating our life. His health manual is the Scriptures but we have to open its pages.

©Ray Hawkins September 2015.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Jesus' Healing Powers Reveal - ?

question mark.jpgFrom out of obscurity into being a celebrity is the story of Jesus. In Matthew 4:17 it is written ‘Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”’ Why would anybody listen to Him? That is answered in verses 23-25. it is recorded that He cured every disease and every sickness. Later, when John the baptiser asked a question from his prison cell Jesus’ answer pointed him back to the prophets.

What is the significance behind the words of Jesus about the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear and the dead are raised to life? Apart from reassuring John that his role as ‘forerunner’ wasn’t in vain, Jesus was making a statement about Himself. This wasn't about ego, it was about the prophetic word. In them there are specific statements linking Yahweh to certain acts of healing. Isaiah 35 points to the time when God will open the eyes of the blind and unstop the ears of the deaf. The lame will leap and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy. Compare also Psalms 146:8, 103:3.

What Jesus was unfolding, to John and all others was the wonder of Jesus being Emmanuel, the God who is with us. He was declaring for all who can grasp it, He is the Lord God come to the people as the promised Servant of Isaiah 42.1-9. One of the signs by which He will verify His mission was ‘to open the eyes that are blind.’ The very moving account of just such a healing is found in John 5.1-18. In that final verse is the punch line pointing to Jesus. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus because He was making Himself equal with God (compare John 10:28-33).

The healing miracles of Jesus astounded the people and annoyed the Nation’s leaders. The Lord healed individuals and each one was a declaration that the Kingdom of God was impressing itself upon the Nation. If Jesus could do this to an individual then there was National implications. Unfortunately, the leaders of the country had eyes which wouldn’t see and hearts as cold and hard as granite.  Instead of assessing Him in the light of their Scriptures they judged Him by their prejudices and preconceived ideas. To them He was, and remained ‘Belzeebub’ and His power source was the Devil. When they had the opportunity to remove Jesus from the earth they took it. That happened when Judas betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, an amount the Sanhedrin was more than willing to pay.

Knowing the story as we do what eventuated still moves us with wonder and gratitude. Their betrayal and unjust condemnation of the Man from Nazareth became the most attractive power in the universe. Jesus foretold that when He said if He was lifted up, He would draw all peoples unto Himself (John 12:32). The healer of the physical, emotional and mental condition of people now became the One who would make believers morally and spiritual whole. The cross offered redemption. This paved the way for forgiveness. Personal repentance and faith would transform the lost believer into the found, the cursed into favoured ones and the rejected and despised into the accepted and loved.

The cross of Christ Jesus also transformed Him. He who was the healing servant of Isaiah 42 now became the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. In that glorious passage what do we read? ‘By his bruises we are healed!’ (NRSV) What is that healing? The Nation which was under the curse of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 was set free. The dire picture of Isaiah 1 was blotted out. Jesus became Sin so as to take it out of God’s sight when dealing with the Nation and with us. How sad it must have been for Peter and John according to Acts 3:17-26. They offered the Nation God’s promise of ‘times of refreshing’ and the return of the Messiah and the universal restoration long promised. It was rejected. Such a state exists still. For them and Gentiles the issue isn’t sin, it is what will they do with Jesus? The Bible points to future events for Israel and Gentiles and it all hinges on the relationship which they have, by faith, with Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. The same applies to us, personally.

copyright Ray Hawkins Sept 2015.
Next week: Healing limitations highlighted in N.T. letters.