Wednesday, February 18, 2015

God Still Heals

Dear Friends,

A man lays in an intensive care unit. He’s a big, strong red-headed man who has done physical labor all his life and had been in perfect health just a few days ago. Now he is still and pale. His freckled skin is dry and hot to the touch. He is in respiratory failure and can no longer breathe on his own. The chest is moving in time to clicks of the mechanical ventilator forcing oxygen into the failing lungs. He’s been diagnosed with a rare disease that quickly developed into viral pneumonia. There is no cure for what he has and the fatality rate is about the same as Ebola. The body must be able to fight off the virus on its own or death will quickly occur. The man is heavily sedated in a drug-induced coma. Nothing to do but wait and see. The medical team offers no prognosis, no time line of anticipated events, no encouragement, no hope. The man’s wife is a registered nurse. She understands. The doctors say nothing to her about her husband’s rapidly declining condition but their silence speaks in ways that communicate an inevitableness of what’s to come. His body has been unable to fight off the infection and his physical systems are shutting down. Without the mechanical ventilator inflating his lungs, he would already be dead.

The wife is very afraid. Both she and her daughter are disabled and her husband holds their fragile lives together. She vacillates back and forth between denial and despair. She’s feeling a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. God seems so far away right now and she can’t recall the prayers she learned as a small child. She’s not sure what good her prayers would do anyway. Her Catholic upbringing has taught her that only a priest can pray for the sick. In desperation she cries out to the spirit of her own deceased father to intercede for her dying husband. There is no response from the spirit world. Nothing but the quiet and persistent click of the respirator. 

The only indication of life is the jagged lines cutting across the faces of the monitors and the flashing digital readouts. The doctors are careful to allow no change of expression register on their face as they view the latest chest x-rays in the wife’s presence. They don’t need to say anything to her. She can see the ever-darkening areas within the pale, whitish outline of the lungs. From their murmured conversations she knows that her husband will not live through the night. The wife begins to prepare herself for the inevitable outcome. The irreversible process of death has begun and there’s nothing that can be done. Through the window, she sees the sun setting in a darkening sky and starts to cry again. Then a nurse tells her that a man is there to see her husband...

A man has come from her husband’s work. He’s now in the ICU room and the wife unexpectedly says, “Will you pray for him?” He lays one hand on the man’s chest, puts the other on the wife’s shoulder and with his prayer, quietly brings God’s presence into the room along with the healing touch of Jesus Christ. He acknowledges that the doctors have done all they can and he prays for a healing miracle. The morphine has induced a deep coma and the man has not moved a muscle within the past few hours. But during the prayer, his eyes rapidly flicker back and forth under the eyelids and his left foot begins to twitch under the white sheet. The man finishes his prayer with a petition for God to bring a measure of peace and comfort to the wife and for her to have faith now that her husband is in the hands of a loving God. Before the man leaves, he spends a few more minutes in the hallway speaking to the wife about her faith in God...

Back in the ICU, a three-day downward spiral toward death has been immediately arrested. The ICU staff notices an immediate slight improvement on the monitors. Within a few hours, they reduce the oxygen from 100% to 70%. The blood is now becoming more oxygenated with the respirator at 70% then it was at a full 100%. The next morning, the oxygen is reduced to 50%, and before the end of the day, the respirator is removed. He’s breathing on his own again. The doctors shake their heads in disbelief at new x-rays of the rapidly clearing lungs and tell the wife there has been a “spontaneous remission of symptoms.” Three days later the man goes home. The wife calls the one who prayed and tells him that his prayer healed her husband. She has mistakenly given the credit for the miraculous healing to the man who prayed and he tells her that God alone is the One who heals. 

Let me tell you something about the man who prayed because believe me this guy’s definitely no spiritual giant. He was caught off guard by the unexpected request to pray and kind of sputtered around for a moment until the Holy Spirit took over and began to give him the words. God just used a very ordinary Christian guy that day. And I know all this for a fact because the guy that prayed was me and God gets all the glory for that miracle. It’s not the prayer.. it’s not the pray-er.. it’s God who heals. And, if He can use me to pray a prayer that ushered in the healing power of God, He can use you...

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saint Valentine's Day

Dear Friends,

Several decades ago when I was engaged to be married, my wife-to-be didn't want an engagement ring. That was good news because I really needed to buy four new off-road tires for my Ford F-250 pickup. But being the thoughtful guy that I am, I did want to get her a nice engagement gift. So I went to Smart & Final and bought her an awesome industrial-quality mop bucket and a commercial mop. Yes. I know what you're thinking, but you don't understand. This was a very expensive top-of-the-line, 26 quart Rubbermaid mop bucket in safety yellow with four heavy-duty castors and a high-efficiency, commercial-quality wringer system! And being generous to a fault, I even bought her an extra cotton mop-head. Once married, we’d be moving into a large house with her two kids, three dogs, a lot of linoleum flooring and I wanted her to have a fast and efficient system for cleaning the floors. Her mother was appalled at my thoughtfulness and from that day forward she was dead-set against her daughter marrying me. I’ll never forget the look on my mother-in-law’s face as she  glared at me throughout the entire wedding ceremony.

And that brings me to Saint Valentine’s Day. While the romance gene may be recessed in my DNA, I’ve learned my lesson and so I no longer buy Valentine's Day gifts for loved ones from Smart & Final or Harbor Freight Tools. As we all know, Valentine’s Day is the day we give cards, gifts, candy and flowers to our special sweethearts, but what is the origin of this day of love and affection?

It was originally a church feast to honor a second century church bishop, Saint Valentine who had married couples when Roman law prohibited it. Arrested and in jail, Valentine exchanged love notes with a young woman he was courting (that was before church rules banned clergy from being married) and he signed those notes, “from your Valentine.” He was martyred for helping others. 

Victorian England added Cupid to Valentine’s Day cards because Cupid is the pagan god of erotic love and lustful desire. In mythology, Cupid is the son of the love goddess Venus and he holds a bow and arrows which contain the deity’s power. When hit by Cupid’s arrow, the person is filled with uncontrollable lustful desire. 

Maybe I’m a cranky old Christian curmudgeon but isn’t that Cupid thing just a little too creepy? A naked, androgynous pudgy pagan god with the body of a baby and a genderless face who shoots arrows that fill people with lustful out-of-control desires? I’m wondering if maybe it’s time that we redeem this day of “love” and put the “saint” back into “valentines day.”

The “Two Great Commandments” from Jesus have everything to do with love. He said to Love God and Love Others. (Matt 22:37-40) We love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19) and we love others because once filled with the love of Christ, that love just naturally spills out and onto those who God brings into our lives. Jesus said that our love for one another should be the same as His love for us. And others will know that we are Christians by that Christ-like love that we have for others. (John 13:34-35)

What would a Christian Saint Valentine’s Day look like? Pastor and Christian author John Piper wrote, “Love is the overflow of joy in God that gladly meets the needs of others.” The Apostle John writes, “..let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) In other words, stop just talking about love and do loving deeds. “Love” is a noun that in Christ, becomes an action verb.

Loving others may mean that we first help to meet a person’s practical needs. Jesus didn’t just jump up on a tree stump in Capernaum to preach. He first met their physical needs. He fed them, healed them and cast out their demons. He listened to them and heard them. Then they followed Him. We meet a struggling single mom with young kids. She’s succumbing to her addictions and fighting for survival and we tell her that Jesus is the answer. But she can’t hear that because in her world her problem is not spiritual but practical. She needs food for her children. It’s when we do what Jesus would do.. When we love her like Jesus does.. When we help meet her practical needs.. Then perhaps her ears will be opened and we can tell her about Jesus. In the Kingdom of God, maybe every day should be a Saint Valentine’s Day...  Amen?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"By My Spirit," says the Lord

Dear Friends,

That cartoon makes me laugh but the truth is that it's often difficult for me to relate to books and articles in ministry magazines about church growth. In the world of professional ministry, “megachurches” are 2,000 members and up and a “small” church is 300 or less. Most of the articles are about the megachurch that has become the pastor’s version of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” But we’re not coveting a 10,000 square foot estate, we’re coveting the 10,000 member church. In a recent article, a megachurch  celebrity pastor gives up his secrets on how to grow your church. He says, “The quality, consistency and personal impact of your ministry environments define your church. We need to provide a compelling setting and presentation for people who come to our church. Engaging presentations are central to the core of our church’s mission. You need presenters who can entertain and hold an audience’s interest. You need to use visuals and videos to engage your audience.” The author sums up his article by bottom-lining how to grow a megachurch, “’s all about the presentation.” Really? It’s not about God and a timeless and eternal Gospel message?

I do know a guy whose ministry looked very different. And what’s interesting is that, based on what we know about church growth today, this guy did everything wrong. Without consulting his logistics team, he returned to his small backwater hometown to preach at the local church. Now you’d hope that this would have been a very positive and encouraging experience for this new preacher. But he must have needed to work on his presentation skills because as soon as the sermon was finished, his good friends and neighbors tried to kill him. (Read Luke 4:16-30)

I’m thinking this guy that I know (by the way, you know Him too) should have toned down His politically incorrect doctrine and maybe worked a little harder on some nice graphics to illustrate His message. You can’t blame Him for messing up of course because He didn’t have magazines and professional consultants to show Him how to grow His ministry into a megachurch. He was clueless about how to maximize your message during a fund-raising campaign. And, He could have played off His popularity more effectively. He kept doing these awesome miracles and then told people to keep it a secret! Wrong!! Marketing quantifiable achievements in a high-value publicity campaign is foundational to the ministry’s success.

If Jesus were a celebrity pastor today, His people would book Him into the biggest sports arenas. His advisors would tell Him to eliminate all references to “sin” from His messages because sin is just an insensitive value judgement that can hurt another person’s feelings. On YouTube, the Sermon on the Mount would be short, memorable, funny, poignant and filled with quotable sound bites.

Jesus spoke the words of eternal life but a church growth consultant would have told Him, “J.C., this whole focus on repentance and redemption doesn’t speak to people’s felt-needs. You really need to preach abundance and prosperity. People don’t want a spiritual life, they want the good life..” And, the problem was that Jesus preached the most politically and religiously incorrect message that had ever been heard. He said that He was the Messiah. He said that He was the “I AM” meaning that He was God. Jesus didn’t promise prosperity to His followers. He promised the Kingdom of God. That unadulterated, unadorned, uncompromised Word of God was as hard to hear then as it is for our modern culture to hear today.

According to church-growth experts today, Jesus really made a bad church management decision by selecting non-professional and unskilled laborers to carry out His mission. His ministry staff was just a ragtag devoted band of misfits. Ordinary men and women who struggled with sin and temptations. Just like you and me. Twelve average men and a few women. But that was all it took.

How was it possible that such a small “church” of ordinary men and women were able to ignite a holy fire that was to change our world forever? The Kingdom of God advances “..Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ Says the LORD of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

Both then and now, God’s strategy for advancing His Kingdom depends not on casual followers but on devoted Spirit-filled disciples dedicated to the cause of Christ. The Gospel message spread not as a result of the Apostles’ compelling and charismatic presentation skills but through the power of God. It was the unadulterated, unadorned, uncompromised Word of God, spoken by faithful disciples, powered by the Holy Spirit, that drew people to Jesus. And 2000 years later, it still does. Amen?