Monday, April 26, 2010

When God Doesn't Heal

Why doesn't God cure everyone who prays fervently for healing?

Answered by Mark M. Yarbrough

The life context of the question is all too familiar. The issue arises in our darkest hours—in the hospital ward, in the doctor's office, when the unfavorable test results return. Our need often arises unexpectedly and then consumes us.

Embedded in the question are two key assumptions. First, that ours is a God of miracles, including healing. A quick evaluation of Scripture attests that miracles display God's power (Jer. 10:12), arouse wonder (Exod. 4:21), and function as a sign to confirm his message (Matt. 12:39-40).

The second assumption is that believers are instructed to pray fervently. The Thessalonians are commanded to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17) because habitual prayers express dependence on God. And positioned as little children, we anticipate "good things" from our heavenly Father (Matt. 7:11). Yet three additional points are critical.

First, God does not always respond to our desires, and he frequently allows circumstances we wish he would not. Theologically we call this sovereignty. Inherent in our faith is the scriptural truth that God is in control. This includes the events he directs and the circumstances he allows. He has the power and responsibility to exercise his right over creation according to his will (Ps. 50:1 Ps. 115:3).

Yet God repeatedly chooses to veil the ways in which he exercises those rights. Hence our requests will not always coincide with God's response. Peter understood this as it applied to suffering: "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" (1 Pet. 4:19).

Second, our tendency is to doubt God's sovereignty in the midst of tumultuous times. Unfortunately, when we doubt we presume to comprehend more than he does. Yes, from our vantage point, we might think that God's miraculous intervention would produce waves of affirmation to his authority. Yet, in reply to the "rich man," Jesus said, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

Instead, the nature of our faith is to be "certain of what we do not see" (Heb. 11:1). While the world looks for proof in signs and wonders, we should never forget that "the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). It is in this power that he asks us to trust in him.

Third, we must embrace the sufficiency of God's grace in all circumstances. In other words, it is imperative that the God of the mountaintop also be the God of the valley. The apostle Paul requested three times to be healed of his "thorn in the flesh." The response from the Lord? "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). The sufficiency of God's grace is found in that we can endure suffering just as Jesus endured the Cross!

Jesus endured for the "joy set before him" (Heb. 12:2), and God's grace allows us to do the same. Our affliction is purposeful and passing, and although we may not be able to understand it, we must cling to God's goodness and follow the pattern of his Son.

So we are left with this: We do not know why God allows one to be healed and others not. We have all been touched by situations where God did not heal despite the faithful prayers of his people.

The words of Alister McGrath in Mystery of the Cross (Zondervan, 1990) are well posed:

"Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word—it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading. The theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God. God is active and present in his world, quite independently of whether we experience him as being so. Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day."

As with the Cross, our darkest hour may be God's finest moment. It may be there that he does his greatest work—albeit unseen to us. Thus instead of letting circumstances consume us, we are to be consumed with God. To that end, we pray without ceasing, trust in his sovereignty, and find comfort in his hope.

Mark M. Yarbrough is pastor at Eastfield Bible Chapel and executive director of communications at Dallas Theological Seminary.
Copyright © 2004 Christianity Today.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Rudeness in Seattle (Do you take lessons in being rude?)

Rudeness in Seattle (Do you take lessons in being rude?)
On one occasion friends of ours arrived at the Minneapolis airport from the Philippines and even though they had their visas, papers and everything in order, they were treated very rudely by immigration.

Government officials can still do their job without being rude, especially with a sign hanging on the wall (for the immigration and custom officers) stating, “You are the face of the USA”, and then the statement “We pledge to treat you with courtesy, dignity and respect.”

When some of our missionaries from India arrived in Seattle, rudeness in immigration was also the order of the day! So much so, that our team member (a very gracious and dignified Indian Doctor) asked the immigration officer very politely as she was leaving, “May I ask you a question? Do you and the other government workers here take lessons in being rude?”

Why is it that so many government officials are so rude and why doesn’t government leadership deal with this?

Is it because an immigration and custom officer has absolute power? People are afraid to complain, because if they do, their name may be flagged in the computer and the next time they travel into the USA, they will have difficulty.

When I go through immigration and customs, I try to be polite, kind, and gracious, but continue to face and witness rudeness, especially among immigration officers in Canada, the USA, and the UK (but surprisingly not in other countries).

What is sad about this is that Canada, the USA, and the UK all have a Christian heritage.

So, yes, I am wondering; do immigration and custom officers take lessons in rudeness?

This is especially a good question for Christians. As God’s people, do we act like Christians? Are we kind, gracious, humble, and considerate of others (Colossians 3:12-14), or just as rude as the world, especially like the immigration and custom officials in Minneapolis and Seattle.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Four Ways God Leads His People

Thoughts on How to Know God's Will
By John Piper

I see at least four methods that God uses to lead us in His will. I put them in four "D"s to help me remember them.

1. Decree
God sovereignty decrees and designs circumstances so that we end up where He wants us to be, even if we don't have any conscious part in getting here. For example, Paul and Silas found themselves in jail, and the result was the salvation of the jailer and his household (Acts 16:24-34). This was God's plan, not Paul's. God does this often putting us in places we did not plan or decide to be. This is the leading of decree. It is unique above the other three leadings because it includes them (since God's decrees include all our decisions), and because it happens infallibly (since no purpose of [God's] can be thwarted" – Job 2:2). The other three leadings of God involve our being consciously led.

2. Direction
This is simply what God does for us by giving us the commands and teachings of the Bible. They direct us specifically what to do and what not to do. The Ten Commandments are one example. Don't steal. Don't kill. Don't lie. The Sermon on the Mount is another: Love your enemies. The Epistles are another: Be filled with the Holy Spirit; Put on humility. This is the leading of direction.

3. Discernment
Most of the decisions we make are not spelled out specifically in the Bible. Discernment is how we follow God's leading through the process of spiritually sensitive application of biblical truth to the specifics of our situation. Romans 12:2 describes this: "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God." In this case God does declare a specific word about what to do, but His Spirit shapes the mind and heart through the Word and prayer, so that we have incli¬nations toward what would be most glorifying to Him and helpful to others.

This is the least common means of God's lead¬ing. He simply declares to us what we should do. For example, according to Acts 8:26, "And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, 'Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert.’”, And according to Acts 8:29, "Then the spirit said unto Philip, 'Go near, and join thyself to this chariot.'"

Notice three implications. First, we should always rest in the decrees of God. They will always be for our good if we love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). This should remove worry from our lives, and put us at peace as we seek the directed, discerned, and declared leading of the Lord.

Second, there is the implication that God's leading of decree may bring about acts that are contrary to His leading of direction, discernment, or declaration. In other words, He may direct, 'Thou shalt not kill," but decree the murderous death of His Son (Acts 4:28). There are mysteries here, but it is manifest in dozens of places in the Bible that God wills that some things come to pass which He forbids in His Word.

Finally, our confidence that we are tracking accurately with God in each of these leadings increases as we move from the bottom to the top of this list. Subjectively perceived declarations from God are least common and most easily abused of all the ways God leads. Our confidence that we have known the will of God in this method will not be as great as in the other methods that relate directly to God's written Word. Discerning what to do on the basis of biblical principle when we not have a specific command for our exact deci¬sion will yield less confidence than when we have an explicit direction in the Bible. And the truth that God is sovereign and guides all things is the rock-bottom confidence under all the others.

It is a good place to rest.

“Four Ways God Leads His People”
By John Piper
How to Know God’s Will (pages 13-16)
Chapel Library

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do You Say You Are Not Fitted for Leadership?

By Charles S. Bauslin

Do you say you are not fitted for leadership? Moses, Livingstone, and Dwight L. Moody felt the same way.

One evening and young man heard a minister say publicly that God had yet to show the world what He could do with a life placed absolutely at His disposal. The young man was Dwight L. Moody. He said: “God shall have His chance with my life.” And, oh, how God has blessed the world because Dwight L. Moody put his life completely at God’s disposal.

But no one ever knows what God can do through him until he has given Him a chance. If we are ready to give “our utmost for the highest,” the undreamed and the impossible will be accomplished through us.—J. Campbell White

The man of sense in choosing a life work views it from every angle. He thinks not merely about what he can make out of his life work—he thinks still more about what his life work will probably make out of him. He studies naturally the entries it will make in his cash book, but he has in mind also what he will find when the other books are opened where the entries are not made in dollars and cents.

And of course we shall never ask men to become prophets and apostles for the fat competency involved and you have lived long enough to know that the man who fights for pay is a soldier of fortune, a pirate, a buccaneer. But even so an honest estimate will show a large percentage of clergymen’s homes well cared for financially thank almost any business or other profession, if the amount of college training and equipment is taken into consideration in each case. If the minister is not making so much money there are other remunerations that are infinitely more worthwhile than money or anything that can be bought with money, and these are the things which make preachers such a jolly, happy lot wherever you find them.

It isn’t fair to let you young men rest under the false conception that the ministry is a life of sacrifice and self-denial, and austerity, fit only for the goody-goody and sissy fellow. That is why it delights us to send you this splendid little monograph of Dr. Baker’s—a true leader, a genuine friend, a successful pastor, a virile preacher of righteousness. You cannot fail to see the minister is not a man who spends his days and nights reading only, and beyond the preaching of an uninteresting sermon on Sunday, with an occasional funeral, has no further opportunity to function. In these pages he gives you a cross section taken out of actual experience. There is no other calling where human contacts are so many, so varied and so rewarded. Read this carefully and I am sure you will be amazed to find how little possibly you know about the varied opportunities for usefulness which come to any active minister.

Why should you, young men, when you think of business and law and medicine gauge these professions by the ablest men in them, but when you think of ministers, think of some ill-fated preacher who has never made it go, and forget the lawyers, doctors and business men who are sticking away in some little, old, dingy office unknown and unheard of, but they are there by the scores just the same.

Every healthy man desires self-realization in the truest sense, the esteem of his fellows and the sense of God’s favor. Does any calling offer such an opportunity for gaining all three as does the Christian ministry?

There belongs to any minister who will make his work count, to be an outstanding character in the community and looked up to as a leader. Even in the large cities the names of preachers are better known to large numbers than any other profession. They are quoted in the papers, pushed forward into prominence at nearly every gathering, and their influence solicited for every important movement. During the war, as a mere policy of molding, public opinion the government sent more printed matter and asked the help of the preachers more than perhaps any other set of men, except editors.

There is no other calling which furnishes so many opportunities for leadership. For any individual who is unspoiled by selfishness and the sordid lust for gain there is no other one factor which so enriches life as does friendship. The business of creating and enriching friendship is a part of the minster’s daily work. It’s a side-line and a by-product in other professions, but the minister becomes the heart center of more and larger circles of friendship, and is counted a part of more homes and more groups than any other man in the community. If you have ever once felt the indescribable joy of being a great friend you can never again be satisfied without it, and no young man has a same conception of the values of life who would not count that to be worth infinitely more than position or money.

And the privilege of preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ Jesus and leading men to the “Son of God that taketh away the sin of the world”—this is the superlative of all. But I must not say more to you now. I wish this great message from Dr. Baker to speak itself to your heart. Just this, no man casting about for his life work can afford to undervalue the privilege of coveting for himself the experiences set before him in this message.

For young men, this thing is eternally and unavoidably true, that if God wants you in the ministry and means you to be in the ministry, if you choose something else your whole life will be one of dissatisfaction and disappointment, and after a while it will be a tragedy—the tragedy of a man who has missed his calling and whose heart is eating itself out in the bitter consciousness that he has lost something better and happier than anything he has found.

Sincerely yours,
Charles S. Bauslin

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tom, Risen from the Dead!

by Jim Elliff

Imagine what you would think if your good friend (we'll call him Tom) were to tell you that he is going to die due to some angry men, and then be put in the grave. You would listen incredulously at his prediction about himself, no doubt. How could he know that he is going to die, and by what means he is going to die?
Then suppose that Tom said, "Don't worry about my death, because in three days from the time I die, I'll come to life again. And I'll be looking for you."
Come on, now. This would be too much.

I'm sure you thought of Christ when I described Tom, and that what he said is precisely what the Bible claims Christ actually did. But not everybody who calls himself or herself a Christian believes that Jesus did this.

Christ's resurrection is a big notion to swallow, after all. It is no wonder that many pastors spiritualize the resurrection into something other than a rising from the dead in a body. You might not catch it when you listen to their words, but if you ask and they will be honest, there are many that think of Christ's resurrection in something other than corporeal terms.

Is it important for Christ to have risen in historical time/space reality? Yes it is. Consider the following:

1. If Christ were not raised from the dead, then He is morally unable to save. Jesus told of His future death and bodily resurrection on numerous occasions prior to it happening, and those predictions were lies if not fulfilled. Deception negates His larger message. A deceiver could not be God, or a sinless Savior. As sinful, He would not be able to satisfy the just requirements of the Father for a substitute on behalf of sinful people. If He were not raised, you should not only refuse to listen to Him; He could not save you even if you did.

2. If Jesus were not raised from the dead, the disciples were at best fools, and at worst, liars. What we know about the Christian life comes from the pen of men moved and guided by God to write the words we call the New Testament. The original apostles died martyrs' deaths on the basis of their belief that the resurrection took place just as predicted, and that they saw Him alive again. If it were not true, then they were either duped, or else they fabricated the resurrection as a means to shore up the movement. But would they pay the ultimate price for a lie they had manufactured in order to have a job? Not so. Paul speaks of the absurdity of this in the following way:

And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ . . . . (1 Cor. 15:14-15)

3. If Jesus were not raised from the dead then we could not have assurance that the price of our sins has been paid. Christ was the perfect Lamb offered in our place, the single sufficient sacrifice for the sins of all who would believe on Him. His death provided our only way of being accepted by God. Without it we are doomed. Christ's resurrection is the assurance that this was completed, and that sin and its resulting death (physical and spiritual) was fully overthrown. What assurance could we have that the work promised had been done through the means of the cross if He did not rise to verify it?

Without question, the Easter Bunny pales in comparison with this momentous event called the resurrection. And we have not even mentioned such benefits as the way His resurrection results in our own future bodily resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20-22), or how emancipation from the tyranny of sin is a necessary consequent (Rom. 6:1-14).
Tom's comeback would make the news. But, since Tom is sinful, like all other humans, he will die again—even if he were to predict his death and rising. His reappearance would be spectacular, but not saving. Lazarus was raised like that, remember, but he died again just like everybody else will, and his death did not do anything to solve the problem of sin and death. Tom would certainly make a few talk shows, and get a good book contract, but that is about it.

Jesus' resurrection, on the other hand, is permanent. He exists now in heaven in the same glorified body He had when He rose from the dead. He ascended in that same body to heaven after His resurrection. He has the power of "an indestructible life." And your salvation—spiritually and physically—depends upon it.

Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment I have received from My Father. (John 10:17-18)

Copyright © 2004 Jim Elliff Permission granted to copy in full, including all copyright information.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Saying Hello

At a dinner recently, someone mentioned a study on the effect of simply greeting people by saying “Hello.”

I need to work at being more outgoing, so today I decided to purposely greet everyone I came in contact with. At a store I saw a feeble, elderly man shuffling down the aisle with a walker. As we approach one another, I said, “Hello, how are you?” He stopped seemingly in shock. I continued, “Is there anything I can help you with? You seem to have difficulty walking.”

In a British accent he told me of his ailments. I asked him if he was from England and he said yes. I told him I go to the UK from time to time because of our ministry and as I pass through on the way to Africa. He said, “Oh, Africa. I lived in Africa for 40 years.”

“What did you do?” I asked. “I was a missionary,” he responded.

“With what mission?” I asked. He answered, “I don’t know if you have heard of it, but the name is WEC --Worldwide Evangelization Crusade.”

I was glad to tell him that I knew WEC very well and it was one of the thirty missions to which I applied in the 1960’s. He then introduced me to his wife who was also not well. They were excited to meet another missionary.

Sadly I discovered they were on Food Stamps! “Food Stamps, “I exclaimed, “you must not have much money.” They replied, “Well, the Lord is providing and we praise Him for it.”

We arranged to get together soon and I hope to assist them in some way. When I left the store, I was greatly encouraged in meeting new friends who need help and encouragement, all because of saying “hello.”

Let me encourage you with the following, The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged (2 Timothy 2:24,nasb).

So, dear friend, greet someone today, in fact, everyone! Say “Hello, how are you?” You might not meet someone from Africa, but you may meet someone with needs a loving touch from a Christian.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Don't Be Afraid

by Russell Moore

“Now these three abide: anger, outrage, and fear—and the greatest of these is fear.”

That’s not in the Bible.

But sometimes I wonder if I think it is.

The United States House of Representatives just passed a health care reform bill that I and lots of other Christians opposed. Such legislation should concern us. There are some bad consequences for the weakest and most vulnerable among us, principally unborn children. But should it also concern us that so many of us are talking today about how afraid we are?

Is it a problem that some of us who are tranquil as still water about biblical doctrine and ecclesial mission are red-faced about Nancy Pelosi and the talking heads on MSNBC? Is it a problem that some who haven’t shared the gospel with their neighbors in months or years are motivated to vent to strangers on the street about how scary national health care will be?

It’s not that I think Christians should be disengaged from issues of justice (God forbid!). It’s just that I wonder if we wouldn’t represent Christ and his kingdom better if we did it with a certain tranquility of Spirit, a tranquility that signals we’re not afraid of the rise and fall of temporal kingdoms and their policies.

The words “do not fear” and “don’t be afraid” are among the most common phrases on the lips of our Lord—in both Old and New Testaments—and on the lips of his angelic messengers. I wonder why?

Isn’t it because “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:18)? Isn’t it because we “did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear” (Rom. 8:15)? Isn’t it because the Spirit prompts us not to “fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6)?

In fact, the Holy Spirit through King David, in a context far more frightening than that of our own, calls us to “fret not yourself because of evildoers” who will soon pass but “trust in the Lord and do good” (Ps. 37:1-3).

Here’s why this matters.

Most of us don’t preach “hellfire and brimstone” sermons anymore, on hell and God’s judgment. But hellfire is exactly what Jesus said we should fear. “And do not fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” our Lord tells his disciples. “Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

Jesus not only teaches this; he lives it. Jesus doesn’t fear the crowds attempting to stone him. He doesn’t cower before Pilate. He isn’t afraid of the Sanhedrin. He’s confident and tranquil, even when he’s being arrested. But when he faces drinking from the cup of judgment of his Father, he sweats drops of blood.

If we were half as outraged by our own sin and self-deception as we are by the follies of our political opponents, what would be the result? If we rejoiced as much that our names are written in heaven as we do about such trivialities as basketball brackets, what would be the result?

So if what you’re afraid of is a politician or a policy or a culture or the future of Western civilization, don’t give up the conviction but give up the fear. Work for justice. Oppose evil. But do it so that your opponents will see not fear but trust, optimism, and affection.

“So now faith, hope and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

Fear God and, beyond that, don’t be afraid.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who in the world is the local goddess?

Recently I pulled up to a drive-in window at McDonald’s and ordered a “Happy Meal.” As I was paying, I said to the man at the window, “I have a problem.”

He responded, “What’s that? I have an answer. What’s your problem?”

I said, “Well, the car in front of me has a bumper sticker that says, ‘Serve your local goddess.’ Who in the world is the local goddess?”

He looked at me with a blank stare.

So, I said, “If it is okay with you, I think I will continue to serve the living God.”

He smiled and said, “I think that is your best bet!”

A lot of the world is serving its local “yahoo” goddesses who don’t even have a name. Let us serve the living and true God who made Himself evident through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ.

“But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior”
(Titus 3:4-6, nasb).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

It's not over 'til it's over!

(The following was written ten years ago)

I am still sore today. The Reed, Jespersen, Nichols Seattle clan had a picnic last week, mainly to be with Steve and Jean Jespersen and children from Chicago who are staying with us for a week of vacation. (Steve is Dad Jespersen’s younger son). It was great to be with the family.

Little D.J. (David Joseph; Julie’s son), Robby (my son) and I played the much younger Reed’s and Jespersen’s in a game of football. You would not believe it, but the Nichols team won! In fact, old man Doug caught a long pass for the final winning touchdown! So, always remember, the game is not over until it is over!

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren [and sisters], be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:57-58, nasb).

(Written: July 2000)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Still Alive, but Not Kicking!

Today, April 7, 1993 (17 years ago), I had major cancer surgery. The results were not hopeful with possibly only three months to live. However, after a year of chemotherapy (which nearly killed me several times) and radiation (which almost cooked me!), I was able to “limp” to Africa leading a team of 13 doctors and nurses to the refugee death camp (50,000 died in three days) in Goma, Zaire, to assist for three weeks in the Rwanda Refugee Crisis. This Africa venture resulted in ACTION beginning ministry in Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia.

Cancer is the pits, has left my body in a mess, and has caused difficulty in the amount of work and travel I can do, but this illness given by God has resulted in the Gospel and compassionate care being proclaimed in areas we would not have dreamed.

I am very encouraged by Thomas Manton’s (1620-1677) statement, “The world forsakes those that are in poverty, disgrace, and want; but God promises most of His presence to them that holy, meekly, and patiently bear the afflictions which He lays upon them. And one drop of this honey is enough to sweeten the bitterest cup that ever drank of. If God be with us, if the power of Christ will rest upon us, then we may even glory in infirmities, as Paul did.”

Yes, it is always good to remember that God never brings anything into one’s life unless it is for our good and for His Glory!

"For You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid an oppressive burden upon our loins. You made men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into a place of abundance"
(Psalm 66:10-12 nasb).