Imagining Jesus

We may all have different images of who Jesus is and what he looks like. I think sometimes those different images help us in developing our relationship with him. I know in prayer, there are times when I try to envision His presence in the room with me, like we are in conversation. When I do this, it can bring a sense of deeper relationship and greater sense of his presence, even if it is my imagination at work.  I’ve started to have a deeper appreciation, with the help of CS Lewis, for how God can speak to us through our imagination, but that’s for another blog.

In my prayer time this morning, one of the daily Scripture readings was from the book of Revelation. I’ve come to understand the Book of Revelation to offer tremendous hope in the face of tribulation, so spending time in this book is often challenging yet inspiring. The passage this morning was from Revelation 1:4-20. In reading through, an image of Jesus appears that is not one that we often imagine, outside of His transfiguration.

I think mostly when we imagine Jesus, we see someone who looks much like us. In some ways that may be comforting, and help us see him as our friend. When we do this, we tend to see him mostly as our savior, the one who sacrificed himself for our sake on the cross so that we might have eternal life. This is an important aspect of the person and work of Jesus Christ, that I wouldn’t ever want to diminish. Yet, do we see Jesus as Lord?

The image of Jesus in Revelation 1:4-20 is startling and magnificent. It is Jesus as eternal King! Yet, in this same passage this Jesus who is the eternal and risen King, also reaches down to touch John to say “do not be afraid.”

How does this image of Jesus stir our understanding of what it means to be His disciple? Do we serve the church, or is the church the people who serve this risen Lord and King?

Healing Jesus

This is the final installment of 30 blogs in 30 days. It would have been great to do just one a day, and I apologize for clogging your social media the last couple of days to catch up! But life intervenes sometimes and so doing one a day for 30 days became harder and harder. My hope is to continue blogging, on a wide range of topics, but to slow the pace down a bit.  I’ve deeply appreciated everyone who has taken the time to read and even respond, My hope is that it has been meaningful time spent.

This final blog on the topic of healing has to do with how Jesus in Matthew 25 claims that in ministering to “the least of these” they have also ministered to Jesus. Doesn’t that sound a bit strange? The title of this blog is a “double entendre.” Jesus is the divine physician, who offers healing to those in need. Yet, is there a way in which we are healing Jesus as we continue his ministry of healing? One of phrases in this text that shouldn’t be missed is the sense of community that Jesus points us toward, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25:40, italics mine)”

I don’t want to overstate my case here, yet this may point toward salvation in terms of communion with God. As theologian Stanley Grenz in his book, Theology for the Community of God, strongly asserts, the Triune God is a community of love. The doctrine of the Trinity isn’t just a concept to daze and confuse Christians, it is foundational to what salvation is because it is who God is. God is Triune love. Salvation means being ushered into that divine life, to restore the image of God that was lost. John Wesley characterized this as Christian Perfection. This is true Christian community. To love others is akin to loving God. So, perhaps in loving others in need, we do so also to Jesus, who intimately understands pain and suffering.

There’s also a sense of salvation history at work. I’m under the impression that Jesus’ healing ministry pointed to something larger. I believe they were signs of God’s Kingdom and what the renewal of the heavens and earth will be like: all creation healed. The book of Revelation points to this, “through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (22:2).

The apostle Paul points to this as well, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22).

Creation groans and our bodies groan. Our hearts break and our relationships can disintegrate. Yet in Christ there is not just a cure, not just a surface remedy, but the kind of healing that brings wholeness and vitality; life everlasting. Amen.

Worship as Ministry

I’m convinced and have suggested earlier that healing involves participating in means of grace; of which prayer is essential.

I have experienced worship services where people came forward for prayer after worship in powerful, graceful and safe ways. I’ve also seen it happen where people came forward for prayer in ways that were rather flashy and where it felt a bit manipulative. I’ve seen people come forward for prayer to offer their life to Christ and I’ve seen them come forward for healing of physical problems. Over the years in ministry and in different traditions, I’ve seen a wealth of diversity in how this has been performed in the context of worship.

Regardless of the context for ministry, there has always been one prevailing “fruit” when the prayer was done with authenticity; love. The apostle Paul was right, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I can’t explain different phenomenon that I’ve witnessed. I can’t explain how one person in an Alpha group hands were “on fire” and how he laid his hands on an elderly lady with back pain and the pain resided then and there. I can’t explain how I’ve seen others “slain in the Spirit” while others speak  in tongues. This space is not to explain or defend these manifestations as authentic or otherwise. However, what I do want to suggest is a balanced approach that offers healing in ways through prayer in the context of worship that I’ve witnessed to be grounded in love and offer life changing transformation.

I’ve witnessed worship services, even in highly liturgical settings, where prayer ministry was offered by people grounded in God’s love, trained to be safe with those whom they minister, that have the skills to not only hear but listen to God speak, and who have a heart to serve others by praying with them in ways that offers healing and hope. I’ve seen this open doors for further healing and ministry, then then puts others on a path of discipleship themselves. Praying is a ministry by which lives are changed, hope offer, and even further ministry of care and service offered.

Anticipation Is Making Me Wait

Meeting the needs in a world of hurt may seem daunting. If we are to do so in relationship and not primarily at “arms length” then it may mean being involved in ministry with people instead of just “to” people. It may mean getting involve in people’s lives that we might not normally associate with, or find it difficult to be in ministry. This is especially true in meeting those needs Jesus addresses in Matthew 25.

At the outset of this series, I grounded this on Matthew 25:31-46, whereby Jesus speaks about meeting different needs of people. I’ve asserted that this was Jesus ministry; to offer healing, and the church is to do the same. What would that look like?

I’m convinced that there is no such thing as “cookie cutter” ministry. Churches have a great deal to share and to learn from one another, yet the context of each is different. It is often more than just a matter of “tweaking” to make a fruitful ministry in one context have the same effect in another context. It could be a matter of calling, giftedness, and timing. I believe that God will provide the resources if it’s His idea.

I believe each local church is called to minister to these needs Jesus outlines in Matthew 25; and how it does so matters. I’ve seen and lead many ministries that sounded great, made a big splash at first, but were not really of God. They were lead by passionate individuals who had a strong sense of urgency around a need that seemed reasonable to meet. They had the ability to find the resources to launch the ministry. Yet, as is often the case, when based on an individual self-initiative, the ministry stops when that person leaves or can no longer continue the ministry. It was a great idea, yet perhaps not God’s idea for that particular church at that particular time. Though most ministry has a life cycle, I believe that if the ministry is God’s idea, not just a good idea, then it will last beyond the person initiating it. It may develop over time, but the hope is that the ministry will become a part of who the church is and how it identifies itself.

I believe the idea is to be attentive to God’s ideas, God’s timing, and God’s initiative. In our culture of “git er done” it can be hard to listen and wait upon God, yet especially in developing sustainable ministry with people that come from radically different situations, God’s timing is essential.

Yet, there are some basics that remain the same regardless of the other particulars.

 

A Blizzard of Blogs

Over the past month, I’ve been leading us on a discussion of healing in holistic ways. I’ve written on many different aspects. On this last “blizzard of blogs” today, it’s time to explore some practical implications.

I believe there are people who have the gifts of healing. Along with clinically trained professionals, these individuals have been gifted by God to minister healing to others in different ways. Instead of a stethoscope to listen to the body, they listen through prayer. Instead of a scalpel, they lay on hands. The training, the tools and the empowerment may be different but they are effective none the less.

They heal people emotionally, socially, relationally, ecologically and yes, even physically. But, in all cases, the ones who operate with integrity, understand that they are not the one’s doing the healing. As the case with all healing, God is the true physician. Do we believe that God can use the hands of a person as much as a scalpel or medication? Is God truly free? I’m convinced all healing, regardless of the means, comes from God. It is a sign and foretaste of His Kingdom. It is what Jesus did in his healing ministry, and continues on today.

For many, it would be easy to just ignore this and focus on teaching, preaching, and serving in the community as what it means to be a church. Yet to be engaged in healing ministry is a powerful way in which to serve, to love, to witness.

We live in a “world of hurt” where people struggle with not only disease and injury, but poverty, hunger, addiction, abuse, broken families, anger, violence, injustice , prejudice, greed, identity crises, and lack of purpose, among other things.  Many others are burned out and feel used up. There is a need to offer healing in this world of hurt. Yet many churches continue to fight battles within. Though many inside the church need healing as well, we get confused to think that the church exists for it’s own sake. And so we fight battles to maintain it’s existence based on different opinions, approaches and philosophies.

What would the church look like if it was about bringing healing in a world of hurt. This is where we conclude this series of 30 blogs in 30 days over the next few posts.

 

The Spiritual Gift of Healing

What about the gift of healing?

I believe most physicians and nurses are gifted healers. I believe they are using the talents and gifts God has given them, even if there are those who might not describe it or understand it in this way. I respect and appreciate the tremendous amount of training they receive to gain knowledge and skill.

I embrace the medical profession and all the gains they have made through scientific inquiry and the advances of technology. I wouldn’t want to go back to the dark ages! I visit doctors and take medications myself. I would never suggest anyone do otherwise. However, as many advances have been gained, in my estimation, medicine as a science still operates as much as an artform. Or perhaps, I will agree with the postmodern assumption that science and all it’s assertions are grounded on faith. Not to get overly technical, but post-modernity would argue that  there is no intellectual foundation upon which science (or much anything else)  ultimately rests that can’t be challenged or is without bias. Ultimately,we all live by faith. We all work from assumptions that go unchallenged which guide our lives and our work. Thus in our work, our writing, our claims, our witness, all that we do is a testimony to what we believe. This is the main reason for the title of my blog “the conversation matters” because it truly does in what I believe to be profound ways. This has tremendous implications that may mean another blog series, but at this point we must return to the point at hand.

This is no attempt to undercut the authority of highly educated and skilled physicians and nurses. However, what it does address is this modern intellectual privilege that assumes science is the realm of truth and facts (observable, tested, repeatable) while relegating and marginalizing religion to the realm of subjective faith that largely deals with subjective values; as religious claims deal with what is unseen, thus unobservable; therefore not particularly factual.  My purpose is to suggest that gifted doctors, nurses, therapists; clinically trained healers of all types are exercising this gift of healing. This gift comes from God. Religion deals as much with fact and truth as do the sciences. Many Christians will affirm this, yet continue to live practically with the biases of a scientific worldview. For many people, regardless of religious or non-religious affiliation, sooner or later everything can be explained scientifically. I disagree.

 

Gifts?

“And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Anyone getting nervous?

We can handle the more reasonable gifts, those that our “reasonable worldview” can readily accommodate like teaching, helping, leading. These gifts we not only readily affirm, but seek out and encourage in others. Of course the Scripture cited is only one of several that mention Spiritual gifts.  However, I chose this one because it provides a sense of order that could be important for the church; apostleship, preaching (prophecy) and teaching are primary gifts central to the church, then it moves to others to our worldview seem more foreign; “then deeds of power, then gifts of healing.”

Most might agree, that the first group of gifts provide the foundation of any solid church, yet we may be inclined tod stop there, or prefer to skip down to assisting and leadership. This is understandable coming from our “enlightened” worldview. These other gifts such as deeds of power, healing and various kinds of tongues are marginalized, often relegated to a previous epoch of the church and now no longer necessary. There are other arguments against the veracity of these gifts that interested parties can pursue. Interestingly the most vocal arguments that I’ve heard come from theological fundamentalists and liberals, even liberation theology.  Odd allies at best, yet I’ve come to see them as flip sides to the same modern epistemological (study of the ways of knowing) coin, so to speak.

Interestingly, where Christianity is growing these other gifts that we marginalize seem to be more widely embraced; the global south. Current research suggests that the picture of who is the average Christian today has changed (see Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, Oxford Press, 2011). The trends suggests that the typical Christian in today’s world is probably black or Hispanic, a woman, perhaps poor but likely living in a village, and comes from the global South or East (p.1-2). In these places they are typically orthodox and very often charismatic in their Christian practices and understandings. In terms of the movements among younger generations, as investigative reporter Colleen Carroll points out in her book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Layola Press, 2002)” young adults have been moving toward Christianity that is orthodox, embraces mystery, and challenges cultural expectations (p.12).

Western, enlightenment based Christianity struggling with relevancy, continues to decline. I would humbly suggest, that there are churches globally (and even Western Christianity) that embrace the fullness of the Spiritual gifts. Though this may not be the only dynamic at work in churches that are thriving globally, it does seem to have it’s role.

God is Free

One of my hopes as a pastor is to increase the expectations we have on God responding to our prayers.

I’ve indicated that I strongly believe that we are changed through prayers, and that is one way that God responds to us. That our relationship with God is nurtured, and our faith can grow as we bring to God our requests. I also would strongly suggest that God responds to our prayers for others and other situations.

I know this is nothing novel, simply because I know a great many Christians pray for many many people and situations both personal and global. However, I’m not always certain that we expect to God to answer the way we have prayed. I am sensitive to the reality that we often have experienced enough tragedy and loss in ways that seems that God didn’t respond as we hoped. And we can be left wondering why God didn’t respond the way we asked..

What I don’t have in view, is a sense that God is just waiting for me to pray before He can or will act. Furthermore, at least in my experience, God doesn’t always respond to my prayer requests the way I would like or in the time frame I would most desire either. I stand with 20th century theologian Karl Barth, who affirmed that God is the One who is truly free!

I believe that what we try to do is pray for God’s will be done. To seek out what God’s will through listening, searching Scriptures, all the means at our disposal, and pray for those things that we believe are God’s will. I believe that is what the Lord’s prayer teaches, to pray God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I believe God’s will is healing.

Not that we always get the prayer answered the way we want or hope. I have no explanation for why some prayers are answered the way we ask, and others are not. Most people that have healing ministries can not guarantee that their prayers for specific healing will be answered, they have faith that they will, yet not intellectual certainty. Praying for healing means taking risks, and the nature of faith is to take risk; to believe in what can not be otherwise seen. Faith is described Scripturally as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrew 11:1). However that is not the same as intellectual certainty grounded in ourselves and our own ability to reason.

Where our abilities lie is in the gifts God has given the church to offer healing and hope. This is where we now turn.

Great Expectations

Based on my last post, I suggest that God can provide healing in many different ways, though not always in the ways in which we hope or expect. I believe that God responds to our prayers in ways that are much more powerful and even unpredictable than what some popular Christians would assert as a simple “yes,” “no,” or “wait.” Certainly,  God can and does answer prayers in those ways. However, I would propose a more relational and dynamic way of understanding  the ways in which God can and does respond, especially in terms of healing.

I’m convinced that  prayer changes us and that is one way in which God responds to our prayers. Because prayer is an important “means of grace,” it deepens our relationship with God and we may find greater peace and joy (healing), regardless of our burdens and concerns. It may not always come as physical healing.

However, at this point, the issue I’m raising has more to do with how healing prayer can change the lives of those who are praying for healing, not only those being ministered to with prayer. What do we expect as those who offer prayers for healing and how are we changed in the process?. In the story of Tony Campolo, we don’t really know the effect it had on him, except to say that he had a certain expectation and hope that God would bring healing in that situation. If the story is true, then God acted in incredible ways!

When we pray for healing, does God minister to us as well? Certainly, our prayers for healing are intended to minister to others, and we may not be intentionally seeking ministry for ourselves in the process. However, I think that even in intercessory prayers God is at work in and through us, ministering to us in and through our prayers. I think this is especially true when our prayers are with people in person, and not at arms length.

For me personally, praying with others is always an honor and blessing, regardless of the situation, and often offers peace in the midst of concerns and burdens. The Holy Spirit is at work in the midst of those who pray. Even Jesus said, that where two or three are gathered in His name, he will be present (Matthew 18:20).  God offers life giving sustenance to all those engaged in prayer.

Are there other expectations?

 

What Do We Expect?

Do we expect God to answer our prayers?

One of the habits I’m taking on in my own prayer life is to thank and praise God in advance for answering my prayers. This is a practice I’ve started to develop based on the teaching of LeAnne Payne. She has written a number of well written books focused on listening prayer, journaling and healing. I invite everyone to read Listening Prayer: Learning To Hear God’s Voice And Keep a Prayer Journal (Baker Books, 1994).

The issue for this entry is not so much about God as our own expectations. Do we really believe God can and will answer our prayers? Sometimes we get healing instead of a cure. I’m sharing this as a story with unknown origins, but it may yet speak to us.

Tony Compolo tells a story about being in a church in Oregon where he was

asked to pray for a man who had cancer. Compolo prayed boldly for the

man’s healing. That next week he got a telephone call from the man’s wife.

She said, “You prayed for my husband. He had cancer.” Compolo thought when

he heard her use the past tense verb that his cancer had been eradicated!

But before he could think much about it she said, “He died.” Compolo felt

terrible.

 

But she continued, “Don’t feel bad. When he came into that church that

Sunday he was filled with anger. He knew he was going to be dead in a

short period of time, and he hated God. He was 58 years old, and he wanted

to see his children and grandchildren grow up. He was angry that this

all-powerful God didn’t take away his sickness and heal him. He would lie

in bed and curse God. The more his anger grew towards God, the more

miserable he was to everybody around him. It was an awful thing to be in

his presence.”

 

But the lady told Compolo, “After you prayed for him, a peace had come

over him and a joy had come into him. Tony, the last three days have been

the best days of our lives. We’ve sung. We’ve laughed. We’ve read

Scripture. We prayed. Oh, they’ve been wonderful days. And I called to

thank you for laying your hands on him and praying for healing.”

 

And then she said something incredibly profound. She said, “He wasn’t

cured, but he was healed.”

 

Author Unknown