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Jesus is always with you

I’m not necessarily going to start posting often on the blog, but we had such a good meeting last night that I was compelled to share what we talked about.  That way, the people who couldn’t be there last night will get to share with us, as well as anybody else who is curious.

April started the “formal” section of our meeting (I’ll pause so you can laugh hysterically), with an excerpt from Paul Ellis’s blog:

Several years ago I was so overwhelmed by a problem that I sat down in a funk and began to indulge in self-pity. Self-pity is huge sin. It’s far more serious than some of the sins we warn teenagers about. Self-pity is the sin of unbelief in the goodness of God. It is saying, “God, I don’t believe you can handle this situation.” Never give into self-pity because it will sink your boat faster than the Titanic.

But on that dark day I gave into it. I began to feel sorry for my pathetic self. What did Jesus do in response to my sin? Did he stand before me like Nathan pointing the accusing finger? Did he warn me like Elijah of the imminent fire of heaven? Of course not! Jesus is not like that at all.

I remember it clear as day. I was sitting there in my little funk with my head in my hands and suddenly, in my mind, I could see Jesus sitting on the chair beside me in the exact same posture as me. Like me he had his head in his hands and he looked worried. As long as I live I’ll never forget what he said:

“You’re right Paul, this is a big problem. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.”

Then he threw back his head and laughed and laughed at the absurdity of such a thought. Instantly, I was set free.

Do you see what he did there?

He took my problem in his massive hands and laughed at it. He showed me the utter ridiculousness of the lie that I had bought into. How foolish to think that Jesus hasn’t got this! By seeing Christ I was set free from the lie that had held me captive. I began laughing so hard I nearly fell off my chair.

When Jesus brought me back on course he employed neither guilt nor condemnation, just laughter and joy (Is 12:3).

After this, April shared a video illustrating this idea that Jesus is always with you.  You may think it’s a little cheesy, and it is, but it’s also is a great illustration of the love and ubiquitous nature of Jesus.

Bonnie (that’s me) then read a couple of short parables from Matthew 13.

44 “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field.

45 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. 46 When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!

I have been taught this parable many times over the years.  I’ve always been told that we are the “man” and the “merchant” in these parables.  And indeed, 75% of the commentaries I’ve looked at agree with this interpretation.  They say that we must give up everything to gain the treasure, which they say is Jesus.  Not until I was listening to a message by Bertie Brits* did I realize that we are not the “man” or the “merchant.”

We are the treasure.  We are the pearl.

Arthur W. Pink explains many reasons why this is actually the right interpretation.  Jesus is the one who seeks.  Jesus is the one who gave up everything.  We are the treasure that was hidden until we could be purchased.  The church is his pearl of great value.

Then we talked a little more about the main point Bertie’s message: the expectations we can have of Jesus.  The part of the message that spoke most to me was when Bertie started talking about math.  When we believe in Jesus and still view ourselves as unforgiven or as sinners, it’s like we’re saying:

Sinner me + Jesus and my belief in him = Sinner me

This is like saying 1+2=1.  It’s bad math.  Not to mention that logically, this would make Jesus equal zero.  Do we really believe that Jesus made no difference?  The same can be applied to healing (We are operating under the assumption that Jesus took our sins and our sicknesses upon him at the cross.  We can discuss that another time.)

Sick me + Jesus and my belief in him = Sick me

Once again, we’re making Jesus equal zero.  Just a little food for thought.

We talked about a lot more than this, but these are the highlights.  It was a great meeting!

 

*This was not actually the point of Bertie’s message.  It was something he mentioned in passing, as if it should be obvious.  But it totally blew my mind!

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So that’s what procrastination is

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to put this on the blog or not. This is very personal and might be boring for anyone other than me and those who love and know me best. But maybe it will be helpful for someone.

When I was in the 2nd grade, my teacher asked me to go deliver a note to another teacher in a different hallway. It was a simple task and one I was certainly competent to complete. I remember walking through the school with this note in my hand and a heavy knot in my stomach. I was terrified. It’s hard to put words to my fear. Maybe I was afraid that I would go to the wrong classroom. Maybe I was afraid that I misheard my teacher and had gotten my task all wrong. Either way, I was terrified about doing something simple. This is my first memory of the nameless, paralyzing fear.

A few weeks ago, I noticed the weather was great; it was time to plant the herb seeds in the planter that I got for Christmas. I’ve never really grown anything before. A week later, I still hadn’t planted the seeds. A week after that, I was sitting outside with my husband with the seeds in my hand and a paralyzing feeling in my gut. Why was it so difficult to plant these seeds?! I eventually did plant the seeds, but with much hesitation and timidity.

A few days later, I was in my internship class. There were just five of us interns with our professor discussing all the things that were going to be due soon. Although everyone was stressed, I noticed that my stress seemed out of proportion with everyone else’s. I couldn’t sit still. I couldn’t think clearly. My thoughts were racing. I was panicked and yet, I couldn’t seem to bring myself to do the work that I needed to do for this class. I kept putting it off.

Normally, I would just beat myself up for being lazy and an extreme procrastinator. I would try and try to motivate myself to change and feel like a lazy failure. But this time something clicked. I realized that maybe what I was going through was not normal. Maybe it’s not normal to have a low level of fear all the time. Maybe it’s not normal to have paralyzing fear every time I have to do anything.

It all came together in my head. For as long as I can remember, it has been very difficult for me to do something. I mean anything. Simple things (like delivering a note to a teacher), complex things or even things I enjoy. So many things connected. I could see so many opportunities I’ve missed out on because of fear. So many times I have put things off over and over because of fear.

I could see that I have tried on my own to overcome the fear without even knowing what I was doing. I would volunteer myself to do scary things like sing the National Anthem in front of thousands of people. I guess I subconsciously hoped that forcing myself to do scary things would take away the fear. Obviously, it didn’t work. It was overwhelming realizing how much this had permeated my whole life. I knew then that I was done.

The next week, we had our Wednesday night meeting. As we sat around the living room, I opened up my heart. I shared with everyone about this fear, about how it has dominated my life, about how I could finally see it for what it was and how I wanted to be done with it then and there. Everyone listened graciously while I blabbered on. We discussed and analyzed it briefly but I think we all knew that this foe was beyond any of us. So, we prayed. The verse kept coming to mind, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind.” So, we prayed for the spirit of fear to be gone and for the Holy Spirit to fill it’s place. As we were praying, I “heard” God say that He not only wanted me to be free of this fear, He wanted me to be fearless. Brave.

The next day, I went to work and actually kinda forgot about the prayer. Then, at the end of the day, I suddenly realized I had been working smoothly all day. I had made phone calls and emails. I had tackled tasks that I had no idea how to do and had to work through. These were things that I would normally put off or never do and then suffer the consequences. Here I was, healed, free.

It has been two weeks since that prayer and I keep being re-amazed. A couple of times, I have felt that fear start to creep back in. I just say in my head, “No, I’m healed. I’m free and I don’t have a spirit of fear” and the fear is gone completely.

This reminds me of a story I read once of a little girl who was eight or nine and started playing softball. She was having trouble hitting the ball and the coach kept saying, “Keep your eye on the ball!” Finally, exasperated, the little girl said, “Which ball!?!” It was quickly discovered that the little girl had double vision. She had had it her whole life so she never knew that it wasn’t normal. That’s how I felt with this fear. I lived my whole life so far never realizing that my experiences weren’t normal.

I thank God for showing me the truth! And for setting me free! Jesus said that He came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed.* That’s what He has done for me! I don’t think I ever been so grateful to God. Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!**

(Regarding the title: A few days after the being healed, I was going to do some paperwork. It wasn’t due immediately and I didn’t want to do it; I just wanted to play on the internet instead of working. As I was reading random internet articles, I realized that I felt very different than ever before. I was experiencing true procrastination for the first time. I wasn’t putting something off because I couldn’t seem to get my mind and body unstuck from fear. I was putting something off because I consciously decided that I wanted to. What a wonderful difference!)

*Luke 4:18

** 2 Corinthians 3:17

Healing Power III – God’s Very Nature

Still doubting that God heals?  Would you believe Jesus?  Jesus referred to the healing of Naaman in his explanation of why He heals certain people and not those in his hometown, see Luke 4.22-27.  Jesus’s point: faith brings healing and sometimes those closest to us cannot see us as anything other than what they expect.  Faith brings healing from God, who by His very nature is the Healer.

“How,” you might ask, “does this fit with 1 Corinthians 4.1-20?”

Paul and Apollos are the Apostles who started the church at Corinth.  Paul started it and Apollos encouraged its growth.  Both were faithful stewards of their gifts…they did what God told them to do and they did it well.  Apostles start godly things then they leave to start other godly works.  After Paul left Apollos came.  After Apollos left certain teachers came.  These teachers were skilled.  They filled the houses of the Corinthians with persuasive words.  However, they were not the words of God but in chapter four we see these words were about self-dependence and self-reliance.  These teachers taught that the Corinthians did not need anyone else; going against the teachings of Jesus and Paul.

Again (see last post Healing Power IIb – Meaning), this sounds like us!  We love those teachers who tell us we are self-sufficient.  We hear all the time how we have all we need; how we are pleasing God when we do things for Him; how we are the focus of all God’s attention.  We have another handicap: we live in the USA.  Our whole society is based on self-sufficiency.  Those that are not are often the hated poor, because they did not meet the highest ideal of our culture.  They failed and if there is something an American cannot stand, it is a failure.  So we hate them…pushing them to the extreme edge of our society.  Oh, our government has a program to care for them.  But we need not be bothered by poverty.  Of course poverty is not just financial in nature.  Poverty comes to people in many forms: educational, health, age, etc…

Are we not to love these people too?  Are they less deserving of love than our smart, healthy, young people who live near us; who have jobs and homes?  If our highest ideal is self-reliance then our answer must be “yes, they are less deserving.”  And that is exactly how our society treats these people.  We put them in a class lower than ourselves and tell ourselves “it is okay because it is their fault.” [These two paragraphs serve as an illustration not the point of this lesson…an illustration of a pervasive teaching that is totally and completely WRONG…but we passively accept it.]

Accepting ideas from teachers who are not faithfully devoted to teaching what Jesus taught is a serious error.  We cannot build our understanding of God on such teachings.  That is why, over and over again, Jesus warns us about such teachers.  Paul warns us to test them to see if they are faithful.  Accepting false teaching can kill your faith.  The Corinthians had done this very thing.  We have done it as well.

Naaman was filled with hope and acted on that hope.  We call that action faith.  He believed this prophet could heal him.  He had wisdom from wise teachers.  Today we abandoned such faith for things we can see, things we can do for ourselves.  We followed teachers who insisted that healing couldn’t happen today.  Those teachers taught us to look down on people who believe in healing.  Those teachers taught with persuasive words to abandon our hope that God heals miraculously.  They taught us that only doctors can heal, by their skill and through their treatments.  Charlatan televangelists confirmed these teachings.  They could not heal us.  They only wanted our money.  So this teaching is pervasive and easy to believe…if we based our faith only on our sight and things we can understand.

But God is still in the healing business.  He still loves to touch our lives in miraculous ways.  Paul said it best in 1 Corinthians 4.20, “For the Kingdom of God is not just fancy talk; it is living by God’s power.”  Just so we would fully understand, Paul uses a specific Greek word for ‘power’.  It is the Greek word dunamis.  It means mighty power, miracle and has the connotation of dominion (meaning it is all under God’s control).  It is the root of our word ‘dynamite’.  So God’s dunamis is His innate ability to oversee everything under His authority with His mighty power to bring about miracles!  Miracles are a part of God’s character, His very nature!  Where God is…miracles occur.  Paul warns those false teachers of self-reliance that when he gets to Corinth he will come with God’s mighty power and miracles will confirm his message.

So I want to encourage you.  Miracles happen everywhere God is King; everywhere He walks…in every life, in every situation God can and He will touch you and heal you.  Our expectation needs to be on the truth of this statement.  We should expect God to heal.  However, avoid telling God how and when He can heal.  That is NOT faith but a reliance on self that God detests.  Faith is the key; faith in a God who has absolute control over our lives.  God healed the hated commander of an occupying force, Naaman.  Jesus pointed to that as a lesson on faith.  Paul taught that wherever God is so is His mighty power…so are miracles! Only believe and be saved, you and your entire household (Acts 16.31). Be strong and courageous, because everywhere you go the King of Kings and Lord of Lords goes with you, with all of His dunamis! (Joshua 1.9 and I Corinthians 4.20).

Healing Power IIb – Meaning

What are implications of the story of Naaman’s healing, 2 Kings 5.1-19, for you and I?  What could a story that happened 2,800 years ago have for us to learn and apply to our lives? A lot actually.  God is still in the blessing business.  God still heals.  He still cares for everyone.

In the ancient Near East, Israel, there were two kingdoms.  There was the kingdom of men, ruled by a king.  The Syrians beat this king of Israel.  He was a loser but still in control of the country…so long as he paid tribute to the king of Syria. He ruled by authority of a forging king, given just enough power to collect taxes and that was all.  The other kingdom was God’s kingdom.  God was the king.  He was undefeatable. He ruled with power and compassion.  His love knew no boundaries.  He even loved the enemy Syrians.  A prophet represented God in Israel.  So long as there was a prophet in Israel, the people following God could be sure He heard their cries, comforted their fears, and loved them.  Naaman saw both kingdoms; going first to the kingdom of man; but only finding what he needed in God’s Kingdom.

The kingdom of men represents some of the churches today.  It is powerless and ruled by external forces.  The kingdom of men desires to remain in power and will compromise with anyone they believe can help them. The kingdom of God will never compromise.  There are churches today that fit in this category as well.  Churches that seek to know God and make Him known.  It is not about power or position but about God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

God used the nation of Syria to correct His people, Israel.  The nation ran from God and His blessing.  The people chose to follow the gods of the people around them rather than the God who delivered the people from slavery in Egypt.  God’s people abandoned Him as irrelevant to their lives.  And God sent a nation to conquer His people, to show them that there is a God in Israel and He alone has the power to direct nations paths.  He alone protects His people.  He alone is God.

Sounds a lot like us today doesn’t it?  We call ourselves “Christians.”  But most likely we have pushed God to irrelevancy in our lives for 6 days a week.  “God can have Sunday morning but He will not see Monday through Saturday in our lives,” we say with our actions.  We have made God in our image.  We made Him weak and powerless to affect our lives.  He is good but a stranger to us today.  And we think we are Christian enough.  Gone to church…check.

We may even tithe; pay one-tenth of our income to the church.  But it is just payment for services rendered.  That was to original goal of the tithe, pay the priest for services rendered.  We continue to do that today.  We pay our pastor to be our spiritual representative so we don’t have to have a relationship with God.  Our pastor meets with us once a week and tells us how our relationship is going, usually pretty good.  And we think we are pleasing God because we gave.  The tithe was an indication of where our heart was: with God or against Him.  Now, it is a lifeless ritual, payment for services, given begrudgingly; truly showing our hearts are far from God.  Paid God for His favor…check.

Naaman had all these expectations.  He had a checklist of things he was expecting.  He went to Israel expecting to meet another healing man and pay him for this service.  But God always defies expectations.  It is never about a checklist.  It is always about real life.  God loves to show us that we expect too little from Him.  J. B. Phillips, a translator of the Bible into everyday common language, said it best with the title of one of his books, “Your God is Too Small.”

Your god is too small if you show him your face but never your heart!

Your god is too small if you pay for favor instead of giving your devotion!

Your god is too small…way to small if you think he loves you only when you are good enough, strong enough, when you give to the church, or only when you go to church!

Your god is too small if he wants the best for you but never impacts your life!

God, the one true God, wants to know you and for you to know Him.  He wants to restore you to the place He originally made for you: at His table in His heaven; a child of His, FOREVER.  He is a God of blessing not curses; a God of hope in the face of darkness; a God of healing in the face of pain, hurting, or illness.  God healed the enemy of His people to show the people God is God alone; Healer, Comforter, Counselor, and Friend.  God is still all of these things today.

It might sound a little strange to you, but I have seen God heal cancer (confirmed by a surgeon), heal allergies, even raise my puppy back to life after it was crushed by a load of bricks (confirmed by my father).  It may be so far out for you to think that there is a God much less that He loves you and can heal your sickness.  But it is true.  God loved Naaman.  God loves you.  God healed Naaman.  God will heal you. God’s ways may seem strange to you, just as they did to Naaman.  There was nothing special about the muddy Jordan.  There was something very special about a man with belief that even in a muddy river God will heal.  That is faith; simple, living faith.

That is the key: faith…simple faith in a God who can, and routinely does, meet you in your life, where you are, in your mess, and loves you, and heals your sickness, and gives you hope and life and joy!  Naaman met Him and it changed his health and his heart.  You can meet Him and He will do those things for you…and so much more!

God is good. We live in a broken world, a world of our own making. It is full of evil sickness and disease that we loosed. But God is good.  He offers us hope where there is hopelessness.  He makes good out of our bad. He brings love to the loveless and the unlovely. He heals our sickness and disease.  God is good!

Look at the first passage, 2 Kings 5.1-19.  Sunday night at home church we spoke a lot of healing; physical, emotional, and spiritual healing. Monday morning during my quiet time God gave me two passages of scripture. In the first one, God speaks directly about healing. There are some incredible truths in this passage.

It is a story of a man named Naaman.  Naaman is not just some guy.  He is the commander/general of the army of the king of Syria. While the King declared war, Naaman was the one who went to Israel and conquered every city.  He was a hero to the Syrians but a villain to the people of Israel, God’s people. Catch that last part: a villain, evil, and hated by God’s people.  Yet, God put this man’s name in His book as a testimony to the power of God, His forgiveness, His desire to heal. Naaman, his name in Hebrew meaning ‘pleasantness’, was afflicted with an incurable disease called leprosy.  He was beloved by his country, his soldiers, and his king but could not be very close to any of them or he would give them his very communicable disease.

Naaman owned a slave girl from Israel, who knew of the Prophet Elisha and his ability to call upon God for healing. Naaman grabbed at the chance and took a letter of introduction to the King of Israel, his soldiers, and a vast reward for the prophet.  When he got to Israel the response was not good.  The king of Israel thought this was some plot to attack and kill him.  But Elisha told the king to send Naaman to him so that, it might be widely known that “there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

Naaman had an expectation that this mighty man of God, larger than life, would come out and wave his arms around, maybe touch the leper, and Naaman would be healed, he would pay the prophet for the healing and return home a hero again.  That is not what happened at all.  When he got to Elisha’s door, a servant came out and told him to wash himself 7 times in the river Jordan. What?!?  What kind of prophet was this?  He did not even come out to meet this famous man.  Naaman was enraged. He was so mad, this fake snake charmer would suggest something so dumb, so unexpected, that Naaman started to leave for home, hope for a healing dashed again.  But his men suggested that he do what the prophet’s servant had said. And Naaman did.  And Naaman for the first time in a very long time was truly clean, healed of his disease by the miracle of God’s mighty power, there in a muddy river in a conquered nation.  Finally, Naaman would be able to be touched!  He could eat with other people!  He could take a wife and have children!  Hope was restored for a normal life.  Peace came into the heart of the invading, hated general.

He tried to pay for the healing but Elisha would have none of it.  It was God alone who healed Naaman and one cannot repay God.  Naaman then does something very interesting.  He takes two boxes of Israeli dirt home with him so he can pray on top of the dirt of God’s land everyday. He also asks for forgiveness for when he has to help the King of Syria worship his gods.  Remember Naaman has NEVER done this.  No one could touch Naaman due to his leprosy.  But he can foresee a time when he will have to enter the Syrian god’s temple and bow down with the king. God’s prophet says something unexpected here: “Go in peace.” It is okay with God’s representative that Naaman go into a foreign god’s temple and bow down, because Naaman’s heart is on the one true God.  No leader of any church today that I am aware of would say such a thing.  It was insightful and brilliant of Elisha. God judges the heart.  Naaman’s heart is right: his hope is on the Lord God.  So Naaman is made right.  Doing his duty for his king is okay, even in the temple of another god.

What a story filled with implications for us.  I will expound on those in my next post.

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