The day before yesterday, I read a recently released report out of University of Missouri on the subject of Facebook Depression.
Well, as you will hear in this PODCAST, I really didn’t need to read a report about that. I know all-too-well what happens in my own rather sizable soul when I scan my FB newsfeed. Sometimes I just can’t help but to feel so deeply and compassionately and sadly for many of the challenges so many of my friends are going through, especially as they relate to their issues of health.
I, like so many of you, just want to wave a magical wand and fix everything. But I can’t.
Of course, as the cliché goes, I do know Someone (capital “S”) who Can.Fix.Everything.
But what happens when He doesn’t?
Perhaps amplifying my FB depression, this was the week for “I don’t know if I believe in God anymore” messages. Messages sent to me by a few of my friends, unsolicited on my part, each message unrelated to the others, in which their faith is floundering, seriously so. This precisely because they have things broken in lives, significantly so. Yet despite their cries and pleas to the Almighty Who — as that name for God so powerfully suggests — has the power to fix it all. But He didn’t. He doesn’t.
Now what? What does a person do when, in their moment of greatest need, it appears that God is either…
- Silent or indifferent or deaf to their pleas…
- Appears to be powerless to fix it all?
And so, in the lives of some of my friends, faced with a seemingly silent/indifferent and/or powerless God, their faith in God is in a free-fall.
I say all of that so that you know that I take this podcast’s
passage in Matthew 10 Ever.So.Seriously.
Tonight’s discussion hits me Ever.So.Personally.
And so I will endeavor to bring to this discussion Ever.So.Compassionately the understanding of what it’s like to have one’s faith collapse.
Because it’s simply a fact that, despite the title of the runaway bestseller that just celebrated its 30th anniversary with a rerelease of a 30th Anniversary Edition — the book entitled He Is There and He Is Not Silent — for many of my friends, just when they needed Him the most, from all outward appearances God was NOT there and He was deafeningly silent.
Why so silent? It all comes down to what you will hear in this podcast.
Let’s start out by reading Matthew 10:8. This is what Jesus told His men:
“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”
I have so many people, many of whom I know personally, had their once slightly burning faith now flicker and fade and perhaps be extinguished all together. It all comes down to this. Here is the problem that I will try to correct: misguided expectations that are based on faulty Biblical interpretations.
Okay? Did you hear that? That is a key sentence.
All of this: the three people who wrote me this week, I don’t know if I believe in God anymore, all for the same underlying reason. It is not all health related (one of them was), but crying out to God and he’s not there. But, all of it because of misguided expectations based on faulty biblical interpretations. So, what I want to do is properly interpret Matthew 10:8 and related verses and then help us, based upon correct biblical interpretation, to calibrate our expectations – What it is we expect God to do.
Okay, so what in the world is going on here in Matthew 10?
Let me just briefly remind you. Jesus was soundly and roundly and irrevocably rejected in His adopted hometown of Capernaum and His boyhood hometown of Nazareth. He went to both and they ran Him out of town. In the face of such a heartbreaking backlash, Mark’s account says this: “Jesus went from village to village teaching the people.” Having nowhere else to go, now, basically homeless as Jesus would describe it, because He’s been run out off Capernaum which was His home for two years and then returning home to Nazareth, they ran Him out of there. Jesus, not having anywhere else to go, went from village to village teaching the people. And, as we discussed in some detail last week, this was the supreme example of Jesus’ unconditional love for people. Because these are people who rejected Him, but He did not reject them. In the face of this rejection, Matthew 9:36, Jesus looked upon the masses of people flooding the streets, not only in Capernaum and Nazareth, but throughout the land and His heart was bursting with enormous compassion.
Call it Facebook depression if you like, because Jesus saw as he looked at those people, He saw people who were harassed, helpless, weary, confused and bewildered. Quite the opposite of Jesus rejecting those who rejected Him; Jesus pursued them, intently so, from village to village to village. All the more intently, all the more compassionately, all the more lovingly, all the more graciously, He pursued them just like He pursues us.
Given the fact that Jesus’ time was now growing short, now, they are talking about killing Him. He knows His days are numbered. He knows that He is headed for a cross and that is unavoidable. So, hearing that ticking clock and given the fact that He needed to prepare His men for that coming day when he would pass the baton, and they would become His first generation of leaders, and knowing that it was an insurmountable objective to visit every single village in the Holy Land, we come to Chapter 10. Jesus is preparing His men. He is going to send them out on their first missions trip. In Matthew 10 we read his classroom lecture. This is how He prepares His men to go out as His representatives, as a part of their training, to visit village by village and to preach the message the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.
That is the background of Matthew 10.
Then we come to this. Matthew 10:1. This is where things get a little bit dicey.
“When He had called His twelve disciples to Him Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.”
Jesus had the power and He conferred upon them the power. That is verse one and then in verse eight, Jesus instructed His men to: “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.”
But, what happens when He doesn’t?
Knowing He has the power to… what happens when He doesn’t?
I know that health concerns are right up there with concerns about money, those are probably the one and two things that we worry about the most. In many, many cases our concerns about health actually eclipse our concerns about money.
Why do I say that?
Our personal health is of such prime importance to so many of us that I would imagine that if you and I were given the choice, most of us would chose to be healthy and poor rather than to be chronically sick and rich. Is that a fair conclusion? It is certainly backed up by the numbers out of the year 2013. Did you know that three out of five bankruptcies in this country are due to mounting debts accruing from unpaid medical bills. Which means that people are willing to spend themselves into bankruptcy if that is what it takes to get healthy. Even though for so many of us – like the woman who had the flow of blood for twelve years who spent every penny she had on every doctor she could find, and they only made her worse – going into bankruptcy is no guarantee that you and I are going to get our health back.
I understand the desperation behind that. I know that getting sick is no fun. I know that staying sick or having to live with a chronic health issue of some kind is even less fun. I understand that. Then, add to that that the prospect of dying is for the overwhelming majority of people in this country, and I would suspect even in the church, is an “avoid death / prolong life at all costs” proposition.
Isn’t that how so many of us view this unpleasant topic of dying?
We cling to life with white knuckled tenacity and it’s an avoid death and prolong life at all costs. I’ve been involved in the church for enough years, and I have read on Facebook enough, to know that when it comes to people’s prayer requests the overwhelming majority of prayer request that come my way are health related. And I think that is nearly universal. It’s certainly been true whenever I’ve been in a Bible study or a small group or just a gathering informal of friends or whatever.
There are those requests for help my marriage, I need a job… but the overwhelming majority is a health issue, either for the person who is requesting the prayer or they know of someone that they are praying for.
Okay, so here is the deal. With all of the advances in medical technology today, as well as in pharmacology, meaning medications, so many people today have the expectation that there ought to exist a procedure or an operation or a drug that should heal anything.
We have an expectation of health.
Given the enormous sums of money that are spent today in medical research, surely there is something our doctors can do. For Christians, we have a safety net under that, because we believe whatever a doctor cannot cure God surely can cure. Which I agree with 100%. God can. But when that little word “can” is changed to “will”, the expectation that God will cure this, we have set ourselves up for a disastrous outcome.
I don’t know if I believe in God anymore.
So, let me be the first to affirm with every ounce of conviction within me, this is what I believe: I believe that God can do whatever he wants whenever he wants with whomever he wants. I believe that. I believe that God can indeed heal anyone of anything at any time. But therein lies the problem. Because I also equally believe that he doesn’t.
Macy’s buried six people today. Count them; six funerals today. Between today, tomorrow, and Monday, six more families are coming in to plan future services for loved ones who died within the last forty-eight hours.
Even in light of versus like Matthew 10:8 where Jesus instructed His apostles, “Heal the sick.”
I have had people leave churches wherein I have preached for making this statement I’m about to make to you. I’m just warning you. There are people who will say I cannot abide a pastor who actually believes this, but this is what I believe. God does not today heal everyone of everything every time even though Jesus did.
God does not today heal everyone of everything every time even though Jesus did.
That is what I believe. It is not because of a lack of faith. It is because of an understanding of the Bible.
Let me bring some much needed clarity to this issue, if I can, and some measure of comfort to those whom I know need desperately God’s healing touch in their lives. Even more than God’s healing touch in their bodies and in their souls. Let me approach this issue from this perspective.
If I stepped out of this room tonight into the parking lot to bright lights, camera crew, camera rolling, hot microphone, and the camera crew stopped me and asked me: “What is the one passage of scripture from which you have derived the greatest amount of comfort?”
That is quite a question.
“Of all the of the passages in the Bible what is the one passage from which you have derived the greatest amount of comfort?” I wouldn’t even have to hesitate. I know how I would answer that instantly. I would say, “Philippians 4.” If I was on a deserted island shipwrecked and a waterlogged Bible came floating by and I grabbed it and the whole thing fell apart and I only had one page in my grasp I would want it to be Philippians 4.
That could sustain me.
In the context of tonight’s discussion you could call this God’s theology of healing. Though it isn’t healing specific, it goes way beyond that. This is a broad based principal, but it certainly applies to this topic of healing. What I want to do is, I want to read you the pertinent passages. I am going to read Philippians 4:6 and 7 and then I am going to read versus 10 to 13 and I am going to read them out of The New Living Translation.
Having read them to you I then want to give you one of my expanded paraphrases of these passages. Done it on rare occasions before, extended paraphrase where I take the words and I try to give it the sense that the original readers would have understood. Given the meaning of the words that Paul chose, given the culture of the time, the background of the passage, etc., bringing all of that to the passage, filling in those gaps for you and me living ten time zones away and a good two thousand years later.
How would they have understood it if Paul wrote it today to us how would he write it.
Again, this is not specific to healing, but it certainly applies. I want you to keep in mind as I read this that Paul wrote these words while in prison. That is why it is called one of the “Prison Epistles”, a prison from which, in spite of the pleas of so many Christians and so many churches back then for Paul’s release.
Do you have any idea how many people Paul knew throughout the greater Mediterranean Word and how many were united in prayer pleading with God that the apostle would be released? Because certainly he’d be much more valuable to the work of God out of prison than in prison. Yes, so it must be God’s will. And they begged God, pleaded with God, and at the time of this writing God had not released him and to be perfectly honest with you, as far as Paul was concerned, he was in a prison from which likely he would never be released which makes these words all the more remarkable.
“Don’t worry about anything. Instead prayer about everything.”
That sounds almost cliché’, but then he explains it:
“Tell God what you need and thank Him for all that He has done. Then, you will experience God’s peace. Which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
May I suggest to you that that is the Holy Grail of victorious Christian living. To experience God’s peace. The whole reason that God introduced this concept of prayer, the whole reason that you and I are commanded to prayer about everything, the outcome that God intended for prayer is His peace. Not necessarily that He will change our circumstances the way we are pleading with Him to, but that His peace will flood our lives. Because no matter what you and I are going through, if we have His peace we can endure it all. Even in a Roman prison, if we have His peace. That is the answer to prayer.
I was taught as you may have been taught to keep a little prayer journal. Split the page in half, two columns, on the one side write down the prayer request, on the other side write down the date when God answers it. Then, we keep track. You’re praying for the new job, you’re praying for the car you need, you’re praying for a financial need, you’re praying for a health issue, you’re praying for a wayward child… And we write down the date when we get the job, get the car, get the money, the child comes home, whatever.
That is not the answer to prayer for which God designed prayer.
The answer to prayer for which God designed it is this: His peace floods our lives whether or not we get the car, the money, the job, a child comes home. His peace. That is what it’s all about. That’s the answer.
Now, versus 10 to 13. This is part where Paul, in the letter, specifically thanks the church in Philippi for a very sacrificial yet generous financial gift that they sent him. The whole book, the whole letter of Philippians is a thank you letter. I know that this underscores a principal about money or the lack thereof, but it also transfers equally to our possession or loss of personal health. Same principles apply whether it’s money or health. Okay? Here is what Paul wrote,
“How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need for I have learned how to be content.”
That is huge.
That is the way I read it in response to help because he talks about not just money now, but every situation.
“I have learned the secret of living in every situation whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or with little for I can do everything through Christ who gives me the strength.”
That’s how it reads in The New Living Translation, but as the saying goes, it always loses something in the translation. There are things the original readers understood that we may not and so I have taken that and I want to expand it now to give you the full, it’s kind of like taking a two dimensional picture and making it 3D if I can. Or, it’s sort of like taking an analog recording and making it digital or if I can take a black and white photo and make it color. My expanded paraphrase of each of those passages. Just listen and think about health, sickness as I read this.
Now, concerning your many problems, let me encourage you to do what I do. Over time I have actually trained myself not to worry about anything, but rather to pray about everything. I share with God everything; my joys and sorrows, my victories and my defeats, my thrills along with my spills, everything. Every time I do, He answers my prayers. Not necessarily by giving me whatever I want, no. No loving parent would do that. Not an earthly father nor certainly our heavenly father. He does something so much better. He floods my soul with His peace. The quiet contentment and the calm assurance that in the end everything is going to be okay. I can’t explain it. It is in every sense of the word a miracle of God’s touch, but especially during those times when I should be freaking out. It’s like God whispers to me in that wee small voice of His, “Hey, Paul, I’m here. I know what you’re going through. I’ve got this. Okay? I’m on top of it. I’ve got your back. I will fix this in my own way and in my own time so relax.” Yes, that’s it. By His grace and because of His grace I have learned how mentally and emotionally to relax.
That is Philippians 4:6 through 7. Now, verses 10 to 13:
To each of my many friends in Philippi, I wish I could put into words how much God has used you to flood my soul with His joy. I know that you think of me often. Your prayerful concern has sustained me in ways you cannot even imagine. Now, your sacrificial support of my ministry is the icing on the cake. Thank you dear church in Philippi for your generous financial gift. It’s not just that you met my needs financially, yes, you certainly did that, but you’ve done so much more. You see, over the years God has helped me develop the character quality of contentment. Contentment, it hasn’t been easy. Yes, there have been times when my needs were more than met, but at other times I have had to do without some things. Nevertheless, whether I have been well fed or starving, whether I am overwhelmed with God’s bountiful supply or struggling to get by day by day by day, Jesus has given me the inner strength to be content knowing that my life is in His hands.
I can do this through Christ and only through Christ who gives me the strength. The strength that I need to be content even while I am trapped here in this Roman prison. That being said I am profoundly grateful to you and to God that during this difficult time you have chosen to shoulder the burden with me.
You see why if I was on a deserted island and I had one page of scripture to hold onto Philippians 4 would be enough?
Okay, so why have I taken this seemingly circuitous route to get to Matthew 10?
I’ll be perfectly honest with you why. Because I feel reluctant to say what needs to be said. This gives me no joy to say this. I do not want to rob anyone of hope. I want to give you hope. I want to inspire you to hope. If you hear this right and if I can say it right it will do just that. Hope, to me, if it is to be lasting and at all meaningful, has to be based on truth not empty promises that God never made.
Jesus did indeed give these instructions to His apostles: Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.
Jesus gave those instructions to His apostles. He did not and does not give these instructions to His servants today. I am sorry, but He doesn’t. This instruction was clearly, if you were here last week this may ring a bell, this instruction was time specific to the apostles. It was not a timeless instruction applicable to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Why do I say that? Because the Bible says that.
Now, hear me. This is where I’ve lost people. They’ve written me off, and so be it. I can’t help it. I didn’t write the Bible. I just try to understand the Bible.
We are not, today, living in an age of miracles.
If you read the Bible from cover to cover, Genesis to Revelation, there were periods in history that were very rare, very brief, very specific that were ages of miracles. The time of Elijah comes to mind. Certainly the time of Jesus and the apostles, but they were not the norm. They were rare, a specific time. It had a definite beginning and a definite end and it was for a specific purpose that I will share with you in a moment.
Now, I want you to hear me correctly. I am not saying that God does not heal today, he does. He does. Can God heal? Of course He can. This is not to say that God cannot do miracles today. He can and He does. He can do whatever He wants.
But, miracles today are the rare exception. They are not the norm. When Jesus was here they were the norm. He went into a village and he banished illness. He emptied out the hospitals. He emptied out the funeral homes.
Now there is a prospective presidential candidate who held a prayer summit two weeks ago. On the platform was a woman who claims to have been given the power by God to raise the dead. If that is true, please God let her hear this podcast so she can hear the cry of my heart. Where were you today? Why did I have to do the splits in the mud if you could have come to the cemetery and raise the dead? Where were you today?
Now, can God raise the dead? God can do whatever He wants.
But, that is not the norm. I’m sorry. That is not because I don’t have enough faith. It is not because the dear people weeping at the funerals today didn’t have enough faith. It is because God said, “It is an appointment that I have set for every one of you. You will die.” It is to say that I for one do not nor will not hold God hostage to the faulty expectation based upon an errant interpretation of the Bible that He will or must perform a miracle for me today.
He can if He wants, but He doesn’t have to and I am not going to force Him to.
Now, to put this as personally and as gently as I can, loaded up with all kinds of heartfelt compassion: I am old enough now and I’ve been around the block enough to know that people get sick. I get sick. I also know that people die and I know that I will die. I get that. It is the nature of life down here. I need not lose my faith when sickness and or death occurs.
When Jesus was here and the apostles were here, as I said, miracles were the norm. Healings were the norm. Jesus did indeed banish disease from the villages He visited. He did empty the morgues.
Why did Jesus empty the morgues and heal diseases from the villages and why did he give the apostles the ability to do that? I will let the apostle Paul answer that question. His own credentials as an apostle were under attack. There were those who were saying that Paul was a phony, they were trying to discredit him. And so Paul wrote this in the Book of Second Corinthians, explaining why the Apostles and Jesus had that power:
“When I was in with you, I certainly gave you proof that I am an apostle. For I patiently did many signs and wonders and miracles among you.”
That is why. To prove his credentials as an apostle.
That is why Jesus performed miracles. That is why He gave His apostles at the dawn of a new Apostolic age, to perform miracles. This is how the writer in the Book of Hebrews put it in Hebrews 2:
“How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation. This salvation which was first announced by Jesus, and confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed to His will.”
That’s how he established their credentials as apostles: by signs, wonders, various miracles. It was a new day featuring a new message brought by new messengers authenticated by signs and wonders. The purpose of which was to establish undeniably that these men were sent by and spoke for God. Understanding that, I want you to answer a few questions for me.
Don’t you find this fascinating? When the Apostle James was martyred in Acts 12, killed by Herod, none of the other apostles raised him from the dead. Why not? Don’t you find that fascinating? Nor did they raise Stephen from the dead. Remember when he got stoned? Even though in Acts 9, Peter raised Tabatha from the dead. Stephen was killed in Acts 8, James was killed in Acts 12, between those two chapters, Peter raises Tabatha from the dead, but not James and not Stephen. What if they were your husband, or son, or dad? Would that cause you a crisis of faith? Why would they raise Tabatha, but not James or Stephen?
Would you send an email message or a private Facebook message to a pastor saying I don’t know if I believe I God anymore because despite my prayers He let James die? Don’t you think the church prayed for James release? Couldn’t they have raised Stephen from the dead?
Meaning what? Meaning that God does whatever He wants, when He wants, to whom He wants. To quote the writer to the Hebrews, “according to His will”.
Somebody might ask, and it’s a fair question, “Why would God will James – in the prime of his life, at the beginning of the church – to die?”
I don’t know. I have no idea. It makes no sense to me.
If I was writing the script, James and Stephen would live long and productive lives. They didn’t. I don’t know why and the Bible doesn’t answer the question. It doesn’t even raise the question. Isn’t it amazing that when Paul’s close friend, Aphroditus in Philippines 2, fell deathly ill Paul could not heal him? Isn’t it amazing that Jesus healed the blind repeatedly and yet the apostle Paul wrote to the churches in Galatia and said this:
“I am sure that you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. See with what large letters I have written to you with my own hand?”
The guy was legally blind. The Apostle Paul. Do you think it sparked a crisis of faith when God didn’t heal Paul of his poor eyesight? Jesus could have done it without breaking a sweat and any of the apostles had that power.
Why in the world would God will for Paul to be virtually blind to the point where his letters were written by stenographers? Why didn’t God heal him?
Meaning what? Meaning that God does whatever He wants, when He wants and to whom He wants then and now.
Or, how about this? In Galatians 4:
“Do you remember the first time I preached the good news to you? I was sick. I was sick and I know my illness was a hardship to you. But, you never drew back from me or scorned me. You cared for me as if I were a heavenly messenger of God.”
Nobody could heal Paul.
Meaning what? Meaning that God does whatever He wants, when He wants to whom He wants then and now and we are okay with that.
I wish you could feel what I’m feeling now as I say it. My heart is broken because I read these things all of the time in the lives of people I really care deeply about. I say this to them with a hug wanting to hold them close, God doesn’t owe us an answer. I can say this to you. I couldn’t say it anywhere else to anyone else. It has never been for me a crisis of faith when somebody dies. I understand that. I accept that.
What has almost been a crisis of faith for me, is why there are some people who never die.
I mean the world would be a much better place without them and they keep going and going and going. I am not saying that lightly. I’m saying that in light of a week where we watched a guy in a cage be burned to death. I got to wonder why before they lit that trail of gasoline leading up to the guy. Do you know that his wife heard about it on Facebook?
Now, if I was running the universe (you think it’s screwed up now?) there’d be a lightning bolt that would have hit that guy with the torch long before he touched it to the gasoline. Now, I know you needed to laugh and I wanted you to laugh, but I’m not entirely saying that tongue in cheek. God can graduate anyone He wants to Heaven, but there are some people on this planet. Why do they just keep living? Do you know how many assassination attempts Hitler survived?
Anyway, He does not owe me an explanation for that. The thing is this, there are numbers of well meaning, sincere and desperately hurting people who will claim for themselves or for those whom they deeply love. I have the faith to believe that God will heal me or I have the faith to believe that God will heal you. I’ve seen that happen so many times and what it does is it inflates somebody’s hope and it results in people holding God hostage to a pattern that He never set and a promise that He never made and an expectation He never intended and an outcome that may well be outside of His perfect will which makes me so sad because invariably it results in Facebook depression. Because God doesn’t come through, despite the vision that somebody in the church had. Not to mention that that kind of talk places God in a position unenviable that it is of having to disappoint somebody daily, people that He loves. Because somebody, and I understand they want to give comfort and they want to give hope and so they will say, “God showed me today that He is going to heal you”, and it doesn’t happen.
Okay, so listen to me as somebody who deeply loves you. God will not always respond to our prayers with miracles of healing, but He always will respond to our prayers with the greatest miracle of all and that is the healing of our troubled hearts, of our pain racked souls, by giving us His grace to live in His peace.
That’s the Holy Grail and I’ll tell you what, because I’ve been on both sides of this equation, I would rather be sick with His peace than healthy without it. To experience His contentment, to find rest for our battered souls, no matter how desperate our circumstances or those of our loved ones may be. That is God’s promise. He won’t always fix our bodies, but He will always fix our souls.
To quote Paul again, and we’ll bring it to an end:
“I share with God everything. Everything, and every time I do He answers my prayers. Not necessarily by giving me whatever I want, no. He does something so much better; He floods my soul with His peace. The quite contentment and the calm assurance that in the end everything is going to be okay.”
I can’t explain it. It is in every sense of the word a miracle of God’s touch and I would add a miracle that God does today, but especially during those times when I should be freaking out it is like God whispers to me in that wee small voice of His, “Hey, I am here. I know what you’re going through. You are not alone. I’ve got this, okay? I’m on top of it. I will fix this in my own way, in my own time, so relax.”
Relax and let God be God