Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Expectations and Hope – Biblical Hope

In my opinion, nowhere in the scriptures are we promised physical healing. “By His stripes we are healed” is an absolute when applied to salvation. But never in scripture and definitely not in real life experience is healing an absolute promise when applied to physical healing. If this text was meant to be taken as physical healing then every believer should be healed of every physical ailment. Heart diseases, asthma, allergies, deformities, poor eyesight, hearing loss, stroke, toenail fungus, etc. and it doesn’t say healing is possible if the individual has enough faith. It says “by His stripes.”

It is true, I believe, that the human body is fearfully and wonderfully made. Before sin had its accumulative effect on the universe man might live over nine hundred years. As our environment became more and more devastated by sin the life span of man declined. At some point it seems that God stopped the utter destructional force of sin and limited the life span of man. A Psalm of Moses is Psalm 90. In it Moses indicates this decline and limit. Verse 10 says, “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years.” God is not promising that every human will live to 70 years or only 70-80 years. Moses’ Psalm is to instruct us of God’s eternal existence and man’s temporary existence. Very few people live to be over 100 years old. It appears that God halted the decline and limited the span of human life to an average of 70-80 years. I am glad that in my suffering God has limited my days and it won’t be 900 years!

When the body is treated well and taken care of in a proper way it has a better chance of being what God created it to be. When fed the right nutrients, minerals, and vitamins the immune system will probably be stronger and be more effective in fighting off infection and disease. Still, there are genetics that are part of our lives that have an effect on our health. There is the fact that sin has corrupted our universe and the whole world awaits its redemption. Since we live in this fallen environment it is only reasonable that we will be physically affected by its corruption. It is unreasonable to expect that God would shield all Christians from the fallen environment that man caused to be fallen.

It is a foolish and false expectation to believe that God will always keep the Christian with faith well or heal him if he is sick and assure him of at least 70 years. That’s the kind of expectation that leads to disappointment and disillusionment. That’s the kind of expectation that produces confusion in the Christian community as well as for the non-believer.

Okay, be that as it may, what do we have to hope for? Hope, as I have claimed, is different than expectation. Our hope is in Jesus Christ. Our hope is in the truth of the Word of God. Here are just three of the things chronically ill believers, as well as all believers, can hope for:

1. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Col 1:27) The very presence of Christ is always with me and wherever I am He is present. He is as present in me and with me when I am unable to get out of bed because of illness as He is when I am preaching. His presence is a reality of hope not an existential experience of emotions. The hope of His presence is promised over and over again. “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” (Heb 13:5) Jesus said “I am with you always.” (Matt 28:20) Sick or well the miracle of the New Covenant is not a physical covenant but a spiritual one. The miracle and mystery of Christianity is Emmanuel, God with us. The hope of His presence is an assurance the scriptures give us. “But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” (Rom 8:11)

2. Psalm 39:7 says “My hope is in Thee.” The “Thee” is our Almighty Sovereign God. His sovereignty assures me that all my life is in His control. The Psalm before is a Psalm of David about the fleetingness and vanity of our lives. In God’s eternal sovereignty our lives are transient, temporary, “a mere breath.” Yet, in His sovereignty we are absolutely assured that whatever happens in our lives He can sovereignly use it for good because in His sovereignty He has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son and our Lord, Jesus Christ. In his sovereignty we can trust that He deals with His children through a sovereign hand of love, grace, and mercy. We are not left to suffer without hope as the world suffers. If my suffering is in His plan to conform me to the image of Jesus then my suffering has purpose. I can hold on to His sovereign purpose. I can live with hope in His purpose. “We who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (Heb 6:18-20)

3. Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The hope that we have is not the fairy tales of expectations but the reality of those that that have gone before us. They proved the faithfulness of God even in the lives of those who suffer. The Hall of Faith is highlighted with real people who suffered. People like Abel who was murdered, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Joseph, Moses, and many others. “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Heb 11:37-38) “All these died in faith, without receiving the promises.” (Heb 11:13) These great men and women of faith hoped and “gained approval through their faith.” (11:39) God said through the Prophet Jeremiah “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (29:11) Our hope is nothing less. Did you catch that word towards the end of verse 37, “Afflicted?” Some of these were people just like you and me who suffer from ailments. The most important thing is not whether they received physical healing or not BUT that they “died in the faith!” “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom 15:4)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Hope Does Not Disappoint

When we have unfounded expectations for healing we will ultimately have to reconcile our false beliefs with the truth of God’s Word. Sometimes when expectation meets truth we don’t chose either one but turn our back on both. The one (expectation) has let us down and we don’t really like the truth that faces us. So, we turn our back on both.

Most of the time, this happens because we hid in the shame that accompanies the unmet expectations. Expectations hid in shame. Biblical hope lives in joy.

For the sufferer this distinction is the difference between life and death, peace and turmoil, contentment and confusion, anger and joy. Failed expectations will ultimately produce anger. When we are shame filled believers we are experts at hiding that anger from others and even ourselves. Yet, down deep inside and sometimes not so deep there is a turbulent of anger at the injustice of unmet expectations. A sufferer hears of God healing others and wonders, “Why not me?” Some well meaning Christian friend (like Job’s friends) will blame and shame with a prescription for deeper prayers and more faith. Anger grows. Since, in most Christian circles, anger is considered unspiritual we try our best to hid it while feeling shame because it is there. Expectations are coping mechanisms that prescribe false hope and leaves devastation in their wake. As you can see a vicious cycle is the result of this belief system.

Biblical hope, on the other hand, will ultimately produce real joy. Peter wrote that we are to “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pe 1:13) Hope is an absolute confidence in a personal relationship with the sovereign God Almighty and His ability to love me unconditionally and completely, to always be moving toward me in His goodness, and promises to me eternal life. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of our hope. “Christ Jesus, our hope,. (1 Tim 1:1) Paul’s salutation to the church at Rome was “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Ro 15:13) Now remember that there is a huge difference between joy and happiness. Happiness depends on circumstances. It comes and goes with moments that bring an emotional reaction to certain types of events. Joy is the deep seated reality of the presence and peace of Jesus. Jesus said that He came that we might share in His joy and thus our joy be made full.

In suffering, the scriptures describe Jesus as knowing “the joy set before Him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) A courageous endurance is a virtue born out of a hope that focuses on the future and a steadfast hope that endures the present. Joy is a deep-rooted attitude of the heart and since it lives in reality it can co-exist with physical suffering. “The joy of the LORD is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)

While suffering physically a sufferer may go through a gamut of emotions. Feelings of a loss of control (as if we ever have control), feelings of helplessness, rejection, anger, disappointment, depression, etc. are all normal emotions of the chronic ill. Expectations can co-exist with physical suffering until they are not met. Then the feelings are left to exist in the disillusion that is left.

Since hope is based on truth and truth will always set you free, it (hope) can co-exist with normal feelings of the sufferer. Job said, “Though He slay me, I will hope in Him.” (13:15) Hope does not fail even when facing death. Paul set a sequence in Romans 5: justification by faith equals peace with God; we now stand in grace; knowledge of justification, faith, peace, and grace gives us the ability to exult in our tribulations because we know that they bring about in us a perseverance that produces a proven character; proven character is based in hope. Unlike expectations, “hope does not disappoint.”

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Expectations Produce Confusion

If there is a belief system that projects a God who always wants His children to be healthy then it is reasonable to have an expectation for healing when ill. Although this belief system is very much propagated in large Christian circles today, we all know cases where healing has not come. In these cases we have two options: either God has failed or there is something wrong with the person (which leads back to shame).

In this type of belief system expectations of healing are more times than not met with disappointment at best and disenfranchised at worse. If God does not heal, discouragement is your best results, disillusionment with God is next, and repugnance is just around the corner.

When healing is expected and doesn’t come shame is embedded deeper and a disappointment in God infects the spirit. When shame and disappointment are bred together the results is a lack of trust. If illness is caused by an attack of Satan and his demons and that person is not healed we are left with a God who is too weak to defeat Satan and demons. If illness is a result of personal sinfulness and upon repentance that person is not healed we are left with a God who does not forgive. No matter what causes illness if we always expect God to heal and He fails one time we cannot trust Him, totally.

Job’s friends were of the mindset that the reason Job was suffering was because he somehow had sinned against God. If you read their words of “comfort” to Job you will find blame and shame. The reason is because in their belief system either God was wrong in allowing Job to suffer in his righteousness (and God can’t be wrong) or Job was wrong somewhere in his relationship with God. Their belief system had boxed them in and there was no other way out.

When faced with this belief system some people will hold to the righteousness of God while others will “lose” their faith in God. Some spend a lifetime of suffering in shame while continuing to worship God. Others let the shame turn them away from worshiping God. Yet, in either case it is not God that they are holding on to or departing from. It is their belief system about God. Maybe their belief system is skewed.

The expectation belief system is probably injected into most, if not all, American Christian belief systems. Some are injected with massive doses of expectations and others with minute amounts. I say this because in all walks of Christianity, that I have been around, there is always the prayer and encouragement for healing for the one who is struggling with health issues. We seem to be uncomfortable with the reality that the physical body is an earthen vessel that fails. We are definitely uneasy with the fact “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable….this mortal must put on immortality.” (1 Cor 15:50, 53) If we could live perfectly healthy lives wouldn’t the same outcome of death still await us? And isn’t physical death an outcome of our earthen tent being torn down?

Now, I’m not saying that prayers and encouragement for healing are wrong. I pray for healing every day, for myself and others. But when our every prayer concerning physical health is healing it may indicate a default belief setting about health and healing that can create expectations. To illustrate my point: if the “thorn in the flesh” that Paul experienced in 2 Corinthians 12 was a physical ailment of some kind, he said he prayed for healing three times and God’s answer was to stop praying for healing because His grace was sufficient in Paul’s weakness. Can you imagine Paul in a typical prayer meeting today in America? He might share concerning his “thorn in the flesh” and then might say something like, “Please don’t pray for healing for that would be praying against what God’s desire is for me. Pray that I learn and live out how God’s grace is sufficient in my weakness.”

I think that would probably be a short prayer meeting. We would try to instruct Paul that surely God wants him to be healed so that he could testify of God’s miraculous healing power. Besides that, Paul, just think of how much more you could do for the Lord if you didn’t have this “thorn in the flesh” holding you back.

Since we almost always pray for physical healing might there be at least a subconscious belief system that would lead us to have an expectation of God that might not be of God at all? It seems to me that Biblical hope is totally different than human expectation. Biblical hope is based on the truth of God while human expectation is based on a belief system that has been formulated about God. In some cases, in my life, I have discovered that it is like the difference between the person of Jesus in the Gospels (truth) and the Pharisees (my belief system about God). The truth confronts my beliefs and hope confronts my expectations.

Biblical hope is a deep faith in Who God is regardless of what happens. Expectations live in a lie, make believe world, fantasy. Hope lives in reality and truth. Hope is founded on the assurance of truth. Expectation is founded on what I want to happen. Hope produces faith. Expectations produce confusion.

Hang with me on these thoughts. Comments are welcome.

More to come later.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Expectations and Hope -- Suffering is not Shameful

Over the next few post I will be looking at the difference between expectations and hope as they relate to suffering. This came out of a personal devotion time that turned into a group devotion time on the deck of Roger and Bonnie Hayslip’s in Golden, Colorado. Involved in the devotional think tank with me were Estela, Roger and Bonnie along with their son Brandon, and Dave and Luanne Hook. Since Bonnie and I suffer from chronic ailments this devotional time with lots of input really helped us both. I will not try to remember or give credit to who said what. Just know that all this came from all involved.

Proverbs 10:28 seems to be a good theme verse for this devotion. “The hope of the righteous is gladness, But the expectation of the wicked perishes.”

Suffering is not Shameful

Shame is the underlying foundational emotional motivator of humankind. It is my belief that shame is the first negative emotion spurned by sin in the Garden of Eden. Before sin, man and woman were naked and not ashamed. The first thing after sinning they saw their nakedness in a new knowledge and hid their nakedness with fig leaves. It seems to me that the new knowledge created a shameful feeling and a response to try to cover their shame in hiding. God covered their shame by sacrificing an innocent animal and making clothes out of the animal skin. Yet, shame is still skin deep in mankind.

When a Christian suffers, particularly from health issues, it is built into their sin nature to feel a sense of shame. Why am I suffering? What did I do that was so bad that I have to go through this suffering? Is this punishment? Am I being disciplined by God? I must be a bad seed. Somehow, I know I’m to blame for this.

The patron saint of suffering is Job. The Bible says “Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.” (Job 3:1) Job cried out, “Have I sinned? What have I done to You, O watcher of men? Why have You set me as Your target, So that I am a burden to myself?” (7:20) “I loathe my own life.” (10:1) “I am a joke to my friends.” (12:4) “I am one at whom men spit.” (17:6)

Yes, Job stayed true and faithful but can you hear the shame in his voice. When suffering there is not only the battle of physical health, but also there is the battle of shame and faith. It’s as if shame and faith are the two sides of the same coin. Some days you flip it and it comes up shame. Other times it comes up faith.

The shame of sin was temporarily covered by God in the Garden with an animal skin. In Christ not only have we been clothed in an eternal covering but we have been “crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom 5:6) Shame is the result of sin and results in the death spoken of in Genesis 1-3. So, when Paul speaks of the believer continuing in sin he says “what benefit were you then deriving from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the outcome of those things is death. But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” (Ro 6:21-22) Jesus’ word to the church at Laodicea is “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed” (Rev 3:18)

“Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:1) The cause of shame has been eradicated on the Cross and, now, though there is still a battle within, shame is a lie of the Devil. We are to live our lives “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:2) He bore the shame so we don’t have to.

So, I’ll say it again, there is no shame in suffering for the Christian. Sometimes we do things that are shameful for a Christian to do but God does not shame us. God does not shame us because Christ died once for all and it was totally completely absolutely perfectly utterly sufficient. The scriptures say that if someone who has been saved were able to lose his salvation it would be “impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.” (Heb 6:6) If that be the case, it seems to me, that if God shamed those who have already been saved from sin and shame He, too, would be saying that what Jesus did on the Cross was not sufficient to totally completely absolutely perfectly utterly save that person.

“Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom 5:1) When there is peace there is no shame. If you’re a believer who is suffering and have a twinge of shame realize that feeling is not from God. There is a peace, contentment, in the presence of the Lord. Thus, peace in the midst of suffering can be experienced as we recognize the fact that the Lord is present in the suffering. He has not forsaken us. He has not left us to suffer without Him. There is no shame in suffering for the Christian.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In The Waiting Room

As I write this I’m setting in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. I hate to wait! When we go to a doctor’s office they have a waiting room. That should be our first indicator that we are here not to see the doctor but to wait. And wait we do. Why? Because we believe there is something of value worth waiting for.

Sometimes when we want something or trying to determine the outcome of something we say, “Well, we’ll just have to wait and see.” There again we must wait. I hate waiting!

Life is full of waiting. We can’t wait to grow up. We can’t wait to get married. We can’t wait to go to college. We can’t wait to express to that special someone how much we love him/her. We can’t wait to get that big break that’s going to make us wealthy or famous. We can’t wait to retire. Yet, what we do is wait….wait…wait…and wait some more.

There are no fewer than eleven times that the psalmist instructs us to “wait on the Lord.” In the New Testament our waiting seems to be in relation to the return of Christ:

1 Cor 4:5
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
Phil 3:20
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;
James 5:7
Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains.
Jude 21
keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.

One of the things Jesus told His disciples while they waited in the Garden was to “Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Watch for what? Pray for what? Like the disciples sometimes I sleep while I’m waiting. Other times I like to watch people while I’m waiting. People watching is a great non-exertion sport. Sometimes I watch TV while I’m waiting. Somehow I don’t think that is exactly what Jesus had in mind when He said “watch and pray.” Most of the time while I’m waiting I just grow increasingly impatient and agitated because of what I might be doing if I weren’t waiting.

Maybe one of the things Jesus meant is to watch and pray for an opportunity to benefit and bless others. Sometimes I think He means for me to watch my attitude and pray that I surrender all to Him in every situation. Other times it may be that He means for me to watch and pray as I look toward the future. Maybe I’m to wacth and pray for knowledge and wisdom to deal with whatever it is I’m waiting for.

To watch and pray while we wait means to stay alert and conscious of the presence and communication of God. We are to stay aware of the ever increasing imminent return of our Lord. “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them.” (Lk. 12:36-37)

In an awareness of His sovereignty we are to stay alert of His return. We are to watch and pray while we wait for our King to return. I don’t think that means don’t sleep, don’t watch tv, don’t read magazines, don’t people watch, etc. But I do think it means always have in mind that He is coming again and it could be now.

After Jesus returns there will be no more waiting. The waiting room will no longer exist. Some people are waiting for something before they turn to Jesus. They’re waiting until they get through sowing their wild oats. Maybe they’re waiting on a spouse to change before they surrender all to the Lord. Sometimes waiting is necessary and other times it is just foolish and stubborn. Waiting can sometimes be self-inflected by ignoring what is at hand.

Yet, the thing about waiting is that it can be over at any second. When your name is called the waiting time is finished. The waiting time is decision time. All of us will someday hear our name called and we will go the way of death. Not a single one of us will escape it. Waiting time is preparation time. Accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior is the only thing that will prepare you to face life after death. If you haven’t done that before your name is called it’s too late. Oh, wait, they just called my name. No more waiting.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Joy of Discovery

As I reflect back to Christmas morning, I think of the faces of our four grand kids as they unwrapped their presents. As is our family tradition, we gathered together on Christmas morning and read of the birth of our Savior from the Gospel of Luke. Then we turned the kids loose on their gifts.

Filled with anticipation and excitement they would tear the wrapping paper off to discover what’s inside. Their eyes would light up, their mouths and faces would be descriptive of their discovery. There was no fear of the wrapping. They were not afraid of what was inside. There was no hesitation in opening their gifts. Why? Because they knew that the hands that wrapped them were hands of love.

Christian growth in life is a little like that. Our lives are wrapped up with the wrappings of sin and self, hiding and protecting ourselves from being discovered. Sometimes the wrapping looks all pretty and admirable, and sometimes not so pretty.

Those who are afraid to unwrap their lives probably fear that inside they will find condemnation, punishment, and shame. Yet, the hands that wrapped us up into the person that we are were hands of love. As a believer, inside, we will always discover more of Jesus and more of His mercy, love, and grace.

Most of us, most of the time, just try to make the packages look nice. Wrap it all up and put a bow on it. Put new wrappings on ourselves so we look good and feel better about ourselves. Most of our lives are spent rearranging the packages under the tree but never having Christmas morning. Never opening the packages to find the gifts. How sad!

Every time I tear off another layer of wrapping in my life I find more of Jesus and His grace inside. Why do I fear the wrappings or fear tearing them off to discover the gift? Everyday is Christmas when we discover that the gift inside is always Jesus.

1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love."

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are You Prepared

The National Weather Service tells us that the height of tornadoes season is March through June. Meteorologist recommend that every household have a plan and a preparedness kit in the case of tornado activity. "It doesn’t have to be springtime, you’ve got to be ready no matter what," one meteorologist said. The plan should entail where you will go if a tornado is coming your way. Will you go to a safe room, underground shelter, community shelter, or the most interior room in your house? Your preparedness kit should contain at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food, a battery operated radio or television, flashlights, blankets, shoes, and a set of car keys. These specialist recommend that the time to make your plan and prepare your kit is before the storm hits.

It probably is a good thing to be prepared for the storm even if the storm never hits home. You might live you whole life and never be the victim of a tornado (even in Oklahoma). Yet, better to be safe than sorry.

Though you may or may not experience a storm up close and personal, one thing for sure, you will experience the storms of life up close and personal. Most likely you will experience death and you will certainly experience some kind of life after. The Scriptures tell us that every person needs to have the plan and be prepared for life here and life after. Jesus tells us the plan, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me." Through His life we can be prepared for this life and the life after. Peter tells us the prophets of old looked into this salvation by grace. Now that it has been revealed to us we can get our preparedness kit ready. It is to consist of "gird your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ."

If the grace that has saved us and that we now live in is soooo amazing, . . . I guess words can not describe the next stage of grace we will encounter. Well, I guess there is one word. Heaven!