Saturday, November 25, 2017

Healing is not a miracle. It’s the plan.

Jesus went about the countryside healing and preaching. He didn’t just work miracles, without telling people about God. He didn’t just preach long sermons, without showing people what the power of God could do in their lives. Healing and teaching went together for Jesus. His plan was simple enough. One way or another, he was going to reach out and touch as many people as he could. That would have been an amazing thing to experience for yourself. As a child I often tried to imagine what it would have been like to have been seated near Jesus on a hillside and listen to him teach. What would it have been like, I wondered, if I had been one of those he had touched? What if? Nowadays it’s kind of funny. I wonder about something else. Now I wonder what it would have been like if Jesus had not reached out and touched me, and healed me. I don’t think about what I have missed by not living 2000 years ago. Now I ask myself, “What if I had missed out on his healing touch over the last few years?” For my friends, I have found that Jesus is still healing people as he did so long ago. As we say here over and over: what God did before, he continues to do. God has not stopped being God. His plans have not changed. His love has not dwindled. His reach has not been shortened with the ages. You have not yet missed out on what God can offer you.   

Our most basic need is to be known and loved, not for the things we have done or been able to achieve, but just for who we are. As author Francis MacNutt says, “If anyone does not yet know God’s love in this way, Jesus eagerly desires to show you he cares by healing you of any old wounds that have withered or broken your heart.” [Healing p. 154] If that sounds like you, if you’re still carrying the pain of past wounds, if your heart has withered and is not nearly as large or joyful as it has been or could be, then you are the person God wants to be here. He eagerly desires to have you accept the healing and wholeness he offers you here and now. 

There are so many stories of healing in the Bible. It can seem like the Bible is rivaled only by the tabloid newspaper accounts of miraculous healings and Elvis sightings, or those TV evangelist broadcasts where people throw down their crutches and dance around. Where else do you hear about healings? The church has often overlooked the whole topic in favor of political activism or religious fervor. Then there are those people who see healing as unscientific. Scientific-minded folk wonder whether or not Jesus truly healed people. He did not use medicine; he had no formal training. For instance, there is no outside evidence to confirm that you can actually cure a man’s blindness by spitting in the dirt, making clay, and placing it on someone’s face. More recent clinical attempts at doing this have not had the same results. It would be easy to discount these healing stories as legends that grew up over time to make Jesus appear more powerful than he was, were it not for one major obstacle. Healing was never something extra Jesus did in order to gather a crowd. Most often he healed people after he preached, not before … to confirm his message more than to catch people’s attention. Healing was not something extra, as if we could cut out all references to miracles in the Bible and get back to the real thing Jesus came to tell us about.  Sure, people have tried that one.  Thomas Jefferson took a knife and actually cut up his Bible to take out the things he thought were unscientific. If you ever see a Jefferson Bible in the local Barnes and Noble, that’s what you’ll get … a rational Jesus with no pretensions to anything other than speaking engagements about the value of service and peace and brotherhood. Only, healing was not something extra Jesus did. It was all part of the original plan.

When John the Baptist was in prison, waiting to be executed, he sent his followers to ask Jesus one last time, “Are you the one?” Imagine Jesus as Neo from the Matrix movies, only without the shades and the black leather duster … “He’s the one” they keep saying. Well, John wanted to know. He had been waiting and waiting for Jesus to step up and start his ministry. He had long watched and waited for God to act. He knew Jesus was the Messiah.  His question is more of a challenge to Jesus to get started. “What about it, Jesus? How long will you wait?” Here’s the answer Jesus gave them to take back to John: “Tell John what you see … the power of God is present here and people are being made whole, and everyone is being given the Good News of God’s power to save.”  After all, that was the plan.  Even Jesus’s name tells you that. The name “Jesus” is made up of two Hebrew words and is most often translated as “God saves.”  However, the word translated as saves here also means heals. Saving and healing are not two different things to God. They are part of the same deal – and it all starts as God touches your heart. Jesus did not use his power for himself, but only to reach others … he revealed his power in tender moments as he reached out to touch others, to heal, all with the hope of saving them. He still does – Jesus reaches out to touch you today in order to heal you and make you whole.  That’s his plan. But it’s only the start of the plan.

It’s an amazing thing to feel God’s touch. It gives you the strength and courage you need to get up and get going, in fact to leave behind your old life and to live with a new confidence, a new spirit. Once upon a time, a jogger was out after work running through his small town.  Since it was getting rather dark, he decided to take a short cut back to his house through the local cemetery.  It was kind of dark by now, and without a lot of street lights near the cemetery, he didn’t see the new grave that had been dug, and he ran right into it.  After picking himself up from the dirt, he tried to climb out. Only the grave was too deep and the dirt too soft for the jogger to climb out. “Oh well,” he thought to himself, “They’ll find me in the morning and get me out.” As he settled down to rest in a corner, another jogger came along, taking the same shortcut, with the same results. The second jogger fell into the grave, and then started to look for a way out in the dark. A few seconds later, he felt a hand on his shoulder.  Then he heard a voice say, “You can’t get out of here.”  But he did … It’s amazing what a little motivation will do for you.  And being touched in the right way …

God’s touch is all you need to get a life – you know, a new life. Let’s start by setting the record straight here. Healing is not cosmetic surgery or the fountain of youth. The fear of looking older can make you do wild things. Think Joan Rivers. The fear of dying can make you do strange things, like sleep in an oxygen tent, wear a mask and carry an umbrella to stay out of the sun at all times. Think Michael Jackson. Healing is not the same as being forever young and beautiful and getting good checkups at the dentist. We all get older, and our bodies don’t work the same way they used to. My son has a T-shirt that was perhaps meant for someone more my age. It says, “Honk if something falls off.” Jesus taught us that there was a power of God to heal physically, but a larger power at work. Healing is really about what happens in the life to come, and how that can change your life now.  The ultimate form of healing is entry into God’s kingdom. There, we are told, God’s presence will push away any other power. The final promises in the Bible tell us what that will be like, what it will be like to be fully in God’s presence:

I heard a voice thunder from the Throne: “Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone … Look! I’m making everything new.”                      Revelation 21:3-5 (Message)  

Folks, it’s this simple: in God’s presence there is life, not death. And while we don’t live in that place completely now, we can start to experience the benefits now. My question for you is, are you ready?

Sometimes people are physically healed of their sicknesses because of God’s power. It still happens. We have people in this congregation who have experienced what even their doctors have termed miracles of healing that could not be accounted for by science. That happens sometimes. And other times, it does not. I have learned to adapt for instance.  I have rheumatoid arthritis, which means that sometimes I use a cane to walk. I take medicine, get shots, see my doctor regularly. Praying for healing is not like working a magic spell or doing something mechanical. People are not always instantaneously healed. This week my nine-year-old daughter fell and broke her arm at school. She has a cast. It’s not like I refused the doctor’s treatment because I demanded God to heal her. And Sami, who was at first not happy about the cast, got to pick from among eight colors and that was cool. There are still times she is not happy about having a cast, but she has also learned to adapt.  She has found that a fancy lacquered chop stick will fit between the cast and her arm and let her scratch any itch. Yup, we learn to adapt. But that does not mean we need to lower our expectations for healing. Only understand them better.

Think for a moment about one area in your life where you need healing. Maybe for you it’s a physical sickness, like cancer, or a long-term disease. You know the diagnosis, but not the prognosis. You can name what it is you need healing in detail. For others of you, one area where you may need healing most is in some old hurt you have carried inside of you – a broken heart, a lost dream.  Someone has hurt you in the past, and that wound has never closed up.  It may affect how you treat others in your family. That wound may keep you from trusting others, or letting anyone get too close to you. It may haunt your dreams. Or perhaps where you need healing most is with an addiction. You can’t seem to stop spending money, even if you don’t have any left. You can’t kick the habit.  Maybe it’s drugs or cigarettes or sex. Maybe your biggest need is to finally, finally, be forgiven for something you have done.  Whatever it is, pick one area in your life where you most want healing. Imagine holding that in your left hand. Now let me ask you whether receiving healing in that area is important to you. Of course – if you were healed, that would make a huge difference in your life. Imagine hold onto that desire for healing in your right hand. Before you ask God to heal you, let me ask you if being healed is more important to you than being with God.  If it is, there’s a problem. If you’re holding onto a desire to be healed so hard, you won’t be able to use that hand to reach out to God, or to let God take you by the hand. I don’t think God wants to be loved because of what he does so much as for who he is. So long as getting what I want is not getting closer in touch with God, then I may not get what I want at all. When I make God the first thing I want in life, the most important thing, then it’s amazing how the other things I need or worry about are also addressed. Yes, I still need my medicine and cane at times. Maybe a time will come when I don’t – a time in this life, that is.  But even if God does not miraculously heal me in the next 40 years … I know something bigger, for I have his promise that a time will come when in his presence there will be no more tears, no more sighing or crying, no more death. With that promise in this hand, I’m not as worried about what happens on the other hand. Healing is a confirmation of the promise that God is with us. In God’s presence, things happen. It may not always be exactly what you asked for or wanted, but there’s simply no way that being with God will leave you exactly as you were before. That’s the promise God has made to you.  And that’s his plan for all of us.

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