1756) When God Does Not Heal

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By Kathryn Butler is a trauma and critical care surgeon.  Her book on end-of-life medical care through a Christian lens is anticipated in 2019 (Crossway).  She writes at Oceans Rise.

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     Weeks of chemotherapy eroded the lining of her mouth, mangled her immune system, and culminated in an hours-long surgery to carve out a tumor the size of a grapefruit.

     Throughout, friends and loved ones lifted up a heartfelt but singular prayer: Heal her, Lord.  She wrapped herself in their words as if girding herself in armor.  Afterward, she pointed to a line on the pathology report that described dead cells at the center of the tumor, and she praised God for his mercy.  She reasoned that the chemotherapy had killed the tumor before her surgeon ever put knife to skin, and the healing for which she prayed was at hand.

     But those dead cells didn’t promise cure.  Rather, they indicated a cancer so aggressive that blood vessels could not tunnel to its center.  The tumor was growing so rapidly that it could not support its own middle.  Months later, the cancer not only returned, but spread, clogging her lungs and dotting her brain.

     As the delicate balance of her organ systems teetered and collapsed, prayers for a cure became more ardent, from her church as well as from her own lips.  Her doctors recommended home hospice, but she clung to her conviction that God must melt away her disease, and insisted upon last-ditch chemotherapy instead.  Still, the cancer continued its deadly march.  Fluid ballooned her limbs and saturated her lungs.  One awful night, with ICU alarms sounding her elegy, her heart quivered and lurched to a stop.

     Wholly unprepared to lose her, her family reeled in grief.  They agonized over how to endure without her, and struggled to reconcile this flickering out of a beloved, faithful life, against their continual appeals to God for cure.  How had this happened? they lamented.  Had God noticed their prayers?  Had he even listened?  Did they not pray enough?  Was their faith too meager? How could God ignore her, when she was so faithful to him?

     God made heaven and earth, catapulted the planets into motion, and assembled the scaffolding of our cytoplasm.  Surely, he could also eradicate our cancer, realign our bones, or restore blood flow to areas that mottle.

     God can and does heal.  In my own clinical practice, he used a patient’s improbable recovery to draw me to himself.  Throughout Jesus’s ministry, he performed miraculous healings that glorified God and deepened faith (Matthew 4:23Luke 4:40).  The Bible encourages us to pray in earnest (Luke 18:1–8Philippians 4:4–6).  If the Spirit moves us to pray for healing, whether for ourselves or our neighbors, we should do so with fervor.

     Yet while we pray, we must attend to a critical distinction: although God can heal us, we must never presume that he must.

     Death is the consequence of the fall (Romans 6:23).  It overtakes us all, and most commonly recruits illness as its vehicle.  When Christ returns, no disease will blot God’s creation (Revelation 21:4), but for now, we wait and groan as our bodies wither.  We may perceive our healing to be the greatest good, but God’s wisdom surpasses even the most impressive reaches of our understanding (Isaiah 55:8).  We cannot bend his will to resemble our own.

     Time and again the Bible depicts instances when God does not immediately eradicate suffering, but rather engages with it for good (Genesis 50:20John 11:3–4Romans 5:3–5).  “A thorn was given me in the flesh,” the apostle Paul writes of his own physical affliction.  “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.  But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:7–9).  God responded to Paul’s prayers for healing not by curing him, but rather by working through Paul’s suffering to draw him nearer to his glory.  In the most exquisite example, through his suffering and death, Christ redeems us from our sins and pours grace out upon us (Romans 3:23–25Ephesians 1:7).

     When we ignore God’s work in suffering, and cleave breathlessly only to our hope for a cure, we forsake opportunities for closure, fellowship, and spiritual preparation at the end of life.  Research warns that those of us within a religious community are more likely to pursue aggressive measures at the end of life, and more likely to die in an ICU.  If we set our eyes only on a cure, rather than on the reality of our physical mortality, we may chase after treatments that not only fail to save us, but which also rob us of our capacities to think, communicate, and pray in our final days.  We forget that if our healing is not within God’s will, we will need fortitude, peace, and discernment to endure.  And if cure does not come, a single-minded focus on healing leaves ourselves and those we love with unsettling doubts about the validity of our faith.

     The gospel offers a hope that exceeds the reparation of our bodies.  This side of the cross, even as our vision darkens and the world closes in, we need not fear death.  Christ has overcome, and through his resurrection death has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15:55–57).  Death is but a momentary breath, a transition, a heartbeat before we reunite with our risen Lord (2 Corinthians 4:17–18).  In the wake of the cross, death is not the end.  Through Christ’s sacrifice for us, through God’s overflowing and sufficient grace, we have spiritual healing to sustain us through eternity, even while our current bodies warp and break.

     When life-threatening illness strikes, by all means pray for healing if the Spirit so moves you.  But also pray that, if cure is not according to God’s will, he might equip you and your loved ones with strength, clarity, and discernment.  Pray he might grant us all peace to endure— through the pain, through the infirmity, with eyes cast heavenward even as fear drives us to our knees.  Pray that as the shadows encroach, and the light within us dwindles, that the Light of Jesus might illuminate our minds and hearts, drawing us toward himself in our final moments on this earth.  Pray we would know in our hearts that our end on this earth is by no means the end.

     However dark death seems, it is fleeting and transient, a mere breath before the eternal life to come.

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I Corinthians 15:52  —   In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

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O Lord,
support us all the day long of this troublous life,
until the shadows lengthen, and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in thy mercy,
grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest,
and peace at the last.  Amen.

–John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

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1755) Father Damien

Father Damien (1840-1889), in 1873, before sailing for Hawaii

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By Henri Daniel-Rops, The Heroes of God, (New York: Hawthorn, 1959). p. 194.

     Father Damien was distressed when he heard of the wretched condition of the people on the island of Molokai, a tiny island in the Hawaiian Island chain.  He was a priest from Belgium, who could have had a pleasant life ministering with his fellow priests among the carefree Hawaiian islanders.  But his heart went out to Molokai, and in 1873 he began to live on that I desolate, rocky, barren island, inhabited by the lepers who were banished from the other islands.

     He knew that the moment he set foot on land he would never be allowed to leave the island again.  The residents were dumbfounded by his sacrifice, and he was shocked by the deplorable conditions in which they were living.  He immediately challenged those who had given up hope to help him rebuild the old hospital and to reach out and minister to those who were worse off than they were.

     Before Father Damien had arrived on the island, the atmosphere was hostile.  No one cared for the lepers, so why should they care for each other?  When residents were gravely ill they were ignored, and when the person died, the body was thrown on the rubbish heap.  And sometimes the two procedures were mixed up.  One day when he was passing the dump, Father Damien saw some movement in a pile of rags, and then he heard a cry, a cry not unlike the lepers who called to Jesus, “Have pity on us.”  There in the rubbish was a man sent to his grave while he was yet alive.

     With Father Damien’s compassionate leadership, the residents developed medical programs, agricultural ventures, a sanitation policy, and set aside land for a burial ground.  But as benevolent as it was, the ministry was not without controversy.  When the Protestant leaders learned of what was happening—of the many converts and of church services being conducted—many of them were upset.  They sought to deport Father Damien, but he refused to leave.  He vowed he would stay with his people the rest of his life, although he did not realize, at the time that he was becoming one of them.

     One day in 1884, after a long, arduous horseback ride, he asked that water be heated so that he could soak his feet.  He tested the water and put his feet in, only to be told it was boiling hot.  He had not felt it, for his nerve endings were dead.  He too was a leper.  For the next four years he wasted away like those around him.  He lived to the very end with a heart of compassion for those like himself who were considered the refuse of the world.

Father Damien and the Molokai leper colony chapel

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Father Damien, age 49, on his deathbed

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Mark 1:40-42  —  A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”  Jesus was indignant.  He reached out his hand and touched the man.  “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

Matthew 10:7-8  —  As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.  Freely you have received; freely give.”

Luke 10:11-14  —  Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him.  They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”  When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”  And as they went, they were cleansed.

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A GOOD PRAYER FOR US ALL:

Jesus, Master, have pity on us.

–Luke 17:13b

1754) The Leap of Faith

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Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1819, Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)

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This famous story by Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984) was included in this blog posted July 29, 2012 athttp://www.jamesmirror.com

     What is faith?  Faith is often characterized as blind belief just because we want it to be true.  It’s sometimes thought to be belief in spite of evidence to the contrary.  But is that really what Biblical faith is like?

     Francis Schaeffer presents this story about faith:

Suppose we are climbing in the Alps and are very high on the bare rock, and suddenly the fog rolls in.  The guide turns to us and says that the ice is forming and that there is no hope; before morning we will all freeze to death here on the shoulder of the mountain.  Simply to keep warm the guide keeps us moving in the dense fog further out on the shoulder until none of us have any idea where we are.  After an hour or so, someone says to the guide, “Suppose I dropped and hit a ledge ten feet down in the fog.  What would happen then?”  The guide would say that there might be a ledge and there might be a cave on that ledge and you might make it until the morning and thus live.  So, with absolutely no knowledge or any reason to support his action, one of the group hangs and drops into the fog.  This would be one kind of faith, a leap of faith.

Suppose, however, after we have worked out on the shoulder in the midst of the fog and the growing ice on the rock, we had stopped and we heard a voice which said, “You cannot see me, but I know exactly where you are from your voices.  I am on another ridge.  I have lived in these mountains, man and boy, for over sixty years and I know every foot of them.  I assure you that ten feet below you there is a ledge and a cave to provide some shelter.  If you hang and drop, you can make it through the night and I will get you in the morning.

I would not hang and drop at once, but would ask questions to try to ascertain if the man knew what he was talking about and it he was not my enemy.  In the Alps, for example, I would ask him his name.  If the name he gave me was the name of a family from that part of the mountains, it would count a great deal to me.  In the Swiss Alps there are certain family names that indicate mountain families of that area.  In my desperate situation, even though time would be running out, I would ask him what to me would be the adequate and sufficient questions, and when I became convinced by his answers, then I would hang and drop.

   Schaeffer’s story captures the idea that faith is not blind.  It is based on reason, logic, information, but lives in a situation where a gap exists.  Faith bridges the gap by trusting in someone or something in a better position than yourself.  In this story, faith was put in the knowledge of the man who grew up in the Alps.  It was a rational, tested faith based on questioning the man’s knowledge, but it was still faith because the ledge below couldn’t be seen, touched or definitively known.  This idea that faith is well informed and not irrational is the first point to keep in mind.

     The second point is about the object of faith.  When you walk across ice, your trust is put in the ice to hold your weight.  Ice is the object of your faith.  If your trust is misplaced, you’ll quickly be wet, cold and in significant danger.  It wouldn’t have mattered whether you have a little faith in the ice or trust it fully.  The strength of the object of faith is what counts.  It the story it was the knowledge of the guide in the fog.

     Christian faith captures both of these ideas.  First, God provides evidence of Himself in creation, in prophecy, in archeology, in Scripture’s consistency across the ages and in the life of Jesus.  He doesn’t leave us without witness or guidance.  Second, He then requires us to make Jesus the object of our faith.  Jesus’ sinless life, substitutionary death and bodily resurrection are what matter.  As Paul said, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Putting trust in the Creator of the universe rather than our own feeble attempts to be good doesn’t seem like much of a stretch when you look at the history of mankind’s failures an our own individual struggles.  We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God and must put our faith in Jesus’ work to wash our sin away so we can enter God’s presence.

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Hebrews 11:1  —  Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Romans 8:24-25  —  For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

I Corinthians 15:17  —   If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.

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Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom, lead thou me on;
the night is dark, and I am far from home; lead thou me on;
keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
the distant scene– one step enough for me.

–John Henry Newman  (1801-1890)

1753) “God Has Ruined My Life” (part two of two)

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By Aggie Hurst, telling her own story in Aggie: The Inspiring Story of A Girl Without A Country, Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1986.

    (…continued)  For the Hursts’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, the college presented them with the gift of a vacation to Sweden.  There Aggie sought to find her real father.  An old man now, David Flood had remarried, fathered four more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol.  He had recently suffered a stroke.  Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: “Never mention the name of God-because God took everything from me.”

     After an emotional reunion with her half brothers and half sister, Aggie brought up the subject of seeing her father.  The others hesitated.  “You can talk to him,” they replied, “even though he’s very ill now.  But you need to know that whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage.”

     Aggie was not to be deterred.  She walked into the squalid apartment, with liquor bottles everywhere, and approached the seventy-three-year-old man lying in a rumpled bed.

     “Papa?” she said tentatively.

     He turned and began to cry.  “Aina,” he said, “I never meant to give you away.”

     “It’s all right Papa,” she replied, taking him gently in her arms.  “God took care of me.”

     The man instantly stiffened.  The tears stopped.  “God forgot all of us,” he said.  “Our lives have been like this because of Him.”  He turned his face back to the wall.

     Aggie stroked his face and then continued, undaunted.

     “Papa, I’ve got a little story to tell you, and it’s a true one.  You didn’t go to Africa in vain.  Mama didn’t die in vain.  The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus Christ.  The one seed you planted just kept growing and growing.  Today there are six hundred African people serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life…  Papa, Jesus loves you.  He has never hated you.”

     The old man turned back to look into his daughter’s eyes.  His body relaxed.  He began to talk.  And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many decades.

   Over the next few days, father and daughter enjoyed warm moments together.  Aggie and her husband soon had to return to America— and within a few weeks, David Flood had gone into eternity.

     A few years later, the Hursts were attending a high-level evangelism conference in London, England, where a report was given from the nation of Zaire (the former Belgian Congo).  The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers, spoke eloquently of the gospel’s spread in his nation.  Aggie could not help going to ask him afterward if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood.

     “Yes, madam,” the man replied in French, his words then being translated into English.  “It was Svea Flood who led me to Jesus Christ.  I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born.  In fact, to this day your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by all of us.”

     He embraced her in a long, sobbing hug.  Then he continued, “You must come to Africa to see, because your mother is the most famous person in our history.”

     In time that is exactly what Aggie Hurst and her husband did.  They were welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers.  She even met the man who had been hired by her father many years before to carry her back down the mountain in a hammock-cradle.

     The most dramatic moment, of course, was when the pastor escorted Aggie to see her mother’s white cross for herself.  She knelt in the soil to pray and give thanks.  Later that day, in the church, the pastor read from John 12:24: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  He then followed with Psalm 126:5:  “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.”

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John 12:24  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Psalm 126:3-6  —  The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.  Restore our fortunes, Lordlike streams in the Negev.  Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.  Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

Matthew 13:23  —  (Jesus said), “As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

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Merciful Father, your kindness caused the light of the Gospel to shine among us.  Extend your mercy now, we pray, to all the people of the world who do not have hope in Jesus Christ, that your salvation may be made known to them also and that all hearts would turn to you; through Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, page 45

1752) “God Has Ruined My Life” (part one of two)

By Aggie Hurst, telling her own story in Aggie: The Inspiring Story of A Girl Without A Country, Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1986.

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David and Svea Flood

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     Back in 1921, a missionary couple named David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son from Sweden to the heart of Africa— to what was then called the Belgian Congo.  They met up with another young Scandinavian couple, the Ericksons, and the four of them sought God for direction.  In those days of much tenderness and devotion and sacrifice, they felt led of the Lord to go out from the main mission station and take the gospel to a remote area.

     This was a huge step of faith.  At the village of N’dolera they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his town for fear of alienating the local gods.  The two couples opted to go half a mile up the slope and build their own mud huts.

     They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none.  The only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week.  Svea Flood— a tiny woman of only four feet, eight inches tall— decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus.  And in fact, she succeeded.

     But there were no other encouragements.  Meanwhile, malaria continued to strike one member of the little band after another.  In time the Ericksons decided they had had enough suffering and left to return to the central mission station.  David and Svea Flood remained near N’dolera to go on alone.

     Then, of all things, Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness.  When the time came for her to give birth, the village chief softened enough to allow a midwife to help her.  A little girl was born, whom they named Aina.

     The delivery, however, was exhausting, and Svea Flood was already weak from bouts of malaria.  The birth process was a heavy blow to her stamina.  She lasted only another seventeen days.

     Something snapped inside David Flood at that moment.  He dug a crude grave, buried his twenty-seven-year-old wife, and then took his children back down the mountain to the mission station.  Giving his newborn daughter to the Ericksons, he snarled, “I’m going back to Sweden.  I’ve lost my wife, and I obviously can’t take care of this baby.  God has ruined my life.”  With that, he headed for the port, rejecting not only his calling, but God himself.

     Within eight months both the Ericksons were stricken with a mysterious malady and died within days of each other.  The baby was then turned over to some American missionaries, who adjusted her Swedish name to “Aggie” and eventually brought her back to the United States at age three.

     This family loved the little girl and was afraid that if they tried to return to Africa, some legal obstacle might separate her from them.  So they decided to stay in their home country and switch from missionary work to pastoral ministry.  And that is how Aggie grew up in South Dakota.  As a young woman, she attended North Central Bible college in Minneapolis.  There she met and married a young man named Dewey Hurst.

     Years passed.  The Hursts enjoyed a fruitful ministry.  Aggie gave birth first to a daughter, then a son.  In time her husband became president of a Christian college in the Seattle area, and Aggie was intrigued to find so much Scandinavian heritage there. 

One day a Swedish religious magazine appeared in her mailbox.  She had no idea who had sent it, and of course she couldn’t read the words.  But as she turned the pages, all of a sudden a photo stopped her cold.  There in a primitive setting was a grave with a white cross-and on the cross were the words SVEA FLOOD.

     Aggie jumped in her car and went straight to a college faculty member who, she knew, could translate the article.  “What does this say?” she demanded.  

     The instructor summarized the story: It was about missionaries who had come to N’dolera long ago…the birth of a white baby…the death of the young mother…the one little African boy who had been led to Christ…and how, after the whites had all left, the boy had grown up and finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village.  The article said that gradually he won all his students to Christ…the children led their parents to Christ…even the chief had become a Christian.  Today there were six hundred Christian believers in that one village…

     All because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.  (continued…)

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John 4:37  —  (Jesus said), “Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.”

1751) Delivered… In God’s Good Time

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By John Piper, Daily Devotional, at:  http://www.dgm.org

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Acts 16:19b-26  —  They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities.  They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”  The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods.  After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.  When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.  Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.

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     God rescues his people from some harm.  Not all harm.  That’s comforting to know, because otherwise we might conclude from our harm that he has forgotten us or rejected us.

     So be encouraged by the simple reminder that in Acts 16:19-24, Paul and Silas were not delivered; but in verses 25–26, they were delivered.

     First, no deliverance:

  • “They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace.”  (verse 19)
  • “The magistrates tore the garments off them.” (verse 22)
  • They “inflicted many blows upon them.” (verse 23)
  • The jailer “fastened their feet in the stocks.” (verse 24)

     But then deliverance:

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God . . . and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. (verses 25–26)

     God could have stepped in sooner.  He didn’t.  He has his reasons.  He loves Paul and Silas.

     Question for you: If you plot your life along this continuum, where are you?  Are you in the stripped-and-beaten stage, or, the unshackled, door-flung-open stage?

     Both are God’s stages of care for you.

     If you are in the fettered stage, don’t despair.  Sing.  Freedom is on the way.  It is only a matter of time.  Even if it comes through death.

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Deliver us from evil.  –Jesus, Matthew 6:13b

PRAYER BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THIS PETITION:
     Heavenly Father, we pray that you would deliver us from all manner of evil, whether it affect body or soul, property or reputation;  and, at last, when the hour of death shall come, grant us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this world of sorrow to yourself in heaven.

1750) Vending Machines and Prayer (part three of three)

Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (1831-1894)  In the Garden of Gethsemane  Oil on canvas, 1869  86 x 65 cm  Ivanovo association of art museums, Ivanovo, Russia

In the Garden of Gethsemane, 1869, Nikolai Ge (1831-1894)

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     (…continued)  Finally, along with all our prayers for this or that which we so desperately want or need, we must also remember to pray that prayer of Jesus when he was most desperate.  On the night of his betrayal and arrest, less than 24 hours before his torture and execution, Jesus desperately prayed, “Lord, may this cup of suffering pass from me.”  But then Jesus added, “Not my will but, thine be done.”  Just in case we might forget to pray in that way, Jesus included that same prayer in the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven.”  And sometimes it is God’s will to intervene and restrict and block our free will; and other times, it is God’s will to let our free will run its course.

     Most of all, we must remember that we worship a God who is beyond all time and space, and whose answers to prayers are not limited to this life.  A verse I like to read to those I visit in the hospital is I Peter 5:10: “The God of all grace, who calls you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.”

     Those words can be understood on two levels by those who believe in Jesus.  Always, after surgery, the person does ‘suffer for a little while,’ and then, oftentimes, God ‘restores them and makes them strong, firm, and steadfast,’ and they go back to living a full life in the here and now.  That is one level.  But sometimes people do not survive the surgery, and then God calls that person into ‘his eternal glory,’ and it is there that they are put back on our feet again, and are restored and made ‘strong, firm, and steadfast.’  Either way, the verse applies; as does Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord, so whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life, so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”

     I remember a sad Easter Sunday service many years ago at one of my little churches.  Two of our very much involved middle-aged men were both, in that previous week, diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Everyone knew everyone in that little congregation, and these men were much loved, and both had children still at home.  It was not a joyful Easter Sunday at all that year.  It was a heavy time for the congregation.  Many prayers were said over the next months for both men.

     Then one of the men died, as everyone expected.  That was the prognosis.  And then, the other man got better, much to everyone’s surprise.  That was not what the doctors expected.  We all rejoiced in answered prayers; but the rejoicing was diminished a bit by the very fresh memories of those other unanswered prayers for our other friend.  Who can understand how these things work?

     But do you know what?  The healed man also, eventually died.  It was many years later, and he was an old man, and he died of something else.  But still, he died.  That’s what always happens.  His healing was only temporary, as are all earthly healings, whether by the doctor or miraculously by God.  But as Christians we can rejoice in the promise of that final and complete healing of the resurrection, where, for those who believe in Jesus, all prayers for help and healing will be answered.

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I Peter 5:7…10-11  —   Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you…  And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong,firm and steadfast.  To him be the power for ever and ever.  Amen.

Matthew 26:36-39  —  Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”  He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled.  Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.  Stay here and keep watch with me.”  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

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Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  –Matthew 6:10b

1749) Vending Machines and Prayer (part two of three)

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     (continued…)  I just finished reading a book by Eric Metaxas called Miracles.  In part one the author defines miracles, and discusses why even in this age of science we should not rule them out.  He also looks at the miraculous world all around us, and, at the miracles of the Bible, especially the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus.  In part two, Metaxas tells stories of miracles that he has heard about; limiting himself to stories told to him by people he knows personally, and trusts.  Many of the miracles have to do with answered prayers, and he has many stories of such answers—again, all by people he knows.  There is even one story very similar to the one my friend tells about lost keys miraculously appearing out of nowhere.

     Eric Metaxas is no naïve, illiterate, gullible, backwoods, snake-handler.  He is a New York Times best-selling author, a columnist and radio host, and, has a ministry called ‘Socrates in the City’ that attracts many of the high-powered politicians, intellectuals, and business leaders on Manhattan.  Metaxas asks all the tough questions about prayer that you would expect from such an intelligent person.

     One of the tough questions Eric Metaxas asks is, “Why should God care about answering prayers for lost keys and headaches, when God seems to be ignoring prayers about the cruelty in North Korea, the ever increasing arsenals of nuclear warheads, tens of millions of refugees, and ongoing starvation in Africa?”

     There are no easy or complete answers to a question like that, but the Bible does give some insights.  Two are in Psalm 62:8, which says: “Trust in Him at all times, pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”   ‘Pour out your heart before Him,’ it says—whatever is on your heart, large or small, world peace or lost keys.  We are God’s children, says the Bible, and just like children, we can bring before God whatever is on our heart, ‘at all times,’ says the verse.  All times and all places and all kinds of requests.  “God is our refuge,’ says the verse, and therefore, it says, TRUST IN HIMTrust in God to respond to your request, in whatever way he sees fit, in large things and in small.

     God did answer my prayer for healing that one time, but not the other times.  But then God did take away those headaches completely, or at least I think it was God.  On a deeper level, it was God who gave me my head in the first place, and everything in it.  That in itself is an amazing miracle, when you think about all the many things that a head can do.

     But what is a healed headache compared to the Holocaust and Hitler and Stalin, and all the unanswered prayers in those awful war years, to point to just one example?  But who knows what prayers God did and did not answer during that desperate time?  For a while, the Nazis looked unstoppable.  What if London would have fallen, and the United States would have had to face the Nazis without the British, and without that military base of operations thirty miles from continental Europe?  And London may very well have fallen.  What if the D-Day invasion had failed?  It very well might have.  And what if the Nazis would have been the first to develop and use the atomic bomb?  That also could have happened.  Maybe God was answering prayers all over the place.  If he wasn’t, perhaps humankind would be extinct.  God does give us a free will, and evil people will always use that free will to kill and destroy.  God also does answer prayers.  That too is clear in the Bible and true to many people’s experience.  But why God chooses to act or not act, in situations large and small, is beyond our ability to understand.  There is always so much we do not see.  And so, “Trust, at all times and in all ways, trust in God, for He is our refuge.”  (continued…)

The Eric Metaxas Show has a feature called ‘Miracle Mondays,’ which you may find at the below website.  You may also go to that site’s homepage for more by Metaxas:

http://www.metaxastalk.com/miracle-mondays/

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Psalm 62:5-8  —  Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him.  Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.  My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.  Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.

Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

James 4:3  —  When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

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Lord of Lords, grant us the good, whether we pray for it or not,
but evil keep from us, even though we pray for it.
–Plato (c.427-348 B.C.)

1748) Vending Machines and Prayer (part one of three)

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     Vending machines are simple.  You view the choices, decide what you want, put your money in the slot, press the button, and, immediately, you get just what you ordered.  Simple.

     Prayer is usually more complicated.  Usually.  But not always.  Sometimes; every once in a while; prayer works just that simple.  I was talking with a friend about prayers, answered and unanswered.  He asked me if I ever had an experience of an immediate, direct, and unmistakable answer to a prayer– you know, like a vending machine.  I said “Yes, I think so;” and he said he did too.

     This is his story.  He was in the middle of one of those very busy days when he didn’t know how he was going to get it all done.  He was racing to his car to get to his next obligation in time, reached in his pocket, and his car keys were not there.  He had them just a little while ago, so he knew they weren’t in the car.  He frantically checked all his pockets, looked through his briefcase, went in and checked the room where he just had a meeting, and then, hurried back out to the car.  The keys were nowhere to be found.  He again walked all around the car, and this time even got down on his knees and looked under the car.  No keys.  He did not know what to do next.  He was still on his hands and knees, and there he closed his eyes for a silent desperate prayer:  “Lord,” he said, “You know what I all have to get done today.  I need those keys.  Please, help me find them so I can get going.”  He opened his eyes, and there were the keys, right ahead of him, right where he had just been looking before he closed his eyes for that prayer.  Simple.

     Is that how prayer usually works for you?  Probably not.  Usually not for me either.  But one time it did.  Here is my story.

     For about a five year period when I was in my 40s I was afflicted by severe migraine headaches.  I would get about one a month, and they always followed the exact, same pattern.  I would be awakened by the beginning of the headache pain at 3:30 in the morning.  The headaches always came at night, and always started at 3:30 a.m.  Within a half hour, my head was pounding, the pain was at about a level nine or ten, and I had three hours to go, all the while wishing I could just die.  Sleep was impossible; I could not even lay down.  I would sit in a chair and wait for it to pass.  By the chair I had a pail, because I knew that at about 7:00 a.m. I would be nauseous and vomiting.  Then, I would slowly begin to recover, but I was always run-down and weak for the rest of the morning.  It was always the same pattern, and no pills or prescriptions gave any relief.  The migraine just had to run its course.  When I woke up at 3:30 with that kind of pain, I knew what I was in for—every single time.  Except once.

     One morning, at 3:30 sharp, I was awakened by the first signs of that usual routine.  As it worsened, I began to panic.  I was used to enduring the ordeal, but this day I did not have time for it.  I had a mid-morning funeral, I was not yet done with my sermon, and I also had an important meeting.  I had to be there, and I could not call in sick to anyone.  I prayed a desperate prayer.  I said, “Lord, I cannot be sick today.  For whatever reason, you have allowed me to be afflicted by these headaches, and I do accept them as one of my crosses to bear in this life.  But not today.  I cannot be sick today.  You have to take this pain away.”  And God didFor the only time in that several year period, the migraine headache did not run its usual, predictable course. The pain decreased, I went back to sleep, and I was fine for the day.  Simple.  Just like a vending machine.  Right?  No, not right.  That time, yes, but usually not.

     Prayer is, of course, more complicated.  First of all, that was not the only time I ever prayed to be relieved of the pain of those migraines.  It was probably the time I was most desperate, and needed to be well more than any other time.  But I had prayed during other headaches, though at no other time did my prayer alleviate my headache pain.

     I also prayed to be completely free from migraine headaches.  And now I am free.  I have had no more of that monthly headache routine for several years.  Is that an answer to prayer, or just the result of a change in my body chemistry?  I don’t know.  And why did God answer my prayer just that one time, and not all those other mornings?  I don’t know.  Understanding how prayer works is indeed much more complicated than understanding how a vending machine works.

     But why should you care about what kind of headaches I had fifteen years ago?  I don’t expect anyone to care, except that I use this as an example of what I am sure everyone has gone through.  Everyone has had the experience of unanswered prayers.  And, I would guess that quite a few of you could also tell stories of answered prayers; perhaps even stories of some pretty direct and unmistakable and miraculous answers.  God does answer prayers.  (continued…)

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Matthew 21:21-23  —  Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done.  And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Luke 11:9-10  —  (Jesus said), “I tell you, ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”

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O Lord, you know what is best for me.  Let this or that be done as you please.  Give what you will, how much you will, and when you will.  Amen.

–Thomas a Kempis (1380-1471)

1747) God Allows ‘Do-overs’

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“The God of Do-overs” by Lee Strobel, in Investigating the Faith, January 20, 2018, at http://www.biblegateway.com

     Some people need a do-over from God because guilt has been squeezing the hope out of their lives.  That was the case with a woman who wrote to me about the turbulence in her life.  She explained that several years ago she had been living with her boyfriend when she got pregnant.  Even though she wanted the baby very much, her controlling and domineering boyfriend talked her into having an abortion. Later he abandoned her.

     “For years, I was miserable,” the woman wrote.  “I was ashamed of myself for not being strong enough to stand up for myself or for my baby.”

     That’s what guilt does.  It tries to convince us that our wrongdoing disqualifies us from ever starting over.  Guilt robs us of hope.  It tells us we’re not just people who have failed, but that we’re failures as people and therefore beyond redemption.

     A stifling sense of remorse haunted this young woman until she didn’t know where to tum.  Finally, in desperation, she turned to Jesus Christ and implored Him for a do-over.  And what happened amazed her—He not only forgave her and wiped her slate clean, but He helped her through the process of healing her emotions as well.

     Now that God has renewed her sense of hope, it’s like the darkness has lifted and a new day has dawned.  Just before she was baptized as a new follower of Jesus, she wrote: “I can’t thank God enough for all the grace I have received from Him.”

     I had the privilege of baptizing her in front of a crowd of several thousand people.  By her participation in that sacrament, she was declaring to the world that this God who gave her a new beginning is the God she wants to follow forever.

     And if your own life is weighted down with guilt—shame over a marriage that went bad, or kids who’ve gone astray, or promises to God that you’ve broken—then maybe it’s time for you to ask Jesus Christ for a do-over.

     The question isn’t, “Will He give me one?”  The issue isn’t, “Does the magnitude of my wrongdoing make me ineligible?”  The extent of your foul-ups has never been an impediment.  Romans 5:20 says, “Where sin increased, grace increased all the more.”

     Jesus Christ has publicly declared Himself ready, willing, and able to grant you a do-over; the real issue is whether you have the humility to ask Him for one.

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“Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending.”

–Carl Bard

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Hosea 14:1  —  Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.  Your sins have been your downfall!

Joel 2:12-13  —  “Even now,” declares the Lord“return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”  Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

Matthew 4:17  —  From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

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 Dear Lord Jesus, I feel my sins.  They bite and gnaw and terrify me.  Where shall I go?  I will look to you, Lord Jesus, and believe in you.  Although my faith is weak, I look to you and find assurance, for you have promised, “He that believes in me shall have everlasting life.”  My conscience is burdened and my sins make me tremble, but you have said:  “Be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven and I will raise you up on the last day and you shall have eternal life.”  I cannot do any of this for myself. I come to you for help.  Amen.  –Martin Luther