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Monday, February 9, 2015

The Compassionate Healer

I did this message several years ago, and then revisited it this past week.  I thought it worth posting even though it is a bit long.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

            In 1990, an ice storm hit Roanoke.  My best friend took to the streets to see how fast his sled would go.  It was a back road, and it should not have been a problem.  But, he got going so fast, he lost control and rammed into the bottom of a parked car.  He ended up with 60 stitches in his head.  He could have been decapitated.  A few years later, fully recovered, he married his college sweetheart and began working with his dad.  Then, at 26, his wife left him for another man.  She was the only woman he had ever loved and she was gone.  Broken hearted, he began the painful road to recovery.  Then one day, he woke up and could not move.  My friend is a natural athlete.  He can dunk a basketball; he can run for miles without stretching & without getting tired or sore.  In pick-up football games, no one can cover him.  He woke up and could not move his body.  His brother discovered him, got him to the hospital, and within a week, the unexplained illness was gone and he was back on his feet, healthy again.  Around the time he turned 30, his company fired his father.  He still had a job, but his father was dismissed.  He had to recover once again, and this time in very awkward circumstances.  A few years later, he left that company to work for his father’s new company.  A few years after that, he was the one fired.  This past summer he remarried.  Physically, emotionally, relationally, my best buddy from high school has had to go through periods of healing; and, sometimes it was hard to know if the healing would ever come.  But, it has and it continues to.  And, I think my friend’s story has some unique aspects to it, but it not uncommon. 
People have injuries to the body.  We have crushing blows that hit the heart.  We need help overcoming the things that wound us.  Today we begin a series of 6 messages from the Gospel of Mark on miraculous healings.  It’s the supernatural power of Jesus on display.  Scientists, doctors, and historians have no explanation for the stories we will hear.  Did these miracles really happen?  Is it just legend, or exaggeration, written down generations after the fact?  Is it wishful thinking?  Wouldn’t it be great if there was a guy who loved everybody and healed everybody?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful? 
I believe the stories of Jesus’ miracles are real, historical.  These things, the healings included, happened
            So what do we learn from them?  How does it help the church and the faith of individual Christians today to know the tales of miracles Jesus performed 2000 years ago?  And why, of all the miracles, we would zero in on healing? 
I have am in some way connected to over 20 people that have needed some form of care -  the emergency room, the operating room, the hospital, home health care or hospice care.  Some were over 80, but not all.  I spent time with children who did not know if they would live or die.  A lot of these folks I visited were a part of this church or my former church; others weren’t.  Some were members of my own family.  Some were friends from years ago.  Over 20 people, in 2006, and the year isn’t over.   Why talk about healing?  Everyone needs it.  And, I believe the healing offered by Jesus happens today.
However, before we talk about being made well and being made whole, we must acknowledge some problems.  The first one is the lack of 21st miracles.  I have never been associated with a healing that a doctor could not explain.  Maybe you have, but most I know have not.  Most today have never seen or heard about a truly miraculous event.  It’s an age of science and highly developed medicine.  Maybe the miracle is what God has allowed brilliant doctors to learn.  I don’t discount that at all.  But, the unexplainable seems to fall into the realm of superstition and is not the stuff educated people listen to.  That’s the first problem.
The second is not everyone is healed.  I know a pastor from El Salvador whose granddaughter was diagnosed with leukemia late last year.  I visited her and prayed with her family at UVA hospital in Charlottesville.  Her mom and sister confidently told me that if the leukemia killed her, they would testify that she had gone to be with the Lord and give Him glory.  If she survived they would praise God for the healing.  The little girl felt the same way.  Her doctor did not give her much of a chance to make it.   But, we received a report in June that after some radical treatments that had a low success rate, she was cancer free!  Praise God!
In the book Disappointment with God, Philip Yancy tells about a thriving church that he visited in a village in Peru.  That sentence itself is cause for joy.  The people of this region had been steeped in ancient traditional religions until a missionary came and introduced them to Jesus.  When he visited, Yancey discovered a church that had grown strong over its 40 years of life.  He also discovered a small, forgotten stone monument; a tribute to one of the missionaries who helped found the church.  God worked through this young man to introduce the entire village to Christ.  But, the young missionary’s 6-month old son was hit with an onset of vomiting and diarrhea.  The child died.  As the village around him grew in faith, the young missionary was arrested in grief.  His heavy heart made him so sick; he was pulled from the mission field, never to return to mission work.
What’s the difference in the 2 stories?  In the first one, a pastor’s granddaughter survived.  In the second, a missionary’s son died.  Why did one live and not the other?  If we credit God with healing in the 1st case, do we blame God for not delivering in the 2nd?  I don’t have an easy answer – no one does.  I am highly suspicious of anyone who offers trite answers.  The hardest funeral I ever did was for a 6-month-old child. 
We don’t see as many miracles today as we read about in Mark.  That’s a problem.  Some people are healed and some aren’t.  That’s another problem.  As we proceed to examine these great stories in the Bible, I can’t promise that you or I will find the exact healing we might be looking for.  That’s a third problem.  As we discuss healing, I have to say, God has not told me that at HillSong, we will no longer need crutches or wheel chairs or doctors or treatment plans or medicine.  I cannot stand before you and promise medical miracles. 
I do have something to offer though.  It’s the most important part of the healing stories.  It goes deeper than the physical body.  And it is far more important to Jesus than physical healing.  At the center of this passage, when the disciples come to Jesus because mobs of sick and demon possessed people want to be healed, Jesus responds, “Let’s get out of here.  Let’s go to other villages.”  Does he want to depart so he can heal in other places?  No, he’s going to preach.  He says, “That’s what I came to do.”  Jesus’ mission was to tell people how they could know God.  Along the way, he did perform many miracles.  But his purpose was to preach about the kingdom of God and how people could surrender their hearts to the will of God and be adopted as children of God. 
Furthermore, at the heart this reading from Mark, when the crowds want the miracle worker to end all disease, discomfort, and disturbance in Galilee, Jesus retreats to the wilderness.  He doesn’t make it easy.  He gets away from it all so he can pray.  He needs spiritual strength because the crucial work that lies ahead, the eternal task, is spiritual, not physical.  Physical hurts are real and problematic and for some people utterly disabling; but spiritual disease is far worse in Jesus’ mind. 
So what I offer, actually what the Holy Spirit offers in the face of needed healing, is what Jesus tried to give when people wanted miracles.  Jesus tried to give hope.  Jesus tried to build faith.  Jesus tried to mend broken souls by offering forgiveness.  Jesus tried to change lives by freely giving the love of God to all who would receive it.  He’s still doing that and it’s still needed.
While he was pastor of FBC Macon, GA, Chuck Poole wrote the book Don’t Cry Past Tuesday.  He opens talking about a walk he took one day to visit his friend, a priest at the Catholic Church across the street.  As he entered, he noticed a sign that said “Cry Room.”  It was just off the sanctuary, a room where parents could hear the service while their babies cried.  The worship service came through on a speaker but the walls of the room prevent the babies’ cries from disturbing other worshippers. 
As Poole walked away, a thought hit him.  That sign, “Cry Room,” should hang outside of every sanctuary and worship room in every church.  The sign should be in the main room for the adults because this should be a safe place for people who need to cry.  Poole writes adults need a place to “confess their deepest guilt, ask their toughest questions, and tell their darkest stories; adults need a place where they can find help with all the heavy luggage of their unhealed diseases, unrealized ambitions, unresolved mysteries, and unfulfilled hopes.  … [This place, the gathering of the church, must be a place where] the shoulder stooping, sleep-robbing, heart-breaking fears, shames, and hurts of life are voice, not silenced; acknowledged, not denied.”  Our gathering is “where the protest of hope is lodged against the evidence for despair. … [We – followers of Jesus the healer – are] bearers of grace to the troubled and keepers of hope for the weary.”  Moreover, the church is where we come, when we what need more than anything is to have the arms of God wrapped around us in an embrace. 
Yes, Jesus healed the body some times.  His purpose though, in the first century and today, was to heal the soul.  Often those with Him, even the beneficiaries of miracles missed the biggest blessing! 
When the man stricken with leprosy came to Jesus, he didn’t say “Heal me.”  He asked to be made clean because leprosy was viewed as a disease of the soul.  One with this condition was not allowed to enter the temple.  The leper wasn’t permitted to touch others.  He was isolated socially and cut off from God.  This leper that came to Jesus broke the rules.  He was supposed to stay away, but in desperation, he crossed the lines to beg for redemption.  Jesus too broke the rules.  Those who were clean were to avoid the sick and diseased.  It was forbidden to touch an untouchable, but Jesus stepped outside the box religion had worked so hard to build.  He grasped the man and with love said, “I am willing to help you.  Be clean!”  The leprosy left the man and Jesus instructed him to go to the priest and worship God thereby being declared clean in the proper way.  Jesus did not simply heal him.  He restored him.  For the healing to be complete and the man to be accepted back into the society, he had to go to the priest.
At this point, the man forgot why he came to Jesus.  He came asking to be cleansed.  When he got what he asked for, he then disobeyed the healer.  Jesus said, “Don’t tell anyone about this.  Go to the priest.”  The man never went to the priest.  Instead he ran through streets shouting through a bullhorn the wonders of the miracle worker.  It makes for good copy, but this healed leper did receive Jesus’ most important offering.  He didn’t re-enter a relationship with God and with the worshipping community.  Instead he settled for The National Inquirer, Geraldo, and his own reality TV show.  Jesus wanted to mend a soul, but the man became a spectacle.
Simon’s mother-in-law reacted differently.  When Jesus came to her, she did not have leprosy.  She had a fever that could have been fatal.  People around her would search for spiritual failures on her part as a reason for this affliction.  When Jesus saw the semiconscious sweating woman, he didn’t say a word.  He took her by the hand, raised her from the bed, and helped her to her feet.  In the whisper of a moment, the healer took one from the deathbed to vibrant life.  Mark doesn’t record a single word she said; only that at once she began serving Jesus and the disciples.  In that way, she became a humble, obedient, servant of the healer and gave what was needed.  Jesus was an itinerant who needed people to host him and his men and to feed them.  Simon’s mother-in-law responded to healing by giving what she could offer, something needed, and thus joining Jesus in his work.  As we go through the healing stories, we see that the response to the healing was more important than the initial miracle.  Those who responded by embracing relationship with God received the greater gift.
Dr. Paul Brand, a Christian and a specialist who worked with lepers in India, reported one encounter.  He examined a bright young man and as he went to tell his diagnosis, he set his hand on the man’s shoulder and began talking.  As the translator interpreted Dr. Brand’s words, the young Indian began to shake and weep.  This surprised Dr. Brand and asked the translator about it.  The young Indian explained to her through his tears, that before Dr. Brand put an arm around, no one had touched him for years.  Spurned by society because of his disease, he had become isolated in the worst way.  Whatever medical help Dr. Brand could offer was just gravy.  The meat of the healing was the embrace. 
It is this way with Jesus.  Sometimes the body is healed.  On more than one occasion, he brought the dead back to life.  But, the bodies he healed broke down again.  Lazarus and the others he resuscitated died again.  However, the souls that come to God through faith in Jesus are forever changed, forever healed.  It is the embrace of Heaven we need the most.
The NIV translation states that when the leper came to Jesus, he was filled with compassion.  Jesus ached for this hurting man and with him.  In our church family there are parents who come to God trembling because they worry about their children.  There are teary eyed adult children who now have to care for ailing, aging parents.  There are hearts crumbled, trying to pick up the pieces in the after math of a damaging relationship.  There are singles, beautiful people, who struggle with the gnawing ache of desiring marriage and family life, unsure if it will ever come.  There are people who used to dream, but stopped dreaming after the dreams were shattered one time too many.  The Holy Spirit knows the pain you bear and the scars I carry.  The Holy Spirit is here and when one of us is driven to our knees in desperation, the Holy Spirit responds as Jesus did.  Filled with compassion, the Holy Spirit begins the work of repairing our lives.
In November 2003, Lisa Shearin, from Dunn, NC, a mother of 3 kids all in their 20’s, had a stomach problem and ended up in a coma.  This was just before Thanksgiving.  She awoke on New Year’s Day.  Miraculously, one doctor said, her brain was in tact and in time, she regained all of her capabilities, movement, and senses – save one.  She was blind and is to this day.  The headline of the story about her in the Biblical Record is “Loss of sight doesn’t steal woman’s joy.”  Her journey through blindness has had twists and turns, and ultimately it increased her faith.  The first year, as she bumped into things learning to navigate in unending darkness, she suffered a broken nose 4 times and a separate shoulder.  It was hard, but she felt the tug of the lord on her heart.  The eyes of her soul opened wide.  Today, she is still blind.  But, she sees God at work in her life and at least once a month testifies in churches about how God is using her.  She teaches life skills at a school for the blind.  She is an advocate for sight impaired persons.  Here’s what she says in this article.  “I think a lot about learning to see people with my heart.”  Then she says it is worth it to be blind because she has learned to see people in this way. 
This woman has received the deep healing of Jesus.  His compassion for her didn’t lead to repaired eyes, but to a transformed soul.  Will all of our prayers be answered exactly as we hope?  I can’t guarantee that.  But, I promise the one who hears our prayers loves us more than we can know and heals in ways we might not even realize that we need. 
Are carrying a heavy burden, be it emotional, physical or spiritual?  Jesus wants to help.  Do you know someone who needs, more than anything, the soul healing only He gives?  Bring your friend here as we spend the upcoming weeks with the great physician.  Jesus, the compassionate healer, has great love for you, is ready to heal your heart, fill your life, and draw you into the father’s arms. 
Let us pray


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