Saturday, December 06, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 6

Saturday, December 6 Mark 9:14-29
Healing requires faith.
I have always enjoyed passages of the Bible that show Jesus’ human side, and this is certainly one such passage. Exasperated at his disciples’ inability to cast out a demon in a boy, Jesus says to them, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” And Jesus looks at the boy, and Jesus asks his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” The father gives him the history and then says, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” And Jesus says in essence, “If you are able! Anything can be done with faith.” The father says, “I believe; help my unbelief.” And Jesus heals the boy.
Seems to me that the human side of this story still connects today. Still today Jesus’ followers feel incapable of actually healing, just like his disciples way back then. Who among us hasn’t looked at the world or just our town and felt totally incapable of bringing real healing? We see racial segregation struck down in the law books but still practiced in many communities. We see financial difficulties threatening many folks, and we think, “How can we be the Body of Christ in the midst of this? With our limitations and imperfections, how can we help to heal the world really?
And the disciples only worried that they couldn’t do it; like the father, we sometimes worry that not even Jesus can do anything about it. We lift these issues to Jesus sometimes as a catharsis for us, not daring to hope that he really will do anything about it. It just feels better to talk it out, like we would to a therapist or a friend. Yet the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus is more than a therapist, more than a friend. He heals—broken spirits, broken bodies, broken minds, broken relationships, broken communities, broken churches, broken nations. In fact it is when we are most broken that we can know Jesus the best.
But to believe all this takes faith; in a culture where even those friendly to Jesus hold him up as a personal self-help guru, or a champion of personal freedom, it takes faith to believe that he is more, that he is a healer. And this is where healing starts—in our faith.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 5

Friday, December 5 James 5:13-18
Healing comes through prayer.
This little passage makes it sound so simple, doesn’t it? Is anyone sick? Just call for the elders of the church, anoint them with oil and pray in faith and they will be “raised up.” So we are to pray for one another that we might be healed, and we are promised that the prayer of the righteous is “powerful and effective.”
While we might not be comfortable using the word “contradiction” to describe the Bible, there is at least a sharp contrast between this passage and the one we read yesterday, where the righteous man Job cried out again and again for healing and God did not simply “raise him up.” If anyone’s prayer should have resulted in simple, easy healing, it was Job’s.
So what are we to make of this passage from James? Well, I wish I could say with certainty. I will simply note two things. First, the church is called on to offer a “prayer of faith,” not a “prayer of what seems reasonable to us.” Faith implies that we are letting go of our own agendas, and pursuing God’s agenda even when it doesn’t make sense to us. So a prayer of faith is one that acknowledges God’s supremacy and asks God that His will be done in a sick person’s life, even when that for some reason would result in that person’s not getting well. If we don’t understand it, well, that’s OK; it is a prayer of faith, not a prayer of reason. God will have healing in God’s way even if it does not look like healing to us.
The other thing we should see here is that we are to pray boldly. While we do not know God’s will for our lives completely, we can tell God what we believe is right, as long as we are prepared to accept whatever God does. Elijah boldly prayed that it would not rain, and it didn’t. We too can boldly pray for healing, and do not need to be afraid that God will reprimand us for telling Him what to do. So when we or those we love are sick, we do not need to hold back our feelings; we pray boldly for healing, but we pray in faith in God who is bigger than us and knows more than we do what we need.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 4

Thursday, December 4 Job 42:1-6
Healing doesn’t look like we expect.
The story of Job is one of the most difficult in the Bible. Job lost his family, livelihood, wealth and health and was not sure why, so he cried out to God. He demanded a hearing about his suffering, demanded that God tell him why this was happening to him. Several friends came by to offer their theories, but Job rejected each of them. In the end, God finally shows up; but rather than explain himself, God essentially says, “Are you as big or as powerful as me, to demand that I show up? Are you as wise as I am that I should explain my ways to you?” In the end, in the passage from this morning, Job realizes that God is indeed bigger than he is, and that in his despair he has “uttered what [he] did not understand, things too wonderful for [him] which he did not know.” So Job repents and in the end decides that he just doesn’t need an answer.
Job had a very precise idea what healing meant for him: getting his family back, getting his flocks back, getting his money back, getting his health back. But God knew that Job was not healed in that state after all; Job can only be truly healed when he knows that God’s ways are beyond comprehension. This is where healing starts, that there are things that cannot be known, that we do not need to understand everything that happens, that God is not obliged to reveal every purpose of life to us.
Once we let go of the relentless need to question why things happen, we can begin our real task, which is to follow in faithfulness. This is a healed person, who is not caged by their circumstances and is truly free to follow and live their heart’s deep desire.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 3

Wednesday, December 3 Mark 5:1-20
Healing often costs the community something.
The possessed man lived by himself, in the hills. There he lived alone with his demons (literally) who made him howl and bruise himself with stones. Such a man could not be permitted to live in the city, with the decent people; for one thing, he would be a constant reminder of brokenness. A modern youth-obsessed culture that regularly insulates itself from the elderly should understand this: we often don’t like to look at broken or frail people, because it reminds us of our own frailty.
So the community had an arrangement. This man would live by himself, away from others, out of sight; and the arrangement worked until Jesus boldly strode up to the outcast and cast out his demons. The demons begged to be sent into a nearby herd of pigs, and the minute the demons entered the pigs the pigs ran off a cliff and plunged into the sea below. The swineherds who were charged with taking care of the pigs ran to tell the pigs’ owners, anxious to show that the death of two thousand pigs was not their fault, and word quickly spread that the man was healed.
We might expect the townsfolk to be thrilled, but something quite different happens. Verse 17 says, “Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighborhood.” You see, there was a lot of money tied up in those pigs; good Jews wouldn’t pay for them, but the Jews weren’t the ones with the money anyway. It was the Romans who made the money and the Romans who loved pork. Now their pork had tumbled into the Sea of Galilee and with it an awful lot of money. And people beg Jesus to leave before he causes another economic downturn. They would rather have their money than the man’s healing.
Let me suggest something radical to you: while the uncertain economic situation in our nation is scary, there is healing in it. Already there are signs that people are consuming less, that necessity is freeing them from addictions to stuff. Already there are signs that people are enjoying simpler things and treasuring relationships instead of consumer products. Already there are signs that God can use this economic disaster to heal our broken, addicted spirits.
Would we rather have money than this healing?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Advent Devotional for Dec. 2

Tuesday, December 2 Acts 20:7-12
Healing helps us to be humble.
Pity poor Eutychus, the young teenager who had the misfortune of nodding off during the Apostle Paul’s lengthy midnight sermon while seated near a window. As he slept, he tumbled out of the window, down three stories and on to the ground below, where he was picked up dead. This is one of many reasons our church sanctuary is on the ground floor…Yet Paul took him up in his arms and said “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” And sure enough, when the Apostle touches him, the boy lives!
We pity Eutychus; how sheepish he must have felt. Yet there was a hidden gift in his embarrassment. You see, we have to be humbled before we are healed. If we spend our lives showing everybody how we have it all together, how we are doing just fine, how we are in no need of anybody, we can never know healing. Jesus said that he did not come for the well, but for the sick; and if our lives are about demonstrating our competence, we cannot ever be healed in the way we need. But when you hit a Eutychus moment, when you’re tumbling through the sky, heading for a crash, and worse, you know it’s all your fault: then you can be healed.
Perhaps you are in a Eutychus moment now, or perhaps you just fear you will be soon. You fear the lack of control; you fear the inability to manage your destiny. If this is where you are, take heart: it is when you fall like Eutychus that God can raise you up.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Audio from Sunday, Nov. 30

E-mail me if you want the text...don't want to get too many posts in here...

Advent Devotional for Monday, Dec. 1

For an post introducing the Advent Devotional, see four or five posts down...

Monday, Dec 1 2 Kings 5:1-14
Healing makes us re-think things.
In this story, Naaman comes down with leprosy and Elisha advises him to dip 7 times in the River Jordan. This is of course reprehensible to the sophisticated Naaman, but in the end, his servants convinced him to try what the man of God said. In the end, he does and he is healed.
What are your boundaries? We all have them, especially in suburbia. Our neat little houses have neat little fences which keep our neat little property away from our not-so-neat little neighbors. More than just physical boundaries, though, we often have a sense of what is beneath us. We see this perhaps most often in the way we practice our faith. Our erudite suburban faith sometimes boils down to what we will not do: handle snakes, raise our hands in worship, preach about hell, speak in tongues.
Naaman’s story profoundly challenges people like us, because it asks us to consider that part of following God might be doing things we consider beneath us. What if God asks you to move to a “lower” part of town? What if God speaks to you through a person more conservative or liberal than you are? What if you are forced to depend on someone you don’t find dependable or even likable? The story of Naaman reminds us that God uses all people and all sorts of ways of bringing healing, not just those we find palatable.
In your quest for healing, may you be willing to dip into a muddy river seven times—no matter what that means in your life.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Devotional for Sunday, Nov. 30

Wondering what the Advent devotional is? See the post below which introduces the concept...and check back each day for the devotional thought.

Sunday, Nov 30 Mark 5:21-43
Healing takes time.
This is one of my favorite stories in the Bible—or rather I should say two of my favorite stories. A man named Jairus comes looking for Jesus because his daughter is sick, at the point of death; obviously, he is a man of deep faith to come looking for Jesus. Jesus agrees to go with Jairus to his home to heal the girl. But on the way there is an interruption—a woman seeks Jesus’ healing from a hemorrhage which she has suffered with for twelve years. She believes that if she can just touch Jesus’ garment she will be made whole.
And she touches his garment and she is indeed made whole. Now Jesus could have kept moving, but he insists on stopping to see what has happened. “Who touched my clothes?” he said. The woman fesses up, and then proceeds to tell Jesus the whole drawn-out affair. Meanwhile, Jairus stands by, waiting, waiting, waiting, his daughter at the point of death. As Jesus responds to the woman, Jairus’ servant comes and informs him that his daughter has died. I have recurring bad dreams where I can’t get to a place on time and I’m moving as slow as molasses. Think how Jairus must have felt, his own daughter’s chance at healing snuffed out by another’s healing. Yet the story does not end here. Of course, Jesus goes and raises the girl from the dead after all, and Jairus’ faith is rewarded in the end.
Jairus’ story parallels our own as we await healing. Often, God’s healing does not happen in the time or way we expect. We watch as others receive healing and wonder why we cannot receive that same kind of healing quickly, instantly as that woman did. Why do we lay sick, why do our own children lay sick, even dying, when others are healed so quickly?
We don’t know. But we do know that in Jairus’ situation—and ours—Jesus knew the situation exactly. Jesus knew the girl would die, and knew he would raise her again for God’s greater glory. What humans could not see, Jesus could. And in our lives, in whatever need for healing we have at the moment, we can be assured that Jesus is in control of what is happening behind the scenes. That which we cannot see, he can; and he will deal with us in his way and in his time. We can know beyond doubting that this is the best way for us.

Intro to my Advent Devotional

Hi all! This year, as every year, I write an Advent devotional for our church to use. I will be publishing them on my blog this year, as well as notes on facebook. My hope is to get some discussion going around the themes that are raised herein. Keep in mind when we discuss that the Internet is a big place, and I have friends of all theological stripes, from entrenched atheists to staunch conservatives to wild and flaming liberals (you know I love you guys...). So the potential exists for some really good discussions, and also for some really hurt feelings if we're not careful as we express ourselves. So please, keep a few things in mind when you post your comments:

1. Those who read your posts will not always share your theological positions. So if you want to represent your convictions well, be KIND!!
2. Provocative statements are welcome as they make us all think. Keep your thoughts provocative and not your language.
3. If someone says something that offends you, try to take it up with them privately. I can vouch for most of the people reading this blog, that they're pretty good people who are not intentionally trying to upset you.
4. Always be open to having your mind changed: all truth is God's truth, for God is One.

Below is the intro to the Advent devotional, entitled "Healing for Broken Hearts." It was inspired by the election this year.

I had great plans for this year’s Advent Devotional. I was going to write a booklet called “Preparing with the Prophets:” a series of reflections on getting our hearts ready for the coming of Jesus, just as the prophets prepared the way for him so long ago.
Still a good idea. Maybe I’ll do it some other year. Just not now.
Because when I woke up on November 5 and turned on the news, I saw a nation desperately in need of healing. I saw a people waking up after a long and polarizing dream to find out it was all true—that we really do see the world very differently.
I also noticed in this year’s election that the church revealed the same polarities as the rest of the world: many Christians were more excited by Obama than any Democratic candidate since Jimmy Carter in 1976. While it was great to have the voices balanced somewhat, the presence of the Christian Democratic voice also revealed deep divisions in the American church in a way never before seen so publicly. Indeed, when it became evident that Obama would win, one man at an American Baptist church categorized it as a “victory of faith over fear, grace over greed, and vision over violence,” and evidence that “God was still on the throne.” While that may in some sense be true, it also gave me pause when I thought about the good Christians I knew on the other side of the voting fence. Were they really fearful, greedy and violent? Of course not. But it revealed how starkly Christians are different from one another and it revealed the depth of division in the body of Christ. And that is what made my heart ache on November 5: the division in the church. Of course, the election only brought that division to the surface; it always has been there.
And so I ditched “Preparing with the Prophets,” and instead decided to write a devotional on healing. Our God heals. He has always healed. These divisions are nothing compared to what God has healed in the past, when He called people from all over the earth to be His own.
This makes perfect sense for Advent, because healing is precisely what Jesus promises. He promises to heal those who would be healed. His healing is not trite, never easy—there is always a cross to bear if you follow him. But, oh!—the healing he brings to his people, some of whom never suspect it. In this devotional, you will read stories from both the Old and the New Testament about God heals people. As you read, I ask that you think about three things:
• What does this story about healing have to do say to my own individual need for healing? All of us are in need of healing. Modern American lives are incredibly fragmented; we have so many goals to achieve, each one demanding high priority, that the best we can often do is to try to keep all of our plates spinning. We are desperately in need of integration in our lives, the sense that our lives are about something. Theologians talk about this as having our lives “ordered rightly.” When our priorities in order and we have a clear sense of what is truly important to us, we experience God’s healing! As you read the Biblical stories and reflections, think about the ways they correspond to your personal need for healing.
• What does this story have to say to Christians about our need for healing and unity? The body of Christ around the world, the universal church, is also in dire need of healing. But to be healed, one must first admit one’s brokenness. As you read the Biblical stories and reflections, reflect on the brokenness of the church and think about the ways that these stories invite the church to be healed.
• What does this story have to say to all humanity about being healed? While this election revealed deep fissures in the church, the fissures in the world are still deeper. Little trust exists between blue-staters and red-staters, even more so than four years ago. What can these stories say to a nation and a world desperately in need of healing?
May God use these writings to touch you and to start (or continue) a healing process in your life and in our life together.

Pastor Mike Jordan