Sunday, January 11, 2004

Faith on Fire, The Friendship Vision
Sharing a Deeper Healing
Acts 3:1-10

(shared with the people of Friendship Church, January 11, 2004)

She was a member of my former congregation in northwestern Ohio and she was dying. Some of you have heard me speak of her before. In spite of many prayers and the care of top-flight oncologists at the University of Michigan’s hospital, she was losing her fight with cancer. It was only a matter of time when they brought her back to our area, to be kept comfortable at a local hospital before she passed away. One day, near the end, we talked for a long time and I asked her, “Alvina, are you mad at God?” “I was at first,” she told me, “but then I remembered that God knows exactly what it’s like to suffer pain and to die. Every time I start to feel sorry for myself, I think of God being right here with me in this room. I think about how very soon, I’m going to be with Jesus and all my pain will be over.”

Another member of my former congregation, a man, then in his early thirties, had done a good deed for some neighbor boys. They wanted him to use the torch in his workshop to cut a barrel in half. He cleaned the barrel out. He drained it. But there was still a chemical residue in it. When he lit his torch, the flame immediately made contact with the chemicals in the barrel. There was an explosion. The barrel crashed into his forehead with the velocity of a jet plane. It cracked his skull open and caused his brain to swell. He was life-flighted to a hospital in Toledo. I drove like a madman to the emergency room, where the doctors had just completed their examination of him. When the nurses ushered me to where he lay, I hardly recognized Loren. He looked like the pictures I’d seen of wounded soldiers after battle. Later, the doctor came to an ER waiting room and told the family that Loren’s prognosis was horrible, that if his brain continued to swell at its current rate, he would die before the night was out. And even then, they implied, if he survived this ordeal, he might well be a vegetable for life. As soon as word of what happened got out, people began to pray. It seemed for a time that everyone in a four-county area prayed for Loren. Many months later, after intense physical therapy, excellent care, and lots of those prayers, Loren came home. The only lasting physical after-effect for Loren following all he went through is that there are some foods he can’t taste very well. Some of you may have met him when he and his wife Patsy were here in November for my surprise fiftieth birthday party.

Both Alvina and Loren received what Pastor Mike Foss calls priceless healing. I call it a deeper and more significant healing. I believe that Alvina experienced this healing by being given the strength that comes to the followers of a Savior Who suffered, died, and then conquered all that is horrible by rising and giving eternity to us. And I believe that Loren, whose life was forever changed by his suffering and the physical healing God gave to him, experienced this deeper healing, the kind of healing that helps us rely on the risen Savior Jesus.

The God we know through Jesus Christ calls His followers to bring healing to others’ lives. We see this illustrated in the first miracle to happen in the history of the Church after Jesus had died, risen, gone to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to His followers. Two of Jesus’ most prominent followers, Peter and John, were at the temple for one of three daily prayer times there. A man who had been crippled for years and regularly panhandled at the temple, near a place called the Beautiful Gate, was also there.

Peter and John had gone for prayer with perhaps, low expectations. They may have been like the church member a pastor told me about many years ago. “How does the weekly Sunday message help you with your every day life?” the pastor asked. The member looked at him as though he had three heads. “Help me with my every day life? How on earth could a sermon do that?” That man had low expectations.

Peter and John, like that man sitting through worship on Sunday mornings, were only doing what they were supposed to do. But they didn’t really think that praying would be life-changing.

By the same token, the lame man, when Peter and John approached them, clearly expected nothing more than some coins. But Peter was prompted by God to believe that something more could be given to this beggar. The lame man was given more than he dared hope for. “In the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth,” Peter says to him, “get up and walk.”

The man did that and more. He got up, and jumped, and danced, and celebrated. Now, not every lame person in Jerusalem was healed in Jesus’ Name that day. But every person whose life was marred by sin and death could see that Jesus Christ, Whose powerful Name can bring healing against all odds, can also give life that never ends!

You and I can bring God’s priceless healing to the world around us. Whether it’s through our praying or our actions or our words, you and I are meant to heal in Jesus’ Name. But how do we do that?

We do it first of all, by understanding that God gives us more than we ask for and more than we can imagine. Several times each year, I serve for two-week stints as a volunteer chaplain at Clermont Mercy Hospital. When the spiritual care department is done for the day or the week, we volunteers get paged if a pastoral emergency arises. Almost always, we’re paged to help the families of someone who has died or is dying. At about 1:00 in the morning on December 26, I was in a deep sleep when the pager beeped. I called the hospital and was told that yes, I was needed. A woman had just died unexpectedly and her daughters wanted to talk with a pastor.

I have to make a confession to you. At moments like those, as I pull on some clothes, drag myself to my car, and drive to the hospital, I always feel inadequate. So, I pray over and over again, “God, help me. Help me not to mess up. Help me to say the right words and keep the right silences.” What amazes me is that God always seems to answer those prayers! It happened again that night. I spent about an hour with those two shocked daughters. I prayed with them. I arranged for a funeral director to get their mom’s body. I hugged them and assured them of God’s love for them.

I’d entered the hospital with low expectations and desperate prayers. When I left, I was thanking God for making more of my meager efforts than was really there. You see, over the years, I have learned that when I try to achieve anything on my own, the results are mediocre at best. But when I invite God in, He goes beyond my expectations and brings real those I touch and to me too!

The second way in which we can bring God’s priceless healing to others is to see them through Jesus’ eyes. I’m not just talking about seeing people with compassion. I mean seeing them in the way that Peter and John saw the lame man that day at the temple. They saw the possibilities that exist in even the most helpless of situations when we invite Jesus Christ to help us.

Finally, we bring God’s deepest healing to others when we give the best thing we have to offer: Jesus. Peter told the lame man, “I don’t have any silver or gold. But I do have the power of Jesus.” That’s a power than heals memories, relationships, and lives. It’s the best that we can give to others.

People sometimes wonder why Jesus Christ’s presence isn’t so apparent today. But it may be that we don’t perceive Jesus’ presence and power in our lives because we don’t expect for Him to be present and so don’t ask Him to be present. I often fail to remember that. But whenever I do remember it, God amazes me.

Last week, after the corporate board meeting for the Boys and Girls Club of Clermont County, prosecuting attorney Don White, who also serves on the board, struck up a conversation with me. He knows about this little extracurricular thing in which I’m involved these days, running for the state house of representatives. “Mark,” he said, “I’m having a big breakfast for my campaign tomorrow. Why don’t you come too? I can introduce you to the group and you can talk with people.”

I went, praying that God would grant that I not embarrass Him or myself and that maybe it might help my campaign in some way. You know what? I found myself doing ministry a good chunk of the morning, listening to and bringing comfort to some folks going through some rough times. You see, like Peter, John, and the lame man, my expectations of God had been low. But He did so much more than I expected.

Here’s one thing I’ve learned. I offer my puny prayers and God doesn’t hold their puniness against me. I picture God saying, “Well, Mark may be an unimaginative dolt. But at least he had the sense to call out to Me in Jesus’ Name. I’ll take that prayer as permission to use him more and to bless him more than he bargained for.” When in prayer, we give God an inch, He always takes a mile...or two...or five.

As I’ve told you before, God isn’t looking for people with ability; God is looking for people with availability. If you and I will make ourselves available to God, we can bring the deeper healing of Jesus Christ to a broken world. Let’s pray as a church that God will use each of us to help others experience God’s ultimate healing: life forever with Jesus Christ!