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Thursday, February 28, 2013

What about healing diseases and casting out demons?

We saw on Sunday that just as Jesus’ ministry consisted of preaching the gospel, healing diseases, and casting out demons, so also He called His disciples to do the same.  In our application of the passage we discovered that as Jesus’ disciples, we too should take the gospel to the people around us. 
But that brings up an obvious question.  Why is it that we are to share the gospel, but we are not expected to cast out demons or heal diseases?  If those things were part of Jesus’ ministry and the ministry of the disciples/apostles, why are they not part of our ministry today? 
The answer pertains to where we are in salvation history.  There is evidence in the New Testament that the miraculous deeds done by Jesus and the apostles served the purpose of validating their message.  Jesus indicates in Matthew 11:21 that His miracles were intended to lead the people to repentance: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.”  So that we don’t miss the point, Matthew introduces this quotation with an editorial comment: Then he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent (Matt 11:20).
Hebrews 2:3-4 also shows that miracles were intended to validate the message.  There we are taught that the gospel was first given by Jesus, then by “those who heard” (the apostles), and that God Himself bore witness to the truth of the message “by signs and wonders and various miracles.”  One example of this is in Acts 8:6-7: And the crowds with one accord paid attention to what was being said by Philip when they heard him and saw the signs that he did. For unclean spirits, crying out with a loud voice, came out of many who had them, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed.  Additionally, in Acts19:11-20, the author describes how Paul’s various miracles and exorcisms directly led to the successful spread of the gospel.   
But, as I have previously written related to exorcism, now that the canon of Scripture has been completed, such validating signs are no longer necessary.  When we speak the truth, we do not appeal to the authority evident in miracles we perform, but we appeal to the authority of the Bible.  That is why we do not see the same kinds of miracles and exorcisms today that were prevalent during the time of the apostles.  [Some would disagree, perhaps citing healing services by people like Benny Hinn.  This objection does not hold water because the miracles that Jesus and the disciples performed were qualitatively different than the “miracles” performed by Hinn.  Benny Hinn has never instantly removed leprosy from a leper.  He has never instantly regenerated a withered hand.  He has never given sight to a person confirmed to have been born blind.  He has never instantly cured a hemorrhage of blood.  With the miracles of Jesus, everyone could see with their own eyes that a true miracle had taken place.  With Hinn, you just have to take his word for it, which defeats the original purpose of miracles.]
A second reason to believe that sharing the gospel is to be our main focus is that the Great Commission makes no mention of healing and exorcism:  And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mat 28:18-20).  This seems parallel to Jesus’ command to the disciples in Matt 10 to go to the lost sheep of Israel, except now the mission is extended to all nations.  Missing is the exhortation to cast out spirits and heal every disease and every affliction.
So don’t think that if you aren’t an exorcist or a healer you are a substandard follower of Christ.  Just recognize the lost and give them the gospel.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Body Needs You

In our “How People Change” study last night, we looked at how God has designed sanctification to take place within the context of a community of believers.  There was one point in the study that I found particularly helpful that I’d like to pass on to you.
In the book of Ephesians, beginning in ch2, Paul explains that God reconciled us to Himself in order to create one new body, the church (2:14-22).  In ch3, he prays for the Ephesians that they would come to know the love of Christ as a body of believers (3:14-21).  Then beginning in ch4, Paul explains how God accomplishes this: God has gifted every believer to serve the body of Christ in a specific way so that the whole body becomes mature in Christ (4:7-16).
Most of us are aware of the New Testament concept of spiritual gifts (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12).  All of us who are in Christ have received a gift with which to serve the body.  Consider how the receipt of that gift obligates each of us to be involved in the lives of the believers around us.
There are at least three things that the New Testament presents as tools used by God to sanctify us.  Most of us know what the first two are right away.  The Bible and prayer.  We’ve heard for as long as we’ve been in the church how essential those two things are in order for us to grow in Christ.  However, many people in the church either are not aware of the third tool or they simply do not incorporate it into their lives.  That third tool is the church itself.  That passage in Ephesians 4 makes it clear that God has designed sanctification to take place as we exercise our gifts in each other’s lives. 
We need to understand that what Paul is picturing is not mere church attendance.  Nor is it even serving in some capacity on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. Rather it is real involvement in each other’s lives.  Praying together, confessing to one another, encouraging each other, confronting each other, providing accountability, helping each other to apply Scripture.  It is all the “one another-ing” in Scripture.
Many of us resist this kind of involvement in one another’s lives, among other reasons, because of the vulnerability of it, because of the time it requires, and because of a perceived lack of personal benefit.  I believe that if we take those reasons and hold them up to the Ephesians 4 picture, we would have to admit that they are extremely self-centered motivations. 
We need to look at this issue from the other side.  Rather than asking myself, “how much time will this require of me?” or “how will this benefit me?”, I should ask, “how might I be a blessing in that person’s life? How has God gifted me to help that person in his sanctification?” 
It is certainly appropriate for me to recognize how badly I need the brothers and sisters around me to help me grow in Christ.  It is good for that to motivate me to engage in close relationships with them.  But I should also consider that I am needed in their lives as well, and that also should motivate me to build those relationships.  I am not the only one who suffers when I keep to myself.  Those around me suffer as well in that I am not being used by the Lord to help them. 
What close relationships do you have at Providence?  Is there anyone you are regularly spending time with in order to help and be helped?  If not, don’t wait for someone to initiate that relationship.  Be obedient and take the initiative.  Schedule coffee or a play date with the kids or dinner at your house.  Do you already have a relationship like that?  Include someone else.  Broaden your service. You’ve been given a gift that is needed in the body, just as the body has gifts needed by you.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Overcoming Male Pattern Selfishness

I’m currently reading through the Scriptures at an accelerated pace.  It is bearing fruit in numerous ways, not the least of which is that I am noticing patterns in the Bible that I haven’t seen in the past.  One of these is how Adam’s failure in Genesis 3 continues to be replayed in various ways throughout the biblical storyline.
In Genesis 2, God created for Adam a “helper suitable” for him.  He took one of the man’s ribs and fashioned it into a woman and brought her to the man. “Then the man said, ‘This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…’ Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:23-24).  This one-flesh union has many implications, one being that “husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it…” (Eph 5:28-29).  Because the man recognized the woman as his own flesh, he should have cared for her as his own flesh.
But immediately in the biblical text, the man fails to do this.  Genesis 3 records the serpent coming into the garden and tempting the woman to disobey God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The woman gave in to the temptation and ate of the fruit.  Then the text reveals, “she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” (Gen 3:6).  Though the man is not mentioned in the first five verses of the chapter, we find that he was there the whole time, watching. 
It would appear that Adam remained silent as the serpent trespassed in the garden, silent as the serpent twisted God’s word, silent as his wife contemplated disobedience, silent as she plucked the fruit from the tree, silent as she brought it to her mouth, and silent as she ate it – for the sole purpose of satisfying his own curiosity.  He wanted to see what would happen.  Certainly, this episode demonstrates a number of failures on Adam’s part, including his failure to rid the garden of the serpent, to protect his wife from the serpent, and to lead his wife in obeying God’s command.  It also demonstrates a selfish willingness to sacrifice the good of his wife for his own pleasure.  He figured that his wife would have greater culpability for having eaten the fruit first and given it to him (Gen 3:12).  She would bear the brunt of the blame, while his desire would be fully satisfied.
But God did not see it that way.  When the deed was done, Yahweh came looking for the man.  In v9, Yahweh calls out, “where are you?”  In the Hebrew text, “you” is a masculine singular pronoun.  God was talking specifically to Adam and not to his wife.  That Adam held the greater culpability is clear from New Testament passages, such as Rom 5:12, which teaches that “sin came into the world through one man.”
When God was pronouncing the curse of the ground in v17, He said that it was “because you have listened to the voice of your wife and eaten of the tree…”  Adam not only disobeyed the direct command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he also allowed his wife to lead, and in that way he failed to care for her.
This is the starting point of a perpetual pattern of male selfishness and failure to lead.  In Genesis 12, Abram and Sarai traveled to Egypt because there was a famine in the land.  Because Sarai was a beautiful woman, Abram feared that when the Egyptians saw her and realized she was his wife, they would kill him so that they could have her.  Abram’s solution?  “Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake” (Gen 12:13).  That sentence not only reeks of self-centeredness, but also reflects the mindset of Adam.  I’ll let her pay the price for what is beneficial to me.  I’ll sacrifice her for my good.  Pharaoh did indeed take Sarai into his house, but by the grace of God she was spared complete humiliation and was returned to Abram (Gen 12:15-20). 
But old habits die hard. Sojourning in Gerar in Genesis 20, he (now Abraham) did the same thing again.  This time his wife (now Sarah) was taken by Abimelech, king of Gerar.  Once again, by God’s grace she was spared and returned to Abraham.
Is that the last episode? It was the last of that specific expression of selfishness by Abraham, but the pattern was continued by his son Isaac in Genesis 26.  As in the previous story, the setting was Gerar.  “When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, ‘She is my sister,’ for he feared to say, ‘My wife,’ thinking, ‘lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,’ because she was attractive in appearance” (Gen 26:7).  Like father like son.
Other episodes of men putting their own pleasure/safety/needs above the women in their lives include: Abraham following Sarah’s counsel to take Hagar as his wife, which led to strife among the three of them (Gen 16); Isaac taking additional wives, who “made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Gen 26:34-35); and, the Levite who, fearing for his own life, offered his concubine to an angry horde of Benjaminites, who raped and killed her (Jdg 19).
I think if we look at our own lives, we can find traces of the same pattern.  It may not be as extreme as the cases in the Bible, but it is there.  We allow our wives to be the primary spiritual influence in the lives of our children.  We come home from work each day, and yet, considering our lack of involvement with the family, we might as well be gone.  We expect our wives to continue doing everything for the kids and everything that needs to be done around the house so that we can relax, as if we are the only ones who have been working all day.  We remain preoccupied with our own concerns, interests, and hobbies while never asking about what they are struggling with or showing any care for their emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being.  Without serving them, we expect them to serve us.  In time, we not only retire from our careers, but from our marriages, as mentally absent from our wives’ lives as we are physically absent from our old places of employment.
We expect them to fend for themselves spiritually.  We wait for them to ask if we can pray together or read the Word together.  We are all too willing to let them lead, since following requires so much less effort and thought from us.  We allow them to take the lead in being involved and serving at church while we would be content to sit in the pew and drink coffee.  In short, we allow them and even expect them to give themselves up for us.
We are following in Adam’s footsteps.  The first Adam, that is.  There is a second Adam, who has provided not only a new pattern, but also the power to put it into practice. 
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. (Eph 5:25-30)
This is the new paradigm.  Or perhaps we should consider a return to the original paradigm of Genesis 2.  Husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church.  He loved her by giving Himself up for her.  We must follow this pattern.  But how?
First, we must examine ourselves to find where the old Adam’s pattern is manifesting itself in our lives.  We need to find those specific things that we are doing to sacrifice our wives for our own pleasure/safety/needs.
Second, we need to repent.  We need to agree with Scripture that this way of life is sinful.  As Paul wrote in Eph 4:22, we need to put off the old self, which belongs to our former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires.  We must purpose by God’s grace to turn away from these things and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:24).
Third, we need to seek our wives’ forgiveness.  Until things are right between a husband and wife, they cannot be right between a husband and God (1 Pet3:7).  If your wife has read this post, demonstrate your repentance by being the first to bring it up and deal with the issues.
Fourth, seek God’s forgiveness.  Every sin is first and foremost a sin against God (Psa51:4).  If we confess and seek forgiveness, He will cleanse us (1 John 1:9).
Fifth, we must pursue Christ, in whom alone is the power to walk faithfully as godly husbands.  We do this by spending time in the Word, in prayer, under faithful teaching, and in godly fellowship and mutual service, daily preaching the gospel to ourselves (Col 3:16; 1 Thess 5:17; 1 Pet 2:1-5; Heb 10:24-25; Eph 4:11-14; 1 Cor15:1-58).  A man who pursues Christ will find in Him the desire and ability to love his wife the way Christ loves His.
Sixth, we must seek out accountability with other men (2 Tim2:22; 1 Thess 5:14).  Find someone who will walk with you, asking hard questions and offering encouragement and correction when needed.
We have to remember that as Christian men our lives are not about our own pleasure and self-centered pursuits.  We exist to glorify God and exalt Jesus Christ (Matt 5:16;Phil 2:9-11; Eph 5:22-32).  In our marriages, the best way to do this is to follow the second Adam, not the first.
 Posted by Greg Birdwell