Monday, March 06, 2017

March 5, 2017 - The Power of Healing

As I have mentioned the past few weeks, today’s message is an addendum to the series of four messages about prayer.  Although today’s message is not directly about prayer, it addresses one of the biggest theological questions we have, not only about prayer, but about the workings of God in general, and that is, what part does prayer play in healing?  How does God decide when, how, and who to heal?  And on and on we could go with associated questions.

I read a very interesting article in the Washington Post recently by a doctor at Harvard Medical School who also has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary.  He wrote about a young girl by the name of Anna, who was miraculously healed from an incurable illness after a near fatal fall.  Her story was the basis of the recent move Miracles From Heaven.  Among the very interesting comments in his article were these –

I have listened to more than 100 of these remarkably cured individuals, despite the fact that in medical school, I was taught that reports of spontaneous remission are rare, “anecdotes” and “flukes” from which nothing can be learned.
That assumption appears to be wrong.  In my studies of more than 100 people with medical evidence for recovery from incurable illness, the similarity in their paths suggests to me identifiable mental and spiritual principles associated with their recoveries.

And here is the really interesting part of the article –

I believe that miracles only contradict what we know of nature at this point in time. Modern physics is, for example, way ahead of traditional science, and its implications have not been fully incorporated into its perspectives and methods yet. So I believe that miracles actually are consistent with mental and spiritual laws that we are only beginning to study. This is the only way I can understand the similarities among all those with remarkable recoveries whom I have been interviewing.

If you would like to read the entire article it will be at the end of the text of my message once I post it online, which you can find on Facebook, on my page and the church page; on the church web site; and also on the web site where I post my messages.

For our Scripture text this morning, I am using pieces of three different passages about healing – miraculous healing.  This is not, I will emphasize again, a message about he way that healing works, at least not in terms of why some people are healed while others are not.  Obviously, no one in this world has the answers to questions such as that one.  I cannot offer a scientific or medical answer to such questions, but I will offer a pastoral perspective based upon my 35+ years of ministry.

Follow along, if you will, as I read those passages of Scripture at this time.

Matthew 4:23-25
23 Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
24 News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them.
25 Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Luke 9:1-2
1 When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,
and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.

John 5:1-9
1 Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals.
Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.
Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  
One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

Some years ago, as I was sat with a family who had just received an extremely difficult health diagnosis, and I was struggling to find something to say.  Which can be a mistake, as when we try to find something to say we can say the wrong thing; there are times when it’s all right to say nothing at all.  But I could sense they were looking to me to have some kind of encouraging word.  I told them this, and at the time I wondered if it was the right thing to say, but over the years this is what I’ve come to believe very strongly.  I said there was good news and bad news about their loved one’s diagnosis.  First, I was convinced healing would come to their loved one.  That, I said, was the good news.  The bad news, I added, is that healing doesn’t always come in this life.  One of the great Christian promises about eternity is that we are granted healing.  Whatever ailments and struggles we have in this life, they disappear in the next.  Healing connects the temporal – this world –with the eternal.  To get a better understanding of healing I believe we need to reconnect the temporal and eternal and remember that one of the great promises of eternity is healing.  In fact, Revelation 21:4 reminds us that in eternity there will be some things that will no longer exist – there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain.  These are things associated with illness and entrance into eternity does away with them all.

I absolutely believe in healing.  I believe God heals people.  I believe in the power of prayer to heal people.  I have seen people who have experienced what can only be described as miraculous healings.  I also believe, though, that we define healing too narrowly if we think of it only in terms of illness and disease.  When we speak of healing we speak almost exclusively of healing from a physical problem, but the Bible presents healing as something far greater than just healing from a physical ailment or illness.

I am always amazed at the number of people in the hospital on any given day.  If you visit any hospital in Louisville or the surrounding area on any weekday you will find them packed with people preparing for surgery, recovering from surgery, or dealing with some kind of illness.  It’s a lot of people.  But for all the people who are dealing with difficulties related to physical health I believe there are even more people struggling with problems of emotional and spiritual unhealthiness.  Though we have more doctors, more hospitals, and more medicines than ever, we have more unhealthiness, because we live in a world full of emotional and spiritual unhealthiness.  Our world is one full of dis-ease.  There is more dis-ease, I believe, than disease.  In spite of all our health care, we often lack a wholistic view of healing.

There is so much in the Bible about healing, especially in the gospels and in the book of Acts.  Our Scripture readings this morning tell us about the scores of people healed by Jesus, and the commission for his followers to go and heal as well.  Anyone who has read the healing stories of the Bible has probably wondered why physical healing seems to have been so much more prevalent in those days than in our own.  I don’t really have an answer to that question, and my emphasis today is not really on that question anyway.  This morning, I want us to think about the healing that God brings to our lives.  Yes, sometimes that healing is a physical healing, but let’s think also of the emotional and spiritual healing God brings as well.

Here is a tragic truth – many people spend a great deal of their lives healthy in a physical sense, but unhealthy when it comes to their emotional and spiritual lives.  I believe that if we want to experience the abundant life of which Jesus speaks (John 10:10), we must find healing.  There are many passages in Scripture about healing even though we don’t generally associate them with healing.  Think, for example, about the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).  That’s not just a parable about who we consider our neighbor; it’s a parable about how the love of God can break down the barriers that divide people and bring healing to relationships that previously seemed impossibly broken.  The fractious divisions that exist between people serve as an example of a spiritual illness that needs healing, and the occurrences of this kind of illness probably outnumber any kind of physical illness.  Think about the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).  That is a parable about love and grace but it’s also a parable about the healing of the relationship between a father and son.  It tells us of a young man who in callous disregard of his father goes his own way and God heals his wayward mind and soul – God brings the young man to his senses as the story tells us (Luke 15:17).  It’s a healing of how this young man thought about himself, his family, and God.  When Jesus told the parable about the rich man who planned to tear down his barns to build bigger ones to hold his possessions (Luke 12:13-21) Jesus is telling about how to be healed of the tyranny of our possessions and how we can be healed of the desire to possess more and more things; it is a parable of healing a soul sick with materialism and greed.  When Jesus healed Bartimaeus of blindness (Mark 10:46-52) it wasn’t just a case of physical healing, it was an opportunity for Jesus to point out that even people with sight can be blind because the hardness of their hearts and minds prevent them from seeing truth, and a hard heart is a heart that needs healing.

So after that lengthy introduction, allow me to offer three brief thoughts about healing.

Do You Want to Get Well?
That is, actually, a very Biblical question.  In fact, that question comes straight from Jesus.  In the fifth chapter of John’s gospel we read of Jesus’ encounter with a man who had been ill for 38 years.  He was at the pool at Bethesda, in hopes that he would find healing there.  Jesus saw the man, and knowing he had been sick a long time, asked what sounds like a very strange question.  Jesus asked the man, do you wish to get well? (John 5:5).  Not only was it an odd question, but the man offers an odd response.  Note that he doesn’t answer Jesus’ question.  It would seem that anyone in his position would immediately answer yes!  But instead, he tells Jesus why he is not able to be healed (the traditional belief was that when the water in the pool was troubled an angel had entered, and the first person in the pool would be healed.  Being an invalid, he was unable to be the first in the pool, and he had no one to get him into the pool ahead of the others who were seeking healing).  I am not a good patient.  When I have even a small injury I want to get well.  If I stub my toe, the world needs to some to a halt and tend to my injury.  Ask me if I want to be healed and I will shout yes!  Absolutely!  Right now!  Here was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years; you would think he would be more than ready to be made well.  But here is a strange truth about humanity – when it comes to illnesses that are emotional and spiritual, we don’t always want to get well.  I’m more and more convinced of this strange truth as I observe people – including myself.  For various reasons, we not only resist healing, we even nurture our emotional and spiritual illnesses.  How many times, for instance, do we call up a hurt and anger from something that may have happened long ago?  That hurt and anger can poison our souls, but sometimes we insist on holding on to it and even nurturing it.

There are signs that help us to see when we are holding on to our hurts.  Are you angry and bitter?  Anger and bitterness very often are signs of a spiritual sickness that has not been healed, but very badly needs to be healed.  You may not be able to identify why you are angry or bitter because the source has been pushed down and so deeply buried.

Are you self-absorbed?  Well, if you are you probably wouldn’t notice; that’s one of the problems of being self-absorbed.  A symptom of spiritual sickness is self-absorption.  People who are spiritually ill are self-absorbed, just as churches that are spiritually ill are self-absorbed.

Can you see the goodness in your life?  I’m often touched by people, even in very difficult circumstances, are able to express thankfulness for the blessings in their lives.  That’s a pretty healthy way of looking at life.  Some people – even when they have seemingly everything – can’t be thankful for anything.  Their demeanor and their words and their attitude is negative and angry and bitter and resentful.  That will eat away at our souls!
Embrace the Wholeness of Salvation.
I think it’s interesting to study words and their root meanings, even though I was never successful at the study of languages.  I had a year of Spanish in 9th grade and can count to ten and offer a greeting of hello, how are you.  Greek and Hebrew were very difficult for me, but still, I am very interested in the meaning of words.  We learn a lot when we learn about the roots of words.  Take the word salvation, for instance.  The root of the word salvation is a Latin word, salvus, and it comes from a word meaning – can you guess?  Healing.  Isn’t that fascinating?

Salvation is the act of God granting us eternal life but it encompasses more.  The saving work of God is not only to grant us eternal life but also to put things right in the world, to undo the damage done by sin and the fall –  and to bring healing to his creation.

This is why Jesus was the very embodiment of healing.  Read through the gospels; you hardly find a page where there isn’t some kind of healing that is taking place.  Being saved means allowing God to bring healing to our hearts, our minds, and our souls.  We need to pray for this.  We see the physical ailments and pray about those, as we should, but we must go beyond them.  Keep a prayer list of people for whom you pray, and don’t just pray for the physical ailments – pray for the emotional and spiritual ones as well.  And keep praying.  We can track the progress of a fractured bone, but when does a fractured heart really heal?  It takes six weeks, approximately, for a bone to heal; a fractured heart takes a lot longer.

Don’t give up on healing; keep praying for healing.  A lot of people, I’m afraid, give up on healing.  They live day after day and year after year never believing that any change can come to their life.  

Don’t give up.

Be An Instrument of Healing.
We are almost finished with our Stephen Ministry training.  The participants in that training will have amassed 50 hours of training by the time we finish later this month.  Fifty hours!  Laine Kephart has done a tremendous work of leading us in that training and has devoted an amazing amount of time and effort into preparing us for this important ministry.  The Stephen Ministry shapes those who participate into instruments of healing.  And we need as many instruments of healing as we can find.
One reason for the need of instruments of healing can be seen from the following story, with which I’ll close.  A number of years ago I had been visiting a young man with a terminal illness.  He fought the illness bravely, but succumbed to it at the age of 41.  His father, understandably, was heartbroken, and was angry at God for what he described as the act of taking his son.  He remarked to me one day Jesus said, “which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?” (Matthew 7:9).  That’s a great verse, speaking to us about the goodness and the love of God.  But he was angry at God for not healing his son, and then said, all God has given me is a sack of rocks.

Those words still haunt me, and I have thought of them a great deal over the years.  And so I come back to the good news and the bad news of healing.  The good news is that father’s son was healed; the bad news is that the healing took place in eternity rather than this life.  And I do not say that to minimize, in any way, the pain of losing a loved one.  It hurts, and it hurts a great deal.  But I believe that at the heart of the Christian faith is hope, a hope that tells us that the final breath in this life becomes the first breath in eternal life; the sunset in this life becomes the sunrise in the next life; and that just as the book of Revelation tells us that one day, one day, He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).

And I can live with that.

Every person in this room has a need for some type of healing in their life.  Perhaps it’s a tattered or fractured relationship that needs healing; perhaps it’s forgiveness that needs to be offered or accepted; perhaps it’s guilt that needs to be let go of; perhaps it’s grief that has stayed with you for so long.  There are as many different needs for healing as there are people here.  Come, come to Jesus, and experience The Power of Healing.

Below is the entire text of the Washington Post article –

When I went to see “Miracles from Heaven,” I saw more laughter, crying and applause than I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. Clearly, this new movie — the real-life story of a young girl, suffering from an incurable illness, who was inexplicably healed after a nearly fatal accident — touches a chord, at least in the theater in Boston where I saw it.
To doctors, events like the story that this girl’s mother (played in the film by Jennifer Garner) recounted in her memoir are impossible to explain. Scientists call them “spontaneous remission” or “placebo responses.”
Religious people generally use a different word: “miracle.”
I’m trained in both medicine and theology. I’ve been investigating the medical evidence in stories like these since 2003. And I can say unequivocally that much of physical reality, remarkable as it may sound, is created in our minds.
I do not believe that we can think ourselves into health.  But I do believe that principles of mind and spirit exist that we have not even begun to scientifically map in the West, and that we should be doing so.
Think of it this way: Two people can sit on a park bench together, and yet live in very different worlds. One person can be living in hell, with a turbulent, frightened inner world, noticing and experiencing an outer world full of violence and pain. The other person, sitting right next to him, may be living in a completely different universe, full of love, connection and beauty.
Those people might have totally different medical outcomes, influenced solely by the way they see the world.
It’s amazing to me that in the history of medicine we have never studied the people who beat the odds and find a path to health after being told that their illness is incurable or that they are going to die. You would think that these are the people that we would most want to study, that perhaps they found golden keys to health and vitality that we would want to understand. Certainly it’s true that if I wanted to become a great athlete I would study Michael Jordan or Serena Williams. But in medicine we have too long ignored or dismissed people with remarkable recoveries.
I have listened to more than 100 of these remarkably cured individuals, despite the fact that in medical school, I was taught that reports of spontaneous remission are rare, “anecdotes” and “flukes” from which nothing can be learned.
That assumption appears to be wrong.  In my studies of more than 100 people with medical evidence for recovery from incurable illness, the similarity in their paths suggests to me identifiable mental and spiritual principles associated with their recoveries.
Take Claire Haser, for example.  She said she was diagnosed in 2008 by biopsy with adenocarcinoma of the pancreas, a brutal form of cancer. Without surgery at an early stage, it is essentially a death sentence.  Radiation and chemotherapy can delay death, but only briefly.
Haser was told that she was going to die. She values science highly and has a long history of pursuing the best that traditional medicine can offer. After much consideration, however, she said that she knew at a deep level that she needed to not chase a cure but rather to change her relationship with fear.
Five years after deciding not to go through cancer treatment, Haser had an abdominal CT for unrelated reasons. It turned out, she said, that her cancer was gone.
Haser did the same thing that I see over and over in these remarkable patients. She faced her fears and at a deep level changed her relationship with herself.
To move through fear and self-criticism in a way that genuinely changes how one relates to the world, to change not just one’s thoughts, but one’s experience and perception — that is a major feat, whether done as an adult or a child, and whether that process occurs in 10 minutes or 10 years.
As for Anna, the subject of “Miracles from Heaven,” I have not reviewed the medical evidence for myself nor spoken with her doctors, but the diagnosis does appear to have been made very carefully, after multiple tests and evaluations. And the medical evidence, and the psychological pattern that one typically finds after such remarkable recoveries, appear to support her story as well.
I believe Anna. But I disagree with one common viewpoint that the movie espouses. At the very beginning, it defines a “miracle” as a contradiction of natural law.
I believe that miracles only contradict what we know of nature at this point in time. Modern physics is, for example, way ahead of traditional science, and its implications have not been fully incorporated into its perspectives and methods yet. So I believe that miracles actually are consistent with mental and spiritual laws that we are only beginning to study. This is the only way I can understand the similarities among all those with remarkable recoveries whom I have been interviewing.
From whatever perspective you look at it—from the standpoint of Eastern philosophy or of modern physics, from my personal training as a scientist or as a theologian—you see a deeper relationship between the mind and physical reality.
As Scripture says, the Kingdom of Heaven is within and at hand—as near as our souls are to our bodies.  Life really is a matter of perception. Perception changes experience, even perhaps to the point of changing physical bodies.
Anna may have experienced a piece of heaven. The astonishing medical evidence suggests her body changed to match her inner experience.

Jeffrey D. Rediger is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. A medical doctor, he also earned a master’s degree in divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary.

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