Sunday, March 27, 2011

Biblical Presuppositions About Healing & Wholeness

“Wherever [Jesus] went… they begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.” (Mark 6:56)

This week in worship we focused on the healing ministry of Jesus. As a follow up to that message, let me share a few presuppositions about healing and wholeness that we find in the Bible:

1. Healing and wholeness is at the very heart of God's intention for all humanity (Genesis 1:27; John 10:10). Over 1/3 of the gospel stories are devoted to Jesus' healing ministry. In the Bible, the root Hebrew and Greek words for “salvation” (shalom and sozo, respectively) both mean "wholeness/completeness.”

2. All Healing is from God (Psalm 103:2-4). Humans (such as doctors and nurses) can assist or be instruments of this healing, but God is the ultimate source.

3. All Illness is a result of the fallenness of our world (Genesis 3). We live in a world everywhere permeated by sin. Illness is therefore not a punishment from God “because somebody sinned,” but instead is a byproduct of the world’s fallen nature.

4. We need to understand and recognize the many different types/forms of healing:
a. Physical (Matthew 8:1-13; Mark 1:29-34; 5:21-43; Acts 3:1-10 – remember that all physical healing is temporary at best)
b. Spiritual (Luke 5:17-26; James 5:16; John 5:14)
c. Emotional (Mark 1:21-28; 5:1-20; Luke 6:18-19; 9:42)
d. Healing of Fears & Doubts (I John 4:16-19; Romans 8:15)
e. Healing of Relationships (Ephesians2:13-18;4:1-3; Hebrews12:12-14)
f. Physical Death (John 11:25-26; Romans 14:7-9 – remember that death is merely a transition to a new chapter in every Christians’ life)
7. Others: Financial (3 John 2); Mental (Matt. 9:32-35); National (2 Chronicles 7:14); From Violence (Luke 22:51)

5. "Why are not all healed in the manner they desire?"
We don't know -- the Bible doesn't tell us (Read Job 42:1-6). But the Bible does nevertheless teach that the lack of a particular kind of healing is NOT because of recipient’s lack of faith. Even a little faith – or none – is enough for God. It’s quality, not quantity, that counts most with God (Read Matthew 17:20; John 5:1-9; Luke 14:1-4). Lack of a particular kind of healing is also NOT because God loves the one healed more than the one not healed (Romans 2:11; Acts 10:34-35).

6. Prayer is not “the least” but “the most” we can do for the healing and wholeness of others.

7. “What are some hindrances to healing from our prayers?” [Materials below drawn from the book BLESSED TO BE A BLESSING, by James K. Wagner (Upper Room books, 1980)]

a. Sometimes people choose, consciously or unconsciously, to hold onto their illness
b. Continuance of factors that caused/led to the illness, or persons surrounding themselves with an environment (social or personal) that is hostile or negative towards healing
c. Total absence of faith anywhere (expectant, confident, trusting, childlike faith in the healing Christ must be present somewhere, but not necessarily in the one seeking healing -- it can reside in the minister, in a friend, family member, etc)
d. Dealing with symptoms instead of the root cause (“faulty diagnosis” = failure to acknowledge the many forms of healing listed in #4, above)
e. Our failure to grasp that healing of the physical body is not the highest of all prayer goals – after all, all physical healing is temporary at best.
f. Failure to understand that physical death is not the end, but the transition to a new chapter in the life of each person. Only through death can we realize the fulfilled wholeness which God created us to have in the first place.
g. Refusal to see medicine as a way God heals, and/or not using the natural means of preserving health.
h. Refusing to accept/comprehend God’s timing.
i. The absence of compassion by the person praying for healing – healing power cannot flow where compassion is lacking.

[For a short, downloadable flyer version of these seven biblical presuppositions, click here]

Whatever hurt or brokenness you face, I encourage you to use these thoughts to help you find God’s healing and wholeness for your life! Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Biker Dude At Worship

If you were at worship this past Sunday, you know that we had an unusual “guest” with us. For those of you who missed out, here’s some pictures of our Biker friend from that day.

Jesus put it this way: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). So, the question I want you to wrestle with is this: if he were “for real,” would you have welcomed him? Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the Works #4

“Without a vision the people perish...” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

Over the last year or so, I’ve shared several “In The Works” articles about various ministry and facility-related initiatives that are currently in various stages of development at East Cobb UMC. Today I again want to share a brief update about just a few of these that may be of interest to you:

● First, let’s remember a few Recently Completed Initiatives that I hope you’ve already been enjoying, including our e-newsletter (launched last summer 2010); our new logo and some initial pieces of marketing for it (like our car magnets, shopping bags, and pens); and our new Education and Activities building doors (installed last December 2010 as part of our long range facility development plan).

● In preparation for our new permanent outdoor monument sign, our church property was recently rezoned “commercial” so that we could obtain permits for an LCD/color electronic sign that will be a focal-point of our property from Roswell Rd. The sub-committee working on this project is currently soliciting plans from three companies and will be meeting soon to decide on one that we will bid out. It is possible that work could then begin on construction of this new sign as early as this summer. The new sign is a second part of our long-range facility development plan.

Redevelopment of our church website– currently we are researching companies that are offering comprehensive, integrated “Content Management Systems” that would help us overhaul not only the website content itself, but potentially offer us an improved online giving site, interactive online calendar capability, a confidential congregational directory, a new communication platform for our e-newsletter, cyberspace document storage, a cell phone app, and more. The Web Design Ministry Team hopes to have some kind of recommendation for a new site by summer, with implementation as soon as funding for the project can be found (this is not in our annual ministry budget)

Georgia D.O.T. Roswell Road Construction – our top (west) entrance is almost complete, with the sidewalks poured and deceleration lane and entrance initially paved. Final pavement will come after they complete the Roswell Rd. median. Also still to come is work on a new two-way commercial lower (east) entrance, as well.

● Our Strategic Planning Team continues its work on a 5-year Strategic Plan for our entire church. We have met with an architect who helping provide us with a process by which we can determine what facility development and expansion priorities are most needed, and in what order. Our plan is to have some recommendations ready to share with the congregation by late Spring or early Summer of this year. As mentioned above, two pieces of the plan that are already in place or in progress are the new doors and our upcoming new outdoor/monument sign.

Narthex Bathroom Renovations – the long-range facility development plans will most likely include recommendations for a new set of state-of-the-art restrooms near our Sanctuary. In the meantime, however, our Trustees this year are currently working on plans to renovate the current Restrooms located just off the Narthex. Look for these renovations to occur later this Spring.

Parking Lot Blacktop Resurfacing and Restriping -- now that we have a new single top (west) entrance, we are exploring what it will take to both resurface the entire parking lot (or at least temporarily patch pieces) and to restripe the parking areas to reflect our new traffic patterns entering from and exiting to Roswell Rd.

Fellowship Hall Wi-Fi... is now available! Complimentary use is now open and available to any individual or group who needs use of Wi-fi in that facility, upstairs and down. Thanks to Richard McCauley and Robert Mantell of the Tech Support Committee for making this possible.

As I’ve said before, all of these are in various stages of development, and some will require approval from various levels of our church’s leadership along the way. To find out more detail about any of these initiatives (or if you have input, ideas, or expertise that you’re willing to share to help accomplish them), please email or call the church office (770-971-3643 or email here), and we’ll have someone from the appropriate group respond to your specific question(s).

In the meantime, continue to pray for your church leaders as they seek God’s will and wisdom for all of us, and remember that God’s mission for us of being “A Mosaic of God’s Family: Gathering, Growing, and Going” is one that will require all of us to do our part in order for it to be accomplished. Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Prayer with the People of Japan and Pacific Coasts and Islands

"God of all compassion,
Our hearts and bodies shake
With the earth
And all who dwell upon it.

We cry to you for help
For lives, roads, homes, and livelihoods lost,
And coastal regions washed away
In Japan
And all who this day wait in fear
On other coasts and islands
On an ocean that betrays its name.

Have mercy on them, on us
And all who wait for better words
And help.

We pray in the name of Jesus
Who stilled the wind and waves. Amen."

by Taylor Burton-Edwards
Copyright General Board of Discipleship.
Used by permission.

Are you struggling to understand why a good a loving God would allow such destruction from nature? Two of Pastor Brian's Sermons in his 2009 series "WHERE IS GOD WHEN?" deal with these issues. Click on the title to read each one: (#1) "Katrina, Tsunamis & Acts of God" ; (#2) "How God Really Works in Our World"

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Our "Besetting Sin"

“One is tempted by one’s own desire.... Then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death. Do not be deceived, my beloved.” (James 1:14-16)

Today I began a new series exploring the life and teachings of Jesus as found in the gospel of Luke. We began with the story of the “temptations” of Christ found in Luke 4 [Read the complete sermon here]. Along these lines, several years ago a friend gave me the poem below by Irene Holsted which speaks of the dangers of temptation, and how we humans tend to minimize it until it becomes too big to handle:

“There came a gentle tapping ‘let me in!’
I opened and beheld a very little sin.
He entered with apologies and scarcely raised his eyes
As if abashed to contemplate tempting one so wise.

I found myself amused at this and set out to explore
This little cunning sin I’d let inside my door.
I petted him and teased him & gave him bread & wine,
Grew fond of him, then adopted him, this little sin of mine.

He twined around my heartstrings & grew so very dear
I loved him & assured myself he was too small to fear.
He soon spied out my weakness & therein was the rub,
He built himself a treadmill, my weakness at the hub.

With every revolution my darling little sin
Enlarged himself and multiplied over and over again.
At last he stooped & lifted me & placed me on his knee,
Now he is my besetting sin and makes a pet of me.”
[--Author Irene Holsted]

My prayer is that whatever “temptation(s)” or “besetting sin(s)” you are facing, you’ll trust Christ to walk with you to victory over them, lest you become a victim of them -- and always remember that I and all of our church’s pastors are available to help you privately and confidentially if you are struggling with something in particular, as well. Never forget that God loves you and I do, too (no matter what your “struggle” is)!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Two Ways to Heaven?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6)

Several weeks ago I shared a message in my series "Christianity and World Religions" on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity that I’ve received a number of emails asking me to clarify [Read the sermon here]. The gist of the questions dealt with the perception by some that my sermon was implying that there are two ways to heaven: one for Jews (through the keeping of the Torah); and another for Christians (through faith in Christ). To help clarify what I meant, let me share a few thoughts from a response I gave to one group:

If you read the sermon carefully, you notice that nowhere in it did I say that there are two ways to heaven. What I said is that the Bible is clear that God does not nullify or cancel the old covenant (Judaism) simply because there is a new one (Christianity). To describe this, the sermon referred to Romans 11:28-29 in the body of my message, but also Endnote #22 in the sermon also addresses it from the standpoint of Romans 4:3, 5, 9 & 22, as well.

These scriptures essentially say is that God finds a way to look at the good intentioned faith and works of Jews who are under the original covenant and -- to the extent possible -- credit them with "faith in Christ" where possible (the Romans 4 passage talks about faith being "reckoned as righteousness", which is a biblical metaphor for salvation). Most who hold this view, for example, would still say the Jews' keeping of the Torah is therefore counted as a form of "faith in Christ" by God, so it's still salvation "through Christ," even though these two methods of “faith” are not to be understood as equals.

What all this basically means is that there is, in reality, only one way to heaven – through God’s covenant with His people, and Jesus (conveyed through Christianity) is merely the fulfillment of that one way (Read Matthew 5:17). Judaism, therefore, is NOT a "second way" -- it was the one and only "original" way. When Jesus came, however, he demonstrated a better version of that one way.

Sermon #1 and #6 in the series also talk about the best way I’ve found to talk about this whole subject is in the context of the three ways Christians have traditionally viewed other religions: Exclusivist; Universalist; and Inclusivist [You can read about these three ways on page 4 in the body of the first sermon here and also briefly mentioned on page 4 in the body of the last sermon in the series found here].

What the view above describes is an example of the “Inclusivist” view which says that salvation does come only through Christ, but that it's up to God to determine what that is and what it looks like -- and if God decides to credit someone from another religion with a type of "faith in Christ" (even though we Christians might not call it "faith in Christ"), then that is God’s business and not ours. Our job is to share the gospel of Jesus and love people with the love of Jesus, not judge them based on their acceptance or rejection of our particular understanding of what "faith in Christ" is. After all, how do we know that they have really rejected "Jesus"? Perhaps they've merely rejected our Western culture's warped view of Jesus (which may or may not be the biblical "Jesus" at all).

Some have asked how this view relates to the John 14 scripture quoted at the top of this entry. I would encourage you to read Endnote #8 in the first sermon that addresses this by talking about the misreading that is often given to that scripture [Find the sermon here]. It essentially says what I've said above -- yes, "no one comes to the Father except through me" Jesus says. But what does "through me" mean exactly? Through the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth? Through faith in that literal person? Through faith in God that's illustrated in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? If "through me" means the first of these (that's the Exclusivist view), then 2/3 of the world is going to hell, which does not seem consistent with a God of love. But, if God can credit a person with "faith of Christ" in some mysterious way even if they are not a practicing member of the Christian religion, then that would certainly come closer to the meaning of the latter definition of "through me."

So, it's all in the interpretation of the scripture, acknowledging that the literal, surface reading may not be the “correct” one at all. After all, the context of John 14:6 has absolutely nothing to do with how one views the religious faith of others – it deals with Jesus' teachings about life after death for one who is already a follower of Christ. To therefore apply John 14:6 as a way to exclude other religions/faiths from heaven or salvation may actually be a fundamental misreading of that scripture [For further reading that addresses New Testament texts often used to talk about other religions click here - the book is called THE GOSPEL AMONG RELIGIONS - read page 7 for comments on the John 14 scripture referenced above]

The point of the Inclusivist view is not to water down salvation by faith in Christ alone, but to merely help us all not be too cocky or arrogant about it as some seem to do. This view allows God to be God, and not for us to presuppose our understanding of WHO will be saved and who WON'T is correct or more important that what GOD thinks (which we will not really ever know this side of heaven)

Clear as mud, huh? Hopefully this at least gives you some further thoughts to mull over. Sure, I acknowledge that the Inclusivist view could be wrong, too. But then again, it could be right. Or perhaps the truth is somewhere in between. This is simply why I believe this whole subject matter calls for a great amount of humility on our part. Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, March 7, 2011

What Is Stephen Ministry?

“[God] consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Stephen Ministry is a lay caring ministry of our church that enables fellow members to care for one another in the way Paul describes above. With nearly one-thousand members, it’s impossible (and impractical) for our Pastors to be able to take care of all the congregational care needs of our church. So, our Stephen Ministry is therefore one of the vital complementary components of our overall Pastoral Care system.

Stephen Ministers themselves are fellow church members who’ve gone through 50 hours of training to provide confidential, one-to-one Christian care for people who’re facing a crisis or simply going through a tough time. Whether it’s the loss of a loved one, loneliness, cancer, a layoff, relocation, divorce, a spiritual crisis, recuperation, single parenthood, or any of countless other life challenges or hurts, our Stephen Ministers are here to care for you!

Your Stephen Minister will meet with you once a week for around an hour to listen to you, care for you, pray with and for you, and provide emotional and spiritual encouragement. Men are matched with male Stephen Ministers, and women are matched with female Stephen Ministers. The caring relationship is free, and lasts for as long as you need care – it’s a powerful way either to receive help yourself, or also a great way to help a friend, neighbor, co-worker, or relative who’s been struggling in any way.

To find out more about how you or someone you know could be matched with one of our church’s confidential Stephen Ministers, either email our Stephen Ministry, speak in person with one of our Stephen Leaders (Jackie Short or Jody Kerschner), or to Pastor Jim or Pastor Brian. Our Stephen Ministers are here for YOU! Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!