God Will Not Heal Us So That We No Longer Need Him

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God will not heal us in such a way that we no longer need Him.

When my wife and I welcomed into the world our fourth child, the hospital gave me numbered plastic bracelet identifying me as her father. It was a symbol of joy. A second bracelet was snapped on my wrist a week later when we had to have her admitted back into the hospital because she turned orange—like a little Cheeto. Her tiny liver was still learning to keep up with its workload.

For something as common and treatable as jaundice, I must tell you that during that time I felt very lonely before God. That second bracelet was a symbol of the blues—“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.”

During that season, I discovered something about myself. I learned that I have expectations for how I believe the Lord should deal with me. So do you, I’m sure. I expect Him to shelter me and those I love from hardship. I bet you do too. What do we do when those expectations are not met?

There's a story in 2 Samuel 9 that I have loved since the first time I read it—the strange story of David and Mephibosheth. It is all about the expectations we bring to God's healing work. It joins the present hope of healing to a future of depending on the King. Here is the short chapter in full:

David asked, “Is there anyone remaining from the family of Saul I can show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake?” 2 There was a servant of Saul’s family named Ziba. They summoned him to David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”
“I am your servant,” he replied.
3 So the king asked, “Is there anyone left of Saul’s family that I can show the kindness of God to?”
Ziba said to the king, “There is still Jonathan’s son who was injured in both feet.”
4 The king asked him, “Where is he?”
Ziba answered the king, “You’ll find him in Lo-debar at the house of Machir son of Ammiel.” 5 So King David had him brought from the house of Machir son of Ammiel in Lo-debar.
6 Mephibosheth son of Jonathan son of Saul came to David, fell facedown, and paid homage. David said, “Mephibosheth!”
“I am your servant, ” he replied.
7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “since I intend to show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all your grandfather Saul’s fields, and you will always eat meals at my table.”
8 Mephibosheth paid homage and said, “What is your servant that you take an interest in a dead dog like me?”
9 Then the king summoned Saul’s attendant Ziba and said to him, “I have given to your master’s grandson all that belonged to Saul and his family. 10 You, your sons, and your servants are to work the ground for him, and you are to bring in the crops so your master’s grandson will have food to eat. But Mephibosheth, your master’s grandson, is always to eat at my table.” Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.
11 Ziba said to the king, “Your servant will do all my lord the king commands.”
So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table just like one of the king’s sons. 12 Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. All those living in Ziba’s house were Mephibosheth’s servants. 13 However, Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem because he always ate at the king’s table. His feet had been injured.

Imagine how Mephibosheth must have felt—the grandson of the deposed king, crippled when his nurse tried to flee with him—as he lived in hiding from the new, rival king he presumed wanted him dead. Imagine how he felt about the hand he’d been dealt. Imagine how terrified he must have been when David sent for him. Imagine his prayers as the soldiers carried him back to face the king.

Nobody knows the trouble.

What Mephibosheth received from David was mercy and grace. But it was a special kind of mercy and grace. He was given a permanent seat at the king’s table like one of the king’s sons. But because he was unable to walk, never once did he come to that table without help. He spent his life being carried in the arms of another.

This is where my heart wanted to rebel when we had to return to the hospital with our little girl. Often we want God’s care, but on our terms. We cry out, “If you really want to restore me, let me walk on my own.” But the King says, “If you really want to be restored and have a seat at my table, let me carry you.” God does not want to give us autonomy from Him. He doesn’t heal us in such a way that we don’t need Him anymore. The desire for autonomy from God is what got us into trouble in the first place (Genesis 3:1-7).

Restoration does not come through God making us strong enough to live without Him. His mercy causes us to lean hard on His grace with all we have and are. But it also liberates us to know that to Him we are not dead dogs, as Mephibosheth said, but we are His sons and daughters. And because we are, His healing will include even deeper levels of dependence, not autonomy.

We cannot bring ourselves before His throne. We must be carried. But beloved, we are. By Him. Always.

 

 

When God Says No

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Have you ever asked God for something and gotten a “no”? If so, you might be skeptical when you hear Jesus say, in effect, ask God for what you need (Matthew 7:7-11). Seek and you will find, Jesus tells us. Knock, and the door will open. He is a good father and he will withhold no good thing from you. If you ask for food, he will not give you a useless stone or a harmful serpent.

The truth is, sometimes we don’t realize that we ask God for stones and serpents. When we ask God to give us things that are useless or harmful, the good father refuses. As sure as he will not give a serpent when his children ask for fish, neither will he give one when his children unwittingly ask for the serpent.

There is an old Puritan prayer which includes these words:

“I thank you that many of my prayers have been refused. I have asked amiss and do not have, I have prayed from lusts and been rejected, I have longed for Egypt and been given a wilderness. Go on with your patient work, answering ‘no’ to my wrongful prayers, and fitting me to accept it.”

Jesus tells us that our Father in heaven is a good, gracious parent. He knows what we need before we do (Matthew 6:8), and cares more deeply for our well-being than we ever could. God is deeply invested and involved in our lives. We were made not only to benefit from his kindness and generosity, but to interact with him as his children before a good Father.

We are to ask God for what we need, trusting that he gives to his children everything the best father would give and more. But sometimes our loving Father’s best response to our prayers is a “no”. The thing we ask for is not given or the question we raise is not answered. It can be easy to fixate on those responses that seem like a “no”, or worse, like silence. But we miss the goodness of God when we begin to assess his faithfulness according to what we perceive he has done for us lately.

Even in our deepest seasons of confusion or most acute times of want, we can already see what God has given to ultimately address our greatest need—which was something we, in our rebellion against him, did not ask for—redemption. But this he has already given through the sacrifice of his own Son. God has proven his love and goodness in this way:

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:8).

The God who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, is the same good Father Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount. The “yes” he has already given in the sacrifice of his Son in response to our need will forever outweigh a million “no’s”. May our good Father give us eyes to see this, and may this be the prayer we bring as we ask, seek, and knock.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

 

Hope for the Lost Cause

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Recently at Christ Presbyterian Church, Pastor Scott Sauls said that at any given moment he is just five or six poorly chosen words from losing his job. Most of us are. We see it happen all the time—this fall from grace—with pastors, politicians, and celebrities. Maybe this is your story too.

This is the way of our world now. When our words go online, they are open to being parsed, taken out of context, or in some cases seen in their actual ugly context. And they can follow us for years, even decades. We all know stories of celebrities who said awful things and later apologized, but our culture tends to remember the transgression more than the apology.

Do you believe you are your past—that the bad things you’ve done have so defined who you are that you will never be anyone other than the screw-up who made all those mistakes and committed all those sins? Do you know anyone who likely believes this about themselves, and needs to be brought in out of the relational cold?

The Apostle Paul was a man like this. Before his conversion, Paul was committed to ridding the world of Christians. Paul was actually converted to Christ by Jesus Himself while he was travelling to Damascus to round up Christians and have them put to death.

Three years after his conversion, but before he had begun his ministry to the Roman world, Paul travelled to Jerusalem to meet with Jesus’ apostles who were living there. They were wary of him, which, of course, they had every reason to be since Paul had overseen the stoning death of Stephen, one of the deacons in the Jerusalem church.

Barnabas was Stephen’s friend. And now he was being told Paul had become one of them. Was Paul a lost cause? Barnabas took a risk. He listened to Paul and prayerfully considered how he should respond. Embracing Paul was complicated for Barnabas. It would cost Barnabas something. He would have to personally forgive Paul for the pain and suffering he had caused. Barnabas had felt the heat of the persecution Paul ignited three years back. Some of Barnabas’ close friends, like Stephen, had been martyred, others tortured, and others still were living as exiles because of Paul’s persecution.

Not only did Barnabas need to forgive Paul, he also had to believe in Paul’s call to minister the very Gospel he worked to so hard to destroy. He had to trust that Paul was not a wolf among the sheep Barnabas loved.

So what did Barnabas do? He spoke with Paul and sought out the genuineness of his faith. He soon became convinced that the God who had raised Jesus from the dead had also given new life to this infamous Pharisee. So Barnabas took Paul by the hand and led him before the Apostles. He stood as one with Paul, lending his own reputation by affirming God’s work in Paul’s life before the wary apostles. When Barnabas put his arm around Paul, he wasn’t just confirming Paul’s calling to the apostles. He was confirming it to Paul too.

This is a beautiful picture of what it looks like to bring someone who feels like a lost cause in out of the relational cold. It can cost us something, and it usually involves risk. So why should we do it? Because none of us are very far from finding ourselves in the same place—where we’ve failed or sinned in some way that leaves us dependent on the kindness of a friend to pull us up from the pit.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

Everywhere, In Ways We Cannot See, We're Being Served

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The older I get, the more I appreciate all things my parents must have done behind the scenes to care for me in ways I never saw. Children are unaware of all that goes into their parents’ love. They don’t see the hours logged at the difficult job, the struggles to keep the family car in working order, or the side conversations they have with other parents, encouraging each other to hang in there when times are difficult.

This unseen care, of course, extends well beyond the parent/child relationship. The truth is, we’re being served all the time in ways we do not or cannot see.

This past Sunday at Christ Presbyterian Church we saw a video which drove this home for me. In the clip, the Roach family talks about finding a place for their autistic son Nathan to serve in the church. Every Sunday, Nathan sets out the water bottles on the tables in the foyer—hundreds of them. Jesus said, “Whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42). Every week, each one of my children takes a bottle from that table—placed there by Nathan. Each week they are served by Nathan. And each week, Jesus sees it.

Nathan also helps fill the communion cups we lift to our lips every week to remember the body and blood of Christ, given for us. In this way, Nathan serves me—not just by filling my communion cup, but by equipping me to commune with my risen Savior and the people for which he died. Each week, Nathan serves me in this way. And each week, Jesus sees it.

Thank you, Nathan.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

What Hypocrisy Denies

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Tim Keller wrote, “The only person who dares wake up a king at 3:00 AM for a glass of water is a child. We have that same access to God.”

That’s either true or it isn’t.

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he is fighting for our hearts to believe we have this kind of access to the Father. When he tells us not to put on a show when we pray, fast, or give—not to act as though what we are doing is primarily for the sake of those around us—Jesus fights for us by shining a light on our motives. Why? Why would he want to purify our motives for these things and call us to practice our faith out of a genuine love for God, and not mere self-love?

The answer might seem obvious. We could say he’s fighting for us to stop our hypocrisy because he doesn’t like it. And of course that’s part of it. But aside from curbing negatives, Jesus is always after awakening positives in us too. When Jesus rebukes our hypocrisy, he is fighting for our joy.

What’s at stake when we live as hypocrites—play-acting our way through this life of faith? The Sermon on the Mount contrasts two worlds—the one we see and the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus is teaching us how to live now as citizens of another Kingdom. That tells us Jesus’ warnings against hypocrisy are not simply about our posture in prayer, fasting, or giving. They are about how we engage with a God who is real and who sees us and hears us.

God doesn’t give us commands because he is particular and easily upset. He gives us commands so that we might know how to love him and interact with his love for us. Commands against hypocrisy are not about how to keep ourselves from upsetting a cranky God. They are about how to draw near to a loving God.

Take prayer as an example. Prayer is a glorious concept where we, the meek and lowly, can address the High King of Heaven with the promise that he hears us! So Jesus says, in effect, “When you pray, don’t pretend, as though nothing is actually happening. Don’t waste the moment by making it all about how others see you. You’ll exhaust yourself. There is no end to that.”

What happens when we try to use our emotional expressions of worship to obtain the approval of others? What does that cost us? We all do it, don’t we? It costs us the ability to truly feel and express our emotions. Some of us try to keep ourselves so emotionally composed that we no longer know how to honestly emote. This costs us dearly. When we control our emotive posture, we rob ourselves of real joy, sorrow, and wonder. We lose the practice of celebration because our expressions of joy are measured. We resist the cleansing need to grieve because we have banned ourselves from feeling deep sorrow. We won’t permit ourselves to feel awe because we have trained ourselves not to see wonder.

Likewise, we won’t rest in the promised nearness of God when all our generosity, fasting, and prayers are offered either for show or for self-comfort.

Do you hear now the love of Jesus in the command to not pretend when we fast, give, and pray. He is not just fighting against hypocrisy. He is fighting for our joy, our delight, our learning to speak the language of glory, to which hypocrisy denies access. We are learning our native and eternal tongue when we fast, give, and pray. Jesus is fighting for our joy.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.

The Desire We All Share: Debbie and Sam's Story

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The following story comes from Debbie, a member of Christ Presbyterian Church. She and her son Sam (pictured above, right) are involved in the church’s special needs ministry, and they serve together on the hospitality team on Sunday mornings. This past Mother’s Day, Debbie, together with Sam, shared about their mother/son experience serving with the Host Team. Here is their story, as told by Debbie:

One Sunday in February 2016, our family visited Christ Presbyterian Church and we just never stopped coming. When we joined this church last June, we knew we wanted to serve and be a meaningful part of this church community. We were encouraged by the many possible options for our entire family, but particularly for our son Sam.

As new members, we were searching for the best way for each of us to get “plugged in.”  Sam had been a door greeter at our previous church and being the social person he is, he expressed an interest in joining the Host Team. After discussing the possibilities with the Host Team coordinator, Cameron Foltz - who was thrilled - we both joined the Host Team.

For Sam, being part of the Host Team has meant that he can serve Christ within our church community as an independent 21 year old. He has become acquainted with other people on the team he works with. He has become familiar with those he greets on Sundays. And just as importantly, his service has allowed others to get to know him, which has fulfilled in him a desire every one of us has—to be accepted, valued, and loved. It is priceless for my husband Jeff and me to see the joy and worth he displays when passing the offering plates, which has been a new serving opportunity for him. It has been a gift from God to see Sam flourish so well at Christ Presbyterian Church this last year in ways we could not have imagined. And this is due to the many ways this congregation has embodied and expressed the love of Christ so well to him and to our entire family.

If you ask Sam about his favorite part of serving on the host team, he will tell you it is being able to say hello to everyone and see his friends every week. This is the heart of hospitality.

For me, as a member here and also as Sam’s mother, being part of the Host Team has provided opportunities to serve and get to know others and to become familiar with the many faces and families coming through our doors. Offering a warm smile and a few sincere words ensures that those coming through our doors feel seen and loved, just as Christ sees and loves us. We all need that reminder.  

Serving on the host team with Sam means we arrive at church early together, get our morning coffee, join our team for a quick huddle, and then head off to serve in our respective assigned areas as two adults serving on the same team. 

It’s not news that those who serve often get more out of it than those being served. For Sam and me, being a part of the Host Team together has been our privilege and contributed to our sense of belonging at Christ Presbyterian Church. We’re grateful to be part of what the Lord is doing here.

© 2017 Christ Presbyterian Church. All Rights Reserved.