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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

Forgive Seventy-Seven Times

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22

The context for this passage of scripture is that Jesus is teaching his disciples about sin and the separation it creates. He begins chapter 18 by saying we must become like children to enter the kingdom of heaven. He warns against putting “stumbling block(s)” before others. He goes on to illustrate how important each of us is to God, with the parable of the lost sheep. Handling members of the community who sin against each other is next, followed by this passage where Peter asks how many times we should forgive a community member who sins against us. Jesus says, in essence, that we should always forgive.

What does it mean, exactly, to forgive? Certainly, it does not mean to forget. An abusive spouse may be forgiven, but the abused partner should never forget the warning signs of impending abuse, nor the ways to best protect her or himself in the event of a reoccurrence. When a lender forgives a debt, the principal and interest of the loan are both wiped off the books so nothing is owed. The incurring of the debt still happened, but it no longer impacts life going forward. To forgive does not erase the offending event from our memory or from our past. Rather, to forgive is to release the tyranny the sin holds over us and others. It is a very personal and often difficult decision, and it is not necessarily the act of forgiving another as much as it is giving ourselves permission to let go of our attachment to the lasting physical, emotional, or psychological injury. There are two distinct impacts of sin of which we need to be aware, both very real. The first is the sin itself and what it did to us – the actual physical or emotional injury. The second is the aftermath of the sin, which is primarily our response. This secondary insult is a result of the power we grant the sin over us. It is this, too, that must be forgiven and healed for us to be able to move on with our lives.

Our emotional reaction, the secondary injury, is what tortures us long after the event and keeps it alive as an active, negative influence over our being. We may need to first forgive our seeming inability to let it go, before we can effectively release it. This may require professional therapy. How can we avoid finding ourselves in a similar situation in the future? How can we better recognize when circumstances are arranging themselves for a possible reoccurrence? What are strategies to minimize the damage of the original sinful act, should it be done to us again, and forgo the tyranny of the emotional aftermath?

The fact that it for our own benefit that we are encouraged to forgive is one lesson in Jesus’ words. Another is that our reaction to a sin against us is often much worse and longer lasting than the initial sin. Finally, and most revealing, is that many times, what offends us in or by another is something that triggers a deeply repressed, painful memory or feeling in our own self that we are reluctant to acknowledge. This is why our reaction to a perceived sin against us may be disproportionate to the actual sin. It is also why someone may sin against us and never know he or she hurt us. The place needing forgiveness in cases such as these is the place deep within that longs to be brought to conscious awareness where it can be acknowledged and brought to completion. Again, this may require therapy. Often, these hurting places have their origins in our childhood. In order to develop as whole persons we must “forgive” ourselves over and over again.

None of this is to say we should not forgive the other person, too. Jesus makes that clear. We should make every effort to also release them from the tyranny of the event. Forgiveness must begin within, however, or it will not be a lasting forgiveness. If, when someone sins against us, we discover a hidden and hurting part of ourselves that can now be healed, we will have turned an unfortunate occurrence into a personal blessing. How often should we forgive? Always.

This is the 32nd in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Do You Want to be Made Well?

 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:5-6

In this scene, Jesus is passing by a series of pools near the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. There was a belief that when the water stirred, the first person into the pool would be healed. People with various afflictions surrounded the pools. One man had been there many years but had no one to help him into the water at its stirring, and so he remained on the sideline, unhealed. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be made well?” At first glance, this question is a head-scratcher. The Bible tells us he had been ill for thirty-eight years. Why would he not want to be healed?

As a college student, I worked at a nursery that occasionally hired people just released from prison as laborers. One man, Harold, was in his fifties and seemed like a gentle, good-natured soul. After a couple of weeks, Harold stopped coming to work. I was shocked to find out he had borrowed a gun, held up a liquor store, and returned to prison. Never mind that the gun was not loaded and that he waited outside the store for the police to pick him up. Apparently, Harold did not want his freedom if it meant hard, physical work and low wages in return for a meager existence. While I could not fathom why anyone would willingly go back to prison, he must have felt life was better there. Sometimes, we gain comfort from what is familiar. Some people, like Harold, may not have the support system required to transition to a different life.

There are numerous examples of people working hard to maintain a status quo that is neither helpful nor forward-moving, let alone one that reaches a fraction of what is possible. For example, our political system is dominated by two parties seemingly more interested in preserving the issues that define them than in finding solutions for those issues. I suppose the fear is that without abortion, taxes, immigration, a border wall, or the myriad of perpetual issues that divide us, politicians would have no purpose. They might lose not only their identity, but also their jobs.

While that may sound ludicrous, I do not believe it is far from the truth. In fact, my guess is that most of us hold onto certain traits because they have become part of our identity, no matter how painful or limiting those traits might be. Our desire for uniqueness is so strong, we may hold onto whatever sets us apart, ridiculous or not. In this context, Jesus’ question, “Do you want to be made well?” is not a crazy question at all. There are many reasons why we may not want to be made well. More generally, what is it that we really want? Do we want to hold onto our afflictions? Do we prefer imprisonment to freedom? Are we afraid that letting go of a toxic identity will leave us in anonymity?

I associate these questions with those who have yet to find their identity in the family of God. We have a perfectly unique, never-to-be-duplicated identity at our core, just as we are, without any of our imprisoning afflictions. In fact, the more we hold onto unhealthy, but defining qualities, the more deeply our true self is hidden. On the other hand, the freer we become, the more our true self shines through. Contrary to how it may sound, we do not lose anything worth keeping as our true self emerges; rather, we become more like the person we always imagined ourselves to be – secure, helpful, loving, and loved.

When Jesus asks, “Do you want to be made well,” he is really asking, “Do you want to be made whole?” Is not wholeness at the heart of every longing? I think we fear wholeness because we feel safe with what is familiar. We fear change. Wholeness cannot assure a comfortable, predictable life, but wholeness does assure inclusion into what is. Do we want to be made well? Are we ready for Christ to transform us into the image of God we were created to manifest? If we wish to reach for our potential, we must risk what is comfortable and familiar and, like the man beside the pool, make a conscious choice to be made well.

This is the 31st in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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The Face of Compassion

 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” John 5:6

To paraphrase Fr. Richard Rohr from a number of his writings, “God is found where the suffering is.”  Nowhere is that more evident than in the accounts of the life of Jesus found throughout the New Testament. This should surprise no one, since Jesus was a manifestation of God in human form. Although it is not clear whether Jesus sought out suffering people, he clearly did not shy away from them, either. Particularly with those who were shunned by society – those with leprosy and other visible infirmities, for example – Jesus not only acknowledged their existence and worth, he healed them.

In the story from the Gospel of John quoted above, Jesus found a lame man lying beside a pool, begging for someone to help him into the pool at the stirring of the water. There was a belief that whoever was first into the pool when the water stirred would be healed. Because of the man’s disability, he was never able to get himself into the pool in time. Jesus asked him if he wanted to be made well. The man complained that he had no one to help him into the water, thinking that was his only hope. Jesus told the man to get up and walk, and the man got up and walked!

The religious elite chose not to rejoice about a lame man who was made well. Rather, they complained that Jesus had violated the Law by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus responded in verse 17: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” In my opinion, too many religious people and institutions continue to focus on rules, laws, and their own perpetuation while ignoring the pain and suffering in their presence. God’s compassionate gaze, manifest in Jesus, would not pass suffering by, regardless of the social norms, laws, or day of the week.

We see this same compassion throughout the ministry of Jesus, including with the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11), the man with an unclean spirit (Mark 1:21-27), the woman suffering from hemorrhages (Matthew 9:20-22), and the healing of the Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:2-10). And here is a lesson for us: God-in-Jesus told us to show compassion, too. For example, in Matthew 25, Jesus told about the judging of the nations and said of those who will inherit the kingdom, “…for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” The crowd asked when these things occurred, and Jesus responded, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” While we may or may not have the ability to completely heal another, any one of us can ease another’s suffering in some way. We serve Jesus when we serve others in need.

Reading the accounts of Jesus and suffering people makes me wonder what he would do if he walked the streets of my hometown today. How would he react to the panhandlers, to the mentally ill, or to the homeless? I walk by them too often, pretending I do not see or hear. I cannot believe Jesus would do the same. How does the compassionate face of God call us to respond to the suffering in our world? That question is one I believe we all wrestle with throughout our lives. We should not be too hard on ourselves as we reconcile our hearts and our actions, however. God’s is a face of compassion and encouragement, not one of condemnation.

Live in the Lawrence, Kansas area? Join the discussion! On the 4th Sunday of each month (i.e., this Sunday, August 27, 2017) at the First United Methodist Church at 10:30 in Brady Hall, we will discuss the previous four weeks of Life Notes. Come share your thoughts and insights!

Note: this is the 22nd in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 1: Faith Heals

Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak., for she said to herself, “If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:20-22

The relationship between healing and faith is difficult to understand, impossible to predict, and a connection Jesus mentions many times throughout his ministry. He often healed someone, only to give credit to that person’s faith. I used to believe Jesus was being modest. After all, he was a humble man. He credits faith with healing so many times, however, that I find myself rethinking his modesty. Dare we believe that faith truly does heal?

I have tried to apply faith with instances of serious illness in people I know, but with ambiguous results. I remember praying hard for my mother’s recovery from a stroke. She had been a healthy, determined woman, and I could easily visualize her fighting her way back to health. But she never did. Rather, she slipped into a steady decline and passed away 10 weeks later. The times when an unlikely healing has occurred, and there have been a few, I find myself wondering if it was a God-healing or a talented physician. Clearly, God works through the hands and hearts of God’s people. If I were keeping score, however, of the number of times I believe my faith brought the outcome I prayed for, faith would be losing by a landslide. Is this due to my weak faith, or my lack of understanding about healing?

Not all healings are equal, nor all they all physical. When we pray for healing, we are generally praying for restoration to a prior state of being. We pray for what we, in our limited understanding, believe to be the best outcome. Do we possess the perspective to know what is best in any situation? There are numerous examples of physical healings in the Bible, but we can assume all those people died of something, eventually. There are also instances where God does not heal the physical ailment of a faithful person – Paul comes to mind. Paul used his infirmity as a reminder of his total reliance on grace. Even Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, prays for God to “take this cup from me.” Ultimately, he yields by saying, “Not my will, but yours be done.” I have often wondered why God did not rescue Jesus from the cross. But wait – Jesus was rescued, just not in the way we humans would have requested.

If faith truly does heal, there is a lot of pressure on us to be well. Wellness comes under our control, instead of our being victimized by illnesses we can do nothing about. Faith is our connection to God – it is the thread by which the human meets the divine. Faith assures us there is more to life than what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell – there is more beyond our human knowledge and efforts. Would God grant us a desire contrary to our ultimate good? There were many times, as a parent that I refused to grant a desire of my children, knowing they were better off without having their wish granted.

What is out there, and how and when it may or may not bless us remains a mystery. Dare we believe that faith heals? Dare we believe it does not?

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Not Enough Rocks

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Psalm 51:10-12

In a touching scene from the movie Forrest Gump, Jenny returns to live with Forrest for a time as she strives to stabilize her wretched life. After years of drug abuse and wandering in search of something to build a life upon, she returns to her hometown and to the one person who had loved her in a healthy way since childhood – Forrest Gump. Jenny and Forrest walk leisurely together and end up in front of the run-down, deserted house where she grew up with her abusive father. Jenny’s countenance immediately changes to one of intense anger. She begins picking up rocks and throwing them at the house, eventually breaking a window. She falls to the ground in an exhausted and emotional heap, weeping. Forrest sits down beside her and says, “Sometimes, I guess, there just aren’t enough rocks.”

Jenny made many poor decisions in her life. The house of her childhood stood as a reminder of the years of anguish from which she had long tried to escape. She threw the rocks in a fruitless attempt to find peace by harming this physical remnant of her nightmare childhood – perhaps in hopes that it would suffer a portion of the pain she experienced within its walls. Although the house was not the cause of her childhood abuse, it was inseparable from the painful memories.

Similar recollections occur with us today. For example, I cannot drive by my old high school without remembering the violent racial tension that existed during my years there. Decades later, the memory makes me uncomfortable. The building, while having nothing to do with the unrest, stands as a reminder and a transport vehicle back to that difficult time in history. It is natural for us to develop aversions to people and places that are associated with pain from our past. We must remember, however, that the physical objects are separate from our suffering. Our on-going pain from hurts of the past is a spiritual issue that requires spiritual healing. The writer of the 51st Psalm cries for God to create a “clean heart” within, complete with a “new and right spirit.” If we truly desire restoration from pain to joy, we need a loving God, not a whipping boy.

Granted, there are times when we feel the need to strike out in retaliation against our pain, even when the objects were only innocent witnesses. That sort of striking back may actually help in some cases, if only temporarily. Some people feel a need to hold onto their suffering, and God gives us free will to do so. To actually heal our pain, however, requires the intervention of a Savior. Because sometimes, there just aren’t enough rocks.

Come home to church this Sunday. Throw the one true Rock at your pain…

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Life Notes—February 21, 2013 

“So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11:24

Each of the four Gospels documents many instances of Jesus healing the sick.  It was a primary manifestation of his ministry and drew crowds wherever he went.  We read of the healing of paralysis, leprosy, hemorrhaging, fevers and the like, as well as the eradication of demons—likely what we call mental illnesses today.  Heck, Jesus even raised a number of people from the dead.  From what we read, there was no illness or condition on earth Jesus could not cure.  Knowing his earthly time was limited, Jesus gave power to his disciples to heal the sick and commanded them to do so.  When they had difficulty with certain conditions he called them out for their lack of faith.

Jesus considered these healings faith events, saying, “Your faith has made you well.”  If healing was a primary manifestation of Jesus’ ministry, faith was the conduit through which the healing occurred.  Clearly, there was a connection between a person’s faith and the healing power of Jesus.  Jesus often referred to the unlimited power of faithful prayer, as above: “whatever you ask for in prayer…believe…and it will be yours.”

Sometimes I wonder if our faith has become diluted and divided in unhealthy, unnatural and unpowerful ways.  Our currency reads, “In God We Trust,” but do we?  Most of us have faith in health professionals, and they perform amazing works for the sick through modern medicine.  But there are limits to what they can heal.  So, my question is this: When we reach the healing limits of our medical system, do we have sufficient faith in Christ to heal?  There are religions, today, who shun the medical system in favor of faith healing; and most of us look on them with suspicion, at best. Should we?  Yet, we cannot treat faith as if it had an on-off switch.  It is a dynamic manifestation of our relationship to God through Christ.  A strong and living faith is a process, and I wish I knew how to get from where I am to where that is, quickly and easily. But I do not.  Many of us turn to heart-felt prayer whenever we or others are sick, but is our faith placed in God or in medicine?  Does believing in one reduce the focus of our belief in, and the power of the other?  If you’ve read this far hoping to find an answer, you will be disappointed.  There are many difficult questions we must wrestle with, as Christians, and these are among them.  But one constant remains—our world needs healing.

This Sunday is the second Sunday of Lent.  Tom is preaching downtown, where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00.  Mitch preaches at the west campus where worship is at 9:00 and 11:00. The sermon is “Give Up Harsh, Condemning Judgments for Lent,” based on Matthew 7:1-5

Come home to church this Sunday.  Explore the mysteries of faith with your fellow seekers.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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