Living the Resurrection Life as the Body of Christ

Posts tagged ‘FAITH’

THE ANOINTING OF RUBY

BY STEPHEN DUNN

13 Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.  James 5:13-16

I come from the stream of Christianity that takes the instructions in these verses very seriously.  Those of us who are pastors and elders approach it with fear and trembling because we know that we are going to be instruments of an Awesome God, a God of the Impossible–a God of healing and of hope.

Many years ago I was serving a church that was making its first “baby steps” into a deeper and more authentic discipleship.  I had seven elders. One had been an elder for some time, but by his own admission, at a fairly perfunctory level. One was a life elder, which in that church was an emeritus status. The other five were relatively new as elders, still engaged in some “on the job” training.  Then there was me, the pastor.

We were a church that had a growing reputation as people that love. It was a new direction God had taken a congregation that had sometimes been fractious, a little too worldly, and more works-oriented than grace-formed.  We had gone this direction by simply taking the commandment to love one another and loving God more seriously by being sure that we practiced in the ways that the Bible commanded of us.  We were still forming this new identity, feeling our way through years of confusing church history.

Ruby was one of the members of our congregation who embodied a spirit of love.  She was a widow with a southern drawl.  Gentle-spoken and gracious, always dressed carefully and and with dignity.  Willing to defer to others, gracious in her praise, and confident in her faith.  We all loved and respected Ruby.

The rain falls on the just and the unjust.  Ruby got cancer. They tried many treatments over a long period of time. Nothing worked to arrest its development.  Without extraordinary measures, Ruby would soon die.

Ruby was invited into research protocol at the National Institute in Maryland, more 600 miles from her home.  Ruby wasn’t necessarily gung ho, but she new it was important to her children that she do everything to preserve her life. A few days before she and her daughter would make that journey, I went to visit Ruby.  “You know, Ruby, there is still one thing we can do.  We can anoint you and pray for your healing.”  Ruby was quite familiar with the words from James. She agreed and we set the appointment for the next evening.

I contacted all of the elders,but since only one of them had ever been a part of this kind of service I suggested we meet at the church at 6.30, an hour before our appointment with Ruby. She only lived a few blocks away.

All of them were busy and the schedule would be tight but they agreed to be there at the appointed time.  I was the last to arrive. Just before leaving the house I had gotten into a fight with one of my sons and my attitude was not good.  I wasn’t feeling very spiritual at the moment, let alone righteous. When I arrived I confessed my attitude and my anger to my brothers.

Immediately Glenn, the elder emeritus spoke. “I must confess, too, that I have harbored some attitudes towards people that I know don’t please God and I have not been behaving with a spirit worthy of being a leader of this flock.”

Next another elder opened his Bible and read to us words of counsel and encouragement.  Soon each elder was confessing his own sin,  some sharing scripture that God had been using to convict them.  Then we gathered in that room holding hands and praying for one another that God might do His cleansing work in our lives.  The hour passed quickly.  We set out for Ruby’s.

Ruby greeted us along with her family, inviting us to sit.  “You will stay for tea afterwards, won’t you.”  We agreed. Ruby was not someone to say “no” to.

After a bit, we placed in a chair, read the scripture, anointed her with oil and then each one of us in turn prayed for Ruby.  We declared upon the promises of God that we believed Ruby would be healed.  Then, Ruby prayed for each one of us who had prayed for our wholeness, our healing, our faith.

Ruby left for Maryland.

Each Sunday her son-in-law would greet us before worship to share an update on her progress.  For weeks there was no change.

Then one Sunday, as two of the elders and I stood in the lobby, he came up and said, “I have incredible news.  Ruby’s cancer is gone.  The doctor’s examined her yesterday and said where there had been a body riddled with cancer two days before, there was absolutely no sign of tumor or lesions or anything!”  He said, “We cannot explain it, but Ruby is cancer-free!”

One of my elders, the youngest in fact, spoke with awe in his voice. “We prayed for that! We prayed for that! God has answered our prayers.”  No shouting, just a quiet word of reverence recognizing that God had used them and their prayers as instruments of His healing of Ruby.

Ruby returned two weeks later.  There was great rejoicing. She lived a very long time.

And these seven men, and myself, had a new sense of awe for what God can do and a deeper realization of what we can do when we let God work in and through us.

(C) 2012 by Stephen L Dunn

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HEADING FOR THE LAND OF THE LIVING

When John Owen, the great Puritan, lay on his deathbed, his secretary wrote in his name to a friend, “I am still in the land of the living.” “Stop,” said Owen. “Change that and say, ‘I am yet in the land of the dying, but I hope soon to be in the land of the living.”

Paul Azinger spoke of this when he shared his testimony of his battle with cancer. In that same moment, something Larry Moody, the man who leads our Bible study on the PGA Tour, has said to me many times came to mind: “Zinger, we’re not in the land of the living going to the land of the dying. We’re in the land of the dying, trying to get to the land of the living.” To read this golfer’s full testimony go to this link:
AZINGER

As a pastor, I have often said, “I do death.”  By this I mean that I have no fear or discomfort with death and dying,  I know the Author of Life and the reality of death and what my death will ultimately mean. Because of this understanding I find that ministering to people who are touched by death is something that I do with confidence and into which I believe I bring peace and comfort.

My mother, Marilyn Dunn, once said while leading a memorial service for Christian leaders, “We rejoice because they are now in the nearer presence of the Lord.”

In our culture today many simply see death as annihilation. Death is not only an end to life as we know it–it is the end. All that was of value is erased except for one’s legacy.  It can be a compelling reason for goodness or a powerful license for evil. There is no reward nor is there retribution. Unless one has an extremely high level of tolerance for suffering for suffering’s sake, then a whole lot of life’s experience is also meaningless,

If we lived in a perfect world where there is no trial nor temptation nor tragedy then maybe we could be assured happiness in this life.  In that perfect world, personal goodness would be its own reward. Our impact on others would always be constructive. Meaning would come from simply getting up in the morning. Hope would be unnecessary.

We do not live in a perfect world. We live in a fallen one. And hope is what keeps us alive and moving forward.

“Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.” – I Thessalonians 4:13, New International Version.

Our hope is in Jesus Christ. He has conquered death. And through  our relationship with Him, we are assured that death will not have the last word,  Death will not separate us from Him. The good we do now will be rewarded. But because we have been united with Him on this side of death’s door all that we do now participates in His magnificent plan to demonstrate His love and transform us all into people of purpose.

Suffering in this life does not mitigate this truth. Death does not deny this truth. Death confirms it.

HOW MUCH FAITH DO WE NEED?

Jesus was away on a field trip into the mountains with Peter, James, and John.  The other nine are left to cool their heels. As always there were people hanging around waiting for Jesus, particularly those who had come to desire his healing miracles. A father arrives, no doubt disappointed to find Jesus out of the office; so he engages the services of those remaining disciples. His son is possessed by a demon who is inflicting horrible seizures which are so great that he stumbles into fires or falls into rivers.  Dad is desperate. The disciples take a shot at healing. The whole thing misfires.

But Jesus finally arrives, and the desperate, frustrated father immediately comes to Jesus with a request and a complaint. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”

Jesus is not happy.   “O unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replies, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebukes the demon, and it comes out of the boy, and he is healed instantly.

The disciples suffer the rebuke in silence; but later it is just too much to bear. After all, they had tried. So once they are alone with him, they ask:

“Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

He replies, “Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

Step away from the biblical narrative a bit and go directly to the question it poses.  How much faith is enough? Jesus answer is counter-intuitive. “Not as much as you think.”

Wait a minute, Jesus. Moving a mountain is no small feat.  I won’t need a giant earth-mover or dynamite, simply a faith-filled command, and that big rock will move? What in the world is going on here?

We often think of faith like fuel. We need to fill up our tank in order to perform a task. Some tasks require no spiritual fuel at all, just a little human energy.  And when we live from that perspective we tend to opt in and out of a life of faith, thinking that we can exist without faith in God.  We only go to God when life is too much for us to manage by our own power.  So are considered with having a quantity of faith on hand for those emergencies.

But faith is not fuel, faith is a relationship. It is what we have not because of momentary necessity. It is what we have because we are continuously  connected to the author and completer of our faith. We move mountains not because we have enough faith, but because the faith we have is the real deal. Our faith is authentic. We don’t simply tap into the faith pipeline when things are rough or challenging.  Faith comes from a relationship of trust in God that produces all the power needed to deal with life.

Faith in ourselves–our abilities, our goodness, or our intelligence will not move mountains. Faith that blindly spins the dice and hopes that fate treats them kindly in a counterfeit that will ultimately fail us.

But faith in God who loves us and whose love empowers us will move mountains and more.

(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn

HIDDEN DEPTHS

Someone has described modern day Christianity as “a mile wide and a few inches deep.”

And indeed, in some sense there is a lot of shallowness to the faith of Christians who have lived most of their lives in the comfort of a culture that has let the church exist in slumbering peace.  In fact, for too many Christians, their faith exists primarily on the surface, when it is on display in Sunday morning worship; but let a crisis hit or Monday morning arrive and that faith is set aside in panic or in accommodation.  When the road gets tough, we start trying to wrest control of our lives back from God, lest He make things tougher.  When the rest of the world comes along side, we want to go undercover lest we stand out and invite judgment and ridicule.

What do we do when we ask God, as did the apostle Paul, to take away the thorns in our flesh and he says, “No, my grace is sufficient for you.”  Is our faith deep enough to chose weakness when it is the way of God’s working?

The world actually expects faith to be more surface than substance.  It is comfortable with such shallowness because it can justify its own ignoring of the call of God upon its life.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsy were imprisoned by the Nazis for helping the Jews of Holland escape the genocide. Faith was wonderful, even thrilling when they were outwitting the Nazis. But when they fell into the hands of the Nazis, Corrie’s faith floundered in a sea of doubt and discouragement.  Yet her sister Betsy continue to live with a strength that brought hope to others in the evil confines of a consecration camp.

Betsy was dying in that camp. And as she reached her final moments, Corrie despaired of what would happen when Betsy was gone.  Corrie felt she herself would simply give up and die.  But Betsy responded, “You must live, Corrie, you must live.  And you must tell them, there is no pit so deep where God is not deeper.”

How deep is your faith?