Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Of Heaven and Earth, Life and Death,
Sickness and Health in the Kingdom of God

On Friday evening, October 5, George and I sat quietly in my hospital room after an emotional afternoon filled with biopsy reports and tears. We were exhausted.

After everyone left, all we knew to do was turn our faces to the wall, as terminally ill Hezekiah did in the Bible account, and ask, "What must we do?"

The next morning we had our answer. George called our priest, Fr. Sergio Leal, and asked him to drive down to anoint me with oil before my surgery on Tuesday.

Fr. Sergio pastors at St. Clement's, a Spirit-filled Anglican Church, in the delightful little town of Mule Shoe, Texas. We began attending the church when we lived in Lubbock. Although we have moved twice since that time, we still consider Fr. Sergio our covering elder.

We reached out to him based on the instructions in James 5:14-16:

14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

15 And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much."

Before Fr. Leal's visit, I studied these verses once again. Looking at the word let in verse fourteen, I found that in Greek, both verbs are in the Aorist Imperative and are strong commands.

I was struck by the fact that many pastors and churches across America are not even aware that anointing with oil is a commandment. If it received just as much attention and reverence as Baptism and Communion, wouldn't we see more healings?

Even in the Old Testament, healing for those in covenant with God was not an occasional blessing. He actually presented His willingness to make His earthly family well in a legal declaration using two interesting words--statute and ordinance.

Statute:  A law etched in stone

Ordinance: A judicial degree regarding that law

It is the role of a judge to interpret an existing law and then make a decree toward a person regarding it.

Exodus 15:25-26:

"And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord shewed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them,

"And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee."

God's first covenant with His people in the wilderness was one regarding physical healing. At the waters of Mara, He gave them privileged access to one of His redemptive names as surety: Jehovah Rophe: Jehovah--God's personal name. Rophe--one of His eternal, unchanging attributes. Put together, God invites us to know Him on a first name basis, and shows us just one of the many redeeming qualities He brings to the relationship. Here, He is a healer.

Using the complete Hebrew meaning of Rophe, the last sentence in the Scripture above reads: "I am God, your physician, who mends, repairs, cures you thoroughly, and makes you whole."
Exodus 23: 25-26:
"And ye shall serve the Lord your God, and he shall bless thy bread, and thy water; and I will take sickness away from the midst of thee.

"There shall nothing cast their young, nor be barren, in thy land: the number of thy days I will fulfil.

Believers are told in the NT book of Hebrews that the New Covenant in Christ is far superior to the Old. Therefore, if the natural children of Abraham had such an ordinance from God for their sick and diseased bodies, how much more should we, the spiritual children of God, take hold of the promise of divine healing?

As Christians, we often lose focus on why God wants us well. Yes,
God is moved with compassion when His children suffer, and He desires to see them well again. But being healthy also assists me in fulfilling my mission on earth--my reason for being here.

Remember the Israelites who left Egypt after partaking of the Passover Lamb? The Bible records "He brought them forth also with silver and gold: and there was not one feeble person among their tribes." (Psalm 105:37)

Amazing! Not even one of the thousands of former slaves with broken backs and worn-out bodies remained in their former condition. Their assignment to the Promised Land required physical strength and endurance; and they needed the resources to build the Tabernacle in the Wilderness.

In addition, God's faithfulness to provide for His children was to be (and remains) a testimony to unbelievers of the reality of a loving deity that relates personally to His worshipers--a stark contrast to the unresponsive, pagan gods around them.

God heals us in three ways:

Spontaneous: the human body was created to clot upon injury, fight invading germs, and repair itself. Healing was built into our systems from the beginning, because we are created in the image and likeness of our Healer.

Stimulated: Our bodies often respond quickly to the addition of needed nutrients, medicine, and changes in diet and lifestyle. (This path is just as much of God as any other method.) We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and the body, which is programmed to fight to "right" itself, only needs our cooperation.

Supernatural: When the damage is too extensive or the disease advanced, we can still pray for a divine intervention.

Nevertheless, I admit. After thirty -plus years in ministry, I still don't know why some get healed and some don't--even after prayer and anointing with oil. But that's as futile as wondering after an altar call: "I know many unbelievers were in the congregation tonight. Why didn't they all get saved?"

We can have everything in place. We follow every instruction as best we can and yet--some aren't saved, some aren't healed. It is as mysterious as the human heart, which only God knows. Complex issues prevail in each situation; therefore, we should not pretend to be experts or judges in such matters.

However, I will tell you what I personally experienced that weekend while reading the healing ordinance in James. I believe it is where many Christians find themselves when confronted with a devastating medical report. I am also convinced that what a believer chooses to do beyond that point will make a difference in the quality and quantity of their days.

First, God dramatically shifted my focus from simply feeling better to finishing well. He said it would make all the difference in how I live from here on how I understand and walk in the ways of His Kingdom. At that point, my ears were open like never before. My heart was thirsty for His instructions!

This is where we began: God views life as seamless between earth and our final destination. Christian or not, all humans are eternal beings.

All sick Christians eventually become well; all believers with life-long injuries become whole the moment they arrive in God's presence. Healing is a done deal whether it is realized on earth or in Heaven. That explains why it often seems like a struggle when we ask God for certain things...things that even appear to be life and death issues. He wants to first deal with what He considers more important matters. If we embrace His guidance, it will better prepare us to receive and keep our wellness.

Everyone--even Christians--have a tendency to view the transition between Heaven and Earth as a divide, while God has always viewed the two as seamless. Heaven is simply a step away. Adam and Eve once lived in the physical reality of that seamlessness. We will see it again when Christ returns to set up His Kingdom on earth and that "step" will no longer exist.

For now, Heaven is a "holding place" for the saints until that day; Still, I believe it is a vibrant, productive community where saints are schooled, mentored, and equipped--perhaps catching up on whatever they did not, could not grasp about the Kingdom of God on earth.

We all fall short due to the Fall. Heaven is a place to correct all of that. I often think of the joy of seeing some of my friends and relatives who have gone on before me--some crippled and bound on earth by alcohol, drugs, or mental illness. Others are contrary and bitter due to living in a fallen world where no one is immune to sin's fallout. There, I will see them free from the Fall's effects and at their best--the way God intended. They, too, will see me at my very best!

Regardless of how long we live on earth, everyone's time is profoundly short compared to eternity. We must never forget the fact that our lives on earth are designed to prepare us for and influence others toward that eternity. Whatever else we lack is in Heaven's "Finishing School".

In other words, my life on earth is not the end; it's a means to the end. I was given gifts and talents to help me grow in grace and serve others, and these graces will continue in Heaven and ultimately reach their zenith when Christ reigns on earth. (According to Romans 11:29, God's gifts and callings are irrevocable. I am convinced that is true even at death.)

I fully expect to continue broadcasting (in some higher sense, I suppose), writing, teaching, singing, playing the guitar, and acting. Those things that God called and equipped me to do well on earth will not cease because I won't cease being me!

His call is to an eternal Kingdom, not just to a Christian life on earth. A kingdom economy that encompasses the universe needs working citizens. Seeing how God created the earth and then delegated Adam the task of tending it (even naming all the creatures), clues me in on how Christ's visible Kingdom will look on earth: God will allow us the joy of discovery, invention, and productivity beyond our wildest dreams--free from the hindrances and limitations of the Fall. Our brains will function at full capacity to harness and govern the universe and all it contains! (You don't think all those planets and solar systems are out there for us to just admire through telescopes, do you!)

I'll remain fully intact and recognizable--spirit and soul, personality and purpose--just temporarily without the unique earthbound vessel that I used for expression while there. When Christ brings me back to earth, I will once again be reunited with that body, but it will be glorified (perfected) to sustain me forever.

I began to see that what may appear to us to be a senseless death of a Christian or the life of a child cut short is seen quite differently from God's point of view. It is not an interrupted life, but simply one that is received on a higher plane...and there to thrive.

Although God does NOT cause or participate in the evil that's in the world today, He does redeem His own in the fleeting moments and does NOT allow it to have the final say. The body may be destroyed, but the person remains safe and whole in God, and continues his or her unique existence--more alive than ever before. Even the ravaged, decaying body will not persist as a testimony to evil. It, too, will be resurrected and raised unto unblemished glory.

So, there you have it. I wanted to get on with talking to God about healing me; He wanted me to see life and death, Heaven and beyond through a Kingdom perspective, and challenge me to believe for something more than just a well body.

Consequently, the Lord instructed me to redirect my prayers.  He told me to lay aside the prognoses of the doctors and the plethora of statistics I was given, as well as any times frames I was personally hoping for. Lifestyle changes, as important as they are, had to be properly prioritized.

He reminded me of Acts 13: 36, and what it said of King David:

“Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed."

David did not leave the earth until he had served his generation with his purpose--his reason for being alive in the first place. Although he lead men into battle, faced assassins, and sinned grievously, David finished his assignments; only then did he draw his last breath.

I asked what I had to do beyond a mere profession of Scripture in order to turn Acts 13:36 into my legacy.

We all want our lives to count, regardless of the days we have or the obstacles we face. We want to leave positive legacies in the earth--some sort of memorial that points to how we affected people with lasting virtues and godly, generous hearts.

The Lord took me back to the times I played outdoors during hot summers in South Carolina. Not wanting to interrupt too much playtime, I'd run to the outside spicket to get a quick drink of water. (Yes, I'm a Southerner through and through!)

First, I had to turn on the faucet, then crouch down under it to catch the cool stream in my mouth. God showed me it was all about getting in the right position to receive. In my childhood, it was the right bend of my body that helped me get the water. Now, I had to get in the right spiritual position.

While waiting for my church elder to arrive, I had several days to posture myself. First, I repented before the Father for allowing the cares and trials of life to act like a wax that slowly dulled my ability to hear Him often and clearly. I had become callous to the Holy Spirit's gentle urges and what we Christians often refer to as "a check in my spirit". God's primary method of speaking to His children is not in the spectacular (1 Kings 19: 10-13)

The Bible says God prefers obedience to sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22). Although I know this Scripture is referring to the futility of trying to please God through religious activities rather than stemming from a loving relationship, I think it also applies to times, due to plain stubbornness, irrational fears, or prolonged excuses, we have to walk a painful path that is certainly not God's best for us--a path that requires sacrifices. Nevertheless, our Father unbegrudgingly redeems our steps and turns the situation around for good.

So, instead of asking flatly to be healed of cancer, I asked God to give me what I needed to fulfill the number of my days and serve my generation. Let me give gifts to the world until I'm empty.

I was surprised at what happened next. The Holy Spirit directed me to go ahead and believe for the healing I needed in order to do just that--fulfill my days--along with the soundness of mind, strength, provision, favor, and open doors!

I began to grasp that receiving from God was never intended to be a "one size fits all", "name it and claim it" formula. It is to stem out of a personal, abiding relationship. Therefore, we cannot compare what God grants to each of us among ourselves. We are individually given the measure of what we need to run the race and finish our course.

Lazarus was raised from the dead by Jesus as part of his purpose on earth. His resurrection from the dead caused many Jews to finally believe in their Messiah. Yet, the day came when he died and went to Heaven. Period. That was included in his purpose, too.

Elisha was a prophet who performed many miracles, yet the Bible says one day he got sick and died. He rescued many people from disaster, yet couldn't save himself. But it was not in his purpose to do so. Interestingly, some men who were burying a friend's body near the tomb of Elisha saw a band of raiders off in the distance, so they hastily threw the body on top of Elisha's bones. The man sprang back to life! (2 Kings 13:21)

David wanted to build God a temple, but the Lord corrected him and said his purpose in the latter years was to make sure his son Solomon had the resources needed to do the job. David's cup was nearly empty; he had served his generation.

Thank God, though, for empty cups! How many people go to their graves full of good intentions, God-inspired creative ideas and plans? Unless we stay focused on our purpose, and believe in faith for God to fulfill the number of our days, we will flounder around in wishful thinking and ultimate regret.

However, we must also keep in mind that the complexities of one's purpose and God's overall Cosmic Purpose can never be fully understood now. The impact of our lives --how we lived, what we gave, how we loved--continues long after we're gone. What we hastily gauge as a short or insignificant life may have a greater effect than anyone could imagine.

That's why I do not question God over the death of children. While such things sadden me deeply, I realize that He alone sees what will emerge out of the grief. I know on that Day of Days, we will be stunned at how these lives were not wasted after all. We will stand speechless at the intelligence, beauty, and creativity that found unhindered expressions in the presence of God.

We must also remember that not everyone is a Billy Graham or Mother Theresa. 99.9% of Christians raise families, work hard, serve in their local communities and churches, and then go to Heaven. These saints are just as gifted and called as their brethren who make global impacts for Christ.

At the end of human history, God will not reward us based on how many people we were able to influence for Jesus on earth. We will be judged on what we did with the measure we had been given within our particular sphere of influence. Since most of us aren't famous and in a full-time, world-wide ministry, it's evident that God really focuses on the ordinaries in our everyday lives--right where we are with what we have.

Do we see our marriage, as well as parenting, as a call--a ministry unto God? Do we consider a kind and encouraging word to the tired girl at the grocery checkout a God-arranged assignment? What about an elderly neighbor in need of companionship or giving to our church's food pantry? Each act is a thread that composes the larger tapestry of our purpose, which one day will be completed and placed at the feet of Jesus.

Our priest, Fr. Sergio Leal, St. Clement's Anglican

But let's get back to Fr. Sergio's visit. By the time he arrived, all fear was gone--of death, the process of dying, cancer, the surgery and what may follow...of the future, of not having enough time, of leaving my family. I was at peace. He anointed me with oil. Together we prayed, asking the Lord to save me from cancer and raise me up.

We did our part. We called for the elders and prayed the prayer of faith--a prayer that was birthed out of a personal trust in the Lord--a faith tailor-made for me and why I was created. I confessed my sins accountably before others, thereby positioning myself before the Lord to receive my healing.

We also had a renewed understanding of the need to
trust the "raising"--the how's and when's--to God's sovereignty, knowing that He loves us and will grant us the best way toward wellness based on our individual makeup and purpose.

I say "makeup" because I've thought long and hard about why God just didn't zap away my cancer with an instant miracle, which I've seen him do on occasions for others. Would I have continued to press in as hard to Him or would I have reverted to leaning on my own understanding?  Would I have received the revelation of fulfilling my days and the importance of serving my purpose in the earth? Probably not. I know me. And He knows me even better! The way He allowed is a life-long path of monthly checkups and an active faith to stay completely His and completely trusting.

After that Monday afternoon prayer, the surgeon successfully removed a T4 tumor and part of my ascending colon. The cancerous mass had not metastasized into any other organs, but cancer was found in half of the surrounding lymph nodes and up to the abdominal wall. I  am now midway through a systemic chemotherapy schedule that requires a three-day stay in the hospital twice a month.

I want to live to be eighty-years-old and then some. I intend to watch all three of my grandchildren grow up, serve God, marry, and provide Nanny D with great-grandchildren to bounce on her knees. I fully expect one or more of the grandchildren to take up my mantle of writing, broadcasting, and teaching; and I will have time to train and mentor them in the crafts)

I am confident He will fulfill the number of my days. As the Exodus 23 passage above says: I will not be barren or unfruitful (in my purpose). Cancer does not determine the number of my days. On the other hand, neither does my chemotherapy. As wonderful as my sister-in-law chef is in her research and preparation of cancer-fighting foods, plates full of cabbage and broccoli do not determine how long I live. Excellent aids? Yes. Deciding factors? No.

A dear friend of mine who is an atheist was genuinely concerned with my display of confidence."What if you pass within three months of such boasting? It will make you look like a lunatic!"

I laughed and told my friend that while I wouldn't be able to control how people would judge the time of my passing, this I knew for sure: if I were to shortly pass, then there were obviously just a few things I needed to tidy up before I continued in Heaven--maybe one more article or perhaps a few more days with the grandchildren to express things deep in my heart.

God knows my desires. I want to age gracefully with George and "see the sights" upon retirement. What's at the top of my list? To see the Northern Lights from Norway!

I have a journal full of future themes for books and teaching series--even a few business ideas that I feel are tied to my purpose. The Bible speaks many times of God's will and delight to grant us long life. After all, He designed us to live forever. That's why we fight death so hard and it fights back--we weren't created to die.

Regardless of what I want, there will come a day when my cup will be full and I am no longer needed here. I will have said and done those things I had been gifted to release in the earth. Done...not perfectly and not always faithfully, but done, nevertheless.

If I don't get to do all that I wanted to in this life, I will disappointed--just like David. Nevertheless, I'll have to leave it where it is and trust God to lead and empower my family and friends to finish what I started.

So, when I go, be assured I didn't wander through the remainder of my days hoping for good things and opportunities to come my way; I expected them as part of my purpose...everything I needed--including physical wellness--to empty my cup on a world of seekers.

"But seek (aim at and strive after) first of all His kingdom and His righteousness (His way of doing and being right), and then all these things taken together will be given you besides." (Matthew 6:33 Amplified)

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