Friday, February 5, 2016

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

To wrap up our series on The Story of Jesus: The Healer, here are some final thoughts:

Several years ago, my father suffered a major stroke (technically a “subarachnoid hemorrhage”). The first doctor who examined him told my brother there was “zero chance of meaningful recovery.” Eventually another doctor revised that prognosis and told us he believed that my father’s condition could be reversed with an appropriate surgical procedure. We authorized the procedure and we prayed. Within 24 hours my father woke up from a coma and within a month he was driving a car and working again. We praised God.

Less than a month later a woman approached me after a worship service and told me that her father had experienced a similar stroke but that, despite their desperate prayers for healing and recovery, he had never regained consciousness. 

I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have been privileged to pray with and for people who are sick. I’ve prayed in hospitals and in homes; for those who want to be restored to physical health and for those who long to be released from this earthly life. Some people that I have prayed with have recovered completely. Some have died. Some got better for a while then got sick again and died. I don’t have any idea how many people I have prayed with God has chosen to heal; and I don’t know why he chose not to heal so many. But I do know that he has invited us to pray for physical healing. James writes:

Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up.

Is James saying that every sick person will get well if we pray following his instruction? Is there special healing power in the oil he talks about? Is this a “prayer formula” that, if followed in detail, will result in physical healing every time? These are good questions.

One of the basic rules for interpreting any particular passage of Scripture is to understand it in the context of God’s word a as whole.

We know, for example, that Jesus did not heal every sick person that he came across. In John 5 he walks through a whole crowd of sick and infirm people and chooses one paralyzed man to speak to and ultimately heal.

We can also assume that those Jesus did heal eventually experienced physical death from some other cause. 

We also know that although every human life is created by God and is precious in his sight, this earthly life pales in comparison to the eternal life that awaits those who die in faith.

The Apostle Paul writes:
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. Phil. 1:21

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Cor. 4:17

So I don’t think James is offering a guarantee of physical healing through prayer. But I think he is saying that prayer gives us access to the God who has both the power and authority to heal the sick.

As the creator of all life, God can and does heal. Sometimes he heals through what we would call “natural processes”; the human body’s seemingly natural ability to heal (but which was created by God to do so). Sometimes he heals through the medical sciences, which also are a gift from his hand. Sometimes he heals supernaturally; that is, as a response to prayer that we do not fully comprehend from our human perspective. And sometimes the healing he brings is not physical and temporary (as all physical healing is temporary), but spiritually and eternally.

James simply wants us to know that when we are sick we are invited to pray for healing. What an unspeakable privilege of faith; what a wonderful blessing of the gospel!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Luke 17:11-19
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.

Many great short stories contain a surprise – that is, an outcome that we don’t see coming, but makes the story memorable.

This brief story, only nine verses in length, actually packs three surprises – each greater than the one before.

The first surprise is that ten lepers are made clean through faith in Jesus. In that day, leprosy was believed to be both some kind of punishment from God and incurable. Yet, these ten afflicted men come to Jesus begging for mercy and go to show themselves to the priests (the only people in that culture who could proclaim them to be clean) trusting only on the word of Jesus. He said so. So they did. And they were healed.

The second surprise is that although ten men were cleansed from the suffering, humiliation, and hopelessness of leprosy, only one returned to thank Jesus. Even Jesus himself seems mildly surprised at the missing nine. “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” Jesus asked.

The third surprise doesn’t come across nearly as strongly to us as it would have in that time and place. The great surprise is that the man who came to offer his praise and worship was a Samaritan. Most of us have heard or read about the animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus’ day. Samaritans were considered “unclean” by the Jews and therefore were disqualified from worship in the presence of God. So for this Samaritan and former leper to wind up worshiping at the feet of Jesus is a shocker indeed!

What does this tell us about the Samaritan? What does this tell us about Jesus? What can we learn about ourselves?

It tells us the Samaritan no longer cared about the centuries-old prejudice that rendered him unworthy to worship. He was clean, he was overflowing with gratitude, and he worshiped with both humility and unbridled joy.

It tells us Jesus loves us as we are, spiritual leprosy and all, and offers to make us clean again. It tells us Jesus will receive our praise and thanksgiving no matter what labels we have been placed on us by others.

Take time today to return to Jesus the praise and thanksgiving due His name.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Luke 17:11-19
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

Think for just a minute about the last time you were really dirty. Maybe you spent a day cleaning out the attic, or digging up your garden. Whatever you were doing, you probably ended up sweaty, smelly, and just plain dirty.

I remember being on a mission trip in the Dominican Republic with high school students one summer when our primary work was mixing concrete by hand in 95 degree heat. By the end of the day I thought my clothes might walk away by themselves. Since there were no shower facilities, we had to bathe by walking nearly a mile to a river where we lathered up next to curious Dominican women who were washing clothes. It didn’t matter to us that we looked funny or out of place; it just felt so good to be clean!

To be a leper meant to be “unclean.” By the requirements of ancient Jewish law, a leper had to keep a distance from “clean” folks, and whenever coming within earshot, a leper had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” to warn the healthy population of the danger that was approaching. To be a leper, then, meant to feel oneself to be perpetually and publicly dirty, unwelcome, and untouchable. Imagine, then, what it felt like when these men, while on their way to the priests, looked down at the skin of their arms and hands and saw no more lesions or sores! Imagine what it felt like to be clean again!

Notice that Jesus didn’t heal the men right away. He told them to go show themselves to the priests. Think about this for a second. This was a very dangerous proposition. In the Jewish way of doing things, the priests were the very ones who had made the diagnosis of leprosy in the first place. To ask for another audience with the priests and to still be leprous was to risk serious consequences. But they go because Jesus told them to go. They had put their faith in Jesus: lock, stock, and barrel. In other words, their faith led to obedience, and their obedience led to their healing.

There is a lesson in here for us. Have you come to Jesus in all your uncleanness, crying out for his mercy and grace? Have you trusted him completely to make you clean? Have you begun to live out your new identity in obedience and gratitude to him?

Pastor Brian Coffey

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Mark 1:40-42
A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

The movie 42 tells the story of Jackie Robinson breaking the so-called “color barrier” in major league baseball. I enjoy these types of movies because I have always loved baseball history.

The film contains a scene that depicts an incident that happened in 1947 as Robinson was in his first season with the Dodgers and facing withering abuse from many who objected to an African American playing in the big leagues. 

Early that season, the Dodgers were playing the Cincinnati Reds in Cincinnati and fans were jeering at Robinson without mercy. Harold “Pee Wee” Reese, the Dodgers’ captain and Hall of Fame shortstop (a white ballplayer from Kentucky) walked across the baseball diamond from his position at shortstop, approached Robinson (who was playing first base at the time) and put his arm around his shoulder in a public display of friendship. As the story goes, the jeering stopped, Reese returned to his position and the game went on.

That story is related in an odd sort of way to the story of Jesus and the man with leprosy.

A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured.

It’s easy to read this story and see only the miracle of the man being healed from leprosy. And, of course, it is a story about healing. But it’s also more than that. It’s a story about compassion. 

In Jesus’ day leprosy was seen as a dangerous and highly contagious disease. It was also seen as a kind of curse. The religious law of the day required those infected with the disease to be quarantined from the general population. Lepers were considered to be not only contagious, but spiritually “unclean” as well and were prohibited from worshiping in the temple. If a “clean” person came into contact with a leper, he or she also became unclean and had to go through a rigorous cleansing process.

But, in his compassion, Jesus completely ignores all those religious rules. He reached out and touched a leprous man. And the man was healed.

Did Jesus have to touch the man to heal him? No. Jesus healed other people without touching them and sometimes without even being near them. But he touched this man.

Why?

Perhaps Jesus touched the man in order to demonstrate to the man that, even though a leper, he was still touchable. Perhaps he chose to touch the man as a tangible demonstration of God’s love. Maybe Jesus’ main point was to show those watching that genuine compassion was more important than religious rules. I think it was likely for all the above reasons and probably even a few more that I have missed.

This beautiful story makes me think about the “untouchable” people in my world. Who are the people that, for one reason or another, we tend to regard as contagious or repulsive in some way?

While it might be a bit dangerous to do so, here’s a short list of those we tend to treat as “lepers” in that we prefer not to come into contact with them – or even be near them.

Those convicted of crimes.

Those addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Those who suffer from mental illness.

Those who are homeless.

Those who identify themselves as homosexual.

Okay, I think you get the point. The truth is I could go on and on and still never mention the kind of person that you, personally, tend to see as “untouchable.”

In 1947, Jackie Robinson would have been considered untouchable by someone from Pee Wee Reese’s background just because of his race. But that didn’t matter to Reese.

And in Jesus day, a leper was considered untouchable in Jewish culture. But that didn’t matter to Jesus.

So what is it that shouldn’t matter to us?

What is it that shouldn’t matter to you?

Who are the people around you that you tend to regard as untouchable but are actually those that Jesus wants to touch through you?

Pastor Brian Coffey

Monday, February 1, 2016

1 John 1:7-9
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

One year for Christmas, I received a new white dress shirt from my wife. Now I already had a white dress shirt that I wore every now and then on Sundays, but over time even a white shirt fades a little, so I was happy to get a nice, crisp, clean new white dress shirt!

I made sure to wear that new white shirt the very first Sunday after Christmas; and I have to say it looked pretty sharp along with my new Christmas sweater! But somewhere during the morning, I took a pen out of my coat pocket, made some notes, then put it back in my shirt pocket….but without the cap back on the pen. 

When I got home after church, I took off my jacket and saw the huge ink stain on my brand new white dress shirt. With much chagrin I showed my ruined new shirt to my wife. She immediately applied every stain-removal product at her disposal and sent it through the washer at least a couple of times. But, alas, she couldn’t get the stain completely out.

I could still wear my new shirt, but only with a sweater or jacket that hides the stain.

There is a very obvious illustration in my stained dress shirt, and I’m sure you can see it. We are like the shirt and sin is the stain--and we are all stained. The question is: How do we get the stain out?

In 1 John we read:
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Back to my stained shirt for a moment. My wife was able to get most of that stain out; enough, at least, so that I could continue to wear the shirt so long as I cover the remnant of the stain. I think that’s how we sometimes think about the forgiveness of Christ. We know that he forgives us, but we struggle to feel completely forgiven. In a sense we still feel stained; we still carry remnants of our sin with us, and we work hard to hide those stains because we do not feel cleansed.

What if my wife had at her disposal a cleaning product that could not only completely remove the ink stain, but restore the very fabric of the shirt to its pristine original condition? What if there was a cleaning product that not only removed the stain, restored the fabric, but caused me to forget that the stain ever even occurred in the first place? Now that’s a good cleaning product!

That’s what the blood of Christ does! The Greek word translated “purify” in 1 John 1:7 is katharitzo (from which we get our English word, “catharsis”) and it means to cleanse from all impurity. It’s the word used to describe what the leper asks Jesus to do for him in Matthew 8:

“Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “be clean.”

This is the kind of cleansing that God promised through the prophet Isaiah:

Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow… Isaiah 1:18

See that? Not kind off white, not mostly white, but white as snow. God is telling us that by the blood of Jesus the stain of our sin is not somewhat removed, not mostly removed, but it is completely removed! 

In Hebrews 8:12 we read:

“For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

So why hang on to remnants of that which God no longer remembers? 

The old hymn writer said it well:

What can wash away my sin? 
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, January 29

In the last year or so of Paul's life, when he was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to his son in the faith, Timothy. And, looking back across the years of his ministry, he spoke of the coming of our Savior Christ Jesus, "who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." (2 Tim. 1:10). That is the great and central fact in the good news about Jesus Christ: He has done what no other can ever do - he has abolished death. That is what is unique about the gospel!

Death has many forms. We actually begin to die long before we take our last breath. Death seizes us in many areas of our life other than the physical. There are many forms of death. Boredom is death. Sickness, of course, is death, but despair is also death. Fear and worry are forms of death. Mental illness is death, but so is bitterness of spirit. Death can seize our life while we live, and rule over great areas of our life long before we ever die. We know that from experience. But the great good news of Jesus Christ is that he has come to abolish death, death in every form, whatever it may be.

Last year when we studied the book of Acts, we ran across two stories of healing from two different kinds of death (see Acts 9).  We will see how in each case the power of Jesus Christ abolishes death. The first incident is a picture of death's power to paralyze.

Acts 9:32-34
 Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

If you have ever been to Israel, you have probably been to Lydda. If you fly into Israel that is where you land. The airport outside Tel Aviv is at the ancient town of Lydda.  It was to this village that Peter came on his way down from Jerusalem, visiting among the new churches of Judea and Samaria. The church had been thrust out from Jerusalem and pockets of Christianity had begun in all the villages in Judea and Samaria. In Lydda he finds a man who had been paralyzed for eight years.

Now Peter was no faith healer. He was not like the TV faith healers in America today who make grandiose claims of possessing powers to heal people. Peter never said that he had any power to heal anyone. "Jesus Christ heals you," he says. Peter was but the instrument and channel of his healing power.  This man was made well instantaneously. As we have seen before in Acts, these physical miracles are a picture of the spiritual miracle that God wants to perform in every human spirit. God heals physically. He still does, and there are numerous perfectly valid instances of modern healings. But one thing is true of those today, just as in New Testament days: God heals physically only selectively. He never heals everybody that is sick. Jesus did not even when He walked the earth.  He healed selectively, because it is intended to picture the healing of the soul. That is what God really wants. Any healing of the body is, at best, temporary. 

Everyone who was ever healed in New Testament days died later on. The healing of their bodies was just temporary because it was designed to be a picture.  It is God's wonderful way of illustrating the healing of the sinful heart which would be eternal and which is really what God wants!  


Pastor Jeff Frazier

Thursday, January 28

Luke 17:11-19
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.”             
  

Matthew Henry was an 18th century English preacher and Biblical scholar who one day was assaulted and robbed by petty street thugs. He later wrote in his personal prayer journal:

            “Let me be thankful; first, because I was never robbed before;
            second, because although they took my wallet they did not take
            my life; third,   because although they took my all, it was not much;
            and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.”

I think we would agree that this is a deeper kind of gratitude. Most often I feel thankful when I am abundantly blessed; that is, when my children are healthy, my bills are paid and the refrigerator is full of food. While certainly appropriate, this kind of thankfulness is relatively easy – and superficial. It is quite another thing to remain in some way thankful when my child is sick, when my job was terminated, or when my house is in foreclosure!

As I think about this story – it dawns on me that this one Samaritan man has many reasons to remain somewhat skeptical and bitter. After all, who knows how long he had been a leper – and whether or not his family and community would have him back.  Would his former employer offer him a job – or would his past be a liability for the company? Would his wife have him back – maybe she had grieved and moved on in her life. And why should he trust this healing to last? Maybe it was just a cruel temporary remission. And after all, while he may have been cured of leprosy – he was still a Samaritan!

Yet, despite all the reasons he could have used to feed his own self-pity, this man threw himself at Jesus’ feet in humility and gratitude. Jesus’ response is very interesting. He says, “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.” Many scholars have pointed out that the word “well” indicates a sense of wholeness – that is, inner as well as outer healing.

Could it be that God’s work in this man’s life was not complete until he opened his heart in praise and thanksgiving to Jesus? Could it be that the healing from the external symptoms of leprosy was not the main work Jesus wanted to accomplish? Could it be that the most important thing in this man’s life was NOT being healed from a dreaded disease – but in coming to know the love and grace of Jesus?

The purest form of praise and gratitude is not in response to our abundance, but in response to who Jesus is and what he has done in and for us. Take some time in prayer to throw yourself at his feet in thanksgiving and praise!


Pastor Brian Coffey