X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
November 11, 2001
A while back, in fact it was several years ago, the child of a very close friend of mine was rushed to the intensive care unit of a local hospital. For days, this child literally hung onto life. During this time, I prayed with my close friend, shed tears, and was intensely focused, as far as my prayer for healing, like I had never been before. Despite our efforts of prayer, the child died. It was a horrible thing.
This past week, one of our pastors emailed me this. It said, “Ed, I prayed for a lady who was diagnosed with leukemia. At that time, she was in the third stage of cancer. The fourth stage was the final stage leading to death. I prayed for her during a Wednesday evening service a number of years ago, and she told me that, when I prayed, it felt as if warm water was washing her from her head down to her feet. She was scheduled to go see the doctor the following Thursday for a chemo treatment and blood work. Her doctor would take the usual blood sample to see how fast the cancer was progressing before administering the chemo treatment.
He took the blood and sent it to the lab. She would always wait for the lab to send its report back to the doctor, who would then talk to her about the results and then administer the chemo. When the doctor came in this time, he wanted to take more samples of blood and to send to the lab. He came back a second time and told her that the lab could not find any evidence of leukemia. The doctor then scheduled her to have a bone marrow biopsy done the following week. The bone marrow biopsy showed that there was no leukemia and no cancer. She was cancer free and still is today.
Two similar situations. In one, God seemed strangely silent and, in the other, he showed up big time.
Today, we are going to talk about one of the most controversial subjects in Christianity, divine healing. I know for many of you, this subject hits close to home. It kind of kicks you a little bit, because maybe you are dealing with a chronic illness. Or maybe you have a family member who is very sick. Or maybe you have prayed for someone to get well. Maybe you have prayed for their healing, yet, they are still sick or maybe they died.
Let’s face it; we live in the belt buckle of the Bible belt, Dallas/Ft. Worth, the hotbed for faith healers, the Mecca for miracle workers. All we have to do is scan the dial, skim the headlines and surf the channels, and, chances are, we are going to run into a man or a woman that claims to be a faith healer.
Now, if you are like me, you ask several questions. You lob questions God’s way like, “God, what do you think about this situation?” Or, you might say, “God, are these people for real?” Do you ask things like this, when a person comes across the stage and the faith healer whacks them on the head, “Is that person really a different person, have they been changed?”
Those are valid questions, good questions, and biblical at that. Before we get into faith healing, I think it’s important for us to understand how Jesus performed miracles. Jesus performed dozens and dozens of miracles throughout the Gospels. Whenever I say Gospels, I am talking about Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I want to lift out one miracle that Christ performed in the book of Luke, chapter five. Now, here is the situation. Back in biblical times, leprosy, which is called Hansen’s disease today, was a horrible situation. The person who had leprosy could not receive healing through conventional means. There was no medication, no help whatsoever.
Leprosy caused nerve endings in the body to die, which particularly affected the extremities. Fingers, hands, feet, and faces fell off, because the person no longer had the benefit of pain receptors to keep from injuring and maiming their extremities. Lepers wore bells all over their clothing and, anytime someone would come close to a leper, the leper was say these words, “Unclean, unclean.” So, the person who did not have leprosy could take a wide birth around the one who did have leprosy. That is the situation we find in Luke, chapter five, because Jesus saw someone who had leprosy, and this leper ran up to Jesus, fell down before him and said, “Jesus heal me.” The Bible says that Jesus did exactly that.
Let’s pick it up in Luke, chapter 5, verse 13. The leper is laying down before Jesus saying, “Heal me,” and here is what Jesus did. “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” Let me stop right there. He touched the man. This leper lived in a leper colony and I am sure he had not felt the touch of human flesh for years. Can you imagine Jesus touching him? Leprosy had the social stigma of maybe the aids virus today. Jesus touched the person and the Bible says the man said, “’I am willing, Lord.’” Then Jesus said, “’Be clean!’ and immediately the leprosy left him.”
What did Jesus do after that? Did Jesus say to the leper, “Hey, hand out flyers, because I am going to have a huge healing service at the American Airlines Center in Jerusalem.” Did he say that? No, he didn’t.
Look at the next verse, verse 14, “Then Jesus ordered him, ‘Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’”
Jesus never refused anyone concerning healing but he did refuse people who wanted to exploit his miraculous powers. He never showed off. Often times, Jesus healed in a private manner. If you look at the healing ministry of Christ, his healings were personal. So often, he asked for the person’s name. One time, you remember, in one of the Gospels, he healed a boy and he said, “Get this child some food.” It was personal.
I think Jesus also healed with a great passion. It’s interesting to go through the Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and to see how many times Jesus touched people during the healing process.
His healing ministry was also a purposeful one. It was always for the glory of God. He didn’t just do it for the crowds and many times, as I said a second ago, he would take people to the side and heal them and would say, “Don’t tell anybody about it.” That’s how Jesus healed. In this hotbed for faith healers, in this Mecca for miracle workers, in the belt buckle of the Bible belt, we have to ask ourselves some questions. I think it is important that we compare and contrast Christ’s healing ministry, don’t you, with some of the ministries we see on television, or here on the radio, or read in the headlines. Because there are some popular approaches out there that we need to understand.
The first approach that we need to download is what I call the sensationalist approach to healing. That’s the faith healer, the man or the woman, who usually packs out large coliseums and promises you a miracle. They advertise miracles. They say, if you show up, there is a good chance that God is going to give you a miracle. We have to ask ourselves a question: Is a sensationalist personal? Is a sensationalist passionate? Does the sensationalist do it in kind of a private way? Does he or she have a purpose driven ministry that gives credit to and brings glory to God? Or do they give credit or bring glory to themselves? Do they only heal when the cameras are rolling, when the lights are on, when the thousands are packed in the coliseums or is it a lifestyle? The difficulty with the sensationalist is a lot of people will believe anything, even outside of the Bible, just to “get a miracle.”
Let me say something direct to you, a pastoral word, if I may. Don’t ever make fun or ridicule people like that. God knows the heart. God knows the motivation. We need to leave that up to him. However, we do have to understand, realize and ask ourselves a question, does the sensationalist’s approach line up with Scripture?
There is another approach out that is very popular, the confessionalist approach. Confessionalists say that we can use faith as kind of a leverage to back God into a corner and to obligate God. And God will have to give us a miracle. It’s all about faith. So, for example, if the doctor tells me that I have lupus or I have cancer, I say, I confess, “I don’t have cancer. I don’t have lupus.” Confessionalists say that, if you confess it enough, you will believe it. And when you believe it, you’ll receive a miracle from God. We can turn God into some messenger boy. We can make God do what he wants to do. That does not hold biblical water.
Remember the Apostle Paul? He had a little bit of faith. That was a joke, tongue in cheek. He had a huge amount of faith, the Apostle Paul. Paul had this thing he called the thorn in his flesh. He had some problem, some sickness, some abnormality. What did Paul do? Three times the Bible says, specifically in 2 Corinthians, chapter 12, Paul said, “God heal me, God heal me, God heal me.” Three times, God said, “No, no, no.”
I believe God allowed this thorn in Paul’s life to keep him tethered to God. So, if Paul didn’t have enough faith, we are all in a heap of trouble. God is sovereign. God heals but he does not heal everyone. Just because we confess it, that does not mean a thing. The Bible doesn’t support it.
There is another approach out there called the dispensationalist approach. The dispensationalist says that back in the first century, Christ and his disciples performed healing miracles, but, after the first century, the healing ministry has shut down. It’s over. The great physician has closed shop. They try to limit God. They try to put collars on it. They try to hedge it.
The Bible says, though, in Hebrews 8 that Jesus is the same today, yesterday, forever, tomorrow. He has not changed. I’ll say it again. God sometimes divinely heals. However, we have got to realize that he does not heal everyone. So I do not believe that the dispensationalist approach is a biblical approach to healing. Because to say that, you are saying, “Well, God just cannot heal today. The great physician has shut down his practice.”
“Well, Ed, I am not a sensationalist. I’m not a confessionalist. I’m not a dispensationalist. Ed, what should I be?”
I should be what the Bible says. I’ll tell you what I am in a couple of moments. Well, I’ll tell you what I am now and then I will explain it, how about that? I’m a realist. I’ll say it once again for the third time, Jesus heals. I have seen him supernaturally heal, divinely heal someone, but he does not heal everyone. Look at Christ’s ministry. He didn’t heal everyone that he was around.
How does Jesus heal? Let’s get down to the nitty gritty. How does he heal? One of the ways he heals, and this will probably shock you, is through something that is very natural. He heals through a natural process. I had this wicked paper cut on the ring finger of my right hand. It happened during one of our meetings several days ago for this weekend. When I cut my finger it was like that paper cut that will give you the weebie jeebies. It has about healed now. Who healed it? I didn’t give him credit, but I will tell you who healed it. God healed it. Have you ever sprained your ankle, skinned your knee? Who healed it? God did it. We don’t give him credit. God works through the natural process, through the bodies own immune system.
Also, God heals another way and this is going to really rock you. Before I tell you, how many people do we have in the medical community? Lift your hands, surgeons, nurses, doctors, don’t be shy. Lift your hand, come on. That’s it? We have some people hiding out there. Let’s give them a round of applause, the medical community. God heals through the medical community. How many of you have ever had minor surgery, lift your hand? Major surgery, lift your hand. Plastic surgery, lift your hand. The whole church. You guys were kind of asleep and I had to wake you up a little bit. God works through the medical community. He works through physicians, through nurses, through dentists, all sorts of gifted men and women.
Some of you know this, but, several years ago, I was lifting weights and a forty-pound dumbbell fell off a weight rack three feet on to my great toe and broke it forty places. The bone was sticking out of the nail bed in four places. I was in a heap of trouble. They rushed me to the emergency room and three doctors from Fellowship Church happened to be there. You know you are hurt, when the doctors say, “Oh, Ed, you are hurt.”
Well, I will tell you what happened. A plastic surgeon, who goes to Fellowship Church, rebuilt my nail bed on my big toe. Is that a beautiful toe or what? See, everybody thinks it’s real hip to get liposuction or a nose job, but the deal is a toe job. That’s the newest surgery known to man, right there. My friend, a gifted surgeon, made me a beautiful toe. My toe looks better now than it did before I had the injury. God used him. So God uses the medical community.
But, also, sometimes God heals through prayer, just divinely breaks through time and space and the person is healed. Well, let’s talk about this type of divine healing. We are concluding the book of James. We have studied James for the last thirteen weeks. James was the half-brother of Jesus. James was an amazing man. He was pastor of the church of Jerusalem. James had a unique nickname, “Camel’s knees.” He must have had some ugly knees, some knarly knees. Historians say that his knees had so many calluses on them, because he knelt in prayer so much that his knees were kind of knarly.
When Bill Gates talks about technology, I want to listen. When Tiger Woods talks about golf, I want to pay attention. If President Bush talks about leadership, I am going to focus. When James talks about prayer, do the E.F. Hutton thing. James is going to talk to us about divine healing. God does not heal everyone, but God is still in the healing business.
Here is what James says in chapter 5, verse 13, “Is anybody in trouble?” Now, this word “trouble” is the key, the linchpin, for this whole section of scripture. The word “trouble” means any kind of affliction, physical, emotional, circumstantial, or financial. “Is any one of you in trouble?” James asks. What should we do? James says to pray. Most of the time our first response when we are in trouble is not to pray. It’s to do something else. It’s to cry. It’s to whine. It’s to talk to our friends. It’s to go to Barnes and Noble and sip cappuccino and read a self-help book. James says not to do that but to pray.
Then James says in the last part of verse 13, “Is anyone happy?” He first starts out with trouble, then he goes to happy. As we pray, when we are in trouble, God answers our prayers and then we are happy. James says if you are happy, then “let him sing praises.” This word “praise” means to make music on stringed instruments. Didn’t you love the stringed instruments? Those people can do it, can’t they?
Now the plot clots. Get ready. Hold on to your theater seats. James 5:14, “Is anyone among you sick?” Remember James is writing to Christians dispersed throughout the Mediterranean world. This word “sick” is not post-nasal drip. It’s not sinusitis. It’s not acid indigestion. We are talking about really sick. Let me stop here. The Bible talks about certain types of sickness. The Bible talks about a sickness for death. I checked the stats again this week, friends, and the death rate is still hovering around 100%. We are all dying. The moment we are born, we are dying. Some die quicker than others, but we are all dying. The Bible says we die because of sin.
“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The compensation for sin is death. Yet, if we are in Christ, we die and our death is a graduation from this life to heaven. But the fact remains that we are going to die. In our pre-fallen state, we would have lived forever. But we messed up. We got the ball of sin rolling, and because sin entered the equation, we are going to die. So there is sickness because we are dying.
Also, there is a sickness for disobedience. If I am sinning habitually, if I am continuing in sin and rebellion before God, I can be sick. Case in point, in 1 Corinthians 11, the Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth that, because you have abused communion and taken it in an unworthy manner, “Many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.” You are taking communion, Paul said, in a flippant pedestrian-type manner and that is why you are sick, and some have even died.
Remember David, that great leader at the top of his game? He lusted after Bathesheba. He committed adultery with this biblical babe. He had her husband killed and then the Bible says David didn’t come clean. David didn’t confess. Do you know what David did? He suppressed. Because of his disobedience, he became sick. Check him out in Psalm 32:3-5, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”
Have you ever felt like that before? I have. Once we confess, once we come clean, once we turn from it, things change. There is a sickness for death, a sickness for disobedience, and, also, a sickness for the glory of God. Remember the blind man who came to Jesus? When the disciples saw him, they asked Jesus, “Hey, Jesus, who sinned, this guy or his parents. Someone sinned.” Do you know what Jesus said? He said, “This guy is blind for the glory of God.” And then he healed him.
Look at James 5:14 again, “Is anyone among you sick?” He should do what? “He should call the elders of the church.” He, the sick man, the sick woman, has the ball in their court. They should call for the spiritual leadership of the church, for the elders of the church. This implies church membership. I’ll say it once again, church membership is commanded, I believe, in Scripture. The Apostle Paul, when he was in Damascus, hooked up with a church in Damascus. When Paul was in Jerusalem, he hooked up with a church in J-town.
What if I told you this, “I don’t know if you realize it or not, but I play in the National Hockey League.” What if I said that? Your next question would be, “What team?” I would said, “No, you don’t get it. I don’t play for a team. I just play in the National Hockey League.” You would say, “Ed, if you play for the National Hockey League, then you have got to play for a team. You have got to be on a roster.”
Yet, sometimes I meet people around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and they will say, “Yes, I am a Christian.” I’ll say, “Really? That’s great.” Then I will say, “Where do you go to church? Where are you serving? Where are you involved?”
They will respond, “Well, um, you know, I’m single and I am kind of floating around. They have beautiful girls at Fellowship Church and I’ll go there some. I’ll sometimes go over there and listen to that preacher and then I’ll go to this other church sometimes because I like the music over there.”
Then I will say, “Wait a minute. If you are not hooked into a local church, you are disobeying thirty commands right up front in the New Testament.”
Now, all of us are going to get sick one day. I’m going to be sick one day. I’m going to call on you. You are going to be sick one day. You’d better call on me. If you are not hooked up to a church, how can you call? If I’m not hooked in, how can I call? We have got to call for the elders of the church, the spiritual leadership. I am so thankful that, for eleven years, we have had an intensive healing ministry right here at Fellowship Church. We don’t advertise it. We don’t bring people on stage and whack them on the head. We do it in a biblical way. It is headed up by Owen Goff. If someone is sick, if someone is in trouble, they call Owen. He has a team of elders who come in, and we have healing services. We do the whole nine yards of laying hands on the person, anointing them with oil, and God has done some phenomenal things.
Let’s see the specifics about that, James 5:14 again, “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.”
“Now, oil, that’s kind of weird, Ed. Is there some kind of super-spiritual cleansing powers in oil?”
No. Oil represents the Holy Spirit of God. It represents choice and blessing throughout Scripture. It also represents the medical community, because oil, back in biblical times, was used as medicine. So what we say is, pray for divine healing, but also get the best medical help possible.
Sometimes, God has just come through and healed. Other times, he has remained strangely silent. I do believe, though, every time we have a healing service, that healing takes place. I’ll say it once again, I do believe, though, every time we have a healing service, that healing takes place. It’s not always a physical healing. Sometimes it is an emotional or spiritual healing, but there is always a healing.
A couple of days ago, Preston and I visited a woman who is literally on her deathbed. About five or six years ago, we had a healing service for her, prayed for her healing, prayed that this horrible disease would leave her body. It has not. She has not been healed physically. But let me tell you something, she has been healed emotionally and spiritually. Because, when you see this woman, and if you knew this woman prior to her illness, she is a different person.
Look at verse 15, “And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”
Some teach that, if you are sick, you are just one prayer away from being healed. That is not true because, if it were true, then every person that I have ever prayed for in my life would suddenly be healed. That is not a fact. God is sovereign. I don’t understand it all, but sometimes he heals and sometimes he doesn’t. The people that I know around the world who really have the gift of healing, they usually tell me that about 30% of the people they have prayed for are healed. The others are not. I’m talking about physical healing.
“The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; The Lord”—not the faith healer—“the Lord will raise him up.” I think it’s very interesting that James uses a plurality of praying and not just one person. Don’t call for a faith healer. What does it say? “Call the elders of the church.” It’s a ministry of the church. “The Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.”
“Well, Ed, I have prayed for people before and they are sick. I feel like my prayers are just kind of floating around out there.”
“Well, I prayed for someone, Ed, and this person died.”
I had someone last night say that they prayed for their father for years and he died. Well, I have prayed for a lot of people to get saved, to come to Christ and many of them are still going to hell. I don’t stop praying for them. I don’t stop sharing my faith with them. I pray for many people to get healed and many of those people have died. Yet, some of them have gotten healed. So we shouldn’t stop.
Here is what the Bible says in 1 John 5:14 about how we should pray, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”
We should say, “God, heal this person, divinely show up big time but it’s according to your will, God. I submit this person to you, but, God, we pray like crazy that this person is healed physically.”
In verse 16, James talks about sin. Do you believe in that? He says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other.” To a priest? No. To a pastor? No. To each other. Read the last part of verse 16, “…and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” This word “powerful” means that we need to pray during our prayers. Sometimes I have heard people pray before, and after the prayer, I’ve gone, “Wow. Incredible speech. Uses the “thee’s” and “thou’s” and “blessings to the nourishment of our bodies” and all this stuff. What a vocabulary.”
That doesn’t impress God a bit. Talk to God like you are talking to someone else. Pour your heart out to God. Use plain English. God is not impressed by your vocabulary or mine, by my Christian-ese or your Christian-ese. Just talk to him. Make sure that you always confess sin, because sin is a monstrous barrier between yourself and God, and between yourself and others. If you sin before someone else, make it right. Every time we sin, we always sin before God so we must keep short accounts with God.
I’m reminded of something that happened to me awhile back. We have four children, and we collect a lot of trash. You can imagine all the trash we kind of gather. Well, as usual, on this particular day we had a lot of trash stacking up in the house and the garbage was not going to be picked up for several days. So I decided to take the trash out to the garage. I thought, if I put it up real high in the garage, the dogs couldn’t get it. The next day, I heard the sound of muffled whimpering and crying coming from the garage. I said, “Lisa, what is that sound?”
I ran outside and opened the garage door. Our dog has an incredible vertical leap, and he had jumped up and grabbed the trash bag. He ate a hole through the trash bag and the trash bag was around his neck choking him. He was eating all the trash and the garbage, and it was choking him as he was dragging it around. If I had let it go on for awhile, it would have killed the dog. I rushed in and saved him. I ripped it open.
If we could see with spiritual eyes, a lot of us are carrying around trash bags, aren’t we? We are just dining on sin. It’s choking us. We are messing around in trash and it’s keeping us down, keeping us from really soaring and being the kind of people that God wants us to be. It’s time to allow God to save us, to rip open the trash bag so we can really talk to him and get connected to him. So that we can put on that prayer wear that James talks about.
So, if you are sick or you are in trouble, pray. Pray for healing. Pray for healing, spiritually, emotionally and physically, because God is going to show up.
I want to ask you something. What would be the greatest miracle, to bring someone on stage who has cancer and to watch God heal them right here, or to bring someone on stage who is going to hell, and have God forgive their sins, past, present and future, and give them a home in heaven? What’s the greater miracle? If the truth were known, a lot of you right now are sick. Your sickness is much worse than the AIDS virus, because you are facing a Christ-less eternity right now. But I have got some good news for you. The great physician is in the house and he wants to save you, and heal you. And he will, if you will call out to him. The ball is in your court.
James says that a sick person should call out for the elders. The sin-sick person should call out to Christ. Isn’t it time that you quit playing games and call out to him? Just say, “Jesus, I am sick. I am dying. I know I have an appointment that I can’t put off.” The only person who can cure you is Christ. Won’t you turn to him?