There’s a well known story in the Bible, about a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She came to Jesus from behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment, and was healed. It seems like a simple story, but there’s much going on beneath the surface that you might not be aware of. When we examine the story, we find that both Jesus’ and the woman’s behaviors seem strange, until we understand the religious and cultural context of Israel back then. And in finding that key, we will come to see what is really the most important part of the story. First let’s take a look at what actually happened.
And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him.
And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.
She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”
And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”
And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”
And he looked around to see who had done it.
But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.
And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34
The scene is one of near chaos, as crowds throng around the Savior. Just previous to our excerpt, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jairus had come up to Jesus and fallen at His feat, pleading with Him to come and heal his young daughter who was dying. The girl was fading fast, and Jairus was uptight and in a hurry, so Jesus tells him “fear is useless; only believe”, and they start off to the girl. But then this woman with a chronic bleeding problem comes up from behind, touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus senses that power has gone out of himself, and, despite Jairus’ desperation, stops and makes an issue of it. The disciples are incredulous – with all the people thronging around, many of them must have been touching Jesus. So what’s the big deal? But Jesus is intent on finding the person who was healed. Finally, the woman comes in great fear and falls to the ground trembling before Jesus, telling all. Jesus blesses her and continues on His way with Jairus.
There are some interesting questions here. Why did the woman come up to Jesus from behind? If she wanted a healing, why did she even from the outset intend on only touching Jesus’ garments rather than His person? Why did Jesus make an issue of this healing, when almost certainly many people in this vast crowd must have similarly been coming up, touching Him and being healed? And lastly, why did the woman finally come forward in fear and trembling, rather than with joy and exaltation at being healed of her long-standing disease? Indeed, the Gospel of Luke expands on why the woman even come forward at all:
And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. -Luke 8:47
According to Luke, the woman was not merely lost in the crowd, she was actually hiding in that crowd! What then was this woman so afraid of?
This was this year’s Resurrection message of Robert Duncan, Anglican Archbishop of Pittsburgh. I thought it was very encouraging. I’ve taken the liberty to edit out the Anglican references to make it more expansive to the whole Body of Christ.
“Go make the tomb secure…”
Pilate invites Jerusalem’s leaders to “secure” the tomb of Jesus [Mt.27.62-66]. They “secure” the tomb with a stone, sealant and soldiers. As if these could contain our Lord… Their efforts prove inadequate. Their materials and means turn out to be no match for the One through whom all things were made.
We have so much for which to give thanks. First and foremost is the cross of Jesus Christ, by which all previous securities are undone, and life comes by death.
There are many tombs which others have tried to “secure” with us inside. There are also some tombs in which we have been tempted to “secure” ourselves. None of these tombs hold when Jesus is there.
They can take our buildings and our assets here at home. They can even take our lives, as in far-flung places like Nigeria and Sudan and Indonesia But Jesus is with all those who embrace Him above all else, who follow Him to – and through – whatever crosses are asked.
For us as faithful Christians the efforts by others to “secure” our tombs have failed miserably, just as they did with the One we call on as Lord and Savior. There has been suffering and loss, pain and grief, anxiety and fear – these things have been very real, and demanded our very best efforts, as well as the grace of the Holy Spirit in abundance. “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” [1 Cor.15.57].
As I look across the Church this Easter – seeing its life, its vitality, its healing, its unity, its compassion, its forgiveness, its renewal, its multiplication and growth, its international partners, its clear sense of mission, its appreciation of the transforming love of Jesus Christ – I think I am understanding the mystery and the truth of Easter better than I ever have before. I hope you and yours are too. With Jesus it is just not possible to “secure” any tomb. Easter joy and love to all.
Easter, A.D. 2010
I’ve been landscaping around the house where I live. The weapons of my warfare in this case are indeed physical: steel rake, shovel, Johnson bar and wheelbarrow!
Most of the time the job has been ecstasy for me. There’s something about working the earth that is super gratifying. You can tune out the noise of the world, and with the accompaniment of the ancient rhythms that are so deeply a part of us, tune into the precious Holy Spirit. (The only exception to my reverie has been the darn mayflies that I’ve had to do battle with.)
But the other day I got to the part of the job where I had to repair a stone wall, and the stones that comprised the wall were BIG. I tried to use tools as much as possible, but there came the moment when the only way to shift a 200+ lb. rock into place was to bend over and pick it up by hand.
I was successful, but I did hurt my back. I’ve done a lot of physical work in my life, and consequently my lumbar region has a disk that’s worn out, with two vertebrae naturally fused. I’m careful about it, but I don’t let it stop me from doing what I have to.
And so I developed a significant backache from lifting the rock. By evening I had become bent over, and pain shot down my leg when I walked a certain way. Having gone through this before, I know the drill. The answer is not in the likes of heating pads, herbs or magnetic exotica. The answer is to gently but firmly work the back up straight again, despite the pain it brings.
That’s what I did in bed that night, and the next day I avoided heavy work and concentrated on straightening up as I walked around.
The following day – today – after working out the morning stiffness, 50% of the problem was gone. I was out there raking, shoveling, and wheelbarrowing soil and stones uphill, with little problem. Tomorrow, I expect the problem to be reduced another 50% from today’s level, then another 50% the following day, until the problem is off the radar screen altogether.
I was thinking about this as I was working today, and it struck me how precisely the Bible describes this healing dynamic:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. -Heb 12:11-13
That about says it all. If we want to be healed, the answer doesn’t lie in passively coddling ourselves, it is found in confronting our problems and challenges square-on. If you’ve got a bent-over back, the remedy is to straighten it up. If you have weak knees, the answer is to exercise them (strong quadriceps hold the patella in correct position, alleviating much knee pain. I’ve had a lot of knee pain, and I’ve personally found this to be the case, to the point where my knees no longer bother me much).
Note that we are cautioned that this is not going to be a pleasant process, but rather, a painful one. It’s as if our healing is a castle surrounded by a mote of pain. But there’s a stronger warning in those verses yet. If we will not straighten ourselves up and confront our condition, we can expect what is lame to be “put out of joint”. Nothing ever stays the same for long. It’s either going to improve or it will get worse. Our lives are always in some kind of flux. Don’t be lulled by some sort of compromised status quo. The reality is that either we’re pressing in to higher ground, or we’re sliding backward.
But oh, the promise! If we will meet our challenges head-on, we not only can cope with them, we can be healed! The world doesn’t believe this is possible. Even in the physical realm, when knees or backs go bad, or metabolisms take a hit, the medical industry’s quick, formulaic (and lucrative) answer is usually surgery or maintenance drugs, and overwhelmingly, the patient is sent on a downhill course, worse than before they went to the doctor. (I’ve had metabolic problems as well, and by fighting back rather than becoming dependant on hormone therapy, I was able to completely overcome the problem. Yes, the Lord has healed me of much! –see Psalm 103.1-4)
Here, the physical is symbolic of the spiritual and soulical. When we have a problem, obstacle or hindrance in the spirit, the answer is not to coddle ourselves or adjust downward into permanent workaround mode. The answer is to face the problem square-on. Yes, it may be painful for a season. But that pales in comparison to the pain of a life lived at a subsistence level of accommodation and mediocrity. Jesus has given us all the authority we will ever need to overcome any problem that could ever confront us (see Matthew 16.19, 28.18-19). He offers us healing, but like the man in the synagogue with the withered hand, very often we must stretch out that part of us that needs the healing, in order for the virtue to flow in (Mt 12.13).
The choice is ours. Discomfort for a season, leading to victory, or dancing around our problems and living far below the level God lovingly intends for us. Cowards don’t enter in (Rev 21.8). Let’s resolve to face down our problems, knowing that any pain we incur doing so is a sign of soon-coming victory. The pain is temporary, the victory will be sweet, and it will be ours permanently. As Jesus repeatedly tells us in the Book of Revelation, blessed are they who overcome.
I was talking with a friend recently who told me of a chance she missed to avoid a whole lot of woe that has since befallen her. She felt that if she had only been stronger or wiser back then, her life would have taken a different and better course. There was a grim sense of having missed God, that now she was on her own, left to her own meager devices to solve her escalating problems and make something of her life.
I’m no stranger to feeling that way myself. Somewhere deep in the bowels of this blog I have shared how my first church rapidly went from being “on fire for God” to being just plain “on fire”, due to leadership failure. The devastation to the church was immense, but even worse was my own personal loss. I lost faith in man, in church, in myself, and ultimately even in God. I did transfer to another church, and was a very active contributor there, but my heart was no longer fully sold out for God. When serious difficulties arose in the new church, I stopped attending there as well. I had become a spiritual dropout. 1
Satan uses our mistakes, failures and missed opportunities as weapons against us, in an attempt to destroy our faith and effectiveness. For this reason, it is essential that we understand God’s perspective on these things, because His perspective is much better than ours.
We need to understand that nothing takes God by surprise. God exists outside of space and time. He is all-powerful and He knows everything – even the end before the beginning. Our trials, our failures, our falls, do not cause Him any worry. He knew they would happen, and He knows how they will end. And he also knows how to use them for our good, if we will let Him.
David Wilkerson points out that when the disciples encountered a brutal storm on the Sea of Galilee one night, it actually was Jesus who had caused their plight. Jesus had sent the disciples ahead in the boat, and then He had gone up to a mountain to pray in solitude. Surely in prayer the Son of God knew exactly what was going on on the sea below, and was in complete control of the situation even from his mountain overlook. But he let them go into the storm, and then at the right moment He showed up and calmed the sea.
As I get better perspective on my own life, I’m beginning to see that God does indeed work all things for good for those who love Him – and that He allows things to befall us in order to accomplish deep things that would not occur were we to live our lives on a smooth “business-as-usual” basis. our failings are not inherently good things, but God can and will use them for His purposes if we will turn to Him in faith.
In my case, because of the call to leadership on me, and my monumental ill-preparedness for it, I needed to experience the failing of the church. I needed to learn not to trust pastors, religious fads, man’s approval, or my own abilities. I needed a major lesson in trusting the Lord when things go wrong.
Jeremiah explains why: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.” Make no mistake, trials would not be trials if they simply were little intellectual exercises. They are designed to hit us where we live, and to cause us to give ourselves to the Lord in a very real way. That church trial nearly killed me, but I found it to be true in the Lord that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.
That storm brought up a treasure trove of self-righteousness, unforgiveness and bitterness issues that were beneath the surface when the waters were calmer. But when the water got choppy, the issues became visible indeed. Thus the Lord used deep offense and betrayal to lead me to the crucifixion of my flesh, the only way the negative attitudes that were killing me could be removed. As the skilled master craftsman that He is, He creatively used evil to work good.
Oh, how painful it was to go through this process, and how long it took! But if I have one regret, it is not that the evil befell me, or that I had to go through the pain to be purged – the freedom and power that resulted is too precious for me ever to give them up. No, my one regret is that it took me so long to place TOTAL, UNCONDITIONAL TRUST in the Lord in the darkest hours of the trial, when nothing made sense. The Divine fellowship and spiritual growth that I missed! It is in the dark hours that our greatest opportunity for advancement is presented, and they are to be cherished.
The Lord has dealt with me exactly as was needed, including exercising infinite patience while I found my way back to Him, in order to bless me with His maximum blessing. He has used my weaknesses, my flaws, my lack, to guide me into situations where turning to Him was the only possible way out. And that is exactly what had to happen, for at the time I was not capable of doing better. Despite ourselves, He is going to perfect that which concerns us, and He uses our weaknesses to do it.
If you are racked by regret or remorse regarding past decisions, now is the time to put them to rest for good. Paul told the men of Athens: “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). He explained to Timothy, regarding his own violent past: “Formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief” ( 1Tim 1:13). And peppered throughout the New Testament (and even the Old) there is plenty of support for Paul’s assertion that ignorance mitigates culpability:
Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. -Rom 5:13
These verses and others teach that God is categorically unconcerned with the failings of our past, except as He can use them to help build us and others up now. It is absolutely crucial that we stand on the Word in this matter, because satan wants to devour us.
We do not confess our sins in the manner of pagans who scourge their backs – as if they could even begin to pay for their own sins or prove their worthiness of God’s forgiveness. It took the holy Blood of the Son of God to redeem Creation. We could never earn our own salvation. We confess in simple childlike faith that He will forgive and cleanse, just as according to 1Jn 1.9.
The time is short, and opportunities are precious. God wants each one of us free and empowered to fully represent His Kingdom of grace, truth and love. Let’s get all our issues behind us, and in faith let’s press forward into the glorious destiny the Lord still has for us – for all of us.
1. John Bevere deals with this “cruise-a-matic” phenomenon, which he calls “spiritual vagabonds”, in his book The Bait of satan. While that book is a powerful warning about letting offense keep you from God’s purposes, it is seriously flawed in placing responsibility on the person offended to reconcile with an unrepentant authority figure).
Update, 7/8/10: I’m adding a link to a powerful video about a modern-day Mary Magdalene from The Stranger series. Here is Part One; you can cycle to the other two parts from there.
It is good for the heart to be established by grace –Heb 13.9
It’s been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d try to catch up. This has been the most amazing growth season for me since I was first Saved back in 1980.
In a nutshell, what’s going on is brokenness turning over fallow ground, necessity sowing seeds of change, and tears supplying the rain. With the passage of time, “someone warming them from below”, and my reintroduction to the Gospel of Grace, which I once knew but had somehow lost sight of, those seeds have been bearing a rich crop.
I’m finding that issues that have dogged me for many years are gently dissolving away. Challenges arise, then I watch them get knocked down in real time. And like the dead soldiers floating in the Red Sea after Moses and the Israelites crossed over safely, I don’t think I’ll be seeing them again.
I’m learning so much that I don’t know where to start, so I’ll only give a brief synopsis. One thing I’m learning is not to defend myself. In the past, when the voice of the accuser came on me, I’d have my familiar script to read back to him. It was all very logical and sound. The problem is that it originated in the soulical realm, the mind. Consider the wonderful verse in Isaiah:
No weapon forged to be used against you will succeed; you will refute everyone who tries to accuse you. This is what the LORD will do for his servants – I will vindicate them,” says the LORD. – Isa 54:17
Notice that last part: “I” will vindicate them. I realized that I was doing an elaborate and unending kabuki with the accuser. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read the script to him, but he always comes back. The Holy Spirit has been increasingly showing me lately that I need to silence myself and let Him handle the defenses.
So I’ve stood down. I’m resting in the Lord, holding my peace. Remember that old, great song, “If I hold my peace, and let the Lord fight my battles – victory, victory shall be mine”. That’s what’s happening here. I want the resolution to come from deep within my being, from the workings of the Spirit, so that when this is done, it will be done permanently. I want the past to be passed, once and for all. This is it.
Grace is so beautiful. To think that my sins are not imputed to me! It’s been so long since I felt the reality of that, and a great weight is off me. When I mess up, I don’t have to deny or avoid the facts. Do you know how great that is for mental and emotional health? It’s the very basis of it. I can relax. I feel genuine gratitude for Jesus setting me free, and gratitude is wonderful for the soul. I’m more conscious of His love, and my love reflecting back has increased. Simply put, I’m being set free and empowered.
I spent much of today doing yard work. There are some water issues here – pooling on the lawn, washing out the gravel drive – so out came the shovels and the steel rake, and I went about grading and trenching. The Spirit was so sweet I would have been happy if I could do this the rest of my life. I don’t need advancement, I don’t need popularity, I don’t need much more in the material realm than food and covering. As long as I have the Spirit of God, I felt today that I had virtually no other needs.
As I worked I had a vision of the Lord sitting on His throne, His glory radiating from His face. The light of His glory hit me and went through me. I saw that this was the heavenly hope we all must have, to strengthen us for the ardors of the journey. And I saw that by granting me the vision, the Lord was gracing me with that strength. Realizing that, just being able to love Him turned that yard into heaven for me.
Because of my sin, that glory also carried a purging heat with it. It wasn’t exactly comfortable. This is my concept of purgatory, if you will – as scripture says, we are translated in the twinkling of an eye, but to the degree that we have built on wood, hay and stubble, we are saved as through fire. It’s not punishment, it’s purification, and it takes place in the heavenly context of God’s love and glory. We don’t have to pay for our sins – for 30 days, or 15000 years, or whatever period of time that struck the religious hierarchy’s fancy that day. We can’t pay for our sins, and to say we can is contrary to scripture (see parable of unforgiving servant, Mt. 18), bondage to us, and frankly, an offense to the Blood of the Son of God. If we could pay for our sins then why did Christ die?
The Lord also showed me today that the next mountain I will possess is Peace. He has shown me three areas in my life that need clarity and resolution. And I have not the slightest doubt that His leading me to see the need and to pray about it is a sure harbinger that He fully intends on setting me to it, bringing me through it, and giving me the victory.
The three areas have a commonality centered around what I consider perhaps the most important concept in Kingdom living today – human authority and its limits. We need to know how to deal lovingly, forgivingly, and rightfully, with parents, church and secular authority, not only for the sake of resolving past issues, but because new trials are coming.
All this is essential, because resolution of issues leads to righteousness, which is the foundation of peace. And peace in turns leads to joy, which leads to power (see Rom 14.17 and Neh 8.10). And power is what we need in order to live victoriously.
I’ve been thinking about Caleb lately. Someone pointed out that when the Israelites finally made it into the Promised Land, after their forty year detour for unbelief, Caleb, now eighty-five years of age, requested the area with the very mountains in which those giants that had intimidated Israel resided. He said, ~God may be kind to me and give me victory.~ Caleb was unpresumptuous, but behind it was a faith of forged iron and the courage of a lion. What an extraordinary spirit. Caleb went on to defeat those giants and possess the land for himself and his descendants.
So I’m excited about what’s been shaking, though the challenges are great. I want to emulate Caleb. As the Lord opens doors, I want to say with humility, the Lord may help me, but I know beyond doubt that if I am willing He will glory Himself in me. He is looking for people just like that, to prove Himself strong on their behalf (2Chr 16.9). I want to be one of those people.
I hope you are being blessed. May His glory fill His church to overflowing.
Therefore since we also are surrounded with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, – Heb 12:1
Now chastening for the present does not seem to be joyous, but grievous. Nevertheless afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who are exercised by it.
Because of this, straighten up the hands which hang down and the enfeebled knees.
And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way, but let it rather be healed. – Heb 12:11-13
I love stories of overcomers. They tell me that I too can overcome the challenges of my own life.
I once was installing deer fencing on an estate. The path of the fence took us to a small swampy area hidden in a woods. It turns out that trees are like us – if things are hand-fed to them, they take the easy way out. With all the water around, the trees in the swamp didn’t bother to put down deep roots. But roots do more than just draw water, they anchor trees to the ground. Thus, a great windstorm had come and had been able to fell one of the shallow-rooted trees. It lay there just above the water, its dead root system exposed to the air, seemingly a monument to the imprudence that caused its demise.
But on further observation, I was amazed to see that the fallen tree actually had responded creatively to the crisis that should have been its death-blow. The downed trunk had sent out innumerable suckers into the water, forming a new root system. One limb had adjusted itself to point heavenward, and had taken on the role of being the tree’s new trunk. And whereas the fallen tree had been only some nine inches in diameter, this new trunk already dwarfed it at 12 inches in width, and it showed no inclination of stopping its growth.
The tree’s new sucker-roots extended in all directions and now formed a strong matrix over forty feet long and fifteen feet wide, going down into the water and then the earth. It is doubtful that the tree would ever again be defeated by the wind’s destructive power. It had overcome its bad fortune and previous flaw, and out of disaster had secured for itself a future and a hope. Read more…
Woe is me, my mother, that you have borne me, a man of strife and a man of contention to the whole earth! I have not loaned, nor have men loaned to me; yet every one curses me. – Jer 15:10
The time has come for me to wrestle with a passage that to a large extent defined my life for far too many a year. Though I’m still in process, I’ve seen major victory over it now and would like to shed some light on it. And in doing so I want to nail this thing down for good, and grab the final victory over it.
Jeremiah was called as a youth to be a prophet of the Lord. His path was not to be easy. Israel was in severe decline, and had indeed stepped so far away from the Lord that it became Jeremiah’s task to proclaim God’s judgment on her: she was to be conquered and taken away by the fierce Babylonians. As you can imagine, this was an unpopular task. While there were plenty of false prophets about, telling the people they could live ungodly lives and still enjoy God’s favor, and making Jeremiah’s life quite unbearable, the job-application line for faithful prophets, who would proclaim the true message of God, wasn’t long at all.
That’s quite a burden to place on a young man. Jeremiah seems to have had no collegial, idyllic “school of the prophets” experience, or any honeymoon period. He just got right into it, and soon began mixing it up with the false prophets whose prestige and perqs he threatened. Jeremiah must have been cut from some very extraordinary spiritual stock for the Lord to entrust this heavy burden to him. He has always been an inspiration to me.