COMMISSIONED TO HEAL
The Commissions to Heal
As I observe the life in the church today, I am struck by the fact that we seem to have no positive, unified direction in which we are moving. We are often engaged in some sort of discussion in an effort to justify some new messianic cause to change the world and set it straight, or we devote ourselves to opposing the errors that we see. Seldom do I hear of the Kingdom of God, which is the major burden of both the Old and the New Testaments.
We seem to have a driving need to be relevant to the world, and so we conduct survey after survey seeking to find the right combination to please the world and hear them shout a resounding, "You are relevant!" Our orientation seems to have moved from the God who called us into existence as the Body of the Risen Christ, to a world which seems to have no concern whether or not we even exist.
With a great deal of verbiage we paint pictures of dire needs of the world we are trying to meet, but there is little mention of God's role in the process. In our effort to be inclusive of the whole of humankind, we seem to have posited God as one who accepts anyone and anything as good, and is concerned only that people be comfortable and accepted, or uncomfortable and condemned. It is almost as if the church has begun to take her initiative from the world and the world's observable need rather than from her Lord and His will for us.
In nearly every national church body, there is division that distracts the minds and hearts of the people. They war against one another rather than bringing the Gospel to the world. In our engagement with one another, we are distracted from the work we have been given to do. We often take on the characteristics of those whom we resist. My spiritual director has a small sign on his wall that says, "Choose your enemies carefully, for tomorrow you will be like them."
We become like that to which we conform or resist. The clay is shaped by the mold as it conforms to the impression, but it does not form a good impression unless it also resists the mold. That is one of the reasons I have always told people that it is okay to argue with God, as long as He always wins. There is, in the process of the engagement, an element of resistance and conformity that enter into the process of our becoming shaped by His molding.
As long as we stand toe to toe and swing at each other in the modern melee of church conventions and movements of one sort or another, we shall also be distracted from our directions and goals. The world would teach us that if we are to be successful, we have to set our own goals, and strive to meet them. The revelation of God in Jesus Christ tells us that our goals lie in that Kingdom prepared by God in Christ before the foundation of the world. We are to seek Him that we might be brought into conformity to those goals by His grace. Otherwise all of our striving is in vain.
There is an old cliché which goes, "When all else fails, read the directions." A few years ago after sitting through a church convention and listening to the promotion of proposed church programs; I decided to try that. As an Anglican who believes we are to use Scripture, Tradition and Reason to find the truth, I decided that I would see if Scripture would cast any light on the subject. It was not that I had not read Scripture; I had just not read it with that thought in mind.
Prior to that time I had thought that Jesus had sent us out to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, and all of the rest of the "in-as-much" ministries. I had always seen them as the stock and trade of Christian living. Wasn't that the root of the commendation and condemnation in the judgment scene in Matthew 25:31ff? But that was not a commissioning ceremony. That was a judgment scene, quite a different thing.
When I read the New Testament, I found that Jesus has given us six particular commissions for us to go into the world. He also added a few characteristics such as faith and love He expected to see in the Body. He gave the twelve authority to cast out demons and to heal, and He sent them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, heal the sick and cast out demons (Lk 9:1ff).
In the event we like to see that commission as directed only to the twelve, we must look over in Luke 10, and find that He gave that same commission to seventy. That is the equivalent to the number God inspirited to judge the minor cases in Israel when Moses needed relief. In other words, it is all that is necessary to get the job done.
If we use the analogy of the seventy elders in the wilderness, we see that God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and put it on the elders, and they all prophesied. The parallel would mean that God takes some of the Spirit that was on Jesus at His baptism and puts it on us. That is, in fact, the way in which we become His Body in the world.
I have never taken a course in Jewish numerology, but one of my friends who did told me that seventy was the Jewish equivalent of an eight lying on its side, or our symbol for infinity. It is more of a statement of sufficiency than just sixty-nine plus one. That certainly makes the seventy times seven Jesus used in teaching Peter about forgiveness, a great deal more dramatic, and takes it from a finite legalism into an infinite love.
The commission is not just for a chosen few. He continues to call laborers into the vineyard to work with those who have borne the heat of the day. He still calls us to pray the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into the harvest. The church, as His Body is called to do the work that He did in the flesh He received from His mother, Mary. The church continues to do that work as we yield ourselves in obedience to Him as a Body to its Head.
In that charge to the disciples, being sent out as apostles, there are three different commissions. They are tied together inseparably, but there are three. We are to preach the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We are to heal the sick. We are to cast out demons. We will write at length on these three as we continue to consider His commissions to us.
There is another commission that people hear frequently on a mission Sunday. I am sure every church has her own expression. We used to sing with ardor, the great stirring mission hymns like, "O Sion Haste" and "Fling Out the Banner." Then we would hear the great commission from Matthew read and expounded, as the preacher exhorted us to pray and give for the support of missions.
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." Matt 28:18ff
There are two distinct charges in that commission. First, we are to make disciples, by calling them to know and follow Jesus Christ. Second, we are to teach them what we have been taught by Jesus, that they might think as God would have us think. We are to seek with Paul, to "have the mind of Christ." I Cor 2:16
Finally we can find the sixth commission clearly stated in John 20:19ff. "On the evening of that day, first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.' And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" Jn 20:19ff
I am inclined to like the old King James translation which reads, "Whose so ever sins you remit..." It seems to me that we understand remission better than we do forgiveness. For most people to forgive is to excuse what someone has done. Remission, on the other hand, is to get rid of something that binds, like a cancer being in remission, or my bills sent with payment so they are no longer there. We have an account to cover sin that is inexhaustible. It is not simply an excuse, it is a removal and a healing. It is to set our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
We are sent to remove sin. That is the sixth commission. In Jesus' response to Peter at Caesarea Philippi, He says, I give you the keys to the Kingdom, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. The authority to loose from bondage is the key to the Kingdom.
In addition to these particular commissions, there are commands about living together with one another and with Him. As a Body, we are instructed to "Take, eat...this is my body." We are also commanded to "Love one another as I have loved you.." Peter is told to, "Feed my sheep..." All of us are told to, "bear fruit." We find in the epistles an expansion of these instructions that give us some idea of the shape of the Body Jesus intended to use as the continuing incarnation of His presence in the world.
THE COMMISSIONS ARE HEALING
When we look at the commissions Jesus has given to the church, we see also the nature of Christian healing. Too often we have seen healing presented as some miraculous touch from Jesus, the Great Magician rather than the present, restoring love of Jesus, the Great Physician.
We might note that the words for salvation and healing are from the same root. Salvation includes within it the definition of wholeness. We are not simply trying to get rid of some malady of body or soul. We are seeking to become "Perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect." Matt 5:48
Such an emphasis has been put on hell in some circles, that we seldom stop to realize that we are striving to become a new creation. We are not trying to be good enough to get past the life review of judgment, so much as becoming whole in body, soul, spirit, mind, community and relationships. It is not a matter of "as is" life in the Kingdom. God accepts us "as is", but He intends to follow that by transformation into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ.
Our spiritual well being entails our knowing God, as we are known by Him. "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself." 2 Cor 5:19 The Kingdom of God is not a matter of going to heaven with all of our friends and family. It is a matter of being made perfect together with all of His friends and family, so we might live together with Him and with one another throughout eternity. As a matter of fact that is one of the essentials of Christian healing, as we see it in and through the commissions of Jesus to the church.
Our soul's health has to do with the complete renewal of our heart. The soul begins life with an inadequate set of values and motivations. As we are born first of the flesh, and then of the Spirit. We are moved first by the works of the flesh, and after the healing power of the Spirit, we move in the fruits of the Spirit. The fear is cast out by love, the anxiety is cast out by the peace of God that passes understanding. Those characteristics that both Jesus and Paul list as dwelling in the heart are removed, and the very presence of Jesus is supplied, as Holy Spirit comes to incarnate Jesus in our flesh.
Our physical well being does not need a great deal of exposition. It is to be able to do through our physical bodies, the tasks God sends us to do. It does not mean to meet anyone else's set of criteria. We are not likely to wind up as physical culture displays, unless Abba wants to send us out as a physical culture display. We are to be equipped to do all He sends us to do. We are to recognize the mission on which we have been sent. We are to come together seeking God, in order that we might grow up into the stature of the fullness of Christ.
We must be taught if we are to think with the mind of Christ as Paul suggests we might. The human mind begins its sojourn on earth with an egocentric concern that cannot lead us to the life God intends for us. Jesus called us to live in a relationship of love to Him and to one another. We must be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Rom 12:2 We must learn to think in God-centered terms rather than human-centered terms.
We must forgive one another, as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us. There is not a single theme in Scripture that is more important than the promise of forgiveness to those who are willing to give and receive forgiveness. There is no one thing that will block or enhance healing more than extending or withholding forgiveness.
So the shape of Christian healing is more than the body. We are to see it as spiritual, in our relationship with Abba, as of the soul in the transformation of our inner lives, as physical in terms of the enabling power to work He gives us to do,, as mental, as we think with the risen Christ, and as social as we learn to live out that life in the community of faith, forgiving each other as God, for Christ's sake has forgiven us.
WHAT ABOUT GOOD WORKS?
I am indebted to a speaker I once heard, who made the statement that God does not call us to preach or teach or heal or do social work. God calls us to Himself. We are first to become Jesus' disciples. We are called to be followers who are coming to know the One from whom we learn. When we have learned enough, we are sent out as apostles. We are not sent to work for God. We are called to receive from God; and we are sent to work with God, as the incarnate presence of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus called Peter and Andrew and James and John, He did not say, "Go fish for men." He said, "Come follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." He was calling them to become His disciples. He was calling them to Himself. They would not be sent until after they had learned from Him., and were authorized and empowered by Him to accomplish His will.
The often quoted passage from Ephesians, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God - not because of works lest any man should boast." Seldom have I heard the continuation of the passage, "For we are God's workmanship , created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Eph 2:8-11
Until the One who has saved us reveals them, we cannot know the particular works we are to do. Until we have been shown by God, we do not even know what is good or evil. We may know that there is a good and evil, but we are not certain of those things until they are revealed by God.
It is not even a matter of saying, "God, tell me what to do, and I will go do it." He has told us what to do, and human nature cannot go do it. The Law is not within the capacity of humans to perform. That is why God has given us His Son who is able to keep the Law, both in His own life and in ours.
God finds us, and invites us to become His children. As we are responsive to the invitation, He prepares us to be sent to minister in His Name. When we are sent, we are also endued with the power of Holy Spirit. His apostolic charge is specific, and His power is designed to fit the unique situations into which we are sent. We are not sent out to random ministry. It is God who engineers the circumstances, and He sends us to perform particular ministry. As many of my Christian friends remind me. "God has a plan for my life."
SEEK FIRST THE KINGDOM
There is a clear priority from the Lord, Jesus Christ. The statement in the Sermon on the Mount is normally attributed to Jesus Himself by even the most radical scholars. It follows His teaching on the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. It is simply, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto you." Matt 6:33 KJV
If we are willing to begin by putting first things first, we will begin with study and prayer. We will begin with the intent of coming both to know about God, and to know God as King of that Kingdom which Jesus proclaimed is at hand. We are to continue to grow in that relationship until we know the Reign of God in our own lives. We will also find the King has intentions of making us His children by adoption and grace; and sending us into the world as His ambassadors and instruments of His presence.
When we begin our study of the Gospels, we are sharing the stories about the One to Whom the church belongs as a Body to a Head. We are sharing as the children of a family share about their Father. We begin to find the knowledge about God as One about Whom we can talk, but not necessarily with Whom we can talk.
Study and Prayer are not the same things, nor do they fill the same need. While study lets us know something about God, we will not know God until we begin the dialogue. We do not get to know people by reading books about them. We get to know people by talking with them.
It is not simply a matter of talking to them. Unless we listen, we will know only what can be revealed non-verbally. It is when we are willing to listen and receive from others that we can later say, "I know the one of whom I speak." Getting to know God is no different from getting to know people. We come to know Him as we listen and receive from Him.
When we begin with prayer, we must realize that the first Word in prayer is spoken by God Himself, and not by those of us who are seeking to communicate with Him. He said, "I love you!" That Word was made flesh in His mother Mary, and they called His Name, Jesus. All Christian prayer is a response to that primary statement of Abba. All of Abba's revelation is an unfolding of that first Word. It is the meaning of love for each of us, and all of us, as individuals and as corporate communities.
It is the beginning step in our "seeking first the Kingdom of God." At times it is our faltering, stumbling effort to walk with God. At others it is our confident rejoicing in the victory He has given us. In every case it is our learning to walk in the Kingdom of God with the King Himself holding our hand.
That is our beginning if we are serious about knowing Jesus as Savior and following Him as Lord. It is the beginning of our life as it is defined by the revelation of God rather than our own effort to decide what we are to be in this life. It is the beginning of our life as we seek to know Abba, and the purpose for which we were created.
The primary decision is about control. How am I going to use the free will that God has built into me? Will I use it to try to direct my own life, or will I decide to allow God to direct my life? The decision is quite simple, but it is not at all easy.
I recall my childhood vividly. When my significant adults would insist that I do what they said, I could not wait until I was old enough to have children so I could tell them what to do. It was a matter of freedom and control. I would not be free until I was in control.
I found out subsequently that I was no more able to control my children than my significant adults were able to control me. I also found out that I was never able to wield control without also being under the control of the one that I sought to control. When I am in control, I am in a codependent relationship with the one over whom I exercise that control. To put it simply, that which I own, owns me; and that which I control, controls me to some extent.
One alternative is to turn the control over to God. It is a matter of a decision that must be followed by an action. When I have decided to leave the kingdom of self for the Kingdom of God, I acknowledge that all of the people and things that are in my life, truly belong to God, and not to me. I forego the privilege of telling God what to do with His things.
It is simple for me, in my rational mind to say, "I am not able to comprehend the universe. I did not create myself, nor can I make myself into what I was created to become. As I am not able to control such matters adequately, I will to relinquish those things into the hands of God." Unfortunately, my rational mind does not have the answer about what to do when I turn those things over to God, but subsequently find that I have picked them back up with my other hand.
When I make the decision, I exercise my free will, by putting the ball back in God's court. It is up to Him to reveal Himself to me, to reveal myself to me, and to lead me into the life He created me to live. Strangely enough, it is as I am willing to become a bond slave to God, that I find my freedom as His child. It is very much as the prodigal son who came home asking to be a servant; but was held in the father's love as a son. Indeed, the prodigal was one who thought that he knew more about life than his father. He was going to take his inheritance, and use it in his own way following his own wisdom. He was going to control his own life. The, father, in his love, allowed him to do just that. When the son had blown his life in stupid living, and found himself at the hog pen, he came to himself, and said, "What a boob!"
He had made a decision to control his own life instead of remaining with his father. He was allowed the privilege; and he was also allowed the consequences. It is only through the consequences that he learned how stupid he had been. That was the beginning of his wisdom. Perhaps the beginning of all wisdom is the realization that we are not wise.
It was out of that wisdom, received as a result of his own error, that he made his decision. "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants." Lk 15:19 The decision was to go home at all costs.
When he came to himself, he had seen himself as he really was. His evaluation was accurate, as his elder brother would tell you in a heart beat. He must have had a poor self image, but that did not deter him from making the decision. He was bent on going to his father. It is in that same mind set that we are to come to God, as our Father.
We are to come to God honestly, as is. We need to come to Abba with the idea of trading in our old life for a new one. The old one is not worth keeping, and the new one is not yet visible to us. The present view of the hog pen was well known to the prodigal. The reception he was to receive at home was beyond his imagination. He expected to become a servant. That would have been sufficient for him. He was received as a son. As long as he had plenty of funds to support himself in the far country, he had no thought of going home.
As long as we feel that our "as is" life is really fine, we will not come to God on God's terms. It is when we realize there is something wrong with our present circumstances that we begin to look for alternatives. We usually come to God knowing what we deserve, but seeking what we have heard He has designed as a free gift for His children.
It seems to me that to do otherwise would be to embrace that which I truly deserve, but which I would prefer to avoid. It might be that I could redesign my life and strive to attain that which I do not deserve in my own wisdom and power. That is the humanistic track we are urged to pursue. We are free to do just that. God will not interfere, until we ask Him. He will invite us into the Kingdom, but He will not compel us to come in. He has made His decision. He will wait for ours.
The Kingdom of God is not a democracy. It is an absolute monarchy. It has been said there is one democratic element in our entrance into the Kingdom. Three votes involved: God's, Satan's and our own. God has already made His vote clear. He has laid down the life of His Son that we might enter. Satan has already voted his, "No!" We have been given the deciding vote. We must decide what we will to do. We must decide to accept or reject the gift of God.
WILL, FEELINGS AND ABILITY
Our American culture has clouded the lines between the will and the feelings and the ability. If we are to make our decision with integrity, we must be aware of the difference. There are many of us who believe that what we feel we want is what we really want, or will for ourselves. While the will is informed by the feelings in some manner, the will and the feelings are not the same. Often there is nothing farther from the truth. For us to live purely out of our feelings is to deny access to the reflective qualities of the mind that set us apart from other animals.
There is also a matter of our ability. We are not able to do much of what we feel we "ought" to do. One of the great tangles of human nature stems from the feeling that I ought to be able to make someone happy. I ought to be able to rear my children so they will not experience the same pitfalls into which I fell . I cannot even assure myself that apart from the grace of God, I will not fall into them again.
I recall the day when Transactional Analysis was the rage. I was never so tired as when one of my friends would respond to one of my, "I can't"s. There was an immediate, "Can't? or Won't?" I was ready to answer, "I can't! If it is only because I won't, it is still, I can't, because I can't do anything I won't do." My experience with people I have found a very legitimate area of, "I can't" in the life of each of us.
My inability to quit smoking in my own strength was one of "can't areas. I struggled with the problem for three years before I went before the Lord to say, "Lord, I can't quit, and I am not enjoying it. I am going to do what I can do. I am going to enjoy it. When you are ready to quit me, I will be willing to quit." In six weeks, it was a done deed.
I have a lot of friends who are in Alcoholics Anonymous. There is not one there who does not will to live in sobriety. Their lives have become unmanageable because of alcohol, and they will to be free from that bondage. I know very few of them who do not feel that they want a drink from time to time. Those who choose to follow their feelings as if they are the same as their wills are apt to reenter the hell of bondage from which they have been delivered.
I know of no one in Alcoholics Anonymous who is able to not drink using their own resources. Most of them have tried every way they know to control their drinking in their own will power, and they have failed. That is why they are in AA seeking grace from their higher power, God as each understands Him.
The only decisions we can freely make are at the level of the will. As an alcoholic, I can will to quit drinking, but I cannot change my feelings, and I cannot stop on my own. I can simply decide. God's grace is essential to the deliverance from the bondage into the freedom He has prepared for me to know.
The world's answer to bad habits is sublimation. To escape one bondage, you must give yourself to another. I have had many friends who were transferred from an alcoholic hell into addiction to tranquilizers. I have seen many who will trade one expression of addictive behavior for another, and claim they have licked the problem. Being set free from one bondage to enter another is not freedom, and it is not what God intends.
Some of my more secular friends point out that a religious conversion is tantamount to doing just that. They say it is trading one addiction for another. There may be some cases in which that is true, but a great deal hangs on the nature of the God whom we choose, or will to embrace. Addiction is in essence a religious problem, and religion is determined by the God who stands at the center.
There is a great deal of talk about being spiritual without being religious. We may be spiritual, or materialistic, or humanistic; but in any case, we are religious. Those who reject the common forms of religion are never the less religious. They must have some system of values whereby they make decisions in their lives. That is their religion. For someone to say they are Christian, but have no congregational affiliation is an oxymoron. Those who claim to be in Christ and separated from others who are in Christ have not yet read the New Testament which is the foundation of the Christian faith.
Those who say that they are Episcopalians, or Baptists, or Catholics, are not telling us anything more than where they are seeking to develop their religion. When we begin to look at the lives and values of the people in any one of the denominations, we find that they are each unique. There is no stereotype. I suppose if we sought to be accurate in our statement of our religion, it would be, "I am Christian seeking to become conformed to the image and likeness of Jesus, using the disciplines of the Episcopal, or Baptist, or Catholic Church.
While there are many who take comfort in saying that there is only one God, and there are many paths to the one God, they have not observed very much of what goes on in the world. If the god I worship is Molech, or some other identity of Satan which requires that I furnish him with a blood sacrifice, it evokes a far different religious behavior than Jesus who became the blood sacrifice for us.
The Christian faith is one that demands a decision that is an act of will that must be made regardless of feeling. It must be made in the recognition that I am not able to effect for myself, that which I seek from God through Christ. The religion it yields is one that is grounded in prayer and the expectation that God's grace will be sufficient to carry me through those crises that I cannot handle in my self-sufficiency.
The principle holds true in any situation where we are in some measure of bondage, and are seeking a way out. We can will God's will. That is the decision. It is not a matter of willing to be made willing. If I am willing to be made willing, I am already willing, but I am confused because I just can't feel like doing what I have to do.
It is not a matter of being able. If I could do in my own will power what God wills for my life, I would not need the cross to set me free. By the same token, I will not let my lack of ability stand in the way of deciding that I will God's will. I will move toward the goal in the sure knowledge that His grace is adequate to get me where He wants me to be, and to supply the feelings of which Paul writes in Galatians, "Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, humility and self control."