by His stripes we are healed

Some years ago we hosted Carl & Ilna and their kids at our place. They were visiting in Cape Town briefly from their mission in Zambia. It was a great time to connect with a missionary family that we had not seen for quite some years. They joined us for home church that Sunday and in the meeting I referred to Isaiah 53:4-6 speaking about the propitiation of God’s wrath by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

In discussion Ilna asked me what my view was on Isaiah 53:5 “by His stripes we are healed” where this phrase is taken as reference to physical healing that Christ purchased on the cross for us. More especially and specifically a common idea in some Christian circles that we should experience full and complete healing in Christ for every ailment we experience in this life. And often included in that interpretation is the view that any failure to experience healing is a lack of faith. What would you say?

This was not an idle question for Carl and Ilna, they carry in their family burdens of much suffering and sickness. It was not mere intellectual curiosity that prompted her question…

Certainly Christ was a healer. A veritable flood of miracles accompanied his short years of ministry. Christ instructed his disciples in healing and exorcism. In Mark 16:18 Jesus clearly includes in His commissioning the same, saying of “those who believe” that they “will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover”. So this should reasonably be expected to accompany the discipling of the nations wherever Christ is preached. Is the healing universal? Is it the inheritance of every believer who exercises faith? No sickness for Christians?

As best I recall, I answered her question by asking her to read Isaiah 53:5 again. “Did Christ die for your transgressions and iniquities?” I asked. She responded in the affirmative. “Did Christ fully and completely deal with your sin on the cross, or was it only partially effective?”. Completely effective was her response. “Do you still sin?” I asked. “Is there any sin your life?”. “Yes.” she replied. And I had the same experience. Indwelling sin in my life, all while profoundly knowing that Christ had dealt with my sin on the cross. Then I answered her original question by saying, that as free from sin as I was right now, due to the death of Christ on the cross and His resurrection, that was as free from sickness as I was now in Christ. I am as ultimately free, and I am as temporally beset.

Christ died to set us free from sin and death and sickness and suffering. We are free from all four of these apocalyptic horsemen of doom. But I still sin, I get sick, and there will be more suffering in my life, and then I will die. The last enemy is death it says in 1 Corinthians 15:26. Death clearly has an end that has not yet come. It will get me, but it has no sting.

When Jesus freed the paralytic from his sickness as a sign that his sins were forgiven, which was greater? The power to heal or the power to forgive sins? Greater is the power of Christ to forgive and deal with sin than mere physical healing. That was the very point Jesus was making. Jesus had authority over sin and over sickness. And yet today, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, as a new creation in Christ, I had already failed to love the Lord my God with all my heart before I sat down to breakfast! I have sinned, missed the mark, fallen short.

I carry in my body the corruption of all creation as it groans longing for the revealing of the sons of God. One day, that will no longer be true. In considerably less than one thousand years I will be undying, sinless, and in perfect health. Right now? Right now is “the vale of tears”, the “Via Dolorosa”, the way of suffering. All directed to a good end, a supremely good purpose in the secret counsel of God (Romans 8:28). But my life is nonetheless marred with real sin and real sickness and real death and real suffering. Our lives are to be lived in groaning hope, knowing that the “already” in Christ assures us of the “not yet” to come — the redemption of our body. Romans 8:23-25

23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.
24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees?
25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.

If I am mistaken, then Christ has dealt more perfectly with disease and illness than with sin and suffering and death. One should be experiencing healing in its fullness now already. One does not need to live in hope of perfect health (“why .. hope for what he sees?” Romans 8:24), that is done, one only needs to live in hope with respect to sin, death and suffering, but not in hope of healing. Some might employ a doctrine of perfectionism to extend this current and complete victory to sin aswell. Then all that remains to hope for is deliverance from suffering and death.

But I just can’t see this view in the scriptures. It is the error of “immanentizing the eschaton”. It is an over realized eschatology. That is the error of applying things that are properly ours in resurrected glory, now to our current fallen bodies and lives on earth. But here we are given only a taste of heaven, a deposit of the Holy Spirit, a glimpse of the glories to come, eager expectation of full health in the spectacular miracles of Jesus. We are not yet there. We are both seated in heavenly places, AND we are standing in the midst of this groaning creation subjected in hope.

What is a proper attitude to sickness then, and death and suffering? Do we make light of them with permanent sunny dispositions? Do we seek them out becoming a kind of Christian masochist? Do we stoically endure them as the inscrutable decrees of God?
Well again, I ask, “what should our view of indwelling sin be now?”. Surely we fight them all! We mortify the sinful flesh (Colossians 3:5 & Romans 8:13) and sanctify ourselves (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Similarly, we fight disease, with all means at our disposal and in Jesus name. We work to end suffering in Jesus name. We stave off death as a defeated foe for as long as we have the strength to fight the good fight. We should do all of this in hope. In the good Christian hope of the redemption of our body in the midst of the tears.

One day, in the eschaton, no more tears – Revelation 21:4.

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Would you bring me something from the fridge?

Great (offensively) prophetic rock song by the then version of the Newsboys about sleepy, comfortable, Christian unfaithfulness. Its old, but still carries the message well. I listened to it several times while driving through the night recently, great fire starter for prayer for the church, for revival and the repentance which is its precursor.

When you come back again
Would you bring me something from the fridge?
Heard a rumour that the end is near
But I just got comfortable here.
Let’s be blunt.
I’m a little distracted.
What do you want?

Headaches and bad faith
Are all that I’ve got.
First I misplaced the ending
Then I lost the plot.

Out among the free-range sheep
While the big birds sharpen their claws.
For a time we stuck with the shepherd
But you wouldn’t play Santa Claus.

Let’s be blunt.
We’re a little distracted.
What do you want?

Once we could follow,
Now we cannot.
You would not fit our image,
So we lost the plot.

Once we could hear you,
Now our senses are shot.
We’ve forgotten our first love.
We have lost the plot.

When I saw you for the first time
You were hanging with a thief
And I knew my hands were dirty,
And I dropped my gaze.
Then you said I was forgiven
And you welcomed me with laughter.
I was happy ever after.
I was counting the days
When you’d come back again.
We’ll be waiting for you
When you comin’ back again?
We’ll be ready for you
Maybe we’ll wake up when…
Maybe we’ll wake up when
You come back again.

Let’s be blunt.
We’re a little unfaithful.
What do you want?

Are you still listening?
‘Cause we’re obviously not
We’ve forgotten our first love
We have lost the plot.

And why are you still calling?
You forgave, we forgot.
We’re such experts at stalling
That we’ve lost the plot.
Lost the plot

When you come back again
Would you bring me something from the fridge?
Heard a rumour that the end is near
But I just got comfortable here.

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What exactly am I teaching if I let my tiredness, or my busyness, or my stress levels, or whatever, excuse a grumpy attitude at home? Hmm, basically I am broadcasting that I don’t need to obey God when I am busy, tired, or under stress, etc… Ouch!

In fact I am saying that God’s righteous decrees are only totally absolutely really mandatory (a) for other people; (b) in theory; (c) when convenient for me. Yikes!

But you see (I hasten to say): we do regular family worship, and we pray together, and do lots of good fun stuff together, and have really good relationships, so it really doesn’t matter so much if I don’t sort out my attitude problems! After all I am faithfully catechising my children in Following Jesus (When Its Not Too Hard) Double Yikes!

Why can’t I even see it this clearly most of the time? Hypocrisy, self-righteousness, rationalisation… creeping sins, sins of blindness and compromise… comfortable sins…

Jesus detested those sins, he got really angry over them. He still does.

Clearly I need more practice writing. The one comment I got was that I came across as “down”… I didn’t intend to come across as Eeyore, but rather more righteously angry, preferably like a knight furiously storming an ogre’s castle. But alas I come across as sadly down. The pox on sadly down!

To be angry with sin is a great safe guard, more especially treacherous sins that sneak up and make themselves at home and all respectable. These sins need to be violently attacked and shown no quarter.

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an ogre’s castle

We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

— G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, p62, “The Flag of The World”

This quote is from one of the best chapters I have ever read; Chesterton’s “The Flag of the World” chapter in Orthodoxy is a jewel. The book is one I shall be rereading regularly over the course of my life.

I can now see why God loved David so much. Jesus’s fierceness and gladness is also much clearer. My own tendency to “surly contentment” is savagely rebuked as unchristian heresy. Jesus and David both tangled with ogres, both were very at home in the world, walking and talking and drinking merrily: dangerous folk, joyful folk…

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The gladness of God and His glory

I find it somewhat disconcerting to think of God as “happy”, it seems almost disrespectful. Yet this is what Paul was thinking about God when writing 1 Timothy 1:11. I am grateful to John Piper for chapter 7 of his book God is Gospel (freely downloadable).

Some improved translations of 1 Timothy 1:11 could be “According to the gospel of the glory of the gladness of God” or “According to the gospel of the glory of the happy God“. That word “blessed” in the KJV/NKJV refers to happiness and gladness, not just some externally gifted thing, but a state of emotion and being.

God’s happiness is not contingent, but it is very real. Our happiness is contingent upon a right relationship and standing with Him, but it should also be real. My kids should learn from me that God is glad because I model that gladness, that God is happy because I am happy. This is a tall order! To be a happy-glad father is much more demanding for me than being a grouchy-rule-enforcing-fusser father. Happiness (as would be discernible by my children) is often a struggle, but then nothing about Christianity is easy in one sense. In another sense though it’s easy as pie — I have been gifted happiness. God doesn’t require of me what He doesn’t model in Himself. I need to copy Jesus both in an imitative love of my glad Father, and in cross carrying. Obedience is imitative and Christian obedience is founded on deep personal loyalty. Obedience is therefore relational, not a joyless process of chiselling laws into hard stone.

Themes often weave together, and in this case we are just nearing the end of an expository season in Deuteronomy and it is astonishing how often God commands the people to rejoice before Him, to be glad when feasting or offering, not to defile tithes and offerings by eating them in mourning or sadness (Deuteronomy 12:7; 12:12; 12:18; 16:11; 16:14; 26:11; 26:14; 27:7). For instance, in Deuteronomy 28:47-48 God explains to Israel that the covenant curses would come upon them precisely because they were not glad, not grateful and not joyful in the abundant blessings he gave. Their cranky, surly, complaining attitudes would be better suited to a captive slave… so God will arrange for them a more fitting setting — namely that of a captive slave. That “fierce ol’ God of the old testament”, the terrible and awful God of Sinai… loves a party, He loves feasting, He loves joy and gladness and happiness. Why? Anything else would be a slander on his character. The glad and happy God isn’t truly revealed in His glory by “the grumpy people of God”. That old devil Screwtape though, he would be well pleased with a cranky dad who dutifully catechizes his children in the ways of a hard and joyless grind called “Christianity”.

I am called to shepherd my children in gladness. It is godly to laugh, to joke, it is good to heartily sing songs, to feast, it is good to chuckle at funny bible stories, to dance about gleefully because of God’s great deliverances, to give thanks, to look for things to rejoice in. And yes we do these things together in small measure, but we need to do it a whole lot more!

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Robbed Hell – by C.A.S.T Pearls

Funny, “compelling” parody of Rob Bell’s video trailer for his heretical book “Love Wins” at amazon (watch his trailer first for maximum enjoyment). In this trailer Rob Bell distinguishes himself by vilifying Christ’s substitutionary atonement, impugning God’s character, justice and love, and giving some hints about his version of universalism which is no great improvement on the any of the more anciently damned ones…

Robbed Hell – C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.

I love this :-) We could definitely use some more parody in Christendom right about now. We could have a tremendous amount of fun watching all those pompous balloons being popped by the darts of satiric bite. What would be so wrong with that? ;-)

May God in his mercy send his church many more gifted folk to bless us in this way. Sheep are being led astray in their droves, and a clear godly satirical response — not strident, not defensive, not overly technical — would go a long way in getting the heart of the matter exposed.

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God bless the old Irish (again)

This paper Hearts And Minds Aflame For Christ: Irish Monks—A Model For Making All Things New in the 21st Century by Daryl McCarthy at the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s site is magnificent. A wonderfully strong and encouraging vision — long term, total saturation, holy, passionate, reformational Christendom taking a dark land for Christ… its been done before in Europe, by some very remarkable Irish monks. It needs to be done again.

To whet your appetite here are some excerpts:

Marnell states: “Of all the Irish peregrini on the Continent there can scarcely be any doubt that Columban had the most widespread and lasting impact. Within a generation France was dotted with monasteries, founded by men who had been trained in Luxeuil. Most of their founders were natives of France….Columban supplied the inspiration, the Franks supplied the personnel.”29 More than sixty disciples of Columban fanned out across Europe wielding wide influence over the Continent.30 More than thirty monasteries were founded as a direct result of monks trained at Luxeuil, and another two hundred monasteries had some indirect linkage to Luxeuil.31

Marnell colorfully describes Columban as,

A microcosm of the entire Irish monastic movement: he was a missionary to the pagan; a theologian who debated with bishops and even with a pope; a public figure feared and therefore courted, without success, by a regent and a king; a poet who could versify his faith but also write a rowing song; the sort of man who could fell a tree with one blow of an axe and then strangle a bear. Such men have messages for popes and barbarians alike.32

(page 3)

The foremost motivation, especially for the early monks, was simply their love for Christ. As Gougaud eloquently states:

Christ had set their hearts on fire, and even today, after the lapse of so many centuries, our souls burn within us when we read the brief phrases that embody the great motive which led to the wanderings of these saintly exiles….These are, it is true, varied in form, but are generally crystallized in such words as ‘for the love of God,’ ‘for Christ,’ ‘for the Name of the Lord,’ and ‘for the love of the Name of Christ.’….they were indeed ‘of Christ enamoured wholly’ and had in full and bounteous measure that personal affection which…lit up their hearts with the white heat of a great passion that no sacrifice could satiate and no suffering subdue….They yearned to win all to Christ.50

These were truly academicians who loved God with their total being, including their minds, as Scripture commands.

(page 5)

It was said of Columban that, as Daniel-Rops expresses it, “His passing through the country started a real contagion of holiness.”63 In fact the holiness of their lives was one of their primary means of evangelism. The pagan people with their debauched lives were attracted to the simple, pure lives of the monks. They saw something in these monks they wanted. Hertling asserts that “What induced the heathens to become Christians…was, perhaps, not so much the sermons these monks preached as the example of their lives entirely devoted to God.”64

(page 6)

8. Training National Leaders
The goal of the early monks was to, as Zimmer puts it, make themselves “superfluous… so that, in many instances, the second generation of monks…” would be native to that country.75 And it worked. This provided a strength and resilience that carried the institutions far beyond what they would have been had they aimed to establish purely “Irish” institutions which would be mere monuments to their own national heritage. Marnell refers to one of their main objectives as being “self-liquidation.”76 For all of their love and loyalty to their homeland, these Irish monks were decidedly non-ethnocentric; they were ethnically inclusive. The Irish monks seized every opportunity to train leaders at the highest levels, leaders who would shape Europe. They seemed to instinctively understand the “top-down principle,”—that by shaping the heart and mind of a leader, one is able to multiply his influence through the many individuals and institutions that the pupil in turn will influence. Teaching kings and emperors and their sons earned them credibility and a reputation as teachers and also enabled them to wield broad influence across Europe.

(page 7)

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Africa is a big place

(click the images for easier to view full sizes)

I found an excerpt of this image first on Floyd McClung’s post on Africa maps which set me to trying to confirm if it was accurate — the full image is from Information Is Beautiful.

But it has a flaw — the relative visual sizes of the countries are wrong because “the countries were not projected in equal area form”… Kenneth Field to the rescue:

And this was fun old picture from Big Think:

Africa is a big, big place, rich in natural resources, full of people, and white unto harvest.

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William and the mango tree

On the 11th of January William was miraculously saved from death in a car accident. He was returning back from Blantyre very late at night after being at Home Affairs. The rain was bucketing down, it was pitch dark but the driver who was used to the road was speeding along at great pace. On one gradual corner the rain coming down the hillside had washed a great deal of mud onto the road causing a ridge like a speed bump in the road as it flowed across. Without seeing it under the water the driver hit this bump at high speed and lost control of the vehicle. William was dozing beside him in the passenger seat and woke up from the impact and the driver screaming. The car skidded off the road into a field, in the lights William saw mielies getting flatted in front and whipping past the sides and vaguely a grove of trees looming. He shouted out “Jesus!” and immediately the car stopped. They ended up stopping with the car partially on its left side and mango tree branches protruding into the cab. The driver scrambled out, and William and the others shakily followed a bit later, having to climb out the “top”/driver side. The driver, who was not a Christian, was also very shaken and kept asking “How did this car stop? How did it stop?”. They had stopped within 30cm of the tree trunk. William told him it was Jesus who stopped the car when he called on His name. The driver shook his hand and said very earnestly “Thank you very much! And pass my thanks to Jesus!”

They are both absolutely convinced that at the speed they were going down that hill and the proximity of the mango tree that they would have died on impact, or at least been very badly hurt. There is no natural explanation for the vehicle stopping so suddenly or for themselves not being flung forwards through the windscreen when it did.

They spent the night in the rain by the road and caught a lift the following morning. William spent some days composing praise songs of thanks to Jesus for himself but also for the whole church to sing that Sunday. Praise God indeed! God has miraculously spared us many tears and given us joy and songs by very powerfully demonstrating His most gracious protection. William now has wonderful confirmation over his life that God has a plan and a purpose which is not yet finished!

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Shrewd money: it doesn’t go “poof!”

One of the perennial problems with saving up money (assuming one is in the blessed position to do so), is where to keep it so that its both “safe” and generates a good return. This is good stewardship, and not worldliness — the issue of sin is always at the root a heart issue and not an accounting one. But the current very volatile market conditions more then ever underscore the fact that nothing is particularly “safe”. The question “where should one put one’s savings?” doesn’t have a simple answer. Safe as a bank? [insert chuckle...] Safe as gold? [um, what about thieves?] Safe as houses? [insert crazy (American) laughter]…

So what is a Christian to do with his long-term wealth savings? I would suggest that distributism is a good investment option to consider. The idea is based somewhat loosely on the shrewd manager in Jesus parable and on the fact that it is trivial to steal ten thousand rand from one person, but it is rather more difficult to steal ten rand each from one thousand people. In other words a good way to save is to be as shrewd as the wicked manager in Jesus parable (Luke 16:1-13) and make the money disappear in such a way that one gains many friends, or blesses some folks in some way. A great example of this would be buying a few tons of open pollinated mielie seed, or fifty bicycles, or one hundred hoes, or educational kit, or a few cases of bibles and shipping them to your friends in Malawi to distribute to Christians in need. Once this is distributed it is next to impossible to steal all of it. The saving is then going into the ground as seed in many scattered fields.

A variation closer to home is to pay off your Christian brother’s home loan. Why? Well one interesting thing about a bank collapse is that all the savings go “poof!”, but everyone still has to repay their loans! As some friends experienced with Saambou some years ago — their savings were gone and salaries that month were paid into that black-hole never to be recovered, but their bond/mortgage still had to be paid! So one way to “save” shrewdly is to help pay off debts which are then gone, and can’t be lost or stolen nearly as easily as savings. Depending on how you structure it your friend can continue paying you back, but even if can’t pay you back for some reason or you free him from the debt straight, he is at least not burdened by debt to a financial institution, and you are no worse off. Also because he is not indebted to a bank (with its lawyers) he is not a direct financial burden to you which he might have been in bad times, he may be even in a position to repay you later, or to help/bless someone else. This calls for a measure of wisdom of course, its is not “saving” in this sense nor kingdom building to give your money to a fool. We are not to subsidise laziness, or hubris, or hedonism, but still our churches are supposed to be producing mature men and as such it should be producing people who would be good solid “receivers”.

There are tons of other options, micro-loans, educational sponsorships, church planting, bible translations, missionaries work, medical supplies, community medical aid, food relief… some more direct (to the people), others more indirect (less possibility of actual relationship building), but all are some form of sowing. Those that are more directly sowing into people’s lives are the most likely to bear fruit in a time of need — the shrewd manager didn’t just take money down to the local market and throw it in the air. And Jesus specifically says we should make friends with our money (Luke 16:9).

This whole idea is admittedly thin on the withdrawal side. Essentially one is giving up a fairly strong legal claim on the money to “save” it from being stolen or lost entirely, and this to ensure some kingdom productivity out of it before that could happen, but there is no explicit way to get cash back in a hurry. I don’t know exactly what to do about that, except to note that many intangible good things are still yours — you have friendship bonds you never had before, you have people who have directly benefited by your largesse and this counts for something, at least a warm welcome. Perhaps more than that: business opportunities, safe shelter, or a helping hand in some way in return. Of course it might just disappear all together, but again this is a calculated risk, and one that has no bitterness in it, rather at least one blessing (the blessing of giving) and perhaps it even has two (the added blessing of receiving) or even three blessings (the further blessing of kingdom building). And what a wonderful blessing it is to see the kingdom of God grow a little stronger!

It gives me the heebie-jeebies to think of all the money rich Christians have locked up in investments, a big chunk of it has already been lost (2008 financial melt-down). Another big chunk of it will almost certainly be lost of the next couple of years without doing anyone any good. Its just sitting there like seed stored in a highly flammable haystack while the land lies fallow. It can disappear in a heart-beat. God can dismantle our financial system in less than one day and then its gone, “poof!”. There isn’t any getting it back, and worse: it has been fruitless, barren.

A disclaimer is in order here — I don’t believe that all one’s savings should be of this sort, it’s worth saving for the medical bills, the next car, education, etc. I am talking about long term saving, the money that typically goes toward second or third properties or the share market or long term deposits. Spare a thought for all the kingdom’s fallow ground. And don’t forget those suited thieves in the bank and in the government! Don’t trust them with too much, its better to cast at least some of it on the water. It may come back. The money that goes “poof!” won’t.

May God thrice bless bless you!

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