Being Transformed: Testimony 9

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12)

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world.”
A simple command, but how seriously is it taken?

Clearly not seriously enough in my case.

We are surrounded by the world. We are in it every day of our lives. Remaining untainted by it is impossible, without taking active measures. We can’t afford to be passive, thinking we’ll remain immune from its effects while casually going with the flow. That’s as likely as staying dry if we are walking into a swimming pool.

While we won’t get noticeably wet at first, (just our feet on the top step), it only needs another step to be taken for our knees to be submerged, and not many more before we find ourselves committed to a full drenching.

Conforming to the pattern of the world is rarely as sudden or intentional as taking a headlong dive into the water. It starts with a dipped toe, then a tentative paddle.

The only prevention is the right kind of change. Transformation. We can’t remain static and expect to escape the effects of the world in which we live.

Paul reveals the MEANS of transformation: the renewal of the mind. Changing the way we think, amending our point of view, to bring us into line with and able to recognise God’s will.

But how do we do that? How is our mind renewed?

Psalm 1 gives a good indication.

Don’t walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers, but delight in the law of the Lord, and meditate on it day and night.

Proverbs 4 echoes the Psalmists instructions.

“Do not set foot on the path of the wicked,
or walk in the way of evildoers.

Avoid it, do not travel on it;
turn from it and go on your way.”

And

turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.

But we should not be lulled into the false security that may come with church membership, or the fact we are listening to sermons, or reading Christian books.
While they can sometimes be helpful aids, it is only through a personal connection to God’s word that we’ll get the essential mind-renewal leading to the right kind of transformation.
But it needs more than a regular bible reading plan. Meditating on what is read, BELIEVING it and putting it into action is essential.

Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1) NIV

If we deny ourselves that personal, active involvement with scripture, we will inevitably expose our thinking to unhelpful, even dangerous patterns, that may not necessarily have a worldly appearance or flavour. They may even seem to be spiritual, and be endorsed by your church.

So if we want our lives to conform to truth, we need to choose to love the truth, and not be satisfied with anything less.

My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. (John 17) NIV

When to Live is NOT Christ (3): Testimony 8

From my “testimony 7“.

So why has my health failed to such a serious extent?

I allowed far too many other things take priority over obedience to Him and His word.

I prioritised man’s trivia instead of God’s commission.
And the promise of health and a full life is conditional.

Compromise.

It’s a condition that tends to deny its own presence.

I recently came across a statement that seems to get to the heart of the matter in my own life.

“It is essential that we become fascinated, gripped and captivated by the Lord. If not we will struggle with boredom, and our hearts will be vulnerable to pursue other things” (Insurgence by Frank Viola).

Boredom is something I KNOW I suffered. It’s a condition that if treated incorrectly will actually become reinforced and compounded. Remedies are often nothing more than trivial distractions, filling the void with something, anything, to get through the tedium.

I think we all desire purpose, to do something worthwhile in our lives to give some kind of meaning to who we are and what we do. The world increasingly offers alternatives, basically redefining what we understand as having value.

Today our western society revolves around consumption. The whole economic system underpinning society seems to revolve around a thing called “consumer confidence” – what is effectively our ability and willingness to keep spending. Without that confidence national economies struggle. We are encouraged to spend, to accumulate, to buy and replace.

Buy, buy, buy!!!
Consume, consume, consume!!!

More and more the products on offer are transitory, with little (or no) substance: brand names that are all show and no real value;  beauty and grooming services, (I’m always surprised how many manicure places there are in most shopping centres); and entertainment. These days, the latter can be also purchased in a non-material form, all digital, literally having nothing to show for the cost of purchase.

Shopping has become a pastime, a hobby, instead of the way we stock up on life’s necessities. Ongoing, frequent expeditions looking for things to buy, instead of  occasional, planned shopping trips to purchase what is needed at a particular time.

Entertainment (and the purchasing of) became my distraction. Collecting books, DVDs (movies and TV series). Anything to fill those hours after work to avoid taking the drudgery of the office home. Owning them was as much a part of it all as the reading and the watching. Collecting classic Science Fiction films and books: as well as books and DVDs related to military history, crime (fiction and true), literature, Tudor history, Australian history, the space program, astronomy and art…

I wasn’t satisfied with one or two items touching on those topics, I had to have everything I could find. I had to have a complete collection of books or films, many of which remained unread or unwatched as my interest moved to another topic.

Wasted money. Wasted time.
Wasted life.
Pushing aside what was really important.
Increasingly relegating Jesus to the margins of life instead of placing Him at the centre of it.

Of course there were times when He was given priority. In the worst cases that was more out of obligation than anything else, but usually there was a recognition that I needed to do better, needed to seek Him more.
Maintaining this blog always helped to motivate and stimulate my interest, but that by itself was not enough.

I wanted to have that deeper commitment.
I longed for it. But how could I get myself out of the rut I’d been digging?

The answer was simple – but not easy.
It took a medical death sentence to free me from an increasing addiction to the trivial and to seek the only hope I have. The only One I should have been “fascinated, gripped and captivated by” all along.

I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

The Lord has chastened me severely,
but he has not given me over to death. (Ps 118)

When to Live is NOT Christ (2): Testimony 7

If God’s will is for health and life, then what has gone wrong?
Why has my health failed to such a serious extent?

If I could sum this up in one word, I’d probably say “compromise”.
If I had to sum it up with a more accurate word, I’d have to say “disobedience”.
In reality both reflect the same truth.

It doesn’t matter how much Bible someone reads.
It doesn’t matter how much a person refers to the Bible.
It doesn’t matter how much a person points to the Bible as God’s word and ultimate doctrinal authority.

Blessed are those who HEAR the word of God and OBEY it (Luke 11).

Reading and promoting scripture are fruitless activities IF we ourselves are not hearing it AND obeying it.
It has to be LIVED, not merely read and taught.

Importantly we need to be sure of what IS the word of God and know how to distinguish it from man’s interpretations and traditions, and then we have to live as if the word of God can REALLY be trusted to be THE authority upon which our beliefs and actions have their foundation.

So why has my health failed to such a serious extent?

Because I allowed far too many other things take priority over obedience to Him and His word.

I prioritised man’s trivia instead of God’s commission.
And the promise of health and a full life is conditional.

do not forget my teaching,
but keep my commands in your heart,
for they will prolong your life many years…

…Do not be wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord and shun evil.
This will bring health to your body
and nourishment to your bones.
(Proverbs 3)

When To Live is NOT Christ (1): Testimony 6

My recent posts have been looking at the issue of God’s will regarding healing.
As I made clear at the beginning of this series of brief studies, it is MORE than an academic exercise, and for me is literally a matter of life and death.

What surprised me is how blatantly obvious the answer is: that God’s will for His people is health and a full life, so that we can live and love the Lord our God.

The scriptural evidence for this is overwhelming and should be indisputable, however, it’s a truth that many seem reluctant to recognise. At first that reluctance seemed puzzling, but then I realised I only needed to look at my own life to understand why.

Until recently it didn’t seem to matter too much to me. I’d never had any serious health issues, and anything I had faced was relatively easily fixed by a trip to the doctors – even if on the rare occasion it might mean the inconvenience of minor surgery.

It was a very pragmatic approach, requiring very little commitment from me, as well as no real challenge to my faith. And by challenge to my faith – I mean I never had to really consider the question of whether I actually HAD faith – at least faith that mattered; faith that actually achieved anything, to produce any fruit. There was never any urgent need, I had a mostly comfortable life and any difficulties were minor in comparison to so many others.

What a difference a serious cancer diagnosis can make!

Complacency was no longer an option.

Not only did I need to consider God’s willingness to heal – there was also the question of why I found myself in this situation.
But don’t get me wrong. The question of “Why Me?” didn’t arise, and neither did any feeling of unfairness. I know these things happen. A lot of people get sick. A lot of people die from their sickness. The fact that I’d previously lived a reasonably healthy life seemed to be a blessing in itself.

However, if I was going to consider, and discover, God’s will regarding the health of those professing to love Him, the answer could also mean facing the reasons that His will might not have been done regarding my own health.

If God’s will is for health and life [AND IT IS!] then what went wrong in my case?
Why did my health fail to such a serious extent?

Clearly the problem came about through MY shortcomings  – not God’s.

To Live IS Christ (11). God’s Clearly Stated Will.

In previous posts I’ve tried to address what scripture says about God’s will regarding healing, to see what kind of foundation we have to believe that He wants His people in health.
So far I’ve given mostly New Testament references, however there are many in the Old Testament. Rather than address selections individually, I’ll provide links to several after this post.

However, I consider the quote I give below embraces and confirms everything else that could be said about God’s healing and the physical well-being of His people.

I tried to emphasise, as much as possible (uppercase, bold, italics), what I see as the they key phrase in the quote.

This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. NOW CHOOSE LIFE, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life… (Deut 30 19-20)

God starts this section by saying he has set before the people of Israel clear choices.

Life or death.
Blessings or curses.

However He doesn’t merely offer them the choice, then step aside to let them consider it. He continues with a command – HIs choice – HIs will for them.

HE tells them “NOW CHOOSE LIFE”.

Any other choice is NOT God’s will for them. HIS will is NOT the death of His people.

He continues with the reasons why they should choose life:

so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.

He then makes a statement that I understand is echoed in Paul’s later words to the Philippians, that I have used as the theme for this series of posts. “To live is Christ”.

He says: “For the LORD is your life”

Now some might try to dismiss the Deuteronomy quote as being part of the Old Covenant and related to the law given through Moses to the people of Israel, and therefore try to deem it as now irrelevant, outdated or superseded.

But the writer to the Hebrews takes care of those objections when he writes of the superior ministry of both Jesus and the covenant over which He is mediator:

the new covenant is established on better promises.

The New Covenant does not come with lesser promises and assurances than the Old. *

The New Covenant does not deny us the choice of life that God offered (commanded): A life lived to love Him , listening to His voice, and holding fast to Him.

For He IS our life, and to live IS Christ.

NOW CHOOSE LIFE!!!

_____________________________________

*  Also see Romans 10 and compare to the wider context of Deuteronomy 30. This confirms the continuing relevance under the new covenant, through Jesus.

OT healing references.

NOTE:  The context for the following promises include conditions of obedience found in the full reference linked.

Exodus 15:26  “For I AM the LORD who heals you.”

Exodus 23: 25-26  “I will take away disease from among you…I will give you a full life span.”

Deuteronomy 7: 12-15 “The LORD will keep you free from every disease.”

Psalm 91: 14-16  “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

Psalm 103: 1-3  “Praise the LORD… Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases.”

Psalm 107: 17-21 “He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave.”

Proverbs 4: 20-24  “My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.”

Isaiah 53: 4-5  “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. (refer also Matthew 8: 16-17 and 1 Peter 2:24 for confirmation of the continuing relevance of the Isaiah prophecy. Particularly note that Matthew makes it clear it refers to physical healing and not merely a spiritual application as some now insist.)

Psalm 119 has many references to God’s promises of health and life – as an outcome of obedience to His word. (“preserve my life according to your word”,  “Your promise preserves my life”, “give me understanding that I may live”.

To Live IS Christ (10): Testimony 5

Previously, I asked:

So why do we so often make excuses and try to find reasons to justify ongoing sickness?

A possible reason is that sections of scripture, even the New Testament, can be cited as examples that seem to suggest that God doesn’t always choose to heal.

As you know, it was because of an illness that I [Paul] first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn (Gal 4)

Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses (1Tim 5)

Erastus stayed in Corinth, and I left Trophimus sick in Miletus. (2 Tim 4)

Epaphroditus, my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier… longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him.(philippians 2)

Surely those examples of sickness in the lives of Paul and his companions offer countering evidence to the idea that God always desires to heal?

It seems so – but do they?
Firstly, none of those illnesses led to death. They recovered.

At best those examples can show that God doesn’t always heal miraculously or instantly, (but He didn’t leave them sick), while the last one actually credits God mercy with Epaphroditus’s recovery, so is not a good example of God not being willing to heal.

And then there’s the favoured anti-healing reference to Paul’s thorn in the flesh; often linked to the illness mentioned in Galatians, but with no real justification for doing so. According to Paul the thorn was not an illness, it was a satanic messenger (angel) sent to torment him because of the great revelation he had received (and was sharing).

I addressed this issue here many years ago : Thorny Thoughts so won’t go over it again here.

Compare those four references and one dubious thorn interpretation to the many cases detailed in Jesus’s healing ministry and the continued ministry of the church throughout Acts, and the provision of healing gifts distributed by the Holy Spirit, and the instructions given by James , and Peter’s reaffirming of Isaiah’s prophecy  and where does the overwhelming New Testament evidence point regarding Gods will and willingness to heal? (examples here).

In closing this post I have two suggestions.

Firstly it might be more productive to take note of that overwhelming evidence of God’s willingness to heal than in trying to find reasons why He doesn’t. Which of those practices do you think would be most effective in building the faith required to pray in genuine faith?

Secondly, also considering that overwhelming evidence of God’s willingness, we ought to expect that IF God’s will is not to heal a particular believer in a particular case,  then that outcome ought to be considered SO out of the ordinary that He would give a specific and personal unmistakable direction to that person regarding the denial of healing.

In other words, instead of trying to find if it’s God’s will to heal, be confidently assured of healing according to what He’s clearly revealed in His word. And if He has some reason to withhold healing in a rare particular exemption, expect Him make THAT known through some form of personal revelation.

Expect healing unless personally advised otherwise by divine revelation.

To Live IS Christ (9): Testimony 4

What does scripture reveal about God and healing?

More specifically, what does scripture say about God and healing with relevance to my own situation?
That last question is an expression of the very personal nature of my wrestling with the issue on this blog. I’m trying to address commonly expressed ideas about God, healing and sickness that may influence the health outcomes of those desiring and seeking healing.

Ideally, as a Christian of many decades, I should already be well-equipped with that knowledge, but also, AS a Christian of many decades I’m not immune to the effects of church tradition, personal experience and what I’ve witnessed in the lives of other believers.

Often those things can shape our beliefs more than God’s word. Our beliefs and understanding of scripture being defined by church teaching more than what scripture actually says.
And we all know of someone who prayed for healing, who didn’t receive it and died…
Clearly, in my current life or death situation, I can’t afford to let those things dictate my understanding IF they are leading me to accept something different to God’s biblical truth.

If, as Jesus said, I will receive whatever I ask for in prayer, as long as I believe; is it possible for me to have the confidence to believe that He will heal me, fully assured that it’s God’s will?

Where do I start?

What about the New Testament and Jesus’s healing ministry in which He healed everyone who came to Him, no matter what their ailment?

The example of Jesus’s ministry gives no indication that it was ever God’s will NOT to heal the sick, recognising that Jesus only did the will of His Father.

Surely that should be encouraging?

So why do we so often make excuses and try to find reasons to justify ongoing sickness? Why do we cling to church traditions ranging from cessationism through to other less dismissive theologies that accept the possibility of healing in principle, but rarely expect it in practice?

In many of the individual cases of healing mentioned in the gospels, reference was made to the faith of those seeking it, with Jesus commending their faith and crediting the healing to their faith.
The only time it’s mentioned that Jesus was unable to heal, it is explained by the lack of faith.

When Jesus was ministering, when there was faith there was healing. But no faith led to no miracles. Even Jesus’s faith didn’t over-rule the unbelief of others.

To what degree have our views of healing been affected by a lack of confident expectation of the desired outcome?
And what is the cause of that lack of confidence?
Surely it’s not because of anything in scripture?

Do we get offended if it’s suggested our faith is lacking? And yet, how can we insist we have faith if our expectations are based on anything (church teaching, personal experience, what has happened to others) other than God’s word?

And how can we think we’ve asked for healing in faith, when we haven’t been convinced that our healing is His will?

To Live IS Christ (8): Testimony 3

In my situation doctors have no answers – but God does.

I have six months away from work and will be using that time to seek God, and to build and strengthen my faith.

I start this journey with two significant scripture statements. The first is very encouraging, offering a very firm promise, a guarantee of answered prayer.

If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer (Mt 21)

And the second admonishes and cautions, with two examples of things that will prevent us from receiving: a failure to ask, and a selfish reason for asking.

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives (James 4)

My understanding of these statements, is that we can’t pray with genuine belief, and therefore have the assurance that we will receive whatever we ask for – unless we have a clear and indisputable knowledge that we are praying according to God’s will, and not merely for our own misguided reasons.

This need to know God’s will is also confirmed by John:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5. my bold emphasis.)

How does all of this relate to my personal situation?

  1. I need to ask for healing
  2. I need to believe that I’ll be healed.
  3. I need to be sure of my motive for asking for healing.
  4. (most significantly) I need to KNOW that my healing is God’s will, or the other three are irrelevant.

How,  therefore, can I know His will for my personal circumstances so I can confidently pray in faith?

Does He leave everyone in my position facing uncertainty, and therefore unable to REALLY believe? Does God work in such a hit or miss way, so that knowing His will is guesswork or even impossible?

Or does He reveal His will through a personal revelation, a dream, a vision, a voice from heaven? (But only to a select few).

Or has He in fact already made His will clear in the same way that He has made His will about other things known?

Through His word, in scripture.

To Live IS Christ (7): Testimony 2

I readily recognise that MY life as a Christian has too often been one of compromise.  Becoming complacent in one’s faith is very easy, and if left unchecked will have an increasing eroding effect. I refer again to Jesus’s example of the seed (word) that sprouts among weeds. Growth may start healthily, and might even maintain a pleasing leafy appearance, but the required outcome of bearing fruit is choked by competing with the weeds and thorns.

Therefore I am thankful that God DOESN’T “act in terrible judgement” upon believers because of their understanding about particular Spiritual gifts, or a genre of fiction they may have read, or even if they haven’t read as much scripture as they could have (should have) done.
I’m sure if He did there would be few of us left to follow Him.

I have no doubt the majority of professing believers fall short in one way or another in their spiritual lives, even those who consistently read their three to four chapters of bible per day to maintain their “read the bible in a year” quota.
After all, it doesn’t matter how much bible is read – but how much of what’s read is put into practice.

I’ve been reading Psalm 119 daily, and that psalm would challenge even the most diligent reader of scripture, making it clear that obedience to the word is essential, not merely hearing (reading) it, and that obedience to the word is made evident through changed character.

While my original delay in addressing all of this on my blog was due to my reluctance “to justify (and reinforce) the wrong thinking” of the man who sent me the previously mentioned email, I realised I can not allow my journey back to health to be hindered by unforgiveness. Whether or not my situation leads to him falling deeper into error is beyond my control. I can only be accountable for my own forgiveness of him.

I recognise he had a concern for my well-being, but was misguided in his attitude and action. Maybe one day he will realise that.
Hopefully soon, before he unwittingly damages a fragile believer’s faith and/or further compromises his own.

But to the present, and the road ahead…

After being given what is basically a death sentence by the medical profession, I have a much appreciated freedom that removes room for compromise or wavering in my faith. I am literally facing a life or death situation.
I have nothing to lose. No reputation to worry about, so what does it matter how others may think of me? I now don’t hesitate to let everyone know that my trust is in God, and that it can ONLY be in Him.

Chemotherapy has made it necessary for me to take leave from work for the six months of treatment, and the medical prognosis indicates little likelihood of me being able to return after it. While the treatment offers no cure, it does give me free time.

It’s time I intend to use well, and it’s time I have started to use well, to build and strengthen my faith in God and see Him prove the medical experts wrong.

To Live IS Christ (6): Testimony 1

I started the series of posts “To live is Christ” because of a significant personal matter, something until now I’d not felt free to discuss openly on this blog. (Although it has been shared with a select few privately).

There are a  few reasons for my reluctance to write about this until now.

  1. It has been something I needed to come to terms with myself.
  2. Publicly revealing this had the likelihood to justify (and reinforce) the wrong thinking of the man mentioned in a previous post. (now deleted)
  3. Gloria asked me not say anything about it on the blog (because of reason 2).

A few months ago I had a seemingly minor health issue. A number of consultations and scans showed up nothing of concern that could be causing the problem, so my local doctor fast-tracked a procedure (gastroscopy) with a visiting specialist.

In line with the previous outcomes, the specialist saw nothing of serious concern, but to cover all possibilities, took tissue samples for biopsy. Again she stressed that finding anything sinister would be extremely unlikely.

That was a Friday afternoon.

Over the weekend I received the email that included the following:

“A prophetic anointing actually came on me recently but I paused it, not wanting to hear it. But it is clear enough. I am to give Tim one last warning and then God will act in terrible judgment.”

This “prophesied” terrible judgement would come upon me for two reasons, one related to a difference of opinion about the gift of tongues, and the other reason was that I’d been reading crime fiction during the previous year , and that I should “fill with Bible instead”.

On the following Monday I heard from the specialist:

Diagnosis, cancer.

From the very first mention of that word, I’ve been completely at peace. A peace that has continued over these following months, despite the ongoing reality that every subsequent doctor’s visit led to increasingly bad news.

What started as, nothing of concern, and  “unlikely to be anything sinister”, progressed to “it seems we have caught it early” and quickly on to a diagnosis of “inoperable, and life limiting”.

Throughout the worsening news, I’ve retained a confidence in God, and the reality of Paul’s phrase “to live is Christ, to die is gain” has played a significant part in that peace and confidence.

For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. (Philippians 1)

Two weeks ago I started a six month course of chemotherapy – apparently the only thing the medical profession can do for me, with the aim of prolonging life for as long as possible, which in their opinion may only be a year or two.

I praise God!

While man’s medicine can do nothing GOD is more than able.

When I first pondered the “to live is Christ to die is gain” alternatives I was probably leaning towards the assurance of the latter. However, I have since become more motivated by: “to live is Christ”.

A portion of Psalm 118 has become a particular joy to me.

I will not die but live,
and will proclaim what the Lord has done.

For me that currently sums up the meaning of “to live is Christ”:  living to proclaim what the Lord has done.