Wounded healer

You can help others heal if you have suffered yourself.

Henri Nouwen calls this the “wounded healer”.

I like this idea.

Of course, a lot depends whether you want to help others heal.  If you do, you may have the experience, wisdom and knowledge to bring spiritual and emotional healing to a needy friend.

A friend who has suffered for years from an undiagnosed illness says that no one knows how he feels.  He feels alone.

It reminds me of Job whose friends gave him lots of advice, even suggesting he was suffering from some sin.  But it turned out they did not know why Job was suffering and their advice was more hurtful than helpful.

In his book The Wounded Healer, Nouwen writes: “Our own experience with loneliness, depression and fear can become a gift for others, especially when we have received good care.”

“The main question is not ‘How can we hide our wounds?’ so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ‘How can we put our woundedness in the service of others?'” he says.  “When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

Nouwen points out that “Jesus is God’s wounded healer: through his wounds we are healed”.

“Jesus’ death suffering and death brought joy and life.  His humiliation brought glory; his rejection brought a community of love.”

Nouwen was himself a good example of the wounded healer.

He suffered emotionally during his life and he used his pain to help others.

In his last years, he served the intellectually and developmentally delayed at the L’Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.

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A silver lining

There is a silver lining in the dark clouds threatening the church in North America.

The silver lining is God.

At different times in history, God has spoken to lost societies and turned them around.

I believe that is happening now.

I’m reading a fascinating book at the moment  – Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World by James Emery White.  He’s a former president of an evangelical seminary and currently pastor of a North Carolina church whose membership is made up of 70 per cent people with no previous church connection.

He gives a well-researched look at the generation born after 1995 which now accounts for about one-quarter of the American population.

It’s a generation that overwhelmingly doesn’t care about God, doesn’t even think about God.

To a large extent, it is a generation that has received very little parental guidance.  And, as many others have noted, it is addicted to electronic devices and everything that goes with that, including exposure to adult material such as pornography at very young ages.

Generation Z has also grown up in a period of social and economic turmoil – including terrorism and the Great Recession of 2008.  It’s a generation where young people feel they will have to manage – or struggle – on their own.

This generation doesn’t know much about God or Christianity.

White says he once spoke about “the Lord’s supper” in his church and a young unchurched woman who had been attending for several months texted him to say how excited she was by the church and finished by asking what food she should bring to the Lord’s supper.  In some ways, it’s a funny story for Christian believers, but it is a telling point – we are speaking to people today who know nothing about Christ.

But here’s the silver lining: People like White are tackling this problem and finding ways to reach the vast unchurched world outside our church walls.

As others have said, we are in a world much like the early church in the Roman empire.  It’s a world where we have to tell the story of Christ as if we were telling it for the first time to people who have never heard of it before.

If it depended entirely on us as human beings, I would despair.  But we are not alone.

There is a great passage in Nehemiah 8 where Ezra reads the books of Moses to the Israelites and they break out weeping as God’s word touches their hearts.  That was the power of God working through his word.

In Isaiah 55:11, God says that his word “will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it”.

As long as Christians are faithful to God and his word, the Spirit of God will take the word of God and transform lives.

And nations will be changed, too, as they were in biblical times and as they have been in the 2,000 years since Christ’s ascension to heaven.

Let them see Jesus

A vision of God led a Pashtun tribal elder to give his life to the Lord in Pakistan.

The elder, who was fleeing the war in Afghanistan, watched a worship service across the border in Pakistan and it moved him, says Terry Law author of The Power of Praise and Worship.

He approached a Pakistani pastor and asked him what it was about the Bible that the pastor had given him a week before.

“Every time I open it,” he said, “I see a vision of a Lamb standing by a glorious throne in front of millions and millions of people.  When I close the Book it goes away.   When I open it up, it comes back.  What is this?”

Law says the Pakistani pastor turned to Revelation 5 and showed the refugee in print what he had seen in the vision.  He explained that Jesus was the Lamb who was slain for him and now stood by God the Father surrounded by millions of redeemed worshipers.

“The Pashtun elder surrendered his life to Jesus on the spot,” writes Law.  “He had been convicted of his sin and saved to eternal life, not because someone had rebuked the darkness that imprisoned him, but because he had seen the shining light of God’s glory in worship.”

This story strikes a chord in my heart.

I have read of similar visions in other non-Christian cultures.

I heard a tape of renowned missionary Jackie Pullinger describing a talk she gave in someone’s home in an Asian country – Japan, I believe.

One of her listeners fell asleep and missed most of her talk.  But he followed her into the kitchen afterwards and asked her the meaning of a vision he had while she was talking.  He had seen a man at a table surrounded by 12 men eating a meal.

She told him about Jesus and the last supper before his crucifixion and the Asian man put his faith in Christ.

As well, today many people in Muslim countries are becoming believers after visions of Christ.

As I think of this, I realize I have become so wrapped up in evangelistic techniques and formulas that I have neglected the wonders of Christ himself.

Some years ago, Pastor Bruxy Cavey said something that has stuck with me ever since.

When people raise objections to the church today, he nods and then asks: “But what do you think about Jesus?”

In the end, that is the question everyone needs to answer.  And the picture of Jesus in the gospels is so compelling that many have given their lives to him.

People need to know Jesus and how much he loves them.

Disturbed, but hopeful

Like many Christians, I am disturbed by a recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Trinity Western University case.

In my opinion, it is a blow against religious rights.  It is a sign of a trend in government against the right of Christian organizations to take a position on social issues that may differ with others in society.

For example, it follows a federal government ruling earlier this year that religious groups must take a pro-choice position on abortion rather than a pro-life stand if they seek government funds for summer interns, many of them helping needy children and others.

The court ruled in favour of the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario against accrediting graduates of the Trinity Western University Law School because the evangelical Christian institution had a code of conduct on sexual relations.  The school said sexual relations should only be between a man and woman within marriage.

The majority in the 7-2 court decision upholding the provincial law society action clearly felt other issues were more important than religious liberty.  Some legal commentators reacted by criticizing the decision – one law professor said it was “embarrassing” – and its impact on religious rights.

Some noted that people with different views than Trinity Western could go to other law schools.  And Trinity Western is a private institution – not a public body which has to abide by other values.

Anyway, it certainly seems that religious liberty is considered a secondary value by many administrators and now the senior judges in the land.

As I say, this is a disturbing trend – but not devastating.

The time may come when many things we believers consider rights today are eliminated.

But I know that the Christian church thrives in tough times.

Just look at the early centuries of the Christian church.  It grew dramatically in spite of persecution.

The early church grew because Christians demonstrated the power of God’s love – in word and deed.  They loved each other and they cared for those who needed help.  So, the gospel they preached fell on receptive ears.

Nothing can stand against that.

Always with me

A great thing about God is that he never gives up on his children.

Sometimes, it’s hard to believe he can stick with me.  And I’m sure others feel the same way.

But, Christ promised that he is always with us believers – “even to the end of the age”  (Matthew 28:20).

Jesus’ conversation with Peter in John 21 gives special hope to anyone who feels he or she has failed the Lord irretrievably.

You may recall the exchange between the two after Jesus’ resurrection.

Peter and other disciples had gone fishing.  I imagine Peter was thinking about returning to his fishing career after he had denied knowing Christ just before the crucifixion.

I am sure Peter was deeply ashamed.  He had boasted that he would stand with Jesus no matter what and yet he denied being Jesus’ follower at the most critical moment.

Now, Jesus appeared on the shore and told the disciples to throw out their net on the other side of the boat and they hauled in a huge catch of fish.

When John said “It is the Lord”, Peter jumped into the water and rushed to the shore.  I love the excitement – typical of Peter – and the joy.

Then, while Jesus and his friends were eating fish on the shore, Jesus posed the same question three times to Peter: “Do you love me?”

Each time, Peter said: “Yes, Lord.  You know that I love you.”

And after Jesus heard Peter’s spoken commitment, he said: “Feed my sheep.”

In effect, he was telling Peter that he was being commissioned to go out and spread the good news despite his failure.

God did the same with David and Elijah in the Old Testament.

David had sex with another man’s wife and then arranged to have the husband killed.  When the prophet Nathan exposed the truth to David, he repented and was punished with the death of his young son.  But God’s hand remained on him and he was used greatly for the rest of his life.

Elijah was one of the few Israelites who stood up to the evil king Ahab and his wife Jezebel.  Yet he lost his nerve and ran away after a great triumph over the prophets of the false god Baal.  He feared Jezebel would kill him.

Despite that, God commissioned Elijah for further tasks before the end of his life and then took him up to heaven spectacularly before the eyes of his disciple Elisha.

If we love God, the Lord can use us.

What a merciful God!  What a loving and forgiving God!

The Jesus way

It was an unlikely match – a group of evangelical churches working with the openly-gay mayor of liberal Portland, Oregon, to meet the pressing needs of that city 10 years ago.

In Kevin Palau’s eyes, it was a return to early Christianity where sharing the good news of Christ was married with loving people who need help.

As the mayor and Palau say, they parked the differences of opinion they had and started working together on matters where they agreed – helping people.

Palau and other pastors in that group of churches haven’t given up their passion for Jesus and for telling others about the good news of Christ.  Conversations about Jesus emerge from contacts between people working together on alleviating the basic needs of the city.

In the process, the local impression of Christians in Portland is changing.  Christians in that liberal city were widely seen as condemning and angry.  It was hard to talk about Christ in that highly-charged atmosphere when Palau and a band of evangelical pastors approached Sam Adams, newly-elected mayor in Portland in 2008.

Some years later, Adams and Palau talked together about their experience in a 10-minute video filmed at a meeting in New York City’s Redeemer Church which you can see at https://vimeo.com/66596545/  It is amazing to hear two people of such different views speaking so positively of their work together.

For Palau, it was the conclusion of a process which began some years before when he began questioning the mass stadium evangelism approach to reaching non-Christians.

He had been working with his father, renowned evangelist Luis Palau, and noticed the declining crowds and hearing local pastors’ doubts about the long-term commitment of new believers.

The Palaus remained committed to large-scale evangelism – particularly, large and joyous festivals in open-air parks – but began talking about other ways of relating to non-believers.

This led to meetings with a large number of like-minded evangelical pastors in Portland, culminating in the offer to Sam Adams to help with the needs the city considered most important.

One of these was schools.

In his book Unlikely: Setting Aside Our Differences to Live Out The Gospel, Palau tells the inspiring story of church members dedicating time and money and God’s love to a down-and-out Roosevelt High School.  They cleaned up and renovated the building, mentored students, built relationships with teachers, and even coached the high school football team which hadn’t won a game in years.

Palau says the motivation for this city-wide initiative – called CityServe Portland – is the example of Christ who ate with and served people despised by the religious leaders of the time.  Jesus stood for truth, but didn’t let that stop him from loving the people he met.

CityServe has also transformed relationships between believers active in this outreach effort.

It’s a great story.

 

Chariots of God

The prophet Elisha’s servant was terrified – hordes of enemy soldiers were massing in chariots outside the prophet’s home in Samaria.

But Elisha told him: “Don’t be afraid! For there are more on our side than on theirs.”

Then, he asked God to reveal his forces to the servant.  God opened the servant’s eyes and he saw a nearby hill covered with angelic soldiers and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6).

Hannah Whitall Smith uses the image of a chariot to make the point that we believers can either be crushed by our circumstances or we can mount them as we might a chariot which will carry us to spiritual victory.

I find this encouraging – even transforming.

Fundamentally, it means believing that nothing happens to us without God’s permission.  And everything God wills for us is for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

That does not mean that we celebrate evil.  God is not the source of evil of any kind.

But he will allow us to go through trials so that we grow in faith and depend more and more on him.  That is part of becoming more like Christ.

In her book The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life, Smith says the problems we face – tough family relations, a hard boss, criticism from friends, even ill health – can be changed into a chariot that takes us deeper into God’s love.

A good biblical example is the apostle Paul’s account of a severe “thorn in the flesh” which he pleaded with God to remove through divine healing.

As you may recall, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 12 that he had an amazing vision of heaven but came down to earth with a “thorn in the flesh” – something he called “a messenger of Satan” to keep him from becoming proud.

He called on God to remove it three times, but the Lord did not.

Paul wrote: “Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.”

And Paul goes on to say: “So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.”

Paul took the “thorn in the flesh” and made it a chariot of victory for God.

So can I.

So can any child of God.

Shrewd as snakes, harmless as doves

As children of God, we are called to walk a perilous path.

On the one hand, Jesus tells us in Matthew 10 that we are to be “shrewd as snakes” – keeping an eye out for evil potholes in the road.

And, on the other, we are to be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) in the face of evildoers.

How is it possible to live like this?

As Jesus suggests in Matthew 10, we have to trust the Spirit of God to open our eyes and provide the guidance and words we need.

When he tells us to be harmless as doves, Jesus does NOT mean that we are to roll over and let malicious people stomp all over us.

In context, Jesus is talking to his disciples before sending them out – two by two – to preach the good news and heal the sick in the surrounding countryside.

He is warning his followers that they will not have an easy time, but that they will have God’s help in the troubles they will face when he is gone.

Above all, he is urging them to remain true to the faith no matter what happens.  We are to stand up for God and his truth in all circumstances – but we are to do it with a spirit of love, not vengeance.

Speaking personally, that’s hard.  When I am hurt or attacked, I tend to react resentfully or defensively.

Yet, Jesus tells me: “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44)

And in Romans 12:14, the apostle Paul says: “Bless those who persecute you!”

Jesus showed us how to live a life that stands for truth while praying for those who hurt him.

He could be angry with people who defiled the temple and with religious leaders who distorted God’s word.

But, dying on the cross, he called out to God: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

“True blessing spoken over someone or something is describing the way God sees them,” says Kerry Kirkwood, author of The Power of Blessing.  “This is a prophetic insight to see the way someone or something is supposed to be, not how they may appear to be at the moment.”

Kirkwood suggests we bless people as we understand how God wants these people to be – though their lives may be far from him at the moment.  In effect, we are asking God to bless them so that they may become the children he wants them to be.

Not an easy task when we are angry or bitter about the treatment we may have received.

But Kirkwood says we are not agreeing with what someone is doing right now.  We are going beyond our feelings and the current situation and calling on the Lord to do what he clearly wants to do in the life of the person who is hurting us.

Something for me to chew on.

Trusting God through tough times

It’s tough to trust God when things look bleak.

But I believe God rewards this kind of faith in the long run – in this life and the next.

Great Bible characters suffered – the apostles Peter and Paul, Joseph son of Jacob, Daniel the prophet, Esther.  And, of course, Jesus.

They had their moments of weakness.  Even Jesus who asked the Father to spare him the trial of the crucifixion.

But, in the end, they stayed true to their faith in the Lord and God blessed their trust.  Their impact on those around them was so pronounced that their faith is recorded in the scriptures.

When I look at these people, I realize the trials I have gone through over the years are small in comparison.  I have so much to learn from them.

A men’s Bible study group I belong to has been looking at the life of  Jacob’s son Joseph in Genesis.  It’s a story of ups and downs – hopes raised and then dashed.

Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was highly esteemed by his slave master and then was then tossed into jail when he was wrongly accused of attempted rape by his master’s wife.  After years in prison, the Lord arranged for him to interpret the dream of the Egyptian king and the king rewarded him with the highest administrative position in the land.

Running through this story is the phrase “the Lord was with him”.  After every setback, Joseph showed he was a responsible, hard-working man.

I am convinced that Joseph’s attitude was fuelled by his faith in God – his trust that the Lord had his future in his hands.

Indeed, he later told his brothers that while they sold him into slavery with evil intent, God meant it for good.  In his new position, he was able to save many from starvation and death in a major famine.

No matter what trial I go through – or my loved ones go through – I must hold on to the fact that God alone is good as Jesus said in Mark 10:18. Not only that, I must remember that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that he loves me and all those who put their faith in him (Psalm 103:11).

As the apostle Paul said, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

The power of the seed

Sometimes, God’s seed sprouts with vigourous life in what looks like rocky ground.

Romanian Christian Richard Wurmbrand, author of Tortured for Christ, tells amazing stories in post-World War II Romania of Russian Communist soldiers eagerly putting their faith in Jesus despite a steady diet of athiesm throughout their lives.

This confirms to me that even a casual word about Jesus – accompanied by love – can have a lasting impact.  All it takes is the courage to speak when the opportunity arises.

I admit I have let many such opportunities pass.

Wurmbrand suffered unimaginable tortures during 14 years in a Romanian Communist jail after the Second World War.  His wife also spent years in a women’s prison and their young son had to fend for himself alone.

Wurmbrand had the distinction of being beaten and tortured under both the Nazis and the Communists because of his work preaching the gospel.  He saw the best and the worst of Christians in prison, many of them dying for their faith.

In one case, the prison guards tried to get a Christian leader to inform on fellow believers by torturing his teenaged son in front of his eyes.  When the leader was on the point of giving in, his son said: “Father, don’t do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent.” The boy died,  the father did not break, but he was “never the same after seeing this”, says Wurmbrand.

Despite all this, Wurmbrand loved the Russian occupiers – not their brutality, but them as people and their openness to God.

“God will judge us not according to how much we endured, but how much we could love,” he writes.

The wonderful thing about Wurmbrand and other Romanians in the underground church was their desire to share the good news of Christ with the invaders, no matter what.

One story gives a flavour of the inspiring stories he tells of Russian soldiers becoming believers – seemingly out of the blue.

A Russian officer had no knowledge of Jesus but was referred to Wurmbrand by a Romanian Orthodox priest who could not speak Russian.  Wurmbrand could speak Russian and used it constantly in witnessing to Russians.

Wurmbrand read to him the Sermon on the Mount and the parables of Jesus.

“After hearing them, he danced around the room in rapturous joy proclaiming, ‘What a wonderful beauty!  How could I live without knowing this Christ!'”

Then, Wurmbrand read to him the passion and crucifixion of Christ without preparing him for it.

When he heard this, “he fell into an armchair and began to weep bitterly.”  He had believed in a Saviour and “now his Saviour was dead”.

“Then I read to him the story of the resurrection and watched his expression change.”

Wurmbrand adds: “Again he rejoiced, shouting for joy, ‘He is alive! He is alive!” He danced around the room once more, overwhelmed with happiness!”

What a story!  What a God!