WHERE DOES IT HURT?

Recently I listened to a podcast from Renovaré, a great ministry/organization focused on Spiritual Formation. The podcast was a conversation with author Philip Yancey led by Nathan Foster.

Yancey has written a new book titled Fearfully and Wonderfully: ‘The marvel of bearing God’s image’. In the book he draws an analogy between pain in the human body and pain in the Body of Christ, the church community. His writing comes after working many years with Dr. Paul Brand, the late surgeon who specialised in treating leprosy in India. Leprosy is an infectious disease within the skin and peripheral nerves leading to a disastrous consequence for those, who because of this illness, cannot feel pain.

Pain is important because it’s real and it signals that something is wrong with the body. It can be physical or emotional and can include such discomforting feelings as anger, sadness, depression and much more.

Pain causes us to pay attention to our bodies. And for the Body of Christ, as the analogy goes, pain is a sign that something is wrong and needs to be addressed.

These days there seem to be a lot of division and hurt in the church over such issues as exclusivity and inclusivity, liberal and conservative, sexuality and doctrine. Rules, standards, grace and love are in conflict and people on all sides are hurting. I know this personally.

So let me continue the analogy by saying the church needs to know the pain is real and then go to the Great Physician who can diagnose the pain and help each of us to care for those in pain. Jesus told his disciples that the signal of a healthy community is loving one another. He prayed for us to be one even as he and the Father are one.

We are all in some fashion broken, sick, or lost but within the community, the Body, we can recognize and address those circumstances that underlie the pain. We need to stop being against each other and instead be with and for one another. Let’s listen to each other out of love. Let’s be attentive to the pain we often hide beneath a veneer of doctrinal faithfulness, social activism and success (just to name a few methods of denial).

Read the way the Apostle Paul puts it in 1Corinthians 12. ‘If one part of the body suffers then every part suffers with it.’

Maybe the question isn’t ‘What do you believe?’ but rather the one we often ask our children, “Where does it hurt?”

NAKED

In order to understand grace we need to understand our own predicament and for that to happen a basic requirement must be satisfied. I get to it by way of two examples from my own life.

These are instances of what I call ‘naked humility’. The first happened in Haiti back in the 1990’s. After a long sweaty day our team was invited for showers. ‘Showers?’ I wondered. ‘How is that possible here up in the mountains?’ Well, we were led to an area behind a family’s home, given large buckets filled with water; a towel and some soap and then told, ‘Go ahead, be our guests.’ Several women watched over us in anticipation of any needs we might have. Privacy would have been on the top of my list. So the team of men looked at one another, felt the sweat dripping down our dirt laden bodies and said, ‘Let’s get on with it.” There we were, buck naked, as the expression goes, in front of each other, which isn’t such a big deal if you know anything about gang showers back in high school days. What was different was being observed, wondering how to cover our manhood discreetly and wash at the same time. It took all of a minute to adapt to our situation and just get refreshed, and laugh at ourselves and our situation while all the time being a bit sensitive to our hostesses who most graciously came and filled up our buckets at a moments notice. Who was it who said, ‘naked I came into this world and naked I shall return.’

It was necessary to be naked in order to get clean. I think of the whole experience in terms of standing before God with the desire to hide part of ourselves, to keep something within ourselves a secret, to be in some regard a bit like Adam and Eve hoping to find some tree leaves to cover ourselves.

But no, there we are before God with everything laid bare, all our thoughts (see Hebrews 4:13) and everything about our lives exposed to God. Not only can’t we hide but also we learn eventually that we don’t want to hide our fears, doubts, wonderings, anger and things that could cause us shame. Before God they are the welcomed thoughts of God’s child who is growing closer to God because of God’s gracious acceptance of all that we are.

Like the prodigal son (Luke 15), who, to some extent, ruined his life and pretty much mad his family distraught; when he returns the Father is waiting to clothe his naked child in the finest apparel. In the same way, God sought out Adam and Eve and clothed them, graciously looking out for them.

The second example of ‘naked humility’ happened in my physician’s office. The doctor needed to perform a digital prostate exam. I expected this as part of the physical. But then he asked if his female student doctor could also perform the procedure. ‘Whoa, hold on there,’ I thought, but what could I say? Well, I survived but all modesty went out the window. There is nothing hidden from a good doctor.

God, I was caused to remember, is the most gracious of physicians and even forgiving our habits that may wound our own spiritual health. God will take the best care of us. And if he inflicts any pain we know it is all to a good purpose.

We bring our naked thoughts before him and he is attentive to us. We bring our sin and he forgives. We convey the best and worst of ourselves to him and discover anew the meaning of grace before our God.

I love this verse: For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) NIV

And when all is said and done by God we learn again the meaning of grace.

‘There is nothing we have done to make God love us less and nothing we can do to make God love us more.’ –quote attributed to Phil Yancey.

One more final word on this subject is an old saying: ‘God loves us just as we are but never leaves us there.’

 

And…..there is no co-pay.

 

 

POINT OF CONTACT

My friend, Larry, says that everyone has a point of contact with God. Somehow and at sometimes there is a way that humans want to touch God. The old saying that ‘there are no atheists in foxholes’ has some merit. People need God. They may call God by another name, higher power, the one upstairs and they may even worship an idol to reach out to God as seen in Acts 17 nonetheless somehow people stop looking inward and they look outward.

Take the woman in Luke 8 who has a serious bleeding problem that has persisted for years and through the care of many doctors but there is still no relief. This would have been an amazing story for Luke to tell since he WAS a physician.

The woman comes up behind Jesus just to get close enough to perhaps touch him in HOPE that some healing might come to her. And as she touches the fringe of Jesus’ robe Jesus himself experiences power going out from him and the woman is healed.

Just a touch, a point of contact. A prayer of help. A baptism. A wedding. An hospital visit. A telephone call. A word of encouragement. Who knows how that point of contact will bring healing and salvation to a soul in need?

You and I are the body of Christ. We wear the garment that people want to touch. Let’s find ways for them to find Jesus in us.

Doctor

A clinician is a doctor whose practice focuses on observation of the patient to provide a diagnosis. A good clinician knows the ins and outs of the body’s system and can detect through their knowledge,  listening skills and observations what the problem might be. I have a doctor who is magnificent at observational diagnosis. I am always amazed at his knowledge, understanding and remedial suggestions.
Jesus was a physician by his own admission. He was the kind of physician who not only diagnosed but provided the remedy for the illnesses of body and soul. And so when he came across a man born blind from birth (John 9) he was not particularly interested in the causes for this blindness as the curious disciples were. They wondered what sin might have caused this? Something from the man’s life or the parents’ lives but Jesus disregarded their question and went to the heart of the matter that in the process of healing this man the presence of God would be evident.
Certainly in modern time doctors look for causes to illness and there were times when Jesus himself knew a particular cause as in the case of demons. But as common Christians our responsibility is to move in at God’s direction and offer the help of prayer and compassionate ministry believing in the power of God to heal and  believing that Christ is still present to heal and forgive.
Let not our curiosity get the better of us. Let love move us to help.