Let’s Not Worship Our Health

As we all contemplate each day’s shifting, winding, unpredictable news alerts about our current distress, it is worth recalling some important and perhaps stabilizing truths that shift the perspective of disciples toward more lofty and comforting thoughts. It is always wise to look at the current state of affairs and reflect on discipleship to see if there are things we might be missing. Let’s remember: God is always active in our lives. He is not a disinterested party. And His involvement has one central purpose: to save us. So perhaps there are some things happening in our world today to pause over and consider.

One of the most discomforting things about this situation is its uncertainty. And that has always been a point of temptation that our adversary exploits at each opportunity. Anxiety is an enemy of faith. And when under its influence, we seek for tangible things to grasp. Who among us has not listened with rapt attention to the daily news conferences, expert advice, science-based projections – all in an attempt to calm our nerves about our uncertainty? The fact is, we don’t like not knowing. But there’s something worse. As Mark Twain noted, “What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”

What We Know

One of the points of emphasis that our experts continue to grapple with is the “mortality rate.” We’re told this is a slippery figure, because it is a ratio of those who have died (the numerator in a fraction), to all those who have been exposed (the denominator in a fraction). The lower we can get this ratio, the better we feel. And many offer comfort by suggesting that we really don’t know the denominator – we don’t know how many people have been infected. (Note: The larger the denominator in a fraction, the lower the ratio, or mortality rate.) But the fact is, we don’t know either number very precisely, and many with ulterior motives might be tempted to fudge these numbers for an outcome that is favorable to their cause. The fact is, it’s hard to find two people to agree on how either number should be computed.

But here’s something we do know. While we are being stroked and relieved when someone suggests the mortality rate is less than 1%, perhaps even less than 0.1%… the truth is this: the human mortality rate is 100%. We are all going to die – save for the final coming of Jesus. That is inescapable. And with that being so, perhaps our focus should shift.

What Are We Worshiping?

Human discovery has brought unimaginable advance for mankind over the past several thousand years. Whatever your belief about the age of the earth, the knowledge mankind has gained just in the last 1000 years is almost unbelievable. Think not? Go back and watch a science fiction film from just 50 years ago that projects into the 21st century or beyond… and what you are likely to find is that what was imagined a half century ago was pretty tame, when compared to what has actually emerged. That’s certainly true with medicine as well.

Health is a good in our society. It is a God-given commodity for our enjoyment. Solomon observed in his treatise on the meaning of life this:

Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. – Ecclesiastes 11.9

God does not begrudge us enjoyment of the things life on earth has to offer. These are blessings from the hand of God, after all. He made the enjoyable things of this realm for man to enjoy and take pleasure in. The final words of the verse offer a notable caution: we will be judged by what role these things play in our lives. But it is our choice, and simply enjoying life on earth is not wrong.

Also, Paul wrote in the New Testament that our physical health is something we ought to pay some attention to:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6.19-20

But this raises an important question. In this time of uncertainty, of fear, of anxiousness… who are we primarily listening to? This disease we are all terrified of, is not anything new. So why are we afraid? Could it be because we have come to worship our health? And now that there is a tangible threat, we are turning to our health experts to deliver us? Does our post-modern world encourage us to believe that our fate lies in the hands of human doctors? Are we convinced that our only hope is to search for a medical cure?

Our obsession with all of the paraphernalia that goes along with this – flattening curves, social distancing, masks, quarantining, etc. – is telling. And it’s not a very flattering tale. We seem convinced that if any of us die from this virus, it would be an extraordinary circumstance and an indictment of our leaders for their failure to protect us. Just who is it we’re worshiping?

Our Lives Are Hidden In Christ

Our health is a good thing – without it we cannot effectively serve God. But our health is not the ultimate thing. Yes, we ought to be careful, take precautions, protect those most vulnerable. But we cannot put our trust in bio-technology or vaccines or medical science in general. We need to remember that, even if we are struck down by this, even if we die from this, it does not threaten our souls.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3.2-3

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman

Portraits: Naaman

In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,… – 1 Corinthians 10.11

The prophetic period of Elisha contains many notable circumstances and occurrences. Perhaps none is as well-known as the episode with the Syrian captain Naaman found in 2 Kings 5. This successful military leader was a man of renown in his own country, but at least partially, for the wrong reasons. Though a capable and decorated leader, he had leprosy – a terrible stigma that marred an otherwise stellar career. But during one of his successful raids against Israel, a young Israeli servant was captured, and she subsequently relayed, through her mistress, to Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel who could address this awful malady. When Naaman was sent by his king to Israel, what ensued is what always happens when God steps into the lives of human beings: divine grace simply and directly overwhelmed a desperate human condition that its subject could do absolutely nothing about. What a wonderful picture for us – and how typical of God to use a foreigner to illustrate His love for all men, and His willingness to address our “leprosy of sin.”

We Can’t Demand Grace

Initially the king of Syria sent Naaman with a letter to Jehoram, the king of Israel. It was not one of humble request, but arrogant demand:

“When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5.6

The king was not only arrogant, but ignorant of how a spiritual relationship with God works. From the human perspective, as the saying goes, we’re in no position to make demands. Jehoram reacted with disdain:

“Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy?” – v.7

Elisha caught wind of the fiasco, perhaps providentially, and stepped in. He sent a message to Naaman to dip seven times in the river Jordan to be cleansed. Naaman was shocked and disappointed. But his servant saw the response of Elisha for what it was: a gift. One that could not be purchased or demanded, or found anywhere else. He pleaded with Naaman, and convinced him that this was far beyond anything he might have hoped for – and Naaman eventually took his advice and was cleansed.

We are in no position to demand of God any kind of merciful or graceful response to our disobedience. Every human experience with God is the same: we are dependent on God’s grace to do what we cannot do. Grace is a gift. And it must be accepted humbly. We cannot dictate the terms if we desire to be cleansed.

We Can’t Repay Grace

Naaman was an ancient celebrity of sorts. When he went somewhere, he traveled in style:

“So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothes.” – v.5

Probably a full complement of horses, chariots, luggage, servants, and travel advisors, too. He and the king apparently figured that a cure for leprosy wasn’t going to be cheap.

After dipping in the Jordan seven times and being cleansed, Naaman went back to Elisha, and the story describes his attempt at reciprocation:

“And he said, ‘Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.’” – v.15

What a typical human response! When someone conveys a gift, we feel indebted. It is a natural response. And we feel like we have to respond in kind, and provide an equal (or sometimes superior) gift in return. While there is nobility in wanting to balance such circumstances, we aren’t very good at receiving blessings from others. It harbors a sense of indebtedness. Naaman felt this way, and he was in a position to give in return far more (or so it seemed) as a means of showing appreciation.

Elisha refused the gift, of course. He knew that the cure was an act of God’s grace, and that grace is free by definition. He understood how inappropriate it would have been to accept such a gift for a pure act of grace that came from God – not from him. Yes, Naaman felt indebted, like any of us would. We don’t like to owe anyone. But Naaman owed nothing. And we owe nothing:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2.8

We are just as mistaken as Naaman to think we can repay God for the gift of salvation. The price for our forgiveness is handled entirely by God – we contribute nothing to it. As Paul wrote earlier in Ephesians:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” – Ephesians 1.7

No one can purchase or repay the cost of grace. It is not obtained by barter or purchase. But even if we could – who could afford such a gift? Who can put a price on the blood of Jesus? Grace is for anyone who is willing to accept it.

We Can Only Accept Grace through Obedience

The story of Naaman is a clear demonstrate of how grace and faith work together (see Ephesians 2.8). Naaman could do nothing to relieve his leprous condition – it was an incurable disease. We can do nothing to relieve our sinful situation, and the price we owe is our life (Romans 6.23).

When told to dip seven times in the Jordan, Naaman recognized clearly what was being asked. He knew there was nothing special about the water of the Jordan. It did not have healing qualities that no other river had. Naaman recognized quite easily what was being asked of him: to receive the gift, subject his will to God’s will. And that’s why he hesitated, because that’s a tough ask. And it’s why we hesitate to obey God today, because it means we put someone else in charge of our life. That tops the list of things human  beings simply do not want to do – let someone “call the shots.”

Eventually, Naaman’s servant convinced him that a humble, obedient heart was the key to resolving this circumstance. And the story teaches us a most valuable lesson about our relationship with God. The only way grace works is when the heart is freed to accept it, and the will is subjected to God through our obedience.

The story of Naaman is a parallel to every story of spiritual success between man and God. Man finds himself in a desperate situation. God reveals a remedy. Man must decide whether he will do things God’s way, or try to find a way out of his dilemma alone. When man chooses God’s way, it always works. When man chooses his own way, it always fails… as Solomon noted,

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. – Proverbs 14.12

The principles of grace and faith remain constant and firm: God’s grace is available to anyone who is willing to subject their will to God’s will.

Naaman teaches us comforting thoughts about our relationship to God. First, anyone can come to God if their heart is right. Naaman was not an Israelite, not of God’s chosen people. But God accepted his obedience.

Second, God offers gifts that are completely beyond what we might imagine. Naaman could never have dreamed their was a cure for his leprosy.

Third, God asks us to humble ourselves before Him, in ways that are largely unrelated to the gift He offers. The message is simple: our obedience is not directly related to God’s gift – there is nothing special in the waters of baptism to wash sin out of our lives. God does that when we obey Him.

Lastly, responding to God in theory is easy. But practically, it is the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Because it means you’re not in charge of your life. Whose will directs your life?

May grace reign in your lives through righteousness.

– Bo Couchman

Portraits: Jonah

In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction,… (v.11).

Paul desired his audience at Corinth – and future readers – to understand the value of examples. Human history is most often written in episodes, that is, in small snippets of events that took place within the general lives of millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never had anything written about them. It is in these episodes that the great successes, and the great failures, of history are recorded, while 99.99% of the rest of the actions of men go unrecorded and, largely, unremembered.

But this series focuses on the episodes – and more specifically the episodes of notable characters in Bible history, and what we may learn by what is “written down for our instruction.”

Jonah appears in scripture during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). He was sent to Nineveh as a spiritual envoy – the Assyrians were to be warned of their judgment at God’s hand, and urged to repent. To say Jonah was reluctant would be to overstate the obvious, but we can learn valuable lessons, because here was a prophet who complained when his mission was a success!

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Are our services too long?

There is perhaps not a religious subject that is at once completely carnal, and at the same time prompts more conflicting and passionate points of view. How long should the worship service last?

Short sermons, concert-like productions, and overall brevity are the order of the day. We want our worship with ‘heat-and-serve’ instructions. As Frank Chesser notes, “the hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with philosophy has found a home in the church.” But why?

The old saying “if a man can’t find oil in 20 minutes, he is drilling with a dull bit” is funny, but does it really apply to spiritual matters? If we are intent on drinking sumptuously from the living water that Jesus promised, what place would time ever play? Seriously, can you get too much “living water,” consume too much “bread of life”? I understand the corporate assembly is not the only place where spiritual nourishment takes place – it ought not even be the primary place. But in truth, for a not-insignificant number of folks, the Sunday service is where they get the bulk of their spiritual feeding.

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Portraits: David

In his warning to the church in Corinth about the danger of idolatry, Paul used the disastrous examples of Israel under the Old Law in 1 Corinthians 10.1-10 – of Israel’s idolatrous worship of the calf, of their sexual immorality, of testing God, of grumbling and complaining – before concluding with this observation:

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction… (v.11).

Paul desired his audience at Corinth – and future readers – to understand the value of examples. Human history is most often written in episodes, that is, in small snippets of events that took place within the general lives of millions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom have never had anything written about them. It is in these episodes that the great successes, and the great failures, of history are recorded, while 99.99% of the rest of the actions of men go unrecorded and, largely, unremembered.

But this series focuses on the episodes – and more specifically the episodes of notable characters in Bible history, and what we may learn by what is “written down for our instruction.”

David appears on the stage of Bible history during the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul. Saul appears at the outset to be just what Israel wanted. But it becomes clear within a short period of time that his character is not fit to lead the nation. He disobeys when he hastily offers a sacrifice before going to battle (1 Samuel 13.8-12). And Samuel the prophet makes clear to him in an audience shortly thereafter that he is not the right kind of man to be king…

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13.13-14

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Yes, Jesus is the Christ

Paul writes in Ephesians 3.3-6 how God revealed to him that which was kept secret and hidden from Old Testament prophets and teachers,

how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of the Messiah, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Jesus the Messiah through the gospel.

Names given to Jesus in the Old Testament foreshadowed things to come. One of the most significant of these names was “Messiah.” The word simply means “anointed one.” Messiah is the Hebrew term. The Greek term translated from Hebrew is “Christ,” which has the same meaning: “anointed one.”

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What would people think?

A story I once heard…

A young man slowly navigated his way around the small town square, in search of a parking place. Nervously he noticed the woman driving behind him, tailgating, and – from the looks of it – cursing his slow driving as she honked and gestured vehemently. As he neared a traffic light, as luck would have it, the light turned yellow and the young man put on the brakes. As he did, he cringed for the possible crash, but to his surprise the woman stopped short of rear-ending him. Barely.

He glanced in the rearview mirror to see the woman waving frantically. As she ranted and raved, dropping her makeup and cell phone, her face turned beet red in rage. Just as she was about to get out of the car, there was a tap on the driver’s side window. The woman glanced to her left and was astonished to see a police officer at her window. Embarrassed, she lowered the window. “Please get out of the car with your hands up,” the officer said.

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The real threat

Recently I heard an excellent sermon (by someone else, obviously) about what the Bible says about homosexuality. The presentation was apt and scripturally-based. I agreed wholeheartedly with the contention and conclusions: homosexual behavior is clearly displeasing to God, if scripture is any measure.

However, I’ve also heard and read a number of socially conservative pundits and commentators breathlessly claim in recent years that the Supreme Court decision of a few years ago, giving legal status to same-sex marriage, amounts to a serious existential threat to “traditional” marriage (one man, one woman, for life). That this court decision undermines the nuclear family unit, upon which every successful civilization has been built. Well, in the words of Gen. Sherman Potter, horsehockey.

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The Gospel is enough

Paul wrote in Romans 1:16,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also the Greek.

It is a verse so common to us, and yet one we fail to appreciate until we see its amazing manifestation.

Over my lifetime I have had the privilege by God’s providence to be able to talk to a lot of people about the gospel. I have no special message or attention-grabbing approach – just the simple gospel truth of Jesus’ saving blood. Sometimes I forget just how powerful a message that is to people who want to hear. Continue reading “The Gospel is enough”

Sin’s deceitful charm

A story recently published in a North Carolina newspaper recounts the tragic circumstances of one Rae Carruth. Carruth was a star football player at Colorado University in the late 1990s. He was drafted into the NFL and enjoyed some early success before injuries seemed to sidetrack his career. But behind the scenes, Carruth’s life was a lagniappe of deceit, indulgence, arrogance, and disaster. His dalliances with drugs, his abusive behavior toward women, and his mismanagement of money were not shocking, but the depth of depravity these problems drove him to cost more than one life. Today, Carruth is incarcerated (though scheduled for possible release later this year), after being found guilty of hiring the murder of his pregnant girlfriend in an apparent attempt to abort the birth of his child. The child was born after its mother was shot, but also after having been deprived of oxygen for more than an hour. Rae Carruth’s son, today 18, has cerebral palsy, and is being raised by his maternal grandmother, who continues to fight off repeated legal attempts by Carruth to gain some element of custody or visitation rights, albeit, for now, only through prison visitation. So far, she has managed to keep Carruth’s son away from his father.

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