Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO on 3/15/09.
"And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you" (Rom. 8:11).
This verse has arrested me since I first saw it through Spirit focused eyes so long ago. What does it mean, I wondered then. Since I was on a works treadmill at the time, I concluded that the secret to accessing the power of God to heal our bodies lay in somehow persuading the Spirit to dwell in me. If I could be good enough, pure enough, and diligent enough, then I had healing in my back pocket and God on my side. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but like the best laid plans of mice and men, this one went awry as well. Looking back on my journey through religious dogmas of many stripes and flavors, I see that self effort, works, pushing myself to get ahead, always appealed to me because by nature, I am a worker, a doer, a striver, a pusher and shover to climb, if not to the top of the heap, at least close enough to see the top. Add spiritual glory to the physical rewards such as good grades, ability to make money, respect of ones peers, and the need to excel is almost unstoppable in its seductive appeal.
In His mercy, God grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and arrested my head long plunge into mindless self-effort. How? By seeing to it that my works failed, of course. I asked Lenny if he remembered my oft expressed opinion when we were losing our house, that God could play in our pocketbooks, but I really hoped He wouldn't play in our bodies. Lenny smiled at me and said, "That's what you said, but not what I said." What he had prayed before our trials began, was for God to do whatever it took to bring him into His heart. That prayer filled me with a great and dreadful unease because I considered it a very risky petition; and indeed, it was a portend of what was to come.
The idea that we can limit where God "plays" or works, or moves is a fool's notion at worst, and a childish conclusion at best. Karl Barth observed that God only moves one way: FORWARD. In a phone conversation about this topic, Harry Fox added that all the trajectories in the Bible are unidirectional, and none are reversible as God is determined to bring His will to pass. He only has one agenda, I've noticed, which is to open our eyes to see Him as He is. To do that, He uses as many means and methods as there are people on the planet, but there's a familiar theme to our tribulations sent by a loving Father; they produce the heat and pressure necessary to produce a diamond from a lump of coal, which we all were when He began with us. Once He showed me His unconditional love for His creation, and that the devil has nothing to do with what happens to me because God is absolutely sovereign, I began to relax and ponder WHY God sends so much grief and turmoil our way.
Trying to live the Christian life on your own steam takes a lot of time, energy, and self deceit. The Jews in Jesus' time had schemed and planned the best way to cut corners with the Law's intractable rules. According to some scholars, in advance of travel on the Sabbath, they would put a few personal items down the road at various spots, picking them up as they traveled the next day, so that they could say they hadn't traveled farther from "home" than the Law allowed. They wormed out of caring for their parents by claiming they needed the money for the poor, when in fact, they kept it for themselves. William Shakespeare may as well have been describing their brand of religious self-deception, when he wrote, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." (Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5). That's a statement which could describe some clerics and politicians as well, but Jesus directed His scathing comments to the religious leaders of His day: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matt. 23:23).
Such hypocrisy is the natural consequence of trying to do it on your own. When you fail, always the inevitable result of self effort, you still may try to put on a good show, to play the game. That may fool the neighbors or the brethren at church, but it does NOT impress God at all! There's not one thing we can do to persuade the Spirit of God to dwell in us, not one! Why? Because He is a GIFT, free for the asking, given by grace alone from the One who gives His all to us, every single day. Our religious rituals and good deeds may impress our Sunday School Teacher, Pastor, or Priest, the Principal at school, our employer, our family and friends, but they will not gain us the eternal reward we seek, or healing in this life either.
What does it mean to quicken our mortal bodies? I certainly hoped it meant healing, and until God tells me to give up that hope, I will not quit expecting divine action in my body and anyone else's I'm praying for, including many of you. Yet He tarries, as we all know. People suffer horrible pain, hideous ravages of both disease and attempted cures, and many times, the afflicted die while we're praying up a storm for God to heal them. What went wrong? Did they not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them? Did they fail to repent, confess their faith, plead the blood or other sure fire remedy? Did we fail to have faith? Did they?
While I'm on the subject of righteous works, is it really necessary to immediately praise God when you crack your head on a shelf, or your friend has a stroke, or your car breaks down on the highway? Is that really how to show you are surrendered to God? It sounds very righteous and if it's genuine, it's amazing to me. On the other hand, if you're like me and howl and cry and storm around for a season, be of good cheer. You're in good company, for Job whined and wailed about his unfair treatment while loudly protesting his innocence (turns out he really was innocent of secret sin); Paul, who certainly understood the sovereignty of God better than the other New Testament writers, complained and seemingly entertained a tiny bit of self pity in the process (II Cor. 11:23-33).
Paul also experienced failure to get his prayers for his own healing answered in the affirmative. He believed his "thorn in the flesh" was given to keep him from being puffed up and conceited because of the great revelations he had received; he expressed God's reason for not removing it: "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness" (II Cor. 12:7,9). One day last week, I asked Lenny how he stands the pain which is his constant companion. His answer was short and profound: "He give me power for the day." Living with this sweet man who trusts and loves God with his whole heart is a profound testimony to me of God's grace and faithfulness in the midst of pain. How I long to see God heal him; how I've prayed for such a life altering event. Had God not shown me that He truly does work "all things together for good," I could not have borne the cross of watching him suffer. Yet, his peace is continual and his faith, which he knows is Christ's faith, is unshaken. Glory to God for such mysteries, such unfathomable grace.
Meanwhile, what does it means to have our mortal bodies quickened? John Gavazzoni has written extensively and passionately about the divine truth revealed in the incarnation. In Christ, God has not only glorified, but also sanctified our flesh, our humanity, our mortal bodies, improbable as that surely seems. How this incomprehensibly difficult task is accomplished is a mystery to the human mind, but that it is so, we do not doubt. How else would anyone EVER get to heaven? The staggering difficulty of that feat is no doubt the genesis of religion's conclusion that God will have to burn 99% of His children in an everlasting hell because so few will be good enough to be saved. Paul, who expressed God's plan of the ages, hidden from the foundation of the world, but now revealed in Christ, knew the answer to the riddle of how men got so bad, and how anyone could ever be saved: "For GOD has ALL men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them ALL" (Rom. 11:32, Phillips).
How that chafes the Pharisaical spirit! How it grates on the religious Christian who has denied himself the alleged pleasures of sin that he may gain glory. How it gladdens the heart of those of us who have tried and failed so many times! Barth paraphrased Paul's magnificent declaration by making one of his own: "All men are standing on the same step before the righteousness of God!" Hallelujah for grace, grace, unending GRACE, grace which makes you giddy with joy unspeakable and full of glory; grace which sets your feet to dancing and increases the wattage of the Light and Faith within you tenfold.
By the way, Paul also occasionally had difficulty getting his prayers for others answered, which may be why he extolled God's grace so often. Regarding his fellow laborer and brother, Epaphroditus, Paul wrote the Philippian brethren: "For he...is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died. But God had mercy on him, and not on him only but also on me, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow" (Phil. 2: 26-27). (That certainly does not sound to me like Paul was thanking and praising God for Epaphroditis being ill). Paul needed Epaphroditis, whose work on earth clearly was not yet finished, and so God spared him, as He has done for so many of His children. In the temporary fires of alienation, financial insolvency, or incurable illness, there is a God ordained purpose in suffering which brings to us what Paul described as "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (II Cor. 4:17). He assured us that "our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body" (Phil. 3:20-21).
Paul's means of surviving beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, snakebite, persecution, deprivations, undeserved jail sentences, and everything else that he received from God, was not an action, confession, or work on his part, but the sure knowledge gained from experiencing such trials, that, "I can do everything through him who gives me strength" (Phil. 4:13). He concluded, "For Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (II Cor. 12:10). No wonder Sinclair Lewis called God's system "A Topsy Turvey Kingdom." It really is incomprehensible to the mind of man, but "we have the mind of Christ" (I Cor. 2:16), to help us understand God's plans for our lives.
How do we access the mind of Christ? That's a God job from start to finish, my friends, and I can no more tell you how to do it than I can fly to town and back. My experience, however, is that when I have come to the end of myself, and by grace, surrendered my struggle to God, then, and only then, God steps in and carries me through to what He wanted for me all along. When suffering has done its perfect work in us, we resonate to Romans 5: 3-5: "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." Finally, we understand in our spirits that it is God at work, "to will and to act according to HIS good purpose" (Phil. 2:13).
Accordingly, I perceive by the Spirit that all the hardships and pain people worldwide are suffering now, has been given by the Father so that everyone, believers and unbelievers alike, will know Him as He is. The Hebrew writer described this scary process sort of like a "God quake": "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken, as of what has been made, in order that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:26-29). He carried Lenny and me on eagles' wings through our financial fires and floods, and we believe He will do likewise in other areas of our lives. What He freely gave us, He gives everyone else as well. "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).This grand old hymn is truly a balm for the aching heart: "Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; As thou hast been thou forever wilt be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; All I have needed thy hand hath provided; Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!"
"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness" (Lam. 3:22-23).
All of us who hope in Him shall never be ashamed or left desolate. As our good friend Marvin Cope reminds us, we hope because we know the end of the book, which is God's glory revealed so that all flesh shall see it together. And, just think, we know the Book's Author personally.
Father, we thank You and praise You for Your faithfulness in meeting our needs, for comforting our hearts, wiping the tears from our eyes, and granting rest for our weary souls. We're so blessed, Abba, that You invite us to fellowship with You. Your table is set in the presence of our enemies, and we fear nothing, for You are our sword and shield, our very great help in time of need. We bless Your holy name and surrender to Your perfect will. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
John Gavazzoni's Writings
Surrendering to God is Harder than Giving a Cat a Pill
Working for Jesus? Surrendering to God, II Fighting the Good Fight? Surrendering to God, III
A Covenant with Death? Surrendering to God, IV
The Family Fix, Surrendering to God, V
Echoes From Sodom, Surrendering to God, VII
Judgment: His or Ours? Surrendering to God, VIII
Why did Christ have to die? Surrendering to God, IX
The Pearl of Great Price,Surrendering to God, X
Tested by Fiery Trials, Surrendering to God, XI
Sibling Rivalry, Surrendering to God, XII
When Parents and Churches Fail, Surrendering to God, XIII
The Blessed Hope of His Appearing, Surrendering to God, XIV
Does God Need Us? Surrendering to God, XV
Does God Need Our Faith? Surrendering to God, XVI
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
email@example.com This site was created on 03/11/09
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister