Official Publication of the LMS-USA
Volume 9, Number 4
In this Issue:
Healing: A Command Performance?
By Paul C. Reisser, M.D.
Just before Christmas 2001, my good friend of more than 40 years, Scott, died. We played little league baseball together as children and racquetball as adults, and - most importantly - we shared a common faith in Christ. I was also his doctor.
Little more than a year before, I told him about his tumor as he awakened from a colonoscopy, and a short time later added more bad news about metasteses in his liver. He went the distance with radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, maintaining a magnificently positive attitude, as was his habit in all areas of life. But after a year of aggressive treatment the cancer grew explosively in his liver.
Scott talked to his Lord a lot about this situation. He received prayer, and lots of it, from pastors and friends alike. He was too young - not even 50 - for this monster to take his life. He was determined to make it at least until May, when his first grandchild would be born. But before Thanksgiving he developed a relentless and painful hemorrhagic cystitis. Nothing stopped the bleeding, and only parenteral opiates kept the pain at bay. Jaundice, ascites, peripheral edema and finally acute renal failure descended upon him like a series of plagues.
Early in December I had the heartrending task of informing Scott and his wife we had run out of things to do, other than maintaining some degree of comfort; his departure from this life would occur within a matter of days. Family and friends gathered for emotional farewells. Scott wasn't willing to give up, which was typical for him. Yet this led to a dilemma none of us had foreseen.
A few months prior, he and his wife encountered a prominent healing ministry, fervently embracing its teaching and believing his cancer would vanish if they prayed without doubting and continually announced that healing was in fact taking place. He listened to audiocassettes from the ministry's leaders that seemed to energize him. As his condition rapidly deteriorated, Scott read aloud a series of affirmations about the physical restoration underway in his body. Daily his wife spoke to a pastor in another part of the country, who insisted Scott would suddenly rise from his bed, completely healed.
However, this required that they steadfastly override any input to the contrary from anyone - doctors who were reporting what was happening, pastors who were responding accordingly and family members who were becoming increasingly agitated over their refusal to acknowledge current events.
During his last days, his wife, severely exhausted from lack of sleep, developed a flu-like illness with fever and nausea. To complicate her suffering, she was overcome with the notion that she was the center of their titanic spiritual battle because she was the only one still believing Scott would be healed. If he died, it would be her fault for not holding fast to this conviction.
She became dehydrated and hypokalemic, and I finally admitted her to the hospital, three doors down from her now comatose husband. Along with IV fluids and potassium, she desperately needed reassurance that she could both release Scott and embrace God, who had declined to heal him - not because they hadn't prayed enough, not because of her (or anyone's) lack of faith, and certainly not because He didn't love both of them dearly.
By noon the next day, Scott was feeling much better, having departed from his tattered earthly vessel. His wife was much improved as well, physically stabilized and relieved of the burden of feeling responsible for her husband's death.
One of the emotions I had to process in the wake of this intense series of events was a smoldering anger - not only because cancer had taken my friend, but also because the pronouncements of a healing ministry had generated turbulence in his family at a time when calm was desperately needed.
When my patients face life-threatening illness, I always encourage a positive outlook, hope for the future and turning to God for comfort and healing. What makes me queasy, however, is the idea that God works on a quid pro quo ("this for that") basis - quid being something we desperately need and quo being a specified level of faith and fervor among his children.
I see variations on this theme throughout the length and breadth of human religions that routinely attempt to reduce God (or gods) to the dependent variable in a supernatural equation. If we pray, chant, incant, donate, supplicate, self-mutilate and sacrifice (goods, grain, animals, children) long enough, hard enough and frequently enough, according to the formula provided by the sacred text, priest, shaman, guru or TV personality, then God, Krishna, Baal or Cosmic Consciousness will bring us what we want.
Aside from the question of reducing our relationship with our Creator to ordering command performances or attempting to summon a cosmic butler, my other issue with the "do or die" approach to healing prayer is that it paints everyone into a corner. If God has issued an absolute promise that He will heal and our job is to stoke the fire of our faith and cling to that promise, then what do we conclude when the object of our petition dies? Either God is defective - a liar, uncaring, impotent or nonexistent - or we blew it through sin, unbelief or listening to the naysayers. Either conclusion, verbalized or not, leads to estrangement from the One whose comfort we most need when our loved ones are ill and dying.
Having endured the fallout from this type of thinking at close range, I must confess a temptation to gravitate toward the opposite extreme - assuming, unconsciously or otherwise, that God rarely if ever directly intervenes in an illness at this moment in human history. I know God can heal supernaturally, but right now, for whatever reason, He is not doing so. If I ask Him, I'm just wasting my breath. This form of skepticism can produce estrangement from God just as effectively as counting on the healing that is "guaranteed" but turns out to be a no-show.
It would appear that the beginning of wisdom on this subject lies not in striking a balance between these two positions, because neither adequately represents the character of God. Rather, it involves properly framing the entire exercise of prayer. In a wonderful essay entitled "The Efficacy of Prayer," from The World's Last Night and Other Essays. [New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960, p.8] C.S. Lewis (in typical fashion) sounds the right chord:
Paul C. Reisser, M.D., practices family medicine in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Reprinted with permission of author.
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A Christian Counselor Looks at Spiritual Healing
Robert W. Hotes, Ph.D., DCCC
In the companion article by Paul C. Reisser, MD, we find an emphasis on the unique role that faith can play in healing if that faith is clearly separated from superstition and false doctrine. Healing and the role of faith in human well being have always been important parts of the history of Christian belief. There are ample citations in both the Old and the New Testaments of the role that faith and Divine intervention can have in the welfare of human creatures. Christ Himself healed through faith while He was on earth. In these days of dazzling and threatening advances in medical science, Christians may experience a tension between the faith that they cherish and the belief that they have that they are children of a God who cares for them and is concerned with all aspects of their welfare, and the ever-deeper understanding the awe as human creation are developing of the fundamental processes of that creation.
As a Christian counselor and a pastor, I often work with clients and patients who are seeking answers to the mysteries of pain and suffering in this world. At times clients and patients express anger and disappointment that God seems to have ignored their prayers. "How can a just and good God permit such evil and suffering in the world?" is a common question. For some, personal tragedy or tribulations of loved ones or friends lead to a denial of faith and a lashing out in anger.
Such challenging questions move me to consider my own faith and the role that prayer plays in both sickness and health. There are many passages in Scripture that teach us about the healing that can take place through Christian faith and love. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ healed through faith in the power of His father, and He must be the true example for every Christian. Many Scripture passages could be cited in this context, and there is no room to do a full exposition here. Prayerful consideration of the scriptures can provide abundant insights into the place of faith in healing power.
Christian counselors and pastors are often asked to explain mysteries that are beyond human understanding. "Why did my child die?" "How can there be a God if there is so much evil in the world?" Clients and patients often pose these questions as both a cry of defiance and a moan of anguish. And no psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, pastor or parishioner can give a satisfactory answer. No human being can dare in good conscience to hazard an answer to these questions. Such questions touch the essence of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Men and women cannot know the answers to these questions. Not even the angels know the answers to these questions. The Creator alone has such knowledge.
We are able to wonder about so much, yet know so little with certainty. In the first and last analysis, it is faith that gives us any measures of certainty. It is grace through faith that is able to provide for the lack of health and wholeness in the world and to give us the strength to bear that lack of wholeness.
As confessional Lutheran Christians, our faith is based upon the witness and testimony of Holy Scripture, which we believe and know to be the revealed Word of God. Because of this Bible-based belief we can have confidence in the ability of God to be moved by prayer to restore health in spirit and body. But prayer must not be thought of as a kind of manipulation of the Divine will. Rather, faithful prayer is a trusting acceptance of the Divine will, acknowledging our inability as humans to comprehend the nature of that divine will. And because such faith is a free gift from God, we do not have to be concerned with its availability. Faith is always available through divine grace, like the sun perpetually shining upon all of nature. All we are asked to do is to avail ourselves of grace by turning our faces toward the source of its brilliance, through prayer.
The role of faith in healing is often misinterpreted through the bad examples of those who may be considered quacks and charlatans. They may use the mantel of Christian faith to deceive and victimize their followers. Unfortunately, examples of unscrupulous faith healers abound. It is important to realize that abuse of the practice of religion does not negate the utility of religion in the plan of individual salvation and healing. Religion rightly understood, after all, is faith put into action within the community. For every charlatan and faith healer without scruples, there are myriad's of devoted Christians who are dedicated to allowing the Word of God to transform and heal souls through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Spirituality is not magic. It is not control over the divine power. Spirituality and its practical form, religion considered as an expression of faith, is part of the history of all of the healing arts. From the very origin of the word, religion signifies a "tying back" of man's sinful nature to the reality of God through healing grace. For us and for all human kind this "tying back" has been accomplished once and for all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Some years ago I had the opportunity to participate in a colloquium certain upon the reality of faith to healing and wellness. Part of the program was panel in which professionals representing a variety of philosophies and religious persuasions discussed the role of faith in the healing arts. During the course of the session, a pointed discussion between a Muslim surgeon and a European professional who alleged to profess atheism developed. The surgeon claimed that, for him, all healing was in the hands of God. The atheist loudly proclaimed that it was foolish to hold that faith had any part in healing, and that he, for one, would not want to be operated on by a physician who did not trust his own abilities, but who needed to entrust his patients to the hand of God. "Yes, I understand what you are saying," the Muslim doctor said, "but when I operate, I am the hand of God."
Without the blessing of a faith in Jesus as the Savior, this surgeon was still able through divine grace to affirm a truth that is valid for all those who believe in the Fatherhood of God. We humans all have responsibilities to act through grace to assist in the exercise of God's will. For this reason, it is essential that we learn to respect our bodies and to do what is possible to preserve and guard our health. We are given the power to be the hand of God in healing hearts and banishing sin through the power of grace and the Gospel.
Unfortunately, some Christians feel that the gift of faith guarantees that God will change the course of events to fit their conception of what is good and proper. Holy Scripture amply illustrates the fact that God's ways are unknowable by man in the light of reason. As a Christian counselor, pastor and licensed mental health professional and psychological researcher, I know that there is no substitute for careful, prayerful study of the Scriptures. May I suggest that you do a personal Bible study to gain insight into the nature of healing through grace. Faith in God's healing grace does not mean that we can presume to replace God's will with our own. The perfect prayer asks that God's will be done. It does not suggest that man can seek to manipulate that divine will.
Man has always been tempted, from the Garden forward, to try to manipulate God's will. Under the Old dispensation, the Hebrew people were required by strictly formalized laws to make sacrifice to God in order to expiate for transgressions. Christ, through His saving action freed mankind from the effects of the guilt of original sin, once and for all time, removing the need for continuing human sacrifice. But suffering was not removed. Sin was conquered, but the results of sin remain. These results of sin are especially evident in our tendency to want to trust in reason and our own powers of understanding, instead of the will of God.
A recent scientific article describes a study which provides some evidence that stimulation of specific areas in the human brain may result in the perception of "out - of - body" experiences. According to the authors, it is possible to electrically stimulate specific areas of the brain to produce feelings that the patient reports as being outside of the body looking back on it. Commentators who wished to defend an unbeliever's position were quick to see in this experiment evidence that aided their denial of the existence of heaven and of God. Yet no such denial is possible based on such evidence. Exactly how God's grace works in healing is a mystery. God can use the physical and natural world and all its attributes to His honor and glory. We are instruments by which that glory may be attained. As Dr. Reisser suggests, some of processes relating spirituality to healing may be understood through science, and others may not. True faith is not challenged by knowledge or uninformed skepticism. One of the greatest gifts that God gives His people through faith is wholeness in both body and spirit. "Healing" and "wholeness" are closely related. Healing and connection to God have been part of religious traditions throughout the ages. As Christians we know that it is only through Christ that we can be made whole, and that it is through the name of Christ alone that we are healed. Our faith is not based upon superstition. It is a reasoned confidence in the revealed Word of God in both the Old and the New Testaments.
Before God's promise to the people of Israel, it was common for humans to attempt to influence the decisions of the gods through actions and sacrifices. Through the Old Covenant with Israel, God required strict adherence to regulations regarding sacrifices. This reliance upon works crept into Christian practice in the Middle Ages. Roman Catholic practices suggesting that God's will can be affected directly through specific human works, such as ritualized prayers to earn indulgences, resulted. Luther and the evangelical reformers reaffirmed the essence of the Gospel message through understanding that God's free gift of grace through faith by Christ's unique sacrifice on the cross.
It is essential for us to remember that faith does not imply that we can force God's will to change through any human act. Prayer does not "change God's mind." Rather, through grace, prayer changes our minds to be in accord with God's will. Thinking that we can change God's mind can lead to painful disappointment. Miracles do happen, however. I, for one, have experienced them. One of the greatest miracles imaginable is that prayer can help us to acknowledge the grace from God that permits us to accept His will with joy and love, although this acceptance entails pain and suffering. One may not be able to see the healing results of prayer. But faith can always make us feel God's love through faith. After all, when we pray to the Father, as Jesus taught us, asking "Thy will be done," we are speaking about God's will ... not ours.
Pr. Robert W. Hotes, LMS-USA, works as a counselor at St.John's Hospital, Springfield, IL. He is also pastor of St. Phillips Lutheran Fellowship and All Saints Mission in Springfield. He is a licensed mental health counselor and holds certification as a Christian Counselor at the doctoral level.
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Luther on Prayer
Praying is the work of Christians alone; for before we are Christians and believe, we know neither for what nor how we are to pray. And even though a man prays most devoutly, the spirit of grace is not there; for the attitude of the heart is simply this: Dear Lord, take into consideration how well I live and how much I suffer; or the merit of this and that saint, the intercession of good works of pious people, etc. There is no faith in the divine grace and mercy through Christ, and the heart always remains uncertain, unable to conclude that it is heard without fail. It wants to deal with God only on the basis of its own or other people's holiness, without Christ, as though God should humble Himself before us and let us actually oblige Him to grant us grace and help and thus become our debtor and servant. This does not merit grace but wrath; it is not prayer; it is mocking God.
Rather, a truly Christian pray should and must proceed from the spirit of grace, which says: I have lived as I could, but I pray Thee, do not take my life and actions into consideration but Thy mercy and goodness, promised through Christ, and give me what I ask for His sake. In this way we forsake ourselves in prayer in real, genuine humility and cling to the promise of grace alone, firmly confident that God will hear us because He has bidden us pray and has pledged us a favorable reception.
For this reason Christ Himself also significantly adds the phrase "in My name." He wants to teach that without faith no real prayer can be offered and that apart from Christ no one is able to pray a single letter that is worth anything before God and acceptable to Him. This is the nature of the prayers of all Turks, Jews, monks, and hypocrites. For all appear before God with the notion that He should take into consideration their own merit and holiness or those of another and commend and crown them because of that, as the hypocrite prayed (Luke 18:11): "God, I thank Thee that I am not as other men are," as if to say: I am not at all in need of Thy grace and mercy but have well merited a favorable hearing. He does not want to take from God; but he wants to give to Him, so that God must pay and be glad that He gets a man so holy as His friend. But [v. 13] God says no to this. He will neither hear nor heed the prayer of anybody unless he comes relying on His pure grace and mercy in Christ and says with the publican: "God, be merciful to me, a poor sinner" (Luke 18:13).
From his exposition of John 14:13-14
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Let's Teach the Bible
by Frisbie L. Young
No one is ever too old to benefit from Bible memorizing, and only babies are too young. Bible verses can be said over and over just as Bible songs can be sung again and again to very young children.
Memorizing Bible verses Is a feature of the Sunday school lessons offered the very youngest pupils. It is a suggested feature of every lesson in every grade in our present Sunday school course of study. Memorizing Bible passages is an important phase of confirmation instruction. It should be emphasized also in high school and adult Bible class teaching.
Memorizing is a widely used Bible teaching technique. Let's see if we can discover ways of improving our use of it.
Memorizing is man's oldest academic teaching method. An old Latin proverb says: "Repetition is the mother of learning." Repetition is the simplest and most effective way to memorize. If we repeat any sequence of words enough, we "know it by heart." If we review it enough, we are able to "say it from memory."
Modern means of communication make memorizing less necessary- as a teaching technique than it once was, but they do not lessen its many satisfactions for the learners who still memorize many things. We shall never be able to get along without it in teaching. Memorizing satisfies the sub-conscious mind as no other learning does and serves the immortal soul as no other learning can. We are mistaken if we think that memorizing is out as a teaching technique in modern education. Rather it is simply that memorizing is no longer the only teaching technique used. We encounter most of our difficulty with memorizing in parish education when we insist that memorizing is the only teaching technique we will use. Difficulties arise most often with memorizing as a Bible teaching technique when we insist that only one kind of Bible memorizing is important: "message-memorizing"- storing Bible message verses in the mind and heart. This is important memorizing, but it is not the only Bible memorizing that is beneficial.
Memorizing is used very much, and always will be, as a teaching technique in secular subjects in "symbols-memorizing": words, letters, punctuation, parts of speech, etc., in reading; numbers, tables, etc., in mathematics; finger, melody, and rhythm patterns, notes, scales, chords, etc., in music. We do well to recognize the importance of "symbols-memorizing" in parish education, and especially in Bible teaching. It will mean considerable memorizing, not of a message, but of symbols which aid in finding messages in the Bible. It is also important for those who are not adept at memorizing to learn well the Bible symbols: names and locations of books of the Bible, names and numbers of important chapters, references of key verses, etc. It has been found that many pupils memorize these more readily than Bible verses and also that many remember them longer. One thing is certain, if our pupils forget the message of the verse and have not learned their way around in the Word of God, they haven't much left to them.
There is another kind of Bible memorizing that should be emphasized for its own particular worth and special appeal. It may be called "worship-memorizing." It is akin to "message-memorizing" in that passages of the Bible are memorized for their message, but also for the purpose of using them in worshiping God. Teachers will do well to help pupils determine which verses, as they appear in the lessons, may be memorized for this purpose. It gives pupils a new incentive and an added motive for memorizing. Teachers may assign additional passages and help pupils to memorize them by using them in class devotions. Entire psalms may be memorized for this purpose. Ways should be found to use memorized Bible passages with our pupils and to help them use them by themselves. Exercise is one of the fundamental laws of learning and it certainly holds true in Bible memorizing. We lose what we do not use. "Symbols-memorizing" and "worship-memorizing," if properly stressed and effectively achieved, will add in this respect to the blessings of "message memorizing" because they will encourage using whatever is memorized of the Bible.
(Reprinted from the Lutheran Teacher, Nov. 1950)
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It may be a little late to be thinking about confirmation materials for this year. But it is never too early to begin evaluating the material now being used and to consider what instructional material is available. Two confirmation programs are mentioned below. The first is the Reu Catechism which the LMS has received permission to reprint, the second is the Tanner Junior and Senior Confirmation Books which are reprinted and available through Ambassador Publications (AFLC).
An Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism together with Four Supplements, by M. Reu.
"In preparing this volume, I have been guided by the conviction that any explanation of Luther's Small Catechism should merely lead the pupil into the wealth of evangelical truth contained in the Reformer's own terse explanation. Therefore I have shunned every thought of supplementing Luther's text with additional material from dogmatics or sacred history and have followed no design of elaborating the Five Chief Parts into a theological system, possibly by constructing an overture from one part to another. Likewise I have purposely avoided giving an independent explanation of it as the source of material to be taught. . . . I feel that by observing these principles one can best apply to the life of the child the material contained in the Catechism - and this touching of the everyday life of the child is the important thing in our religious instruction." (From the preface by M. Reu)
Tanner's Junior and Senior Confirmation Books.
Tanner makes an overview of The Old and New Testaments central to confirmation instruction. "The Bible is the history of the fulfilling of God's promise that the woman's seed should crush the serpent's head.
There runs through the Bible a definite purpose as well as a definite plan. The purpose is the coming of Jesus Christ to destroy the power of Satan and to establish the kingdom of heaven. The plan consists of the long, careful preparation for the coming of Christ and of the fulfillment at his coming.
Biblical history underlies Biblical teachings and knowledge of this history is necessary to the understanding of these teachings. A good confirmation instruction should furnish to the children not only knowledge of the way of salvation, but of the historic development of God's purpose and plan that produced the way of salvation in Christ." (from the Forward by Tanner).
For further information or to order:
Reu Catechism - LMS, P. O. Box 31, Chetek, WI 54728
Tanner Catechisms - Ambassador Pub., 3110 E. Medicine Lake Blvd., Mpls., MN 55441
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The LMS Women's Bible Study of Hebrews
The Women's Bible Study for 2003 was announced in the last issue of Table Talk. Maureen Spears of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Indianapolis, IN, wrote the study. This is the first, in what will hopefully be a series of annual Bible Studies for the women of the congregations of the LMS.
The study was designed for use by women's organizations with the idea in mind that most women's groups, while meeting monthly, often take a month or two off, or use a monthly meeting for a special program. So, this study consists of ten lessons. But you can use the study in any way one might wish. It might be used for individual or group study. It might be used as a monthly study or as a study for a group that meets weekly. And, of course, its use need not be limited to women.
The study can be ordered by contacting either St. Matthew Lutheran Church (see address on the back of this newsletter) or by downloading from the internet at - lms_wbs_hebrews.doc
The downloaded version is in 8 1/2" by 11" format and can be duplicated for use by individuals or groups in your church.
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The LMS-USA is a Biblical, Confessional, Evangelical, Liturgical, Congregational
expression of the universal (catholic) orthodox Church on earth. It is a
'Forum by Subscription.' As a 'Forum' the intent is that there will be an
ongoing discussion of theological issues and concerns among clergy and lay
alike. The LMS-USA meets annually for a Theological Conference and this
publication, besides carrying news of the Ministerium and Synod, functions
also as a vehicle for this continuing dialogue.
For information or to make comment contact:
2837 East New York St.,
Indianapolis, IN 46201
P. O. Box 31
Chetek, WI 54728
email - email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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