Monday, November 28, 2011

"When God Doesn't Heal Now" (Larry Keefauver)

TITLE: When God Doesn't Heal Now
AUTHOR: Larry Keefauver
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2000.

I got this book several years ago. It was not read until recently as the catchy title keeps coming back to me. This is a book that attempts to correct misunderstanding of healing, and to debunk myths surrounding faith healing, and faith healers. It is evident that the author has encountered disappointments among people whose loved ones were not healed. They then enter into the guilt-zone of not praying hard enough, not enough faith, upset about unconfessed sin, and the confusion when certain faith healers did not heal as promised. The title of the book is important. Keefauver is not so much interested in the 'why' but in the WHEN. This is similar to Harold Kushner's world famous book, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Keefauver argues that the why-question tends to drown a person in perpetual mystery and frustration. The 'when' extends the hope and allows the practice of faith.

The author is careful to distance himself from the kind of myth perpetuated by Kenneth Copeland, where physical healing has 2 dimensions: in time and in space (41). Instead, Keefauver suggests:

MYTH: "If you stand fast in faith, trusting Jesus, you will be healed in time and in space."

FACT: "If you stand fast in faith, trusting Jesus, you will be healed eternally even when you do not see your physical healing manifested now. "(41)

Other myths include:

  • "Believe and you will be healed now" (Truth: It is not faith but God who heals.)
  • "Great faith heals." (Truth: we cannot quantify units of faith.)
  • "God must heal with we believe." (Truth: God is not servant to our faith demands)
  • "God only heals those who believe." (Truth: God can heal anyone, not just believers)
  • "The key to our healing is our faith."  (Truth: Key to healing is in Christ, not in our faith)
  • "When I confess my healing, I will be healed now."  (Truth: Confession of sins is chiefly about salvation, not physical healing)
  • "Persistent faith will cause healing to manifest." (Truth: persistent faith is not about persistent unto physical healing, but the race to complete the life of faith.)

The way to understand faith is this:

"It is more than believing in your heart that God heals. The truth is that God is the God who Heals. Faith is trusting the God who heals. Faith is a radical, absolute surrender to the God who Heals. Faith is not holding on for your healing but holding on to the God who Heals." (40)

Right on. Faith is on the God who heals, not on the healing.  Keefauver debunks the myth of faith healing which puts one's own faith (or lack of it) as a reason for lack of healing. He debunks the myth of some kinds of prayer that hinders true prayer. He deals with the myths of disease as a punishment from God, and the myths of faith healers.

Then he introduces his understanding of God's timing, sovereignty and true faith. What is not clear is physical healing. What is very clear is the eternal salvation and full healing in eternity. He then poses some truth statements:

  • Truth #1 - "Visible Facts are Not Total Reality" (132)
  • Truth #2 - "Faith Walking is Prayer Walking" (134)
  • Truth #3 - "God and His Word can be Trusted" (137)
  • Truth #4 - "Faith Focuses on the Healer, not the Healing" (138)

He then presents 40 steps to finding true health and healing.

My Comments

Keefauver has participated in many of the healing events by prosperity and health preachers such as Kenneth Copeland and Peter Youngren. While he does not agree with all of their teachings, he still admits God's sovereignty and timing, even quoting one healing event in Youngren's rally (118-9). While he acknowledges some healing, Keefauver's main point is that the Christian ought to give God the glory regardless of whether there is physical healing or not. This I believe is the most important point in this book. There is a tendency for people picking up this book thinking that it is a book that teaches one the formula for true healing. No. This book deals with the aftermath of 'failed' expectations of healing. It deals with what to do next. It corrects erroneous thinking surrounding faith and healing. It deals with the re-orientation of man's focus on healing, to God.

The author tries hard to give some practical applications, like the 40 steps to God's Healing through the Word. Unfortunately, it presents some problems. Not only is it too cumbersome and long, it is guilty of introducing another formula for healing. It may give the beginner a kickstart. It may give the new Christian hope in following through the steps. Its key strength is in debunking myths.

The fact is that everyone's faith journey is different. It is important for readers to discern what is best. Perhaps, there are no 40-steps. Perhaps, there is only a part or a combination of them. What is most important is that at each step, there is a renewed focus on God. God alone.


Monday, November 21, 2011

"Questions of Life" by Nicky Gumbel

TITLE: Alpha: Questions of Life - A practical introduction to the Christian Life
AUTHOR: Nicky Gumbel
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 2003.

One of the most pressing needs in the church is continued Christian Education. This is necessary not just for young believers but also the older ones. For the young, they need an introduction to the Christian faith that is not only theological, but practical as well. For the older, they need to be reminded.

One can argue that true theology is practical. Unfortunately, there is too much anti-theology mindset going around in the Church today, especially among older believers. With cynicism, some people are also easily dismissive of theologians, preferring to breathe in their own air of anti-intellectualism. This is due in part to some over-zealous students, professors, pastors, and teachers of theology who unwittingly speak high-sounding words in an unintelligible way. The result is that people get put off when they equate such heady words with common theology. Not this book. Instead of heavy theological lifting needed, readers both young and old will find it a fresh invitation to ask basic questions without settling for easy answers.

Gumbel poses 15 basic questions as follows:
  1. Christianity: Boring, Untrue, and Irrelevant?
  2. Who is Jesus?
  3. Why did Jesus Die?
  4. How can I be sure of my Faith?
  5. Why and how should I read the Bible?
  6. Why and how do I pray?
  7. How does God guide us?
  8. Who is the Holy Spirit?
  9. What does the Holy Spirit do?
  10. How can I be filled with the Spirit?
  11. How can I resist Evil?
  12. Why and how should we tell others?
  13. Does God heal today?
  14. What about the Church?
  15. How can I make the most of the rest of my life?
All of these questions are pretty basic. Yet, in churches, people continue to ask these basic questions. This book is a great supplement to the highly popular ALPHA courses worldwide. The chapters are written in a very easy to read manner, filled with illustrations, discussion questions, and inviting topics. The main benefit is not the giving of answers, but the way it generates discussions and further questions. If you are thinking of getting the book to learn Christianity 101, this book is certainly a good start.

Sometimes, the most fundamental things we need are simply basic.


Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Wisdom of Each Other" (Eugene Peterson)

TITLE: The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation Between Spiritual Friends
AUTHOR: Eugene Peterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998.

This little book is weighty, full of wisdom, and rich with insights. Eugene Peterson, most famous for his paraphrase of the Bible in the MESSAGE, gives readers an intimate look into conversations with spiritual friends. This is one of 5 books on the 'Growing Deeper' series, which was 1999 Gold Medallion book winner in the inspiration category. While all touches on spirituality, each covers a different aspect of it. Walter Wangerin touches on prayer in "Whole Prayer." Luci Shaw engages meditation on the soul in "Water my Soul." Calvin Miller deals with teaching and preaching in "Disarming the Darkness," while Philip Yancey provides reflections on Church in "Church, why bother?" Peterson's contribution is to see spirituality, not from the standpoint of a sage teaching the student, but a peer-to-peer sharing of spiritual journeys. In a world where conversations tend to become deterministic, where command and conquer tends to become the defacto function of language, Peterson helps us see language beyond mere utilitarian, to one that is sharing each other's presence. In the tradition of letter writings, like the Apostle Paul's epistles to the churches, Martin Luther's letter to his barber, CS Lewis's Letters to Malcolm, and many more, Peterson contributes this book by writing it to a fictional 'Gunnar Thorkildsson.'

Peterson, begins each letter with "Dear Gunnar" and ends with his firstname, 'Eugene.' Gunnar is a person whom Eugene gets to know since the former's graduation from university. The conversation revolves around calling, Church going, marriage, hymn singing, the weather, prayer, spiritual life, theology, and many more. He also makes a critique on modern technology on how people seems more captivated by the man-made things and fails to notice enough of God's natural creation.  Unlike conversations that seem to present a question followed by an answer, Peterson is masterful in posing questions for Gunnar to probe deeper, himself. Rather than giving answers, Gunnar is encouraged to find his own answers. Rather than dishing out set techniques or sophisticated solutions, Gunnar is urged to find God in the most natural and simple way. Peterson may appear to be harsh on modern culture. On closer reading, it is more a case of him criticizing the non-critical acceptance of things around us to the detriment of failing to see God in the ordinary. In other words, the modern man tends to search for God in all the wrong places.

Peterson is a great mentor in this book. When I read it, I need to pause often to pray, and to reflect upon my own spiritual life as well. There is a bit of everything in this book. Who says wisdom and knowledge needs to come in volumes after volumes of encyclopedic-size books? This book can be used as a devotional cum spiritual guide.


Monday, November 7, 2011

"The Will of God as a Way of Life" by Jerry Sittser

TITLE: The Will of God as a Way of Life
AUTHOR: Jerry Sittser
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004, (256 pages).

The Will of God as a Way of Life: How to Make Every Decision with Peace and ConfidenceWhen there is a book about the will of God, I will read. If it is written by an unknown writer, I may just borrow it from the library. If it is written by my favourite authors, I will usually buy it. This book is one of them.

According to Sittser, this book is about a perspective of the will of God, not a series of steps to attain the holy grail of the experiment called life. Sharing about how he manages to move through the twists and turns of life, the book reveals a lot about how Sittser fumbles through life, and eventually arriving at a clearer understanding of what God's will means for him. In Chapter One, he shares about 3 clues. Firstly, 'we will never know how things will turn out' (20). The second clue is about how suffering and loss dispels his idea of a perfect and nice will of God. The third clue is that the Bible says very little about the future path of God's way, but a present avoidance of anxiety and wrongful presumption. The conventional way of thinking is in terms of finding out that ONE specific will of God for each person. Such a thinking reveals 3 problems.

  1. What if we make the 'wrong' choice?
  2. It makes us feel as if God is playing hide-and-seek with us.
  3. It causes us to be pre-occupied with a future view that God's will is something that lies ahead.
Chapter Two goes on to dispel such fears. We have an astonishing amount of freedom to seek the will of God in terms of the Person of God. In other words, the will of God is understood by looking BACK, while we seek FORTH to see God.

"As I struggled with the issue of discovering God's will, I came to a startling conclusion. The will of God concerns the present more than the future; it deals with our motives as well as our actions; it focuses on the little decisions we make every day even more than the big decision we make about the future. The only time we really have both to know and to do God's will is the present moment. We are to love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we are to love our neighbours as we love ourselves." (34)
In Chapter Three, Sittser talks about the obstacles that prevent us from understanding God's will. 

"... God's will for us is to choose quality of life over quantity of options, to slow down and integrate our lives as best as we can, and to build friendships with people who know the whole of us, not just isolated parts of us. His will challenges us to resist and even to reverse some of the trends of contemporary culture itself." (41)

Among the obstacles mentioned are, 'tradition,' the massive potpourri of choices, busyness, lack of community.

Thankfully, Chapter Four proposes the way forward. Obedience as a way of life as exemplified by the artist and the athlete.  He writes:

"Both artists and athletes understand the nature of true freedom. They give up their freedom to do whatever they want, subject themselves to strict discipline, and in the end gain the freedom to perform at the highest levels of artistic and athletic achievement. Loss of freedom actually leads to freedom. It is the freedom of obedience, gained by following a strict regimen of practice." (62)

In Chapter Five, he expounds the Ten Commandments, calling them 'implications of grace' rather than the 'opposite of grace' (67). Chapter Six is a lovely chapter about the simple pleasures of attending to the little things in life, and to appreciate the ordinary and what we have often taken for granted. Chapter Seven is a helpful chapter about making choices. Sittser shares his wisdom:

"We must learn to be good listeners, to discern God's greater purpose, and maintain an eternal perspective. Then, after making a decision, we should never look back, trusting that God has already gone ahead of us." (96)
He also warns us about using the rule of 'success' to measure God's will. God's will is present regardless of our definitions of success or failure. He says wisely:

"We don't always know how our decisions will work out, but we know that God will work them out for our redemption. We will fall in love, change jobs, bury loved ones, say good-bye to children, move to faraway cities, raise cats, lose a fortune on the stock market, and end up living in Singapore. Sometimes we will make good decisions; sometimes not. Still, somehow God will work things out for our good, both because that is his nature and because that is his will for our lives." (105)

Sittser teaches us to discover the wonders of 'living in the present moment.' We need to learn to use disciplines to 'refresh' our daily routines, so that we can return to our original work with 'renewed creativity, perspective, and gratitude.' (152) He talks also about calling as a plural rather than a singular term. Finally, he shares six useful signs to discern our calling.

  1. Look within ourselves to ask what motivates us?
  2. What are our talents?
  3. What about our life experiences?
  4. Where are the opportunities?
  5. Is there a community that we can share our talents with?
  6. Is there joy in service?

This is a great book to read for learning about the wise counsel of Sittser. As someone who has gone through deep levels of suffering and pain, he typically weaves his suffering experience into the books he write. This book is no exception. In fact, Sittser dedicates the last three chapters to talk about that. Written simply. Expressed eloquently.