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The Healing Hands of Jesus

The Healing Hands of Jesus

My brother, Dr. Robert Neufeld, preserved a recording of our father preaching, something he did not do all that often. Dr. Raymond D. Neufeld spent his life in service as a doctor. He didn’t talk about it a great deal. He just kept doing what he believed was right.

In this recording, the final 2 minutes and a bit were lost, and my father re-recorded it at my brother’s request.

I hope you enjoy and are blessed. The presentation is titled “The Healing Hands of Jesus.”

My mother was an RN and served with my father in various places. You can learn more about their experiences in the book Directed Paths.

When My Father Was Healed

When My Father Was Healed

1893729222_adI was talking recently with a friend who commented that there are certain events that serve as anchor points for our faith. For me, despite all the drifting I’ve done since it happened, one of those points was the time when my father was healed. I alluded to this briefly in a comment on the Energion Discussion Network, and was challenged (or so it felt) to retell the story more often. You can get another perspective on this story from my mother’s book Directed Paths, which includes many other stories of God in action. I was 14 years old at the time and will tell this as I remember it.

It was 1971 and my parents were called as missionaries to Guyana, South America, where my father was to become medical director of the 54 bed Davis Memorial Hospital in Georgetown. Shortly after we arrived my father required emergency surgery. This took place during the night. The surgeon persuaded my mother not to wake me up, so anything about the surgery is not from my memory, but rather from what I was told. The surgery was on the large intestine and during the surgery there was considerable contamination. In addition, at one point my mother, who is an RN, was left alone as the entire team had to go to an emergency with a delivery in another room. Overall the surgery lasted for four hours, if I recall correctly.

Nobody wanted to tell me in the morning, so I was successively directed from room to room until I arrived in my father’s room in the hospital where he was connected to various tubes and devices. It was quite a shock.

He continued to be weak for some time, and his digestive processes and intestines would not restart their function. The surgeon said that he would never work again and would not live more than another 10 years. The mission board began to plan to bring my parents back to the states.

My parents, on the other hand, did not agree. They said that they had gone to Guyana to perform a mission and that they had not yet performed one. Their choice was to follow James 5, and call for the elders of the church. The elders anointed my father with oil and prayed for his healing and that he would be able to carry out his mission. I was actually quite disappointed with the results that day. It seemed that nothing happened.

But from that moment, my father’s recovery began. Within two weeks he took over as sole physician for that 54 bed hospital and was on call 24 hours/7 days per week for the next year before any relief came. He served there for seven years and still worked after he returned to the states. He has now gone on to be with the Lord, though since he was a Seventh-day Adventist he would say “to sleep in Jesus.” I have come to not see a lot of difference there. One breath here—the next breath there. Time won’t matter! But he lived into his late 80s, much more than 10 years and he continued to work through to a normal retirement. He was active as a Christian witness up to the time of his death.

I find that story challenging and encouraging. It’s challenging because my parents refused to leave and give up when everyone else was saying the situation was hopeless. It’s encouraging because when they stepped out in faith on their mission, God was there with them.

Was Jesus Really a Healer?

Was Jesus Really a Healer?

9781938434136sBy this question, I meant to ask whether Jesus actually cured people of illnesses, not whether he accomplished spiritual healing. I asked the question of Dr. Bruce Epperly, author of the book Healing Marks, when I interviewed him last night in an excursus to my series of studies on the gospel According to John. Here’s the video:

I’ve found it quite interesting to discuss Bruce’s views on this with other Christians. His theology, as a process theologian, is different from what you will hear in most churches, especially those which hold healing services. Yet the actions are similar. He describes a different spiritual process (no pun intended), shunning the word “supernatural,” and yet he is describing something very similar to what I hear from charismatic believers.

I have been called “liberal charismatic,” because I take a fairly open view of doctrine (though I don’t think it is unimportant), and also believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are as available today as they were to the early church.

So what do you think? Was Jesus a healer? Can healing take place in churches today?


Impartation: In Which I Say I Was Wrong

Impartation: In Which I Say I Was Wrong

For those who are not familiar with it, impartation, at least in charismatic circles refers to passing on a gift, or even on occasion a calling or anointing when one person or persons lays hands on another. I’m not going to try to summarize the various views on this. First, I’m not fully acquainted with them. Second, that’s not my purpose.

Bottom line is that the whole concept of things passed on via laying on of hands with prayer or blessing is something that I have not liked very much from the first time I heard of it. It sounded too much like people treating the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts as a personal possession, sort of like that pair of socks one received for Christmas and then passed on, hopefully before it got holes in it. On a more serious note the conflict is really between an idea of complete divine sovereignty over the gifts and the idea of human involvement.

What I have believed and taught up until now has tended to focus on divine sovereignty. God decides who to give the gifts to, and if anything human action is required at all it is simply a recognition of what God has already done. Similarly I would maintain that God does healing with or without any particular action on our part, and thus would not recognize a continuing gift of healing as such. We take action; God heals; the two don’t relate a great deal.

Two things have combined to change my view. The first was our Sunday School study using Bruce Epperly’s book Healing Marks. I cannot point to just one place, but with support from the healing stories of Jesus, Bruce emphasizes the way in which God works with and through people. It may seem to “protect” God to emphasize how little control we have, but it doesn’t reflect the way in which scripture speaks of God’s activity in the world.

I’m not going to go through all of the arguments here. They involve multiple chapters in the book. I think both the ideas involved with healing and of impartation share a common element, in that in both we have God’s gifts, and in both we have a danger both of losing the divine and the human elements.

I think my way of expressing this over the last few years has tended to lose the human element.

This coalesced in reading Numbers a couple of days ago. An amazing amount of my thinking has developed while reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. In this case I was reading the story in Numbers 11 in which Moses complains to God, and God tells Moses to bring 70 elders from the tribes. Numbers 11:35 reports that God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and gave it to the 70. (We later find out that two more receive the spirit, which brings up some interesting thoughts.)

There are even some commentators who believe this “taking” of the spirit from Moses was some kind of punishment for his complaining, but I think this is contradicted by the rather vigorous way in which the complaints of Miriam and Aaron are dealt with in chapter 12. There’s some important material there I will incorporate in my comments on Hebrews later. There the special position of Moses as one who spoke with God face to face is strongly re-emphasized.

Now this story is in no sense a proof-text for my change of view. In fact, one could read this story either way. I read it in the context of what I learned of Leviticus when studying Jacob Milgrom’s three volume commentary in the Anchor Bible series. God moves the people of Israel in the ceremonies he commands from the idea of some sort of magic or human manipulation of God to an understanding that God acts. It is not the ceremony that makes God act. For example, one offers a sacrifice, but God forgives.

What this story did for me was outline the ideas that are in conflict. It is the spirit that is on Moses (the human) that is taken and imparted to the 70 who are gathered. We are not told of any ritual or ceremony, but there may well have been. Then at the same time God touches two people who aren’t actually there. (I commend to your attention Numbers 11-14, with particular emphasis on how divine and human action combine. It’s interesting reading!)

God is always working, but he in scripture he is continually presented as working in and with human beings. It is possible that when you touch someone and pray for their healing, a healing “power” will go out of you and help the person for whom you are praying. It’s the “out of you” with which I have been uncomfortable. I think I’ll have to learn to live with it!


A Monopoly on Healing?

A Monopoly on Healing?

I’m enjoying editing Bruce Epperly‘s new book, to be released this fall, Healing Marks. Here’s an excerpt:

A Monopoly on Healing? Quite satisfied with their orthodoxy and ability to maintain the purity of Jesus’ healing ministry, the disciples come to Jesus with what they assume is good news: “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” They expect a pat on the back for maintaining decency, order, and clarity in Jesus’ healing lineage. Imagine their surprise when the Healer retorts:

“Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. 40Whoever is not against us is for us. 41For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” – Mark 9:39-41

The one who opened the floodgates to divine healing and hospitality to all people by welcoming sinners, social outcasts, diseased women, lepers, tax collectors, foreigners, and persons possessed by demons, adds one more scandalous footnote to his healing ministry, divine healing is not restricted to his direct followers or even to Christians. God wants everyone to live abundantly and will use any healthy means to bring us to well-being (page 138 in advance copies).

Yep! I’m enjoying this …

Todd Bentley Obedient to the Lord?

Todd Bentley Obedient to the Lord?

Dave Warnock links to this disturbing video of Todd Bentley. He discusses it further in his post Reflecting on cancer healing – Todd Bentley style. Peter Kirk writes on a related topic at Gentle Wisdom.

Before I comment further, let me simply say that both of these are men whom I have to respect. I appreciate their ministries as best as I can follow them on the internet. Nothing here is intended to get personal.

Frankly, the video is gut-wrenching in more ways than one. My 17 year old son died after a five year battle with cancer. At a revival meeting a pastor told him that God had told him (the pastor) that anyone on whom he laid hands and prayed for healing would be healed of cancer. James was 12 years old at the time. He wasn’t healed. That pastor said something false in the name of the Lord.

Now I didn’t decide that everything that happened at those revival meetings was not of God based on that one incident. Yet at the same time, it illustrates a problem of extremely active revival meetings. What exactly guides or limits what one says or does? People who label themselves “Spirit led” often look down on the people who are totally focused on the written Word as dry and powerless. Yet one would hope that there would be some limit, some control on what was said and done.

My question here is just what standard would limit what Todd Bentley could say God had told him to do? My personal standard would be this: “Kicking someone in the stomach is bad. God isn’t telling me to do that.” I apply an ethical standard to my behavior. If I think God is telling me to do something that is wrong, I’m going to let my behavior be guided ethically.

Update (7/4/08): Peter Kirk has objected to the term kicking, and Dave Warnock adjusted the wording. I noticed the knee thing, but didn’t regard it as significant. Perhaps that makes me worse than others who didn’t notice it. I would say precisely the same thing about kneeing him in in the gut as about kicking him. Further, I have viewed this video, in which Todd Bentley talks about kicking people. Unfortunately I don’t have the clip without someone else’s commentary.

Now I admit that I don’t know the full context of this action. I’m not going to proclaim myself an expert based on a YouTube video. Nonetheless I am having a hard time imagining the context that would make me think this was ethically right. If someone could suggest something that went before and after that would make it look good, I’d be interested in hearing about it.

The only thing I can imagine would be a complete healing of the man in question, but even then I’m likely to apply something I say very frequently: God knows how to answer prayers better than we know how to pray them. In other words, even if the man was healed, I would be inclined to believe that God was showing him grace and mercy (perhaps because he was kicked in God’s name?), rather than that he was confirming a kick as the proper action.

At the same time, the question I run into is one that Dave Warnock has to deal with, as do some of my friends over in the Lakeland area of Florida. How do you respond?

Here is where I remain convinced that the wheat and the tares is the better option. If you become a blanket critic of anything, you will be very limited in your ability to respond to those who are involved or considering involvement.

The problem at the center of this is hurting people, people who are looking for something. In fact, I believe what sends many people off the rails is that overwhelming determination that something has got to happen, that somehow there must be a physical demonstration of God’s power. If it isn’t happening in the normal course of events, let’s force it.

Now it’s not bad to try to get life into our Christian lives. At the same time, once you get desperate, the controls are off, and it becomes very hard to discern good from bad. You think, “Maybe a kick in the stomach wouldn’t be so bad if it would just bring healing.” If you’re at that point, beware.

As I’ve said before, while I try not to do blanket approvals or condemnations–I often don’t do a blanket approval of myself; never, in fact!–particular things can be labeled properly. Prosperity teaching-bad. Kicking in the stomach-bad. I’m pretty certain of those two!

James 5, Prayer, and Physical Healing

James 5, Prayer, and Physical Healing

Mark Olson has posted on James 5 and it’s relationship to healing. He notes that he “had been” in conversation with me on health care. I have been a bit too occupied with other matters, but I do intend to write some more in that conversation. Right now, I’m interested in his comments on James 5 and the instruction to call the elders of the church, anoint, and pray for someone who is sick.

He says:

From reading this, and the prayers attached to the rest of that section of the service, it seems fairly clear that based on the liturgical prayer and the attached reading above that he prayers and annointing of the sick first and foremost are intended to deal with the afflicted one’s relationship to the Lord. If one takes seriously, as one should if one is of the faithful, that salvation is assured … then this is the right attitude.

Just so. I would note that there is a special point here in calling for the elders and then doing this together–the element of community. Too much of prayer for healing in the modern American church is a very individual thing with the primary point being to get the physical healing one desires. I have been asked whether calling for the elders of the church and having a kind of service of anointing would be “more effective” than some other form of prayer. What about finding someone who is claims and/or is identified as having the gift of healing?

The problem here is that we identify the primary purpose of prayer, and in this case of a form of worship service or at least an act of worship, as getting something physical for ourselves. The perennial question is whether prayer “works.” Experiments are set up to determine the effects of prayer.

I have no interest in those experiments, because they would rely on the idea that the primary purpose of prayer is to produce a particular result. If, as many Christians seem to believe, that is the actual purpose, then such scientific tests would be valid, and prayer would be a scientific process. We could measure the dosage, determine how many people need to pray for someone, and what sort of people. Do we get more points for a minister or priest? Do elders count for more than ordinary church members?

But I think that misses the point of prayer. It’s not about getting stuff. It’s about communion with God. And God, as Mrs. Beaver noted of Aslan, is not a tame God. We Christians are often guilty of being pushed into a corner on this point. If we don’t claim any physical benefit from prayer, then we’re asked what good it is, and if we do, we’re making a testable claim for something that has not proven testable in the past. Personally I don’t worry about it. I pray because I want to commune with God. I pray with my community because I am a part of it and am called to be in communion with God and with one another. I don’t pray because I can get things and I don’t stop because I don’t.

Through this conversation Mark has been making good theological points while I have been telling stories. I do have a couple of notes here. My father was the recipient of anointing when the elders were called. We were overseas and it was questionable whether he would live. The mission board wanted to send him home and my parents refused. Our doctor said he would never work again and would be dead in no more than 10 years. My parents called for the elders and they anointed him and prayed over him. I was very disappointed. I was 14 years old and expected something spectacular to happen. What did happen was that he returned to work two weeks later and lived another 35 years. Miracle? I have no idea. My guess is that he was on a mission from God, so to speak!

In the case of our son, I have been repeatedly complimented on my “strength of faith” to continue believing through that experience. But the problem with that is that I had never expected Christianity to provide me and my family with immunity to cancer or to death from it.

I would bring this back to my earlier post on the fear. Fear is the great problem. We can go with peace and joy, as befits those who are citizens of God’s eternal kingdom, or we can live in fear. The focus on the physical result of prayer keeps our focus on the wrong issue. Paul was uncertain whether to go and be with God or to stick around, but I feel under the surface that if it was just for him, he was ready to go (Philippians 1:19-26). But none of that sounds like fear!