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Faith and Encouragement in the midst of Fiery Trials.

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Question #1: 

Hi Bob, My question is about Luke 22:32: can we pray that one another's faith not fail as Jesus did for Peter?

Response #1: 

On this verse, Luke 22:32, on the one hand, we are clearly not in Jesus' league. On the other hand, we are told to imitate Christ in our lives and Christian walk (Jn.13:15; 1Cor.11:1; Pet.2:21-25; cf. Matt.16:24; and see the link: Peter #17: "Imitating Christ"). Furthermore, Jesus told the twelve that they would do even "greater things" once the Spirit fell upon them (Jn.14:12; cf. vv.15ff.). Yet, Jesus, the Light of the world, is, for example, the only One who has ever restored sight to the blind. So I think you are right to be inquisitive on this point. Besides, faith is something so basic to the free will of any individual – indeed, one might possibly go so far as to say that faith is free will. So, clearly, if we are asking the Lord to override the free will of another person, that is a prayer that is very likely not going to "fly". Still, anything short of actually taking away another person's free will may be a legitimate subject for prayer. God intervenes in the lives of His children (and in the lives of those who are destined to be so: 1Pet.1:2; cf. Gal.1:15; 1Thes.2:13) all the time in ways that cause us to change our attitudes, our thinking, our speech, our behavior, our decisions, etc. for good. As long as influence is not undue, influence is likely to be legitimate. I think this is because contrary to what we tend to believe as human beings, the will behind the basic choices we make, of turning to God or not, and of sticking with Him or not, is more deeply set in our essential makeup than we have any idea (cf. Lk.16:31). This would explain why 1st John 5:16 makes a distinction between praying for a person whose sin is "not unto death", and one where the "sin unto death" is involved. In fact, this case is direct applicable to your question. In the former instance, the believer is in spiritual trouble due to sin, but has not lost faith and is eminently recoverable; in such cases prayer is most appropriate. However, there are cases where faith has already been lost; where the individual has "put faith to death" through sin. In such instances prayer is pointless and ill-advised. Based on this principle and in light of the above discussion I would say, yes indeed, go ahead and pray! As long as the individual has not fallen away into hardened apostasy, you will definitely not be wasting your time or your prayers. Jesus knew that Peter was about to go through a major spiritual crisis on the heels of his terrible failure, but we can't know about such crises of faith in others before the fact. We can only see them when they are in process, or see the aftermath in the case of those who apostatize. There is little to be done about the latter, but the former are most certainly worthy of our most heart-felt prayers.

You may also find the following links helpful:

Courage in the Fight.

Faith in the midst of the fiery trial.

Encouragement, Isaiah 6:11-13, and the Hope of Repentance.

Encouragement in Christian Sufferings.

In need of encouragement.

The Victory of Faith.

Why does God allow bad things to happen?

Feeling desperate and alone.

Christian suffering and spiritual maturity.

Waiting on God's timing: patience in testing.

Peter's Epistles: Coping with Personal Tribulation

In our faithful Lord Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #2: 

Hello Brother Bob,

It has been a while since I have written. Hope all is well with you. As always, you are where the Lord leads me with questions.

I have a friend in a men's small group. He has accepted Christ, prays, does good things for people, is Churched, etc. He is unemployed, overweight, has physical pains, etc.

He is frustrated with his "personal relationship". I think he is trusting in his feelings and circumstances, and is asking himself "where is God". He is just starting to read the bible with us. I am trying to lead him through scripture that gives foundational support to who we are in Christ, and whose we are. I believe that the Word of God revealed, by way of the Holy spirit, brings Faith, and faith is not necessarily seen or felt. I know that this is between him and the Lord, and that there are no man made answers.

Am hoping that you have some spiritual insight from the Lord on how we might be of encouragement to him. This man is very sincere!

I love to give you my "tough questions"!

Response #2:  Good to hear from you. Thanks for your "tough" question. It is a "tough" question because it cuts right to the quick of the Christian experience, faith, and the Christian way of life. Sooner or later, we are all tempted to ask "why God?" or "why me God?" or "where are you God?" If we aren't, it probably means that we are not making enough spiritual progress for the devil and his minions to consider us a worthwhile target. But for all who are determined to progress in sanctification and spiritual growth, and find and implement their ministries in order to help others do likewise, we are going to be opposed and we are going to have troubles. Of course we all stumble and we all err, and there are likewise none of us who have not known the disciplining hand of our Father God (and few of us who have not had to endure long periods of recovery and of continued discipline – take David's 14 years, for example). And although, when we do get close to where we are supposed to be heading, we can finally be pretty sure that the severe trouble we are experiencing is not for gross sin but is genuinely a sharing of the sufferings of Christ, that doesn't necessarily make it any the easier to bear – it really should, but it takes time, experience, prayer, much scripture and much Bible study (and believing the truth of these) to get the point where we are really battle hardened veterans (in addition to being battle-scarred). And even when we do, scripture is replete with examples of great believers who succumbed to particularly difficult testing. If Moses, Elijah, David, Job, Paul and Peter (to name a few of the most prominent) could over-react to the devil's attacks, it certainly means that we should avoid at all costs any cocky self-confidence about our spiritual prowess (just because things may be going well at the moment).

That said, even if our troubles are of our own making flowing from divine discipline, it is crucial to remember that whatever we are facing can still be a great experience after we repent. It can help us learn patience and help us to experience God's grace provision and deliverance, even if our troubles are largely due to our own folly (look how He brought David through and vindicated his faith for example). And if we are blessed to be experiencing satanic opposition because of our forward progress and effective service, then this principle is doubly true. Whether we want to believe it or not, God's grace really is sufficient for everything that He has called upon us to endure (2Cor.12:9). His power really is made perfect when we are weakest, because only then when we have come to an end of all of our own resources can we see with a clarity that pierces the veil of the heavens the love and the power of God. In such times of trial and trouble, we have to remember basic things, verses and principles about which we could pass a multiple choice quiz for content with our eyes closed, but which are sometimes difficult to apply to life and experience when the going gets tough. God really won't heap more on us than we can take, even when we think we can't take any more (1Cor.10:13). God really is working every single thing in our lives out for our best "good" and for His (since these are exactly the same, after all), even when we think that we are suffering irremediable disasters (Rom.8:28). God really is listening to our prayers and answering our prayers and completely concerned about us and our prayers, even when we think that the heavens are bronze and He is failing to respond (Jn.14:13-14).

How do we know these things? How are we certain that they are true? Only through faith. For our eyes tell us that these things are definitively not true. Our bodies may be screaming in pain. Our lives may be meeting every sort of reverse. Our friends and families may turn against us. We may be driven from the presence of mankind and be left alone "like a bird alone on a roof" as scripture says (Ps.102:7). But even in the darkest night, even in the most desperate plight, our God is with is, nay, He is in us. He loves us at such times as much as He ever has, and He is well aware of everything that is happening to us. He would not allow it if it were not for good; He would not countenance it if we were truly incapable of bearing it; and He is listening to our cries for help and He will answer – but in His time, for His glory, and for our true good (rather than at the time, in the way, and for the purpose of our choosing). We are like little children who can't understand how a trip to the doctor to get a shot is a good thing, but our loving parents understand. So our loving God and Father understands even if we do not, even Him who loved us so much He sent His one and only beloved Son into this world not only to experience pain and suffering and sorrow and trouble beyond what any human being has ever known (and in ways of which even the most perceptive of us are as yet only dimly aware), but also to die in our place on the cross, forsaken by Him who loved Him from before the world was born, bearing in His body the punishment for the sins of us all.

Faith is the only way we know with conviction these things we can't see (Heb.11:1ff.; cf. 2Cor.4:18; 5:7). But when we do deny what our eyes see and walk instead in faith, the angels sing, and we become stronger than we were before. None of us would ever choose pain, suffering, defeat, loss, etc. – that's crazy. But we all must accept the fact that this world is not the garden of Eden, and that all those who choose a life for Jesus Christ will be tested and opposed. It is admittedly difficult to bear up under extreme testing, difficult to watch those we care about having to do so and without immediate solutions of total deliverance, and, finally, difficult as well not to be able to give a victorious report about the victory God has given us, when we seem to be waiting for that victory for such a long time. But enduring with perseverance under pressure, encouraging those who are being likewise tested, and boasting in God rather than in tangible results even as we await a victory the world deems impossible is the stuff of truly glorifying God. For when we praise Him and demonstrate by our actions that our faith in Him, our hope in Him, and our love for Him are not based upon material and tangible circumstances, we show beyond any doubt to the world of men and angels that our faith, our hope and our love is genuine, that Jesus is our life and our all, even if staying faithful to Him costs us our life and our all, because we are looking for something better on the other side, not something made of dust on this side.

Ultimately, beyond showing our love and humbly and carefully reminding our brothers and sisters of the truth, this is a battle that has to be fought on an individual basis. We can help, but everyone has to make his or her own decisions. We all have to come the point of the end of ourselves, for that is where our deepest appreciation of God begins. As I say, this can't happen without some initial spiritual growth in the first place, and, when the crisis hits home, we are going to be very grateful for every single bit of truth that we have gleaned from the scriptures, from Bible study, and from the belief and application of this truth to our personal experience. But we have it from God that although this process may be painful to experience ourselves and to observe in others, it is nonetheless absolutely essential to achieve the kind of spiritual growth that both glorifies God and at the same time makes us useful to Him in the accomplishment of His plan for us and for the Church of His Son our Savior Jesus Christ. This is stuff of growth, of glorification, and of the rewards that will last beyond time:

Brothers, when you are being beset with all manner of trials, take pains to be joyful. For you should keep in mind that this testing of your faith develops perseverance. So let your perseverance develop fully, that you may become fully mature and entitled to a full reward, having been found lacking in no respect.
James 1:2-4

Hope this answer is helpful for you and for our brother in Christ. Thanks as always for your kind and supportive words.

In Jesus who is in us and will never forsake us.

Bob L.

Question #3: 

Dear Bob,

I thank you for the strength, clarity, and ever-advancing understanding of the Living Work of God that I am receiving as a result of your research and writing. May God continue to bless you and the gift you bring to the world! The minister at the church I are now attending wrote me this in response to my giving him the ICHTHYS website regarding the issue of "The Great Tribulation": "I began the readings on the study website you suggested. I will need to take more and more time to look at it more deeply. The Second Coming has always troubled me and I struggle a great deal with the concept of a God who would destroy His creation which in someways makes evil a winner." He used Genesis 9:8-17 as an Old Testament focus of his sermon this morning, and then 1 Peter 3:18-22. It was his message that God gave His word never again to destroy the earth with a flood. There was silence about any other end that God might have in store. He recognized that God brought about the flood in angry response to man's disobedience, and that our times are now full of problems, but it was left hanging with regard to any future judgment by God. Our minister highlighted the rainbow and a symbol of God's covenant never again to destroy the world as with the flood. I think that our minister finds it very painful to contemplate are face the death and horror of a cataclysmic event such as Noah experienced with the flood. I would appreciate any time you may have to respond to the essence of the teaching issues that raised here.

With Love and Blessings, in Jesus Christ, Our Lord, and Savior.

Response #3: 

Many people are reluctant to consider the possibility of divine judgment, personally as well as nationally. The notion that we might be disciplined or (in the case of apostasy) severely chastised for our transgressions is one that does not sit well with modern sensibilities. In our collective rush to redefine God in our own image (rather than accepting the fact that it is the other way around), the proverb of the pot answering back to the Potter comes full circle. Really, I can't see in what respect evil is a winner on account of the return of our Lord to bring justice to the earth, flames of fire to those who are truly evil, resurrection to those who are truly following Him, and deliverance to those who may be misguided but have not sold out to the evil one and his earthly pseudo-Messiah, antichrist. The millennial blessings of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ that follow our Lord's return and the annihilation of those who have persecuted the Church and trampled truth under foot can hardly be styled a victory for evil in my book. This is exactly parallel to what happened at the flood, when the human race was close to being exterminated and evil was rampant in a way that would even make contemporary Americans blush. The flood was a blessed deliverance for righteous Noah and his family. Without this divine judgment, evil really would have triumphed (i.e., Noah and his family were delivered through the means of the flood: 1Pet.3:20; see the link: "The baptism which now saves us"). The same will be true during the Tribulation. As our Lord tells us, if those days had not been shortened, no flesh would have survived (Mk.13:20). I think one of the main problems here is the inability to accept that the world is composed of two sorts of people: those who are following Jesus and those who are not. The Lord most definitely deals with us in a different way from the method He employs toward unbelievers. He does love all of His children – He sent His one and only Son to die for the entire world. But His method towards unbelievers is to encourage them and give them every opportunity to choose for Him, not to allow them, especially in the case of those who have chosen for evil and have steeped themselves in it, to oppress and destroy the righteous forever. For those of us who have chosen the Lord instead of the world, divine judgment means relief and deliverance, not victory for the other side.

(5) [These tribulations which you are enduring] are evidence of the righteous judgment of God in His [judging] you to be worthy of His kingdom on behalf of which you are also suffering. (6) Since indeed it is just for God to repay with tribulation those who are subjecting you to tribulation, (7) and to give you who are being distressed relief along with us at the revelation of our Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels, (8) wreaking vengeance in a flame of fire upon those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (9) These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power, (10) when He comes on that [great] day to be glorified in the midst of His saints (i.e., resurrected believers) and to be marveled at among all those who have believed – as our testimony has been believed in your case.
2nd Thessalonians 1:5-10

It is very true that the coming of the Tribulation is a most uncomfortable thing to anticipate. The clearer the vision one has of what will transpire, the more uncomfortable it becomes. I would not mind missing it. Then again, I want to do what the Lord has called me to do, whatever that may be or entail. Ultimately, we all have to put ourselves completely into the hands of the One we say we trust, and let Him decide how things are going to turn out. We don't, we can't know the details. All we know is the end result, namely, that in our short lives God truly did in every way and beyond all expectation work "everything together for good", genuine good, that is, not good as we might define it on a cold and rainy Monday morning, and definitely not as we are likely to think of it during the stress and strain of the Tribulation if it be His will for us to experience those days. But we can rest assured that our Lord is with us in good times and bad, and, indeed, it is really only in the fiery furnace of testing that we fully experience His power and grace. It's not comfortable Christianity. But it has the virtue of being biblical.

In the Name of the One who is ever at our right hand, and in us even now both to will and to do, our dear Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #4:

I would like to know how I determine what it is that I did that caused God to give me the medical problems that I have, while my siblings escaped all wrath. I have tried everything to cure this terrible curse I have, one that shows up in my appearance in a most obvious way, only to find out that there is no cure. I have had people tell me that God gave me the disease to show his love and compassion for me. I have had "Good Christians" tell me that I chose to have this disease, and have even been ridiculed for it. A couple weeks ago I was told to leave a church because I would not remove my head covering. A friend of mine told me that I need to ignore these people, but that is hard for me to do. All I want to do is go home, so I can be around normal people, but God keeps stopping me by throwing up road blocks everywhere I turn. Now, He has really cranked up this disease, keeping me from getting a new job, because no one hires people with this disease. I have tried starting my own business, but people don't want to deal with me. I guess all I am really looking for is some direction to find out what it was that I did that caused God to want to destroy my life hear on earth. I have even tried working with some of the local missions type groups, but have been told to leave, because my disease scares people. What does God want from me, and why did he pick me to be trapped in the house because of His Children, and their collective stupidity?

Thank you.

Response #4:

Let me begin by saying that there is no way that I or probably anyone else who has not had to endure what you are going through can really appreciate the load you are carrying. Nevertheless, I will do my best to answer your question according to what scripture has to say about such things.

First of all, I have to say that if a person finds him or herself in a church where their appearance or dress is being made an issue because of some ailment, or being singled out for ridicule, then they are definitely in the wrong church. This does not strike me as particularly Christian behavior. Finding the "right church" is a very, very difficult thing in this Laodicean age. Indeed, the reason why this ministry is on the internet is primarily because there is very, very little interest in the Word of God in the church visible in this country today. And where there is little or no interest in the teaching, learning, believing, and applying of the Word of God, then there is bound to be all sorts of odd, counterproductive, and even wrong behavior countenanced and institutionalized. All I can tell you on that score is that are certainly welcome at this ministry.

Secondly, while it is true that in some cases God does use disease for divine discipline, it is by no means true that all or even most disease, even severe disease, is of such an origin. When asked by His disciples in the case of the man born blind "who sinned, this man or his parents?", our Lord responded "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be revealed through him" (Jn.9:1-5). We also think of the case of Job whose bodily affliction was repugnant to his friends and family, and we know from scripture that far from doing anything wrong Job was chosen to endure this suffering as a means of glorifying God, that it was part of the highest compliment that God could ever pay a human being in demonstrating that – no matter what – Job would stay faithful to God. That is not to say, of course, that you or I or any reasonable person would choose to suffer. But it is true that much suffering of every sort, disease included, comes about not as punishment but as part of our walk of faith in this world. The fact that we continue to believe in Jesus, continue to grow in Him, continue to put Him first in our lives, learning about Him from scripture, and helping others to do the same through the ministries we have been led to, is a testimony to the world of men and angels both that we have surely chosen for Him and will walk with Him in glory. It is a smell of the sweet savor of life for all who are being saved, and of death to all who have chosen instead the easy path that leads to destruction. When I think about the greatest believers of the Bible, it always seems that their road was harder than normal – not easier. Paul in particular had many physical tests, including disease, perhaps most notably the "thorn in the flesh" (2Cor.12:7-10). And we know from what he says in that passage that such afflictions had the effect in him, great believer that he was, of actually helping him spiritually by taking away all confidence in himself and causing him to rely entirely on God instead.

Thirdly, Our God is a loving Father, and when He uses discipline of any sort it is for our benefit, to change our behavior, bring about repentance, and cause us to consider our ways after the fact so that we may live holy lives of service to Him. In other words, divine discipline is a good thing, even when it hurts, and a matter of comfort in some ways because it assures us that we have a loving Father who cares enough about us to see to our spiritual growth. Unbelievers do not receive divine discipline, though they may indeed find themselves under divine wrath. Only faithful followers of Jesus Christ are privileged to have the correcting hand of the Almighty guiding them, and there is no believer in Jesus Christ who does not come in for divine discipline from time to time (Heb.12:7-8), for everyone sins (Rom.3:23; 5:12), even though sanctification is one of our primary goals as believers in Christ (2Thes.2:13).

Unless there is an absolutely undeniable and obvious cause and effect between gross sin and a particular condition, it is often very difficult for even the individual concerned to tell whether or not a particular illness is a result of divine discipline – and if it be difficult for the person concerned, how much more so would it not be impossible for a third party to judge the matter aright? As we grow in our spiritual lives and learn more about the Lord and draw closer to Him, it does indeed become easier to draw a distinction between when we are being tested and when we are being disciplined. This is something that grows as our relationship with Him grows, and which becomes more clear as our understanding of scripture becomes deeper and more solid (I invite your attention to the following study where the subject of divine discipline is covered in some detail:

            Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: The Biblical Study of Sin.

Finally, as far as other people are concerned, it very clear from scripture that God deals with us all as individuals. What tests you may not be much of a test for me and vice versa, and what you may find easy or at least possible to bear I may not be able to tolerate at all and vice versa. God knows the best way to test us so as to train us up spiritually, and God knows the best way to discipline us so as to turn us back to the right way. Therefore it is impossible to build doctrine on what we observe happening to other people. The complaint, "why do the wicked prosper?" is one that for just this reason our Lord allowed to fall frequently from the lips of His prophets, but the ultimate answer is always the same: they don't, if we but wait long enough and judge aright (cf. Ps.73).

God is fair. God is just. God loves us. He loves us so much He gave up His one and only Son to the most outrageous sort of death in order to save us from the fires of hell. It only took Jesus the blink of an eye to make the universe, but He spent three hours on the cross, in the darkness, forsaken by the Father who had loved Him from all eternity with a perfect love, suffering and dying for you and me. If God thus did the most for us in washing away our sins through the death of His very own beloved Son, how will not be concerned about every problem and trouble we have (Rom.5:6-11), especially in the case who call upon Him as their heavenly Father? We can trust Him that He is doing what is best for us (Rom.8:28). We have to trust Him. It is very tempting in such circumstances to get angry, to get bitter, to lash out, to blame God for what other people do. These are very human reactions, all too human. But we as believers in Jesus Christ have turned our backs on the world. To us, all of this is temporary. We have been crucified to the world and the world to us (Gal.6:14; cf. Rom.6:6; Gal.2:20). We are seeking a better place where there are no more tears, where there is no more pain, where we will walk forever in resurrection in perfect bodies with our Lord forever. And so we live for the Lord, not for ourselves, and certainly not for what other people may think. One final thought on the ostracism you have been suffering and God's ultimate purpose; it just may be that God is really testing the people who take offense at you; all the more important if such is the case to cultivate a careful walk with Him.

I want you to know that Jesus loves you with a love that cannot even be measured in human terms. I cannot promise He will heal you, but I can promise you that He will give you the strength to do everything He wants you to, if only you will continue to follow Him faithfully with all your heart.

In the Name of the One who bore all our diseases on the tree of the cross, our loving Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #5: 

Hi Bob,

How many times did Jesus heal someone without touching them? 

Response #5: 

The short answer is "quite often", but any list would have a hard time being comprehensive because 1) many of the miracles which our Lord did are not even in the scriptures (Jn.20:3); 2) there are a number of places in scripture where Jesus' teaching and healing is only covered in synopsis (e.g., Matt.4:23; 9:35; etc.); 3) there are a good number of instances where the problem is one entirely of demon possession so that even though there is a physical/health problem which is "cured", technically anyway our Lord is performing what we call "exorcism" (although scripture never calls it that); 4) in some places it is left unclear whether or not Jesus made physical contact in the healing; 5) it is occasionally difficult to tell in the synoptic gospels whether similar incidents are the same as those described in other gospels or just similar (after all, our Lord ministered for some three and a half years before the cross); and finally 6) there is so much of this activity in the gospels that any list I might prepare without extensive research is likely to miss some things. Nevertheless, I'll have a go. I found the following examples which (may) meet your criteria of our Lord healing people without physically touching them (but, as I say, this list makes no claim to be complete):

1. The Roman centurion's servant (Matt.8:5ff.; Lk.7:1ff.).
2. The Gadarene demoniac (Matt.8:28ff.; Mk.5:1ff.; Lk.8:26ff.).
3. The paralyzed man on the mat (Matt.9:2ff.).
4. The man with the paralyzed hand (Matt.12:12ff.; Mk.3:3-5).
5. The paralyzed man lowered through the roof (Lk.5:18ff.).
6. The woman with the flow of blood (Matt.9:22) - but she did touch Him.
7. The mute demon-possessed man (Matt.9:32).
8. The Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter (Matt.15:21ff.)
9. The demon-possessed boy (Matt.17:14ff.)
10. The demon-possessed man in the synagogue (Mk.1:26ff.)
11. The lepers (Lk.17:11ff.).
12. The son of the official at Capernaum (Jn.4:46ff.).
13. The sick man at the pool (Jn.5:1ff.).
14. The widow's son (Lk.7:15) - though Jesus does touch the bier.
15. Lazarus (Jn.11:1ff.).

These instances comprise roughly more than a third of Jesus' healing miracles specifically mentioned in scripture. One interesting thing to glean from the above is that when He didn't make contact, our Lord seems to have had a definite reason for not touching the person He was healing. Either what they really needed was exorcism (which He accomplished "with a word of rebuke"), or they were remote from His location (and in such instances they were gentiles), or He was making a particular point in addition to the healing and what that meant (i.e., about forgiveness of sins, or the true meaning of the Sabbath). There is also the case of the group of lepers (although see Matt.8:3ff), so that, putting this together with gentiles and the demon possessed, it is, I suppose possible to see the issue of "uncleanness" as a factor in some non-touching healings – but then again there are clearly some instances above which definitely do not seem to fall into that category. What the above list certainly does demonstrate is that it was clearly not necessary for our Lord to actually touch someone to heal them. However, the practice of doing so certainly made the connection so clear between His Messiahship and the healing in question that this was apparently His preferred method.

Your friend in Jesus.

Bob L.

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