No Crystal Ball, No Wayback Machine


I remember Monday, April 7, 2008. I walked down to the creek beside our home and sat on the bridge. It was easy to pray on such a beautiful day. The cerulean sky erupted in white, pierced by the rays of an energetic sun, while a casual cloud or two drifted by, oblivious and serene. Winter had fled, replaced by a warmth that seemed to radiate from all the new life growing green around me.

And when I prayed, I thanked God that things had finally turned around. That the last several years of struggle were over. That everything in the world finally seemed right for my family. That now was a time to let down the guard, to let the watchmen rest, to know peace instead of strife and uncertainty. I thanked God with tears in my eyes. Our new dog, which had wandered into our lives a few days previous, probably wondered what kind of blubbering owner she had come to choose. I didn’t care; I was happy.

But now the dog is gone. Many things I thanked God for that sunny April day are not the same, for mere hours after I prayed that prayer of gratefulness, the world fell apart.

It seemed cruel that the weight that long crushed us lifted so briefly, only to be replaced by a devastating burden my wife and I could not have imagined if you gave us a year to write out all the possible twists and turns life can take. So it is living as dust.

As 2008 comes to a close, it ends as a year no crystal ball might have foretold.

You would think that at 46 I would have completed my growing up, but God has many surprises among His riches, and growth at this late stage would not have been one I would have guessed.

But this is what I have to say to you:

God still cares about you and me.

Sometimes the worst events in life have a wisdom of their own, even if we are not smart enough at the time of their coming to see it.

Ten thousand flaming chariots surround the ones the Lord loves.

You and I are not clever enough to chart our own way.

No one can live without the support of others.

Tough times make for tough people, but only if they learn to believe and trust the Lord.

Humility must come at the time of greatest need or else that need will go unfilled.

There are no crystal balls, no wayback machines, so learn to live in the present.

That which we fear will own us in the end, if we let it.

Each of us  must walk through the Valley of Despair, though each valley is unique for each person.

Let go and let God.

I can’t tell you in detail what happened this year. Google has an elephant’s memory and never forgets. But I want to thank all of you who prayed. Light in the darknessIt may be a cliché to say that I could feel those prayers as this year lurched and stumbled along, but I did. And to those few who supported my family financially this year through donations through Cerulean Sanctum, my lasting gratitude goes out to you. As I said, no one can live without the support of others.

This has been a hard year for many people. 2009 promises to be even harder if trends continue as they are. The economic downward spiral will test many. Some will face, like we did, health issues that will test their mettle. (I just learned that David Wayne of Jollyblogger is facing stage 4 liver cancer that has metastisized.) Tomorrow is an uncertainty.

While some will rejoice in 2009, others will weep. But whatever happens, know that the Lord is with you and will never stop being with you because He loves you with an indescribable love, no matter what you are going through.

Thursday Thoughts


Just a few things I was thinking about or read elsewhere and thought were worth sharing…


Given the hoopla over this “revival” in Florida (which I spoke of earlier this week) and the rise of prophetic ministries across this nation, consider what revivalist Leonard Ravenhill said were the marks of a true prophet and see if any of those characteristics match prophets in today’s modern charismatic movement. (Ravenhill’s comment that “The degree of his effectiveness is determined by his measure of unpopularity” should be a good indicator of direction.)

Also in this vein, with people obsessed with signs and wonders, consider what David Wilkerson authored in his message “A Christless Pentecost: Is Christ Becoming a Stranger in Our Midst?

What is it with people acting like animals at some of these supposed revivals we keep hearing about? Nothing disturbs me more than to hear this kind of nonsense. The late Derek Prince offers some discernment that is much needed but rarely heeded.

Had enough charismatic-bashing from me, a charismatic? Well, how about this for positive spin?

Because I write Christian fiction, I’m all too aware of the traps that such an endeavor poses. It’s very easy to lead one’s readers into a ditch. Tim Challies does a worthy job dismantling the questionable theology of the über-bestseller The Shack.


I’m finding that the latest version of WordPress is much slower than previous versions, not only in the Admin pages, but in loading the blog itself. WordPress dropped gzip compression and their object caching. Without them, this site loaded like molasses, so I restored that functionality and cut load speeds to a third of what they were after the upgrade. I’ve spent several hours trying to optimize Cerulean Sanctum for faster loading.

Firefox 3.0 RC1 is a fine update, but it proved devastating to the way my computer ran. I have an old PC running XP that has 512 MB of RAM (and the cost of 1GB of 168-pin ECC PC-133 DRAM for it is ridiculously high, so I’m stuck with the following issue and solution). Between all the bloatware updates on Windows and most other software out there, my processes were paging, including my satellite Internet drivers, causing them to spontaneously unload when Firefox grabbed all the CPU cycles and RAM. Grr. If you have a similar problem, setting Firefox 3.0’s process priority to “Below Normal” will solve that problem. Don’t understand why the software slams the CPU so hard, but there you go. If the upcoming update of Firefox were a kid, the verdict would be “Doesn’t play nice with other children.”

Creation Care

I’m surprised that no one is looking at the upcoming Beijing Olympics as the cauldron of some future pandemic. You’ll have people from all over the world descending en masse on China—the world’s petri dish for disease. The Asian continent, and China in particular, serves as the birthplace of many communicable diseases, influenza being only the most prominent example. The Beijing Olympics will concentrate groups of far-flung people who normally never congregate and do so in that disease-spawning region. It not only offers the possibility that people dispersing after the Olympics will take disease worldwide, but also that people will bring diseases into the region that may find the environment to their liking, either mutating into something more virulent or finding some combination of factors that encourage DNA-swapping. No matter what occurs, we should keep our eye on this.

I think this is one of the coolest, wettest springtimes I can remember. What does this say about global warming?

On the other hand, scientists are finding that the massive increase in carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere since the 1950s has created ultra-potent poison ivy. As someone who never used to be bothered by the stuff during my years in Christian camping ministry, I can attest to the change.

As an Audubon member (and treasurer of my local chapter), I keep a lookout for birds. My neighbor, the chapter president, and I both note an alarming lack of bluebirds this year after years of increases. Anyone out there seeing bluebirds or noting changes in their numbers?

On the other hand, we have plenty of meadowlarks on our property, a bird that is rapidly dying out due to the overdevelopment of pasture land. This article at Audubon notes other familiar birds that were once common but are now in trouble.

I continues to grieve me how carelessly we trash the world God gave us in pursuit of avarice. On another blog, a commenter lambasted me for my concern that putting in a massive Wal-Mart superstore in my little town would ruin the night sky. He told me in no uncertain terms that if I cared about that loss I should move out of the area. My valid question: Are there any such places left, and if so, how long before they, too, get turned into a strip mall? Sometimes I am just staggered at our willingness to defecate all over our living spaces and think nothing of it. Heck, even dogs don’t do that.

Think deep thoughts this weekend. When we get opportunities to relax, we need to be considerate and thinking people. Christians, more than any other people, must be wise. We know the Source of wisdom, right?

Be blessed.

Spirits, Sin, and Sickness


'Satan Smiting Job with Sore Boils' by Wm. BlakeI was thinking about starting a series on the tough topics we avoid in our churches, but rather than putting them all together under one title, I thought I’d just post them when they happen. If anyone wants to link them together as they periodically occur, that’s great. That way if some pressing topic arises or I’m not able to come up with good material, people won’t ask what happened to the series—always embarrassing for us conscientious bloggers! 😉

Before we get into this topic, I do want to post a disclaimer: What follows does NOT imply that every sickness falls into the situations I’m discussing. So if you have a particular affliction or chronic illness, this may not apply to you at all—or it may. That’s for you to determine before God. I’m just putting this out there because the biblical precedents exist.

Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God.
—Luke 13:10-13 ESV

Anyone who’s been a Christian for any length of time will soon understand that the American Church has a number of different facets. Denominationalism has splintered us into thousands of fragments. Stay in any one fragment too long and all the other fragments begin to look odd, as if they’re not all pieces of the same stone.

Those from a charismatic background are familiar with the kind of situation depicted in Luke 13. Others may not be. However, it’s this kind of encounter that tests whether our fragment is open to something more or closed down to unfamiliar realities.

Jesus confronts a woman who has been crippled by a spirit. The Greek word is pneuma, the same word for “wind” or “spirit” that we see throughout the New Testament. This woman was a child of the Covenant; she is in the synagogue. If she had not been Hebrew, the synagogue leaders would not have allowed her to be there as she would have been unclean and would have made their place of worship unclean.

She was afflicted by an evil spirit that caused her physical disability. She did not, however, share the characteristics of those who were literally possessed by demons—she was in her right mind, was able to move under her own will, and was not self-destructive.

Still, she was hurting. We don’t know how she got in this state, but it’s clear that there was a spirit that affixed itself to her in such a way that she suffered physical problems. Jesus released her from this.

The other day, my son and I were in my truck when we pulled up behind an ambulance. Snake on a poleHe remarked that the ambulance had blue “snowflakes” with snakes on them. I tried to explain that symbol to him based on its occurrence in Numbers, but that passage is a tough one to exegete for a five-year old:

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you. Pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the LORD said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
—Numbers 21:4-9 ESV

The people sinned by grumbling and ingratitude. Physical affliction swiftly followed. Some died. Others sought out God’s cure; theirs was an unusual repentance: look at a bronze snake on a pole and be healed.

The result of sin was physical affliction. Some might consider the fiery serpents to be demonic in nature, some might not. Regardless, the point is clear.

Later on, God makes this promise to the Hebrews:

And the LORD will take away from you all sickness, and none of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you knew, will he inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you.
—Deuteronomy 7:15 ESV

Who are the recipients of this promise of illness? Those who do not follow the ways of God.

We have the example of King Uzziah:

But when he was strong, [Uzziah] grew proud, to his destruction. For he was unfaithful to the LORD his God and entered the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense. But Azariah the priest went in after him, with eighty priests of the LORD who were men of valor, and they withstood King Uzziah and said to him, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the LORD, but for the priests the sons of Aaron, who are consecrated to burn incense. Go out of the sanctuary, for you have done wrong, and it will bring you no honor from the LORD God.” Then Uzziah was angry. Now he had a censer in his hand to burn incense, and when he became angry with the priests, leprosy broke out on his forehead in the presence of the priests in the house of the LORD, by the altar of incense. And Azariah the chief priest and all the priests looked at him, and behold, he was leprous in his forehead! And they rushed him out quickly, and he himself hurried to go out, because the LORD had struck him. And King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death, and being a leper lived in a separate house, for he was excluded from the house of the LORD. And Jotham his son was over the king’s household, governing the people of the land.
—2 Chronicles 26:16-21 ESV

Uzziah was stricken with illness because of his sinful arrogance. We see a similar incident when Gehazi has a row with Elisha and is struck with leprosy:

He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.
—2 Kings 5:25-27 ESV

Paul writes on this subject in the New Testament, too, showing how sin can cause illness:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.
—1 Corinthians 11:27-30 ESV

That’s a hard passage to ignore.

Sin and sickness are intrinsically woven together. The New Testament shows this particularly well when Jesus meets up with the paralytic in one of his earliest and most famous healings:

When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—”I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.” And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God.
—Luke 5:22-25 ESV

The interplay here of forgiveness of sins and healing is quite powerful. We see this elsewhere in James, one of the most powerful statements on healing in the New Testament, but one we don’t often believe:

And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.
—James 5:15 ESV

Again, sin and sickness are tied together, as are healing and forgiveness.

Let’s go back to the woman in Luke with the afflicting spirit…

Besides sin, there is a demonic component to sickness. Those who commit sinful acts are prone to demonic activity. Paul confronts the sexual immorality of a man in the Corinthians church by offering this:

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
—1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV

Later, the apostle confronts another two:

This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.
—1 Timothy 1:18-20 ESV

Matthew Henry’s commentary argues that this delivery into the hands of Satan makes these men prone to whatever Satan may bring their way. He especially notes that sickness and attacks in the flesh are to be expected. And though Job was blame-free, his own experience with Satan proves one of the means of demonic operation is physical illness:

And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.
—Job 2:3-7 ESV

Spirits, sin, and sickness—they all go together.

Now some will protest saying that it’s not always that way. They’d be right, too. Sometimes an illness is just an illness, the result of no singular act of sin, no demonic affliction, but the simple truth of living in a fallen world. There certainly is truth to that, too:

As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
—John 9:1-3 ESV

We see righteous King Hezekiah sick and ready to die, though not due to any particular sin:

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD, and said, “Please, O LORD, remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah: “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.”
—Isaiah 38:1-5 ESV

This is why discernment is called for when dealing with sickness.

But for the purposes of this post, I wish to stick with the kind of illness that has as a spiritual component to it that can be traced back to sinfulness, particularly willful sin.

Too many of us don’t think about our sicknesses this way. When we suffer physical ailments, we are too willing to make the cause viral, bacterial, or just the vicissitudes of life. Outside of charismatic circles, too many Christians don’t like to think about an evil spirit underlying a specific illness. Attaching our sickness to sinfulness in our own life isn’t a commonplace belief in some parts of the Church. We’ve seen what the Bible says, though.

Some afflictions are readily tied to sin. Any doctor worth his medical degree will tell you that gluttony and sloth contribute to heart disease and adult-onset diabetes. Sexual immorality leads to a litany of STDs. Every day the newspapers and TVs trumpet some new reason for why we’re sick, and often the diagnoses go back to sins of omission and commission.

Most are obvious, but some may not be. Is it possible that the startling rise in casual porn use may be responsible for the equally startling rise in GERD (acid reflux disease)? Or that depression might be linked to having a judgmental or critical spirit? Or that arthritis might be due to envy? Is it that impossible to believe that our afflictions have a spiritual component, that evil spirits may bring certain afflictions (like that of the bent woman in Luke), or that we suffer needlessly through some of our illnesses because we refuse to repent of besetting sins?

I believe we must ask these questions, but not enough churches are led by people willing to ask them. And if the leaders of those churches don’t ask, how many of their congregants will?

Our response must be discerning. We must rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal these things. His promise is that He will. Just as Jesus was able to discern different kinds of evil spirits, so must we. It is our responsibility before God to confront what lurks behind an illness (be it sin, the demonic, or a combination of both) and shine the healing light of Christ upon it.

We mustn’t settle for what the naysayers are telling us. We must test these things against the Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit. At least as I see it, the Bible is very clear on this issue. If we take the Scriptures for what they say, we just might see more miracles.

We may even find ourselves healed in the process.