Long-Term Illness Do you know someone who just always seems to be sick? Maybe you quietly question whether it’s in their head, or if they make it up to get attention. Now, let me just tell you, I’m excited because our Vilonia campus is joining us online this weekend. Pastor
John had knee surgery Friday, and he’s not making it up, I promise you. But he’s doing great, so I’m excited to have you all join us. His is the real deal. But, have you ever wondered, if somebody is the real deal? You might have even wondered what they did to cause it, or to deserve it. It’s easy to be opinionated and judgmental, when it’s someone else. But when you’re on the other side of the equation your opinion quickly changes.
All of a sudden, instead of judgment, you have sympathy. Instead of suspicion, you have concern. When you’ve been there, when you’ve suffered a long-term illness, or one for which the doctors have no answer, you see things completely different. And today I want to talk to you about something that’s not commonly discussed in church, perhaps because we don’t know what to say. Long-term illness. Maybe you’re there right now. You or a family member have a sickness or disease, for which there’s no cure. You’re facing a difficult prognosis. Maybe the doctors even said, “This will always be part of your life.” Or you have a chronic condition, that causes daily pain or discomfort. You’re doing your best to learn to live with it, but you can’t forget it. It’s always there. Maybe you deal with depression, anxiety or another type of condition. You’ve tried everything and nothing works. You’re discouraged, frustrated, tired. Others of
you have a sickness or disease, or a pain for which the doctors can’t find the cause. It’s maddening! You have a lot of questions, but no answers. Maybe you’re watching online, you’re in the hospital, or you’re watching at home. You feel hopeless. You feel discouraged and alone. Now I understand, others of you aren’t going to immediately identify. Your blessed, you’ve never faced that, and you hope that you never will. I want you to still tune in and listen, for several reasons. First, there may be someone in your family, or in your circle of friends, facing these challenges. And you need to better understand how to love, encourage, and pray for them. One day you or someone you love, may find yourself in this situation. And what you learn today will be valuable in the future. I think God will give some of you opportunities to share your faith and pray for people without answers. I want you to understand, I want you to be ready to fulfill His purpose. We’re a family. We’re the family of God. Paul in Galatians 6:2, “Told us to carry each other’s burdens.” Romans 12 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” We’re not supposed to let anyone in our family face a
challenge alone. We’re better, we’re stronger together. Everything really is better in teams. So let me set the stage for this story we’re going to look at today. It was a miraculous time in the life of Jesus. Leading up to this moment Jesus calmed a fierce storm with three words, “Peace be still.” It’s a great story if you’ve never read it. I encourage you to check it out in Mark, chapter4, and to read it. And then right after that, Jesus delivered a man who’d been tormented by demons. It was another powerful moment. And that man told everyone what Jesus had done. And the Bible says, “ALL the people were amazed.” Everybody! A large crowd gathered. They’d heard about Jesus, His teaching, His miracles. They came to see Him, to hear Him, to have their needs met. And we pick up the story in Mark, chapter 5, verse 22. “One of the synagogue rulers, named Jairus, came there. Seeing Jesus, he fell at His feet and pleaded earnestly with Him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come put your hands on her so that she’ll be healed, and live.'” Jairus had to overcome a lot to make that request. He was a synagogue leader, so he was one of the people who opposed Jesus and his
teaching. If the other guys heard Jairus begging Jesus for help, he’d lose his position, he’d lose his status. But Jairus decided to go to Jesus anyway, in spite of all that, because nothing mattered more than his precious little girl. Jesus didn’t hesitate. He’d come to bless, and to heal, and to love, even His enemies. “So Jesus went
with him. He went with Jairus. A large crowd followed, pressed around Him. It was a borderline mob scene. Jesus, Jairus and the disciples could barely move, because of all the people along on this journey. Everyone wanted to see what Jesus would do. And how Jairus would react. No one wanted to miss the action. So they started out for Jairus’ house, pushing through the crushing, clamoring, crowd of people. And then the unthinkable happened. At the very worst possible time for Jairus, Jesus was interrupted. By a woman with a desperate need. A woman was there, who’d been subject to bleeding for 12 years. Twelve
years is a long time. A lot can happen in 12 years. Think about it. Twelve years ago the first iPhone was invented. Some of you still have that precious iPhone. [Audience Laughs] Twelve years ago George W Bush was president. Twelve years ago Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s homerun record. Twelve years seems like a lifetime. For 12 years, this woman had been losing blood. Twelve years! It was hard for her to remember when she wasn’t weak and exhausted. When her body didn’t feel like it was going to collapse. Her need was there when she went to sleep at night. When she woke up in the morning. As she walked through every part of every day. “She’d suffered a great deal, under the care of many doctors, and spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” Every day of every week, every month of every year, for 12 years she suffered. And every new cure she tried made her worse than before. She had no hope. Now in addition to the physical treatments, no doubt she received lots of advice. You know how that is, everyone has an idea or a home remedy. Somebody tells you what kind of juice to drink. Somebody else tells you what vitamin or supplement to take. Somebody else suggests a new diet, that will make everything better. Then there are the encouragers. One tells you that their aunt had the same condition, she died [Laughter] Pastor John told me a story, he was going in for knee surgery on Friday, I talked to him Thursday night. He said, “Yeah I met somebody and told him I was having knee surgery and they said, ‘Man I know know two people who had the same thing and died.'” That’s pretty encouraging isn’t it? Someone else tells you to try positive confession. When you’ve struggled for a long time, you hear a lot of frustrating, irritating, occasionally stupid comments, from encouragers. People say things that aren’t helpful in any way. And I think the very worst things they say start with two words, “At least.” People say at least it’s not terminal. At least you have insurance. At least your kids are grown. If you’re talking with someone who’s going through a difficult time leave out your, “At least,” comments. Quit trying to silver line someone else’s cloud. Sometimes clouds are just clouds. To make it even worse, in those days people believed if you were sick, it was because you’d sinned. There’s nothing more discouraging than to be told your sickness is God’s punishment. There’s still people who believe that way. They tell you, “If you just had more faith then you wouldn’t be sick.” Those people change their theology when they get sick. February 2012, I took a group of pastors to Africa to introduce them to a ministry to unreached people groups. We had a great trip. Formed valuable partnerships. Unfortunately I got sick. The best guess is I picked up a parasite in my intestinal tract. Not exactly the souvenir I wanted to bring home. It’s a really long story, I’ll try not to make too long. But when I got home I was still sick. My stomach felt like someone was just pushing on it like there was a fist in my gut, all the time. If I ate much at all, it felt worse. For about 3 or 4 months I tried medicine, diet, anything me or my doctor could think of, nothing helped. I was losing weight and I couldn’t gain it back. So a good friend of mine, a nurse in our church, works for a GI doctor. She talked to him and he started helping me. He’s an amazing doctor. If you can imagine this, he gave me his cell phone number. And he would call and text me, as he searched for an answer. Trying to figure out what was going wrong. We tried any and every drug, had every test imaginable. He consulted with other doctors. He read books. He asked me countless questions. I’d be sitting in a meeting in the morning, and my phone would ring, and I’d look down and it was him. And I’d answer, “Hey Doc.” He’d say, “Hey Rod I was just thinking of something.” He was incredible, the care. Several times we thought we had it figured out. I got better for a couple weeks and I could eat again. I started gaining a little weight, then without warning the sickness would come back. Nothing worked. No cure would last. If I ate a full meal, it made me sick. I remember looking at a big, juicy steak at my favorite restaurant. And I sat there trying to decide, do I eat and get more sick, or do I just push it around the plate and hope no one notices. Physically I pushed through. In two years I only miss one thing because I was sick, that was a banquet that I wasn’t speaking at. I only told a few people about it. Not because I didn’t want prayer, but because I didn’t want all the questions when there are no answers. I didn’t even share with some of our team members. Cindy, Tyler, Parker, and a few trusted friends, prayed for and with me, and I just kept losing weight. At my worst point I had lost over 20 pounds. Some people made fun of me, told jokes about how thin I was, that was very encouraging. I tried to endure it quietly, but I wondered why it was socially acceptable for them to make fun of me for being
thin, but not okay for me to make fun of their appearance. That was weird to me. Many times I was greeted with, “Hey Pastor Rod you don’t look good.” Or, “You need to gain weight.” That was encouraging! I knew I needed to gain weight. Knew I didn’t look good. By the way, you don’t look good, is never a way to encourage people.[Chuckles] All right? That’s a weird way to greet people. If you find yourself saying that, know the person you’re saying it to doesn’t feel thankful, encouraged, or prayed for. I kept losing weight. Sometimes I went six weeks without being able to eat a full meal. No matter what I tried, I couldn’t put the weight back on or stay well. I was sick for 25 months, not 12 years, but it felt like forever. That woman in the crowd, 12 YEARS! One of the most painful consequences of her sickness was her inability to be around other people, she was considered unclean. Her bleeding disqualified her from participating in community or in church life. If she touched anyone they became unclean. She couldn’t go to the temple. She couldn’t be around other women in the neighborhood. She was not just sick, she was also desperately lonely. And she’d heard rumors about Jesus. According to the stories, Jesus had touched a leper and he was instantly healed. It was an amazing story! But after all she’d been through, the humiliation, the pain, the countless, “Cures,” she couldn’t get herself to believe the story was really true. Especially the part about Jesus touching a leper, because no one touched a leper. But what if it was true? What if Jesus’s touch could really heal her? That quickly. That simply. And hope began to flicker in her heart. And then one day Jesus came to town. She watched the scene as she had many other scenes for 12 years, from the outside looking in. She wanted to be near Jesus but it wasn’t going to be easy. People were going to recognize her. They might throw her out in anger. And finally she decided, well so what if they throw me out, what does it matter? I’m already out. She was miserable and alone. But this was Jesus, the one who touched a leper, and suddenly she realized she did believe. And hope surged in her heart.
Lowering her head, hiding from the crowd, with much difficulty, she began pushing and shoving her way through the crowd towards Jesus. And then finally, she was close. She could see Jesus’s feet as they appeared from under the edge of his robe, with each step He took. He touched the leper, she told herself and the leper was made clean. And so, “She came up behind Him in the crowd and she touched His cloak, because she thought, ‘If I just touch His clothes, I’ll be healed.'” With what seemed like her last bit of strength, she crouched down, she leaned forward and her fingers brushed the hem of His robe. And suddenly she knew something, something had happened. Something had changed. “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” It was no longer flowing. She was cured, instantly healed by the power of God. Jesus stopped. The crowd came to a halt. “Jesus turned around in the crowd and asked, ‘Who touched my clothes?'” The disciples didn’t understand, they said, “Who touched you? Look at all the people around you? How can we know who touched you? What kind of crazy question is that?” And her heart begin to beat rapidly, because she knew she was the one Jesus was referring to. Jesus is standing there, He was looking at the crowd. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore, so she came forward, and quaking with fear, she fell before Jesus. She told Him the whole truth about herself, what she been through and what she had done. Jesus listened quietly, and when she finished speaking His words settled her spirit. “He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace be free from your suffering.'” And the exchange between Jesus and the woman was over, that’s it. That quickly, that simply, she’d been healed of her disease and pronounced clean. I don’t know what meant more to her, the healing of her body or the healing of her soul. Both would remain with her forever. She’d never stop believing that Jesus could heal every illness, that he could
take care of every problem, every kind of disease, every kind of wounded hurt. That quickly and that simply. I think she did two things right after being healed. First, I think she went to the temple, the church, she hadn’t been able to go for 12 years. And then I think on her way, she touched people. She hugged people. Anyone she knew. Anyone she saw. It just felt good to touch people again. The pain was gone. The suffering was over. She’d been healed by Jesus and she’d never be the same. The two-year mark of my sickness, a friend
made an appointment for me with one of the best infectious disease doctors in East Africa. And that kind of made sense. If I got sick in Africa, I could get well in Africa. My appointment was set, Tuesday, February 4, 2014. We had all the files, all the records, all that stuff ready. It’s almost exactly 2 years after I got sick. Two days before I was scheduled to leave we had a crisis. And I had to cancel my trip to Africa and my doctor’s appointment. And the sickness continued. Just over a month later, March 17, 2014, the doctors that had been part of a clinical trial on something, said, “Let’s give it a shot with you.” And we started. After three days I ate a full meal. I mean, I’d had short term answers before, but I was hopeful. And this time it lasted. After 25 months
and 13 days of being sick, I started gaining weight back. It was a slow process as I regained my appetite, as I trusted I could actually eat. I still remember the first time we went back and I ate the whole steak. And
today, just over five years later, I weigh three more pounds than I did before the sickness struck. And I’ve held my weight for the last 12 months. [Audience Claps And Cheers] And you’re just like, [Claps] but I’m saying, “Thank You Jesus.” I mean you could give the credit to the doctor, or to the drug, but after 25 months and 13 days of being sick, and countless different medicines, I gave and give Jesus the glory. He touched me. Now if I could live it over again, I wouldn’t. But I’m thankful to God because he helped me learn through the storm. There’s a difference between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy is, “I feel compassion toward you.” Empathy is, “I know what you’re going through.” I’ve been there. I understand your feelings. You feel empathy when you’ve been there, sympathy when you haven’t. Before, I always had sympathy for people who are sick. Now, I have empathy. I empathize with the person who has no answers, because I’ve been there. I listen different. I respond different. I pray different. As a result I’m a better person. I’m a better pastor. So I want to help you. If you’ve never faced unexplained or long-term illness, let me just give you some tips. Here’s how you can talk to and express care for someone in a long-term battle. First, pray for them. Pray for them, but not just in your own personal time, during worship walk over, put a hand on their shoulder and pray. When they come forward for prayer, stand with them. Pray out loud so they can hear you, because it makes them feel better, and God will speak through you as you pray. Your words can be incredibly encouraging. I’ll never forget the Sunday morning my friend Larry came forward to me at prayer time. Instead of me praying for him he wrapped his arms around me and he prayed a powerful prayer, for encouragement and strength and healing, and it just meant so much to me that day. I remember the Sunday night when I was at my most discouraged and my younger son Parker prayed for me. He’s bigger than me, taller than me, I put my head on his chest and just sobbed and wept. And it felt good to cry as he prayed for me. You say, “But I don’t know what to say when I pray.” You don’t have to pray fancy words. I wasn’t evaluating the language. The important thing is they know that you’re standing with them. The second way you can help is tell them, “I’m praying for you.” Send a card, a note, a text, a Facebook message. God can use your simple moment to remind your friend that they’re not alone. It says, “I’m in the battle with you.” Throughout my sickness two of our board members Charity Workman and Kane Dorsey, texted or emailed me regularly. Telling me they were praying. And inevitably it would come at just the right time. Third thing, express your love. Hug them, tell them, I love you. Don’t treat someone with a disease, or depression, or an undiagnosed illness, like they’re unclean. Now, I understand it makes you uncomfortable, but not nearly as uncomfortable as it makes them. Don’t let discomfort keep you from caring. Push back, push through that. Express your love. And remember the family of the person with a long-term illness is also in the fight. It can be incredibly discouraging. It can sap their
strength physically, spiritually, emotionally. The same things you say to the sick person, say to them. They need it too. If you’re in that situation. If you’re caring for someone with a long-term illness, I want you to know, you’re not alone. We love you. We’re in the fight with you. We don’t know always what to say. Can’t always figure out the right words, but we’re with you. We care about you. We’re not just praying for your family member, we’re praying for you. In fact, this week I’ve especially felt all week long like we should pray for people, not just who were sick, but also those who are caring for the sick. Because when you’re caring for someone with a long-term illness, you almost feel selfish if you ask for prayer. You don’t want to admit what you’re going through, because you don’t want to devalue what they’re going through. But we understand the fight. Understand the struggle. In a few minutes we’re going to pray for you. Now let me give you one thing not to do. Don’t use humor to encourage. When you’re facing a long-term illness, it’s really not all that funny. Funny insults
aren’t funny. They hurt. Anytime your idea of humor is to make fun of someone else’s physical appearance or condition you are not helping. You’re hurting. We need to completely remove that kind of insensitive humor from our culture. I don’t understand how that can ever be beneficial. If the person who’s sick uses humor talking
about it, you can follow their lead and laugh with them, but don’t you ever lead with humor. You lead with love. Here’s another thing not to say, don’t say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” Unless you’re actually going to help. Don’t let that be loose words. If you offer help, then when they ask for it change your schedule and actually help. Now I want to go back to Jairus’ story, remember he’s the guy, his daughter’s sick. It’s interrupted by that woman. “While Jesus is still speaking, some men came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue ruler, and they told him. ‘Your daughter’s dead.'” Pretty insensitive way to bring the news. “Why bother the teacher any more? Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.” So they kept walking. Jairus led Jesus to his home. When they arrived they heard all the mourners loudly wailing and crying. Jairus was repeating to himself Jesus’s words over and over, believe just believe, just believe. He wanted to believe but the wailing of the mourners let him know there was no hope, that his daughter was dead. A woman stood in the doorway, her face pale, her eyes red from crying, staring numbly at them. Jesus knew it was the girl’s mother. Jesus went into the home with Peter, James, John, Jairus and his wife. There were mourners in the house, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, nosy neighbors, all wailing and mourning. Jesus said, “Why are you doing this? What’s all the noise about?” Be quiet. “She’s not dead she’s asleep.” And the mourners were so shocked by the words of Jesus that they forgot to mourn. And in a house filled with sorrow, “They laughed at him.” And made fun of him, to them Jesus was a fool. Child’s asleep. What’s he thinking? How could he say that? How insensitive. “Jesus kicked them all out of the house.” Jesus is pretty bold. I mean there’s been times I wanted to kick some people out of my house. [Audience Laughs] Jesus did it. So now there’s no one in the house but Jesus, Jairus, his wife, and of course, a twelve-year-old girl, who’s merely asleep? “Jesus led them into the room where the little girl lay. She appeared
peaceful and beautiful as if she were sweetly dreaming, but her chest didn’t rise. No sound was heard. She didn’t stir. “Jesus went to her bedside, he knelt down and he took her little hand in his and said, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” “And the girl stood up and walked around.” Now the Bible doesn’t tell us, but can you imagine the scene? The mother and father fell to their knees praising God and thanking Jesus. They hugged their daughter who didn’t have a clue what was going on. Tightly, they cried tears of joy. It was a beautiful reunion. One every parent in this audience can easily identify with. Jairus no longer had any doubts about Jesus. And I have no doubt that Jairus and his entire family became lifelong followers of Jesus. If you’re in a long-term battle here’s what you can learn from the story. First, don’t let anything keep you from Jesus. Jairus had to overcome his peers, his belief system, his fears. He did it. He risked it all and he ran to Jesus. Don’t let anything keep you from Jesus. That woman had to overcome shame, disappointment, discouragement, disapproval. She overcame all that and she pushed her way to Jesus. Don’t let anything keep you from Jesus. I know you may have your doubts, so did Jairus, so did the woman who’d been sick for 12 years. Don’t let your doubts keep you from Jesus. I want to share a song with you that’s really ministered to me. When you’re struggling with doubt and you wonder if there’s ever going to be an answer. If the battle seems endless and you’re not even sure your prayers are heard. God is still in control. You can trust Him. [Music Starts To Play] It’s not what I prayed for, it’s not what I wanted, it’s not something I understand. My circumstances seemed so confusing I’m placing it all in your hands. Your ways are higher than mine. I want mountains to move, You want me to climb. So I’m going to trust Your work, Your will, and Your time, Your ways are higher than mine. One day I’m sure I will look back and marvel at how You knew best all a long. You see from heaven, You know it’s the hard times You make my feet steady and strong. Your ways are higher than mine. I want mountains to move, You want me to climb, so I’m going to trust Your work, Your will, and Your time. Your ways are higher than mine. When I start to doubt, help me believe, somewhere, so far above me. Your ways are higher than mine, I want mountains to move, You want me to climb, so I’m going to trust Your work, Your will, and Your time. Ohh, Your ways are so much higher than mine, Your ways are higher than mine. Would you bow your heads with me? I know I didn’t finish the outline but maybe I’ll get there in a minute. Maybe you’ve been prayed for and nothing’s happened, and you’ve given up. Listen to me, Don’t let anything keep you from Jesus. Don’t worry about what other people think. What will my friend think? Don’t let people keep you from Jesus. When I was sick I had all those thoughts.What will people think if the pastor keeps going for prayer? I decided I needed a touch from God more than I feared the criticism of judgmental people, or the question from skeptics? Can’t tell you how many times I went forward for prayer. Push through the crowd, push past your pride. Don’t let anything keep you from Jesus. If you’re facing a long-term illness or a chronic condition, whether you’re on the front end of it, or this is something you’ve gone through for a long time. I want to stop right now
and pray for you. And I believe just like that woman touched the edge of Jesus’s garment, He can touch and heal you. Just like He touched me after 25 months and 13 days. I believe He can touch you. If that’s you
would you just stand, we’re going to pray. I want you to do the same thing right now and Vilonia. If you’re facing it, come on get up. We’re going to pray for you. And then I also want to pray for you if you’re caring for
somebody with a long-term illness. I know that’s a unique situation and it’s a constant struggle. We want to pray for you and lift you up. Pray that God will give you strength and encouragement. If that’s you, would you stand too? Because I want to include you today in prayer.