Steve Gleason was always a passionate, lay-it-all-on-the-line kind of person. He was born in Spokane, Washington on March 17, 1977. Steve loved to play baseball, but football was a natural outlet for his energy and passion. He played fullback and linebacker on the Gonzaga Prep High School team where he was the MVP for his conference two years in a row. Steve received a scholarship from Washington State University where he was the starting linebacker on the Cougar’s team that went to the Rose Bowl in 1997. Steve played in the NFL for 8 years, but the highlight of his career took place on September 25, 2006.
Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans. The Saints hadn’t played a home game in the Superdome for 21 months. The night they came home was electric, the whole city was coming out of the doldrums, and when the opening kick-off took place the Superdome erupted. Early in the first quarter Steve broke through the line on a punt and blocked it. Curtis Deloatch recovered the ball in the Falcons’ end zone for a touchdown. It was the first score of the Saints’ first game in New Orleans in 21 months.
Some time later, Steve began to have problems with his health which later, in 2011, was diagnosed as ALS, a crippling and fatal disease. If you watch the outstanding documentary, Gleason, which chronicles Steve and his wife, Michel’s, battle together against the inevitable, you will be inspired, broken, and full of admiration for the couple. It has been a battle, but in the midst of their battle both Steve and Michel have had such a positive influence on an untold number of people who are also battling ALS.
The most heartbreaking scene of the documentary for me was the relationship of Steve and his father Mike. Steve and Mike didn’t see things the same way when it came to matters of faith. There’s a scene where Mike and Steve were sitting at the kitchen table with Mike’s Bible open and Mike said, “The more I read this the more I believe God wants to heal you.” They talked for a few more minutes and the next scene is of Steve and Michel entering a church with Mike, where a faith healer was speaking to the people. He led them in singing, “It’s the end of my pain and I know it…and I feel fine.” The preacher then asked those who needed healing to do something they weren’t able to do prior to the service. Steve told Michel, “I’m going to run.” Steve walked up to the front of the sanctuary and tried to run, but he fell flat on his face. Michel was so devastated for her husband. Two men put their arms under Steve’s and tried to help him run again. Michel, speaking to Steve and his dad, Mike, said, “Usually things happen after he is gone,” speaking about what the faith healer had said. You could sense the sarcasm in her voice. Mike said, “Michel, you are his partner, you need to trust and believe with him.” Can you imagine how those words sounded to the wife who had been there every moment of every day since Steve had been diagnosed?
It’s evident throughout the documentary that Mike and Steve love one another, but there was tension because of Mike’s insistence that Steve’s faith is not enough. In one scene Steve, with his speech greatly hindered spoke face-to-face with his dad. He said,
I am diagnosed with a terminal illness. I know when you get scared you jump into your camp that I need to pray like you, I need to believe all of the same things that you believe. You promised me that you would not question my faith. But every time you question my faith it crushes me. Stop trying to understand with your mind the relationship between my heart and God. My soul is saved. (Steve Gleason, Gleason.)
Mike, through tears, said to his son, “Don’t be angry at me, please.” The scene ended with the father holding his son in his arms and both shedding tears. I have all of the empathy in the world for Mike Gleason and his hope beyond all hope that the Lord wanted to heal his son, Steve. I’m a dad and I can’t imagine how I would respond to such a diagnosis given to one of my kids. What parent wouldn’t want to believe that God wanted to heal their son or daughter of such pain? Did Mike mean to build up Steve’s hopes only to have him crash face first in front of the whole church? Was Mike “mean” or did he mean well when he told his son that God wanted to heal him? There’s no doubt he meant well, but we need to be very careful because regardless of our good intentions we can do irreparable damage to those we love when we speak for God.
At the same time I can easily understand why Steve felt that, for his dad, his faith was just not enough, that it was somehow inferior to his dad’s faith, and unable to move the hand of God. I’ve known many “Steves” throughout my time of working in the church and it is heartbreaking and oftentimes catastrophic for a person’s walk with God. This is why it is so important, I can’t stress how important it is for us to understand our Scripture from James 5:14-16. Let’s read together.
14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:14-16 NIVO)
I have to tell you that there have been times I’ve been with other believers, talking about God and healing, and when I’ve shared what I believe, taken from God’s Word I might add, I’ve been looked down upon as being weak in faith. It’s the automatic response for those who “claim their healing,” believe in the health, wealth, and prosperity Gospel, and pick and choose selected Scriptures to prove their point. My responsibility as a pastor is to study and teach the whole counsel of God.
Does God heal? The answer to that question is “absolutely!” He always has, He heals in our day, and He will continue to heal until the end of time. Does God always heal? The answer to that question is “No,” God does not always heal our ailments in this life, ailments which come in many varieties. I was reading one of the most popular health, wealth, and prosperity preachers this past week, a man named Andrew Wommack. He believes it is God’s desire to heal every single infirmity, every single disease, and in the article, “God Wants You Well,” he writes,
I have prayed for thousands of people in my meetings across the country, and I have yet to see every person healed. It might be a problem in the heart of the one receiving prayer, or it might be something I don’t understand in regards to that particular person. But one thing I know for sure—it’s not God. (Andrew Wommack)
Let’s explore that just for a moment. In Acts 14, Paul healed a man who had been crippled from birth. Paul said, “Stand up and walk.” The man jumped up and began to walk. On the island of Malta, Paul prayed and laid his hands on the father of Publius and he was healed. We read, in Acts 28, that word got out and the rest of the sick folks on Malta came to Paul and they were cured. In Acts 19:11 we read, “God did extraordinary miracles through Paul…” (Acts 19:11 NIVO) Those are wonderful stories of the power of God, not the power of Paul, but the power of God. At the same time, we read in 2 Corinthians 12, that Paul was not healed. Turn to 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 and let’s read it together.
7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 NIVO)
Now, we have no idea what the “thorn in the flesh” was for Paul. Was it a physical, spiritual, or emotional affliction? We don’t know. Some have suggested maybe it was malaria, poor eyesight, migraines, or some kind of temptation. We just don’t know, but the important thing to notice is that Paul asked the Lord three times to take it from him, to heal him of the affliction and God said, “No.” Why did God say, “No.” Paul tells us. God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weaknesses.” That was enough for Paul. Paul said, “If God’s grace is made perfect through weakness, then I’ll delight in my weaknesses!”
In 2 Timothy 4:20 Paul told Timothy that he left a man named Trophimus “sick in Miletus.” In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, at the end of chapter 5, Paul tells Timothy,
23 Stop drinking only water, and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses. (1 Timothy 5:23 NIVO)
Why didn’t Paul simply heal Timothy’s stomach ailments? A little wine was a medicinal remedy for what ailed Timothy much like the oil and wine that the Good Samaritan used to dress the wounds of the man who had been beaten and left for dead in Luke 10:34. That leads me to James 5:14 where James’ writes,
14 Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. (James 5:14 NIVO)
Many have made much of the anointing with oil in the name of the Lord. In 852 AD, the Catholic Church gave to the priests the exclusive right of anointing with oil and called it “extreme unction.” The purpose of the sacrament is to remove any remnant of sin and prepare the person for the time of death. That can’t be what James is talking about because James says the Lord will “raise them up.” James is not talking about death, but life.
There are two possibilities we can look at for why James told the elders to anoint the sick person with oil. First, oil was used medicinally in biblical times. I mentioned the parable of the Good Samaritan which Jesus told. The man who was beaten and left for dead had his wounds dressed with oil and wine. Dr. Darnell used the verse from James 5:14 to teach me that when we have sick people in the church we are to call the elders to pray, call the church to pray, and we are to get the best doctors we can find to help them. Dr. J.A. Motyer writes,
Even when we go to the doctor, then, our eyes are to the Lord. He alone can heal. There is no such thing as (so to speak) ‘non-spiritual’ healing. When the aspirin works, it the Lord who has made it work; when the surgeon sets the broken limb and the bone knits, it is the Lord who has made it knit. Every good gift is from above! (Motyer, J.A. The Message of James. pg. 193.)
Let me make something perfectly clear–God is not against doctors. It is not a lack of faith in God to make an appointment to see your doctor. God has blessed, gifted, every single doctor whether they believe in Him or not, with gifts and abilities to be used to help you and me.
In 2014, a couple from Philadelphia, Herbert and Catherine Schaible, were sentenced to 3½ to 7 years in prison for the death of a second child, an eight month old, who had treatable pneumonia. Just five years prior, in 2009, their 2 year old son, Kent died because the couple refused to take him to the doctor and they were sentenced to ten years probation. Katherine said,
My religious beliefs are that you should pray, and not have to use medicine. But because it is against the law, then whatever sentence you give me, I will accept. (Catherine Schaible)
Their pastor, Nelson Clark, of the First Century Gospel Church blamed the child’s death on a “spiritual lack” in the lives of his parents. Heartbreaking. God has given us prayer and God has also given us doctors. Paul, when he wrote to the people of Colosse, shared greetings from our “beloved physician Luke.” There’s no doubt that Luke was loved by Paul because the doctor had helped him and others on many occasions.
There is another possibility for the purpose of anointing the sick person with oil and that is to consecrate them to the Lord. The word “consecrate” may be unfamiliar to some of you. In the Old Testament anointing with oil was used in a symbolic way to set apart persons or things for God’s purpose. Aaron and his sons were anointed with oil when God set them apart as His priests. In Isaiah 61 a prophecy was given about the coming Messiah,
The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1 NIVO)
And in Luke 4:18, Jesus stood up in the synagogue and preached His very first sermon with these words from Isaiah 61. He was anointed for a purpose, set apart for a purpose. If James was thinking about the elders anointing the sick person with oil with this in mind then it would be for the purpose of making plain to the one who was sick that they had been set apart for God’s special attention in prayer.
There is one more thing that we must get to before we leave here this morning and that is the way some link what James says about God’s healing and sins being forgiven. In James 5:15 we read,
15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. (James 5:15 NIVO)
Is the sickness caused by the sick person’s sin? That’s not what James is saying. He says, “If he has sinned, he will be forgiven.” Furthermore, James doesn’t tell us the sick person is to pray. He says the elders are to pray over the sick person so if you follow the thinking of those who say you have to have enough faith to be healed then it would be the lack of faith of the part of the elders and not the sick person right? Let’s get back to the issue of sin and sickness.
There’s no doubt that some sin causes sickness. If a person drinks like a fish then there will be health issues that are likely to come about. If a person eats uncontrollably, gorges themselves for years on end, then there is a good chance of their having sicknesses related to overeating. If a person is promiscuous sexually then there’s many things that can come about and none of them are good. So, you don’t have to be a follower of Jesus to know that some “sins” are related to some sickness in our lives. Are all illnesses tied to sin? Absolutely not. Have you ever heard about Job? Job’s trials had nothing to do with sin and God made that crystal clear to Job’s friends who were certain that all of Job’s hardships were a direct result of some sin of his.
Sickness as well as the hardships we face in life do give us time to reflect and we should use those down times to reflect upon the Lord and upon our lives. God may desire to reveal things to you and me upon our sick bed or in those valleys of life that are dark and troubling. I can tell you that many times I’ve gone to see folks who were ill, some who were facing the end of their lives, and we’ve had some of the most intimate, heart-to-heart conversations I’ve ever had because they had been reflecting on their life and on the Lord.
I’ve had my own experience of this happening in my life. Many years ago I had Bell’s Palsy and shingles at the same time. I was at home, unable to work, for six weeks. A dear friend told me it was the attack of Satan. I read God’s Word every day, I reflected on my life and spent time in prayer asking the Lord for answers, and an answer came. Our church was growing and there was a movement among the Body of Christ which focused on “turnaround churches.” America is filled with old churches that were once thriving, but have taken a turn for the worse and need to make a comeback. Back in the 90’s an organization called Net Results had contacted me about traveling to churches and sharing with them implement some of the things we had learned. I went to some different cities and met with church leaders. I had probably been working with them for six months when I got sick. While I was sick the Lord revealed to me, I didn’t hear a voice or see a sign in the sky, but God made it clear that I had left His call on my life. He had called me to teach His Word and minister to His people at Britton Christian Church and in this community. I called the folks I had been working with and told them I couldn’t travel any longer, I needed to get back to doing what God had given me to do.
I have to confess to you that I’ve never enjoyed the trials of life, I’ve never said, “I’m really looking forward to the next hardship the Lord will bring my way!” I have learned though that I can trust God in each and every trial, in every kind of trial whether it is sickness, turmoil, falling out of favor with others, and all of the other kinds of trials that can and will happen. I can trust Him. I can trust Him for more than comfort and strength, I can trust that He will not waste my trials, but He will use them for my benefit and the benefit of others.
I was working with the families that were waiting on news about their loved ones who were in the Murrah Building when Tim McVeigh set off a bomb that killed 168 people on April 19, 1995. It was one week after the bombing and celebrities were making their way to First Christian Church to try and encourage the family members. The one person who had the greatest impact on those family members was a lady in a wheelchair, a quadriplegic named Joni Eareckson Tada. She told her story, sang a song, and autographed a book she had written for everyone who wanted one.
Joni was 18 years old when she broke her neck in a diving accident. She has spent more than 50 years in a wheelchair. She has prayed for healing. She went to a Kathryn Kuhlman healing service, not too long after she was released from the hospital, and she believed she was going to be healed. Joni said she even called one of her friends before she went and told her, “Next time you see me I’m going to be running down the street.” Her healing hasn’t come.
Joni use to picture herself at the pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed a man who had been unable to walk for 38 years. She had visited the site many times in her mind, but the day came when her husband Ken took her to Israel and to the pool of Bethesda. Joni said there weren’t many people there at all. Then she writes,
The place was dead quiet. All the tour buses must have been down at the Dead Sea, and it was beautiful. It was quiet. And I leaned there on the guard rail of the old ruin while Ken ran down to see if there really was any water left in the pool of Bethesda. I was alone just with myself and with my Savior and tears streaming down my face, “O Jesus, thank You, thank You for a ‘no’ answer to a request for physical healing. You really knew what You were doing so many years ago because a ‘no’ answer to a request for physical healing has purged me of so much sin in my life, so much selfishness and bitterness, and I know I’ve got a long way to go, but every day I want to wake up and I want to be a different Joni than I was yesterday, I want to be a Joni that You created, that You’ve destined me to be. O God, help me to step into that ‘no’ answer because it will mean that I’m depending more on Your grace. It has helped me to increase my compassion for others who are hurt and disabled, it’s help me put complaining behind me, it stretched me, it has pushed me to give thanks in times of sorrow. It has increased my faith. It has strengthened my hope of heaven and it’s made me love You so much more…so much more. It is such a safe wonderful thing to be back in the inner sanctum of the fellowship of sharing in Your sufferings. And I would not trade it for any amount of walking. That is the deeper healing. That’s the real healing. (Joni Eareckson Tada, A Deeper Healing).
What a powerful testimony. What a great reminder to you and me. Does God heal? Absolutely, but God is Sovereign and no amount of faith on your part or my part can bring about our healing. No amount of confessing can bring about our healing. We can trust His Sovereign hand and we can know, like Joni, that when physical, emotional, or mental healing comes it is a gift of God. When physical healing doesn’t come, a deeper healing is made available to you and me.
I’ve got news for you, that kind of understanding will never come about on your own. We need the counsel of God’s Word, the enabling of the Holy Spirit, and the fellowship of God’s people to help us see this important truth. If you are not a follower of Jesus then I want to invite you to give your life to Jesus this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
July 15, 2018