Posted in reflections

Who’s the good news for? (Luke 4:18-19)

The “Gospels” are narratives of the life of Jesus Christ, but the “gospel” refers to the “good news” as proclaimed and modeled by Christ. Following Jesus’s temptation by the devil in the wilderness, forty days and forty nights during which the Lord “ate nothing (Luke 4:2), Jesus “returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit” (4:14).

Jesus heals a man born blind.

Of all the places Jesus could have begun his ministry, he chose to return to those who knew him best, the people of Nazareth, his home town. The spiritual rhythms of village life are on display. It’s the Sabbath (Saturday), so where else would people be but at the synagogue?

“And as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read” (4:16).

When Jesus unrolled the scroll, he read Isaiah 61:1-2a. Luke 4:18-19 provides the quotation:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

David Neale notes that “compassion for the disadvantaged is placed at the center of this Gospel” [See Luke 1-9, in The New Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill, 2011), 120]. Who is the good news for? It’s for the poor, the prisoners, the blind, and the oppressed. Each of these groups receive the compassionate, life-changing ministry of Jesus, some of them already by the end of Luke 4 but all of them before Luke’s Gospel comes to a close.

  1. poor people – Jesus had received the anointing of the “Spirit of the Lord” so that he could “bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). Jesus never recommended riches as the solution for poverty, since riches are often a spiritual snare (Matthew 19:24). Instead, he underlined our duty to feed the hungry (Matthew 25:35a). Further, he taught the importance of having enough and the dignity it affords. This is the meaning of his prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), which echoes the “neither poverty nor riches” teaching of Proverbs 30:7-9.
  2. imprisoned people – At the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus announced that the LORD has sent him “to proclaim release to captives” (4:18). Chains may represent destructive habits or attitudes, deep ruts that sinful practices have carved out in our lives. Jesus can break those chains and give us a fresh start. Yet there is a more literal understanding of Jesus’s words in Luke 4. In 2020, there were 1.8 million people incarcerated in the United States, according to the Vera Institute of Justice. What alternatives to prison exist that can help those convicted of serious crimes pay their debt to those they’ve wronged but also eventually find a fresh start?
  3. blind people – In Luke 4:18, Jesus promised “recovery of sight to the blind.” The story of blind Bartemaeus (Luke 18:35-43) is one example of Jesus restoring vision. In our time, Christian Blind Mission (CBM) helps not only the blind but those with other disabilities in the developing world, a continuation of the ministry of Christ while on earth. Spiritually, “blindness” symbolizes our insensitivity to the things of God prior to our conversion. Only God can restore our spiritual sight. The late songwriter Keith Green (1953-1982) captured it perfectly in his song, “Your Love Broke Through”:

Like a foolish dreamer trying to build a highway to the sky
All my hopes would come tumbling down
And I never knew just why
Until today, when you pulled away the clouds

That hung like curtains on my eyes
Well I’ve been blind all these wasted years
And I thought I was so wise
But then you took me by surprise

Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed
Until your love broke through
I’ve been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me
Until your love broke through

4. oppressed people – Luke 4:18 records Jesus’s promise to “set free those who are oppressed.” Chapter 4 begins with Christ’s victory over the devil in the wilderness, and this victory over the powers of darkness picks up steam as the chapter progresses. In 4:33, Jesus encounters “a man possessed by the spirit of an unclean demon” and Jesus casts the demon out of him, with no lasting harm to the man. This was no anomaly, but happens again in 4:41, this time with demons “coming out of many.” In all cases, demons recognize his authority as the “Holy One of God” (v.34) or the “Son of God” (v. 41). Does our gospel today make a place for delivering those who are oppressed by Satan? This is not a call to see a proverbial “demon under every rock.” However, every Jesus follower must be aware of our authority in Christ to overcome evil forces when they stand in the way of God’s work.

Who is the good news for? Whether poor, imprisoned, blind, or oppressed, Jesus reaches out in love to people! The most important thing about us is not our socio-economic standing, our chains, our inability to see, or our oppression. Rather, the most important thing about us is our humanity. We are people, made in the image of God and for whom Jesus died and rose again. The anointing of the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism, and was confirmed by his wilderness temptations, but the proof of the anointing was his compassion. May you and I – overflowing with love and compassion – share that same gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit.


All Scripture quotations are from The New American Standard Bible (Holman, 2020).

Image Credit: “Healing of the Man Born Blind”

Orazio de Ferrari, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Posted in book reviews, Uncategorized

Holiness and Healing: A critical book review

bohi mccorkleHow big is the “Big Tent” in the Church of the Nazarene? Evangelist Dan Bohi and Pastor Rob McCorkle have written a fascinating book that may provoke readers to ask this question with greater urgency.

Holiness and Healing (Groveport, Ohio: FSM Publishing, 2016, Kindle edition) was born out of the authors’ concern that we Nazarenes at some point dropped power from our sanctification message, focusing only upon purity. Corey Jones (who wrote the introduction) alludes to Bohi’s illustration of the Holy Spirit as a dove that can only fly if it flaps both wings simultaneously, the wing of power and the wing of purity:

The Holy Spirit’s work should result in both purity and power, in spiritual gifts and the fruit of the Spirit, and in holiness and miracles in and through the lives of believers (Kindle location 126).

This two-winged dove metaphor undergirds the rest of the book, a wide-ranging discussion of multiple topics including (among others) revival, the Five-fold ministry outlined in Ephesians 4:11-13, miracle stories, impartation, and a theology of healing.

The book gets some things right. Rob McCorkle zeroes in on the meaning of salvation. He correctly notes that the Greek word, soteria, has been too narrowly understood in the past as applying only to spiritual things. It is more than preparing individuals for heaven. Rather, “it includes deliverance, healing, and restoration” (Kindle location 816). In short, God wants to redeem all that has gone wrong, to destroy the devil’s work and all of the effects of sin upon creation (1 John 3:8). Clearly, the Church of the Nazarene affirms divine healing, as stated in our 14th Article of Faith. (See my support of this doctrine in a paper written a few years ago with the late Field Strategy Coordinator, Rev Mashangu Maluleka, of South Africa).

Bohi and McCorkle also repeatedly mention the malaise that affects the Church of the Nazarene, particularly in North America, which is their field of ministry. While there are bright spots, the decline in membership and the pace of the closing of churches (relative to new church starts) does not augur well for our future. As a missionary who has itinerated every couple of years in the U.S. on home assignment, I, too, have noted the graying of our American churches and the generally dispirited attitude in many congregations. The authors and I are of one mind in diagnosing the problem. Their proposed remedy is concerted corporate prayer coupled with a revivalism characterized by the manifestation of all nine of the spiritual gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8-11. (See Kindle location 160).

Their willingness to admit the problem and propose a solution is admirable. Nonetheless, there are difficulties with their approach, in light of Scripture. After examining those, let us consider an alternative to revivalism from the book of Acts, one that is also more in keeping with our Nazarene DNA as descendants of John and Charles Wesley and the Methodist movement of 18th century Great Britain.

A faulty understanding of “apostle”?

Chapter 6 is entitled “An Apostolic Culture: A Biblical Model for Ministry.” Holiness and Healing espouses a re-organization of the church based on Ephesians 4:11-13. On Bohi’s and McCorkle’s reading, the Church of the Nazarene only practices three of the five roles mentioned by Paul (evangelist, pastor, and teacher). What is missing are the roles of apostles and prophets. According to the authors, the former “governs” while the latter “guides” through prophetic words (locations 1697, 1703). This appears to be close to the teachings of Alan Hirsch, an adjunct instructor at Asbury Theological Seminary and a prolific writer in the area of apostolic renewal and missional movements.

One of the postive features of the polity of the Church of the Nazarene is the checks-and-balances in-place that make for accountability. (Note: Dan Bohi is now a disrict licensed minister in the Church of the Nazarene, as announced near the beginning of this video). Rob McCorkle calls Bohi an “apostle” (location 1850). It’s not clear in Holiness and Healing how an apostle as defined by the authors would fit into our polity. (The authors recognize this problem as well). Specfically, how would “governors” be accountable? The concept seems to invest too much authority in the hands of a single individual, opening a door to the likely abuse of ecclesiastical power.

Continue reading “Holiness and Healing: A critical book review”

Posted in pastoral care, reflections

God’s four-step path to healing

DSCN4860Three words on a package of bananas – “Do not refrigerate” – instantly transported me back in time.

I was 16 and it was my first day on the job at the supermarket. My manager gave me simple instructions:

Take the skids off the truck, then stack the boxes of produce in the cooler.

The truck arrived, I did my work, then clocked out and went home.

The next day, my boss was furious. “Why did you put boxes of bananas in the cooler?” For the next several days, blackened bananas sold at deep discount on the sales floor. I’d messed up…majorly.

Most of us can recall times when we’ve missed the mark not just by a little but by a lot. However good our intentions, the end result was disastrous. We let someone down and may have even caused them deep pain. A shattered marriage, a bankruptcy, a broken trust – the consequences of our failure are plain to see and cut deep.

Thankfully, there’s a four-step path to healing.

First, let us resist the temptation to call sin by any other name. Instead, we have to admit we were wrong and be willing to change. Proverbs 28:13 reminds us: “People who conceal their sins will not prosper, but if they confess and turn from them, they will receive mercy” (NLT).

Secondly, let us accept God’s forgiveness. “As far as the east is from the west,” writes the Psalmist, “so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV).

Third, let us ask forgiveness from the person we wronged. James 5:16 promises healing, yet there is a prerequisite. We are to confess our sins to each other and pray for each other. Three of the most powerful words in any language are these: “I forgive you.” Reconciliation between people allows God’s healing to take root deep in our heart.

Finally, let us forgive ourselves. In Tramp for the Lord, Corrie Ten Boom talks about what God did with her sins once she confessed them: “When I confessed them to the Father, Jesus Christ washed them in his blood. They are now cast into the deepest sea and a sign put up that says, ‘NO FISHING ALLOWED.’ ” Like Paul, ours is to forget what is behind us and stretch toward what God has in-store for us (Phil. 3:13-14). God long ago forgave us. Are we willing to cut ourselves a break?

All of us have our own “bananas in the cooler” moment. There are times when there’s no way around it. We blundered, big time. Yet God doesn’t want us to stay mired in our guilt and shame. The Lord offers a path to healing. Are we ready to walk it, together?

Posted in sermons & addresses

Three questions, three answers: a message on divine healing (James 5:13-16)

A Note to the reader:

 This is an outline of a sermon on divine healing given by Dr Greg Crofford at the ANU University Church of the Nazarene on November 27, 2011. At the close of the sermon, he lead in a one minute moment of silence, inviting all present to search their hearts and see if there was any sin standing between themselves  and God and – if so – to confess it. Afterward, he invited those seeking healing (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) to come to the altar to kneel. Those requesting anointing were given the option of sharing with those gathered what the specific need was, allowing for more specific prayers. Dr Crofford and Rev. Gift Mtukwa then invited the “elders” of the church (leaders) to lay hands on the sick person, at which time either Mtukwa or Crofford made a small cross of oil on the head of the individual, anointing in the name of the Lord Jesus, followed by a prayer for full healing. Approximately thirty came forward for prayer and anointing that morning, some on behalf of others not present. (Healing by proxy occurred in the case of the centurion who asked for healing for his servant, though the servant was back at home – see Matt. 8:5-13).

The original sermon contained illustrations that have been taken out. Anyone using this sermon is encouraged to develop their own contextualized illustrations for the various points.

Sermon Title: “Three questions, three answers”

Text: James 5:13-16 (Read passage)


Three questions, three answers – That’s what we find in the passage from James 5 that we just read together. That shouldn’t surprise us. James, after all, is a simple book, and a practical one. It addresses a range of everyday issues, like temptation, trials, listening before speaking, faith and deeds, compassion toward the poor, taming the tongue, wisdom, and submission to God.

And so here again at the close of the book, James raises practical issues. He quickly and simply addresses them as answers to questions. Let’s look one-by-one at those three questions:

1. Is any of you in trouble?

2. Is anyone happy?

3. Is any of you sick?

Continue reading “Three questions, three answers: a message on divine healing (James 5:13-16)”