Archives for posts with tag: Hope

I’ve just had the check up appointment on my foot, which I broke and sprained 6 weeks ago. (To recap, I fractured the fifth metatarsal shortly before a family trip to California, then 11 days later posted a video on Facebook in a state of excitement, because it had just been prayed for by Bill Johnson at Bethel church, Redding, resulting in a feeling like an ant crawling along the fracture, and a loss of pain).

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So I told the doctor the sequence of events – prayer for healing after 11 days, the unusual and intense tingle on the fracture, with immediate reduction in pain at the fracture area (to the extent I could squeeze it with no pain), then in the following days some ongoing soreness around the foot but progressive improvements, doing hikes in Yosemite on the 19th and 20th day, then a run after 4 weeks and 3 days, by which time the soreness was all gone. Apparently these fractures can sometimes take 6 months to heal. But in other cases much sooner.

The doctor felt the area for sensitivity, asked a few more questions, and discharged me with confidence that it is well healed. It was definitely an unusually quick improvement.

But as to it being a definitive miracle, it is tantalisingly open to interpretation. The doctor said that fractures are actually stimulated to heal by movement (whereas instinct says to rest it and keep it straight while it hurts, because it’s easy to imagine re-breaking a healing fracture).

I am fascinated by the question of whether God himself or the power of faith alone brings change. I know it can be both – I believe in the truly miraculous healings that have occurred at Bethel and elsewhere, as the actions of God, through the prayers of believing people. I am also not offended or challenged by Derren Brown’s recent stage show mimicking healings through the temporary adrenaline rush of a fervent event. And I can celebrate the real positive changes people have brought to their lives through positive thinking alone. (To explore further, Google Derren Brown’s recent interview with Premier Radio; and look for Rhonda Byrne’s ‘The Secret’).

Because of the very unique and unexpected nature of the tingle I felt during prayer, I believe there was a divine intervention at that moment. I can also see that the full healing was aided by my ongoing (if faltering) faith and my choice to act as if it was healed. Stepping out on it quickened the healing.

So faith ‘worked’. And in choosing to believe in God I see his goodness even more in this process of healing than in an instant fix, because I learnt so much and felt empowered in the process. (Not least because, before Bill Johnson prayed someone else prayed for me and said they believed God was NOT going to fix it instantly, but to teach me something through a process. But I wanted to keep asking and seeking!).

It was like a condensed lesson in life – that there is transforming power in choosing to live in hope rather than wallowing in the pain of the past or present. We tend to get more of what we dwell on. And this is the sort of lesson that a good father wants to teach his children, rather than resolving everything for them just because he can.

I also realise how this can be seen as circular thinking, to someone with no faith. And that is so often the nature of faith – it’s a choice that could be argued both ways.

One thing I have learnt is that, in choosing our worldview, we rationalise it either by the existing ‘evidence’ (which is so often open to subjective interpretation), or by the ‘fruit’. The first approach is somewhat passive, reacting to what we see around us, and failing to acknowledge the limits and subjectivity of our viewpoint. The latter approach is dynamic in that it means stepping out in faith and then seeing what results. ‘You can tell a tree by its fruit’. And if the fruit is good, we have compelling evidence for the goodness of the paradigm that produced it, evidence we didn’t have before we stepped out.

So as to my own journey of healing, you will choose your own interpretation, and I’m ok with that. As for me, I choose to believe.

One last addendum: sometimes we see no immediate fruit from faith. Sometimes it is a long hard slog, in the face of confident doubters. And yet, for those rare people who seek and trust in God alone, not just for what He can do for them, there is a depth of character, peace and authority that can’t be denied. The more I learn about Bill Johnson’s personal journey, the more I understand this. I feel I have received a blessing as a result of his faithfulness, and this inspires me to live the same. It is a choice every day, and I keep faltering. But as one man in the bible said to Jesus:

‘Lord I believe, help my unbelief!’

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I came to write again, to relieve pressure on the dam wall of thoughts and anxieties in my head.  I planned a piece about Jesus, a cry of hope and love, a way through this madness.  I often resist Him or rail against Him, but I can’t escape the beauty of His life and teaching, and it’s relevance for now.  His moral clarity combined with grace and forgiveness.  And above all the fact that when they cut Him open He only bled love.

If only the terrorists knew His way.  They seek to drag the world deeper into fear and hate – the only currency of their religious understanding.  We can either withdraw in despair, or pour ourselves out in love, like the French opening their veins for the wounded.  Only radical love can drive out fear.  We are all responsible now.

Grief in FranceWith life already full of my own small concerns, I glimpse hope only occasionally.  Stressed and tired from work, I fail even to love my wife and daughter the way I aspire to, let alone cope with the great darkness in the world.

Just now I read a piece by a friend that could have been describing me – a time in her life when she was consumed by the pressures of a career while the really important things were slipping out of her grasp, and the demands were piling on.  She made some big changes, but the struggle continues.

And this reminds me truth and hope is found in personal testimony, not just theory or theology.  I have been struggling lately, big time.  Just knowing that someone else struggles is great comfort.  Even moreso to see they have found the strength to carry on.

We long for an easy solution and an end to troubles, but still the mess drags on.  So what we really need is a path, a way through, and the strength to keep walking however long it takes.   We need to walk it together.  We are made for relationship.  Connection.  We need people around us to share our burdens.

Yes, Jesus is the Way.  The Truth and the Life.  I believe this.  But too often in comfortable Christian circles that has been a learned response, a theological concept.  An exclusive ticket to our club.  When all along, if only we would see it, His every action and word said:

‘Love’ – at all costs love.  Not simply in order to convert to a set of beliefs, but because love is both the path and the goal in itself, and it is the very nature of God.

‘Love one another – this is how they will know you are my disciples.’  ‘Don’t let your love grow cold.’

Love your enemies.’

Why?  Because He first loved us, undeserving as we are.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine,
or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Just as it is written:
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered”

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer
through Him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life,
nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present,
nor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing,
will be able to separate us from the love of God,
which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(Romans 8:34-39)

I aspire to love others the way Jesus did – fearlessly, tenderly, and at great personal cost.  But I rarely do.  Probably never.

Just occasionally, I have a thought so out of the ordinary that I sense a touch of heaven in it.  A different logic, beautifully right.  Even more occasionally, I might act on one of these thoughts.

Like, what if I buy this drunken, tobacco-stained homeless person a KFC, instead of walking past?

That’s a small one really.

So, what if I help him get his coat back on?

Slightly better.  Now here’s the thing: what if I don’t force a conversation about how God loves him, don’t patronise him in any way, but just sit with him in the gutter?  Give him some attention and respect, because he deserves it as much as anyone else.

He deserves it more: ‘The price must be paid by those who are blessed and fortunate, for those who are lost and in despair.’ (Dr. James Chinkyung Kim.) This is living the gospel, rather than talking about it.

Religious hypocrites want the poor and needy to be sanitised objects of our selfish piety.  In reality they are difficult or dirty – because that’s what despair and poverty does to you.  And we are all as vulnerable as they are, though we easily forget.  Jesus loves us all just as we are.  (Except, perhaps, the hypocrites.)

Related but slightly different to the above thoughts, the thing I really want to say is below.  Bear with me if it seems like a change of theme.

After feeling powerless against the prejudice, violence and death being inflicted on Christians in so many corners of the earth, I decided to train for a sponsored run this September, to support them.  I need to set up a sponsorship page soon.

‘We’ are now the most persecuted people group on earth.  Apparently, eighty percent of all acts of religious discrimination across the globe are against Christians.  And apart from the North Korean regime and other country-specific issues, there appears to be a strongly Islamic nature to the problem.   For some groups, like ISIS, the hatred of Christians (and others) is theological.  I wrestle with all this, trying to see the common humanity in all people without giving in to hatred or fear.   (In one of my darker periods I wrote this poem).

One day, on a Muslim friend’s Facebook page, I saw an article about Buddhist extremists oppressing, killing, and burning Muslims.  And immediately I felt the injustice and pain that I knew he felt.  I thought of the injustices held close to heart by many Muslims about so many things – Gaza, Bosnia, drone attacks.

And another thing gave me pause for thought.  I recently rang up a different Muslim friend (a gentle man of peace who I respect), to suggest getting together for a coffee to get to know each others’ beliefs better.  To build bridges where so many are retreating from each other.  Somehow I got talking about the violence in the world and I think I drove him away.   I became too intense (oops, I sometimes do that!).  He didn’t want to meet.  He couldn’t be sure of my motives.  He said he doesn’t listen to the news anymore, but focuses on thinking about good things and creating a good home for his precious children.

How many of us, as we look around, are wondering will there be a place of safety for me anywhere in this world?  Perhaps this is the issue for some who distort their humanity into acts of terror – a longing for a place of safety, to get rid of those who threaten them; to create a state where everyone is like them.

Shamefully, I feel a resistance to empathising with oppressed people groups or religious groups who are wholly foreign to me, or especially who threaten me.  A part of me wants the clarity of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  A part of me needs my ‘own’ injustices to be the most important.  I want to forget our common humanity in case I seem (or actually become) naive, in case I start to justify the evil acts of a minority of people who come out of those groups.

The web of injustices is too tangled to really give anyone the moral high ground (though some clearly occupy the low ground).  Over and again the oppressed become the oppressor, and all are victims.

Am I wishing for the oppressed to be devoid of vengeance or hatred before they are worthy of my compassion?  Am I wishing for them to come only from people I can identify with, before I am willing to help them?  Am I wishing for them to be sanitised, before they are worthy of my selfish acts of piety?

Would it honour Jesus Christ more to dedicate my sponsored run only to the people who bear his name, or to share my sponsorship with those who are oppressed under a different name?  Even to support those who it’s tempting to call our enemies?  This was the thought I had today that might just have the touch of heaven in it.

In one of Jesus key phrases, where he reveals what he’s really all about, he says:

‘Love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you.’ Matthew 5:44

A friend of my wife’s, a lovely lady, told us how she went door to door fundraising, in her hijab, for Gaza, when kids were being killed in the latest Israeli incursion.  Instead of just feeling powerless she picked up a bucket and did what she could, she’s that kind of person.  But she faced consistent disinterest from the older white members of the community.

Perhaps they were afraid of the unknown.  Surely they cared about dying kids and suffering people, but maybe they feared giving money to someone they didn’t know, someone they were ever so slightly fearful of.  What if they were accidentally supporting a cause they might not fully agree with; the promotion of an ideology they weren’t comfortable with?

I have imagined myself going door to door in this community to raise money for the persecuted church.  I have imagined myself being rebuffed by some Muslims, but striving to ‘open their eyes’ to the huge injustices against Christians in their country of origin.  I have imagined myself compelling them towards compassion.

But have my own eyes been fully opened to the injustices they too feel so keenly?  Am I seeking only to be understood rather than to understand?

Am I willing to stop the ‘us and them’ mentality, and to raise money for the oppressed on ‘both sides’ because really it should never have been about taking sides in the first place?  What else will stop the madness?

To love our enemies is risky.  it is a different logic, and beautifully right.

Please give me feedback.  Please share examples of the different logic.  And while I already have a charity in mind to support the persecuted church, please suggest charities who might be a trustworthy channel of funds to persecuted people of other faiths.

Light in the darkness

I saw a darkness in the world.
I found it mirrored in my soul.
The world, my nation, and my street,
Seemed daily paced by evil’s feet.

With violence there, suspicion here,
I soon succumbed to constant fear.
(For loss of hope seems logical,
When darkened eyes see dark in all.)

We build a fake security,
I told myself with gravity,
While others far away from us
Are bombed, beheaded, ground to dust.

And so I judged the lives we’d kept,
And scorned our houses, neatly swept:
Our comfort feeds our apathy,
While evil grows and hate roams free.

And as the dark completely gripped me,
I presumed to see more clearly:

It’s like the lawns we tend with care:
In vain they mask what’s really there,
Now let us face the truthful part:
That this whole world is black at heart!

And all the good we do in life
Is not enough, no more than skin,
To hide the darkness, dirt and strife,
That lies there – just the same – within.

So I resolved to dig a hole,
To lay things bare through sweat and toil,
No longer holding to illusion,
Seeking truth as my conclusion.

Wrestling deep inside my soul,
In thoughts and words I dug my hole.
Deeper into dark it took me;
Lonely fearful visions shook me.

And though in muck I found some gems,
I couldn’t find a place for them,
And though I chanced upon deep roots,
I lost the way to find their fruit.

And all this striving to be free,
Was just another vanity.
Exhausted now and far from home,
I gave up in my pit, alone.

 

—————–

 

Until a gentle voice broke through:

 

Look up, I’ve not forgotten you

 

Still hardened to the voice of hope,
I said, yes Lord, but what’s the use?

It’s not enough to comfort me,
While still out there the hate roams free,
While still out there the babies die,
While people’s lives are torn apart
And all the while you stand apart.

This faith that did once set me free,
Now strikes me as hypocrisy:
The hopes that led my youthful years,
Now grate upon my care-worn ears.
The love that once allayed my fears,
Seems insufficient for these tears,

 

Look up He said, Look up at Me

 

So now at last, in honesty,
I faced my Lord and let him see.
And looking up to hear Him speak,
I felt great tears fall on my cheek

 

The tears you cry, I cry them too.

 

But why Lord, why, should this be true?
I mean, Lord, why this need to cry,
Why must you let good people die?

Though death may come it has not won,
My child, you know this to be true,
Your childish faith will yet grow strong,
But you must let me comfort you.

Your eyes have opened to the fight,
Between the darkness and the light.
You mourn the losses, I do too,
This battle is real so the losses are true.

You say that I have stood apart,
You feel this anger in your heart,
Do you forget I came to earth,
Faced death myself to bring new birth?

Now will you face this truthful part:
It’s you who tries to stand apart,
While wrestling with these painful things,
You still refuse to enter in,

To help support the orphaned youth,
To push back darkness with the truth,
To love the hurting on your street.
That’s why you feel so incomplete:
You’re called to be my hands and feet.

Fighting darkness all alone,
You lost the light to guide you home,
You feared the darkness would be stronger,
You were wrong: my light shines longer. 

Turn your eyes now to the light,
Give up your striving in the night,
The light I bring you from above,
Is the greatest power, the power to love.

Fear is trust. The things we fear or trust are the things we expect to prevail, so both are a type of faith. To fear God is to trust him, for He is good. To expect evil to prevail is to trust it, and to live in fear.

Faith attracts it’s object. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Fear the darkness and it looms larger.

We have a choice where we focus our attention.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? …One thing I ask of the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple”
Psalm 27

In this divided world, I find our common humanity in these 2 words: hopes and fears.

Deep down we are all moved by these forces.  Fears that threaten to consume us.  Hopes that inspire us, or crush us in their un-fulfilment.

Hope and fear

And in this outlook I discover empathy for those who seemed beyond hope or understanding.

The Russians love their children too‘.

Excepting the odd psychopath, even the most irrational or heinous acts probably once had a rationale in hope or fear.   So the seeds of heinous deeds may be familiar to us all, though we don’t all allow them to grow so far out of control.

Fear and suspicion threaten to poison our communities, both local and global.  The solution is outlandish hope and love, but such radical emotions can’t be faked. And they can’t grow in us as long as our own hearts are constrained by fear.

We can plant hope’s seed when we realise those we fear are themselves driven by fear.  Then we see hurting people, not enemies.  People just like us beneath the foreign shell of culture, colour or religion.

We begin to break the cycle of fear and its fruits by loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us, and giving our lives for the cause of love.  Not in unexpressed intentions or doormat-like weakness, but through powerful acts of risk-taking, peacemaking, intervention.

We must not sit on the sidelines with fear in our hearts.

For me this means starting where I am, in the majority Pakistani Muslim community where I live, with small steps.  I have been the focus of suspicion but I choose to keep chipping away at that with honesty, openness and willingness to help.

So it was a great joy to me when 2 weeks ago, the lad at the youth club who kept threatening me, saw that I refused to either fear him or disengage from him, and then, after I invited him to join me on the PS3 playing Street Fighter, after a few rounds in which I neither crowed nor condemned when he lost a round, said to me quietly, ‘can you give me an apprenticeship?’

Just a lad, like I was, afraid of what the future might hold, needing an opportunity and someone to give him guidance.  And I knew that in the midst of all the suspicion, my efforts for good have also been observed, and it has all been worth it.

I said he’d be welcome anytime at the workshop, and we’ll see what happens.

 

Some time ago I shared these drawings from an old notebook, about breaking through to see the light of hope even in the midst of darkness and despair.  To hear God saying, ‘I am still up here’.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to: 1: the stage in a journey, and 2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

This reminds me of the hidden realities and how my experience of them varies according to:
1: the stage in a journey, and
2: the posture I choose in a given moment.

A few years on I see another picture.  Sometimes the darkness is so great, so deep, we can’t reach a way out of it.  Then we need to know and trust the light deep in our hearts, to be able to behold it even in the presence of darkness.  Training our spiritual eyes on truth and keeping them fixed there even as the dark clouds pass, we will find the light is not just ‘up there’ but also ‘right here’ with us whatever is happening.

Light in Darkness Drawing

“The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!…”

But do we believe that goodness is real, and really greater than the darkness?  If we don’t, the darkness will fill our vision when it comes.

For me, the horror of recent world events caught me already reeling from personal disappointments with God and brought darkness and fear to my mind in a whole new way.   I know I am not alone in this 21st anxiety.

Can I break through the cloud of fear, the cloud of Isis, of Ebola, of political corruption and economic crisis?  The darkness of fragmented communities closer to home, fear and suspicion in my own town? The mourning for better times now past, and the well-reasoned anticipation that things will only get worse?  The underlying pain of tragedies in my own family and the long, wearying frustrations in my own life?

I could break though it all as long as I believed that goodness was stronger.   But my trust in God had taken a battering – and goodness has always, for me, been synonymous with God.  Actually I still believed that God is good – I had too much past evidence of this in my life.  But deep down I’d begun to wonder if he was either not strong enough or, more likely, not really concerned enough to intervene in any of this.  There was evidence to suggest this was true.  And therefore, perhaps to all intents and purposes I was on my own.

And then all the problems of the world fell on my shoulders.  And in my weakness I had no hope or strength to carry them.  Of course, I couldn’t possible carry them.

But as He has done so often before, in his own frustrating timing, later than I would have wished, He stirred hope in me again.  First He led me to what I have called our secret woods,  bringing to mind Psalm 23: ‘…He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.’  This shabby woodland has become to me a symbol of the life and peace that may be hidden away in the most unexpected places.

I started to prioritise the still times and safe places that we all need.  This was a big step forward: allowing myself to retreat like this was a healthy acknowledgement of my weakness – that I can’t expect to be strong and resilient all the time – I need constant restoration, and a place to pour out my sorrows and find rest.

‘The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still’

Yet too often I continued to reject stillness for desperate activity or anxiety – the frantic buzzing of the bee trapped in a web.

Because there was still a niggle in the place of rest.  Even as I rediscovered the incomparable comfort of God’s presence I wondered if He was only my comforter.  Could He also be the warrior-king I need Him to be in the face of evil?  Is the image of the shepherd of sheep too weak for my deepest needs?

And now, through a message from a friend, He has brought to mind more of that Psalm:

‘… I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.’ 

And of course that line is written in the context of the darkest valley.  So I decided for the first time to look into what the rod and staff used by a shepherd really were, and why they should be a comfort.

I encourage you to read more here but in summary the rod is a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation.  A weapon against threats, a tool of loving discipline.  He is no weak shepherd, not merely meek and mild.  But it is also used to count and examine the sheep, for example parting the wool to detect any hidden problems that needed to be dealt with.  “This is a most searching process entailing every intimate detail. It is, too, a comfort to the sheep for only in this way can its hidden problems be laid bare before the shepherd.” 

And I am reminded that he searches me, knows me, tests my anxious thoughts and leads me in better ways.  I know, in many different ways that He is really doing this.

And the staff – it is a symbol of comfort, a tool for prods of guidance, and for rescue.  The shepherd talks of, ‘sheep stuck fast in labyrinths of wild roses or brambles where they had pushed in to find a few stray mouthfuls of green grass. Soon the thorns were so hooked in their wool they could not possibly pull free, tug as they might. Only the use of the staff could free them from their entanglement.’And I know this is where I so often find myself – and I have known both His strength and His comfort in the past, pulling me free.

I am reminded that the fight is against ‘…the principalities and powers; the dark forces of evil in this world…’.  And the place where this fight begins for all of us is in the dark strongholds that have taken root in our own minds.   It is this personal darkness that leads to the darkness of war, abuse, negligence and corruption that besets our world.  And though I still long to see God intervening visibly in the events of the world, I know that His primary concern has always been the individual human heart.  And to defeat the darkness in my own heart is a big enough miracle for starters.

This is where my hope begins.  As I see His light, there is a chance I may lead others to His light.  And that is all I can do; all He would ever ask me to do.  I don’t need to carry the weight of the world – I’ll leave that to Him.  I only need to be a light on the hill where has has placed me.  And I can only do even this as I behold Him, choosing not to fear the darkness, for He is stronger.