Archives for posts with tag: Jesus

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!’

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.

Why did I write the previous post?  Because I needed to hear it.

And because this evening, as I was reading, meditating on and discussing the Christmas story with friends, trying to find a spark again, I realised the God who came to earth as a child has placed the principle of growth and movement at the heart of His way of working.  And growth usually starts amongst the manure.  Or in a feeding trough in a cowshed, in apparently hopeless circumstances.

But let’s start at the beginning, the previous beginning.  Our first task was to tend a garden, and we messed everything up.  Not just the garden, but our lives and priorities.  Then we repeatedly refused to grow into our best.

God didn’t give up on us.  The power of the Christmas story is the power of the unexpected (or it would be if we didn’t know it so well…) because God the all-powerful humbled himself to be born into the world he created, as a vulnerable baby, then to walk with us, the ones he loves and always did love, through the growing pains of human life.

Then, having proven his commitment by coming alongside us in this way, he unfolded a message of hope, the gospel: both a way out from our small, broken lives, and a way in – to a new adventure, our own walk with Him.

As I reviewed the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus coming, I returned to the one I’ve always found the most compelling (and the hardest to explain away as possibly referring to anything else).  Isaiah 9.  It speaks of the coming of a child, but also the coming of His kingdom – a kingdom not of this world; not of control or tyranny, but freedom – ruled by the only worthy ruler, the Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father, Mighty God.  A kingdom in which the increase of peace will be unending.

Did you catch that? The increase of peace there is unending – it grows.  Like yeast.  Like a tree from a small seed.  It goes from strength to strength.  His kingdom and the peace it brings is here now in part, and also not yet, not in all it’s fullness, because it is always growing.  I don’t think that’s just saying there are many people who are yet to embrace it, though this is true.  I think it means that for those who have already embraced it, it continues to unfold.  It is about a journey with Him.  An adventure.

Perhaps the reason my faith and life has become so jaded is because instead of embracing the adventure I have condensed it into a start and an end.  I don’t think I’m the only Christian who has done this:
1: Once I was lost/out.
2: By believing in Jesus now I am found/in.

Ok so now I’m in.  I’m getting kind of bored.  Actually a bit trapped.

No!  It has not ended, it’s only just begun!  Jesus showed us a whole way of life to walk in.  The walk of faith is not just the static, fixed set of principles or church practices I have learned and become over-familiar with.  It is a walk with the living God, the God who wants above all to be with us, and to walk with us as He first longed to back in the garden.  And I know this deep down, because there are times when I have walked with him, but somehow I’ve drifted off the path and sat down.  I’ve made myself look pretty busy there, but really I think I’ve been sat for too long.

Let me just expand on how my eyes have been opened again to the idea of a path, an exciting journey with God – and the paradox of ‘now and not yet’ that brings with it the fulfilling unfulfillment of an adventure to be had.

So, Jesus comes to earth and does a lot of healings – or signs as I think they are called in the gospel of John: indications of what the kingdom is like.  And the start of His miraculous ministry was heralded by John the Baptist.  Yet amidst all the subsequent breaking in of Kingdom blessings, John finds himself languishing in prison.  He, of all people, is now tempted to doubt so he sends his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”.  In other words am I suffering in prison for nothing or are you really the one?

And in response Jesus reminds John what is happening: the blind see, the deaf hear the lame walk etc.  And in doing so he knowingly affirms the prophecies of his coming – which takes us to Isaiah 35.

And as I read back over that chapter, first there is this encouraging passage to which Jesus refers:
‘Your God will come… he will come to save you.. then will the eye of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped…water will gush forth in the wilderness etc’

But then I noticed with fresh eyes this passage:
‘And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness…only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return…gladness and joy will overtake them’

So God did not send Jesus simply to convert a wilderness into a safe enclosure for us to sit in and twiddle our thumbs.  He sent him to open up a highway, a place for those he redeems and brings in to begin a new journey, an adventure so full of possibility and good things that ‘gladness and joy will overtake them!’

I know what this way is, Jesus said it Himself: ‘I am the way‘.

And now the spirit of adventure that I’d lost is being stirred in me again.  I really do want to follow Him.  Not just to call myself a member of his club, not just recite his lines, but actually to walk with him, to take his challenging words to heart, and to listen for his living word in my life, with all the risk, challenge and adventure that holds.

Like with all my blog posts, this is a marker in the sand, a record of a realization, and a way of holding myself accountable.   Too likely I will compromise and retreat again in future, but at least I have taken a real step into walking closer to Him by laying down my business and the hold it has had on me and my family.  Already I feel a new freedom, like I really am stepping back onto the path of faith and adventure.  I have a new willingness to let go of the disappointments and disillusionment, knowing they are part of the ‘not yet’, the unfulfilled aspect of the kingdom, and a new-found desire to embrace the ‘now.’

Of course, really going Jesus’ way can mean suffering.  It did for John.  It certainly did for Jesus himself.  But His way is different for all of us, and this is true joy – something deeper than happiness – to live for something worth living for, worth fighting for, a way of life that is deep not shallow, unpredictable, perhaps even unsafe, but that holds the promise of eternity and puts all passing sorrow, even death into perspective.