Friday, October 31, 2014

Getting rid of the 'How'

I read an interesting article this week in Inc Magazine called 6 Tips to Hatch Incredibly Good Ideas which grabbed me with its first point: come up with a good idea without worrying how you'll make it work. Their point is that you need to come up with your idea and then work backwards from that.

I just realized that it dovetails nicely with something else I've been mulling over which is:
worrying about the 'how' sucks the life out of any faith project because when we can't imagine how God would do something, we stop believing he can or will do it.

I have some giant (for me) faith dreams going on at the moment and the hurdle that is blocking me at every pass is how will God do this. For some reason, I want to know the how.

I believe he can do them, I believe he is willing, I believe he is merciful and compassionate and won't delay longer than is absolutely necessary. I believe that my faith needs only to be the size of a mustard seed (and often it feels about that size). But how will it happen? How will he arrange it?

Does my faith in God depend on me knowing how he will do it? Why can't I be content with the mystery and trust that whatever it looks like, it will happen?

It's a bit like the confidence inventors have that somehow they will find a way to make their inventions work. Most people would resign themselves to the possibility that it just won't happen or that they will not be able to find the solution but not inventors. No, the inventor is confident that sooner or later they will find the solution and all they need to do is keep on trying different things.

Dare I say it?  Many Christians consign their faith dreams to the bin as impossible or that they will just not receive what they ask from God in their lifetime because they want to know the how and it destroys their faith that God can and will do it. Sometimes we just need to know that however impossible it looks, however limited our imagination, we will see those dreams graciously brought to reality by God.

Now, how to get over the how?
Do you struggle to have faith for what looks impossible? Do you get stuck on the how?

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #7: Fullness of Christ

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2part 3part 4, part 5 and part 6 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

Sometimes a phrase or thought pops into my mind and as I mull it over something else joins it and makes something beautiful.

A few weeks ago, the phrase 'the fullness of Christ' came to mind. I didn't know what verse it was from but in my head at the time it was associated with people who believe having the fullness of Christ living in them.  I looked up that phrase just now and it turns out it was from Ephesians 4:13

...that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

As I thought of that phrase I thought about the Louis Giglio's presentation we saw in April this year on his video Indescribable that talks about the vastness and the magnitude of the universe and the incredible limitless power of God. I thought about how that raw power, the Holy Spirit, now comes to live in those who believe and put their trust in Jesus.  Louis Giglio talks about creation in terms of when God spoke the words 'let their be light' at the beginning of the world, searing heat and light rushed out of his mouth at the speed of light and created planets, stars, solar systems, galaxies and on and on and on.

The fullness of Christ.
The raw limitless power of the creative Holy Spirit which is the fullness of Christ now fills our cells and every space between each cell.

 People often want to explain God away, I often want to know how God works and explain him away but I can't. There are some mysteries that will remain mysteries because God is mysterious and how he does things don't always make sense to us.

In having Jesus live in our hearts, he not only comes and transforms our hearts, our attitudes, our thought life but I believe he actually transforms our bodies at a cellular level because somehow mysteriously and miraculously he also inhabits our cells and every space in our cells. In him we live and have our being. (Acts 17:28) He is before all things and in him all things hold together (Col 1:17). Without him nothing is made that has been made (John 1:3).

As I lay in bed, quite unable to even muster one single faith filled thought, I realized that very often we don't need to do anything at all. God doesn't require us to do or say anything. 

In fact, when the Israelites were running around in a panic at the edge of the sea with the Egyptians hounding them, God told them put a sock in it and just keep quiet. 

We could be in a coma or unable to communicate at all but because Jesus lives in us as much physically as spiritually, we carry his presence into situations and people are affected his fullness living in us without either them or us realizing it. Simply our physical presence is enough to bring Jesus into a situation and transform it. Isn't that amazing? It takes all the pressure off! Maybe that's why he said Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).

If you're struggling with chronic illness this is a message of hope and transformation. If incredible power of God lives in every cell of your body and in the space inbetween them, that same Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead will also give life to your body and mine. (Rom 8:11). 

The proof of the pudding is that on Sunday I met a lady who had suffered from osteo-arthritis for 30 years and particularly excruciatingly the last three years to the point where she would be in terrible pain just getting out of a chair and standing or doing the grocery shop and would need to lie down for an hour afterwards to let the pain subside. Two weeks ago she was healed in an instant from something that the doctors said there was no cure for and would only progressively get worse. She hasn't had to take one painkiller since her healing.

God heals.
He is willing.
He is merciful and doesn't hang around waiting for the right time.
He lives in our bodies at a cellular level when we invite him to.
There is nothing he can do despite what everyone around you will tell you is or isn't possible.
He loves you and has good plans for you, plans to bless you and not to harm you. His good thoughts towards you are more than all the grains of sand on our planet.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: # 6: Fear, the Fortress and the Slayer

 This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2part 3part 4 and part 5 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

I had an interesting experience while I was in hospital but I don't know how to write about so here it is plain and simple, unadorned.

I read Psalm 91:2 I will say of the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust" and it came at a moment when I was tempted to panic.

It seemed to me as though my hospital room was a fortress which was empty of everything that could clutter it up except a strong sense of peace. I took refuge in God, he became my fortress and in my mind's eye it was one of those medieval castles with thick stone walls, high walls and a big solid wooden door. At first I didn't know what I was taking refuge from but every so often it was as though a large scaly scratching hand of fear would try to push open the door.

It appeared when
... they took me off the drip and I panicked because I didn't know what would happen to my body if I didn't have those lifegiving fluids going into me
...a kind pathology nurse said 'I hope it's nothing serious'. I burst into tears after she left because my fear was that it would be serious.
...a nurse told me that her husband had gone in for a minor op and it had turned out to cost them thousands of dollars. I started to wonder what the consequences of a week long stay would be.
...I had an infusion and they monitored me closely for adverse reactions such as chest pain, palpitations, difficulty breathing. As the juice flowed in my BP rose and my heart pounded in anticipation of what never eventuated.

Each time and on many more occasions than these fear scratched and scrabbled at my heart and the only way I could keep my peace was to chop it off and chuck it out the fortress window. As I lay there feeling incredibly physically weak and completely not able to fight fear myself, it seemed to me that God promises to do battle on our behalf.  In a huge number of stories of battles in the Old Testament, the Israelites did absolutely nothing at all and the battle was completey fought and won by God himself. The beautiful revelation for me is that God wants to fight my battles for me but I have to let him do that, I have to hide myself in him, trust him and get rid of any fear in my heart.

Here are my conclusions about this experience and picture.

  • Fear is a beastly scratchy dragon whose one aim is to devour us alive.
  • God is our fortress of peace.
  • He promises to slay the beast on our behalf if we will let him.
  • We need to cut off fear from our hearts the minute it appears or it will force itself in, take up residence and terrorize us.

Prov 4:23 Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.

Since coming home I'm so aware that my mind gets cluttered with the everyday worries and concerns of life and yet so many of them are unnecessary. Personally I want more of that peace and calm faith-filled mindset, I want to be more aware of when the scratchy dragon comes to call and to be less tolerant of it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #5: Crochet Like a Catholic

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2part 3 and part 4 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

One of the first things I asked for was my crochet. If there was going to be a lot of sitting around waiting, I might as well have something to do. It's quite a conversation starter as people comment on how it's a skill that not many people take the time to do any more or how they always wished they were crafty or wondered how to do the stitches.

Picking it up one afternoon and wondered what it would be like to say one thing good about God, one thing about his promises every time I crocheted a stitch. A picture of the Catholic rosary came to mind. They use it for meditating on the mysteries but what if it was used to declare who God is? I had to pause to think about what I would start with, what I would commence my declaration with.

treble stitch
The Lord is good

I paused and looked out the window. Yes, he is good. No matter what my circumstances are he is good, he has not changed since yesterday and tomorrow he will still be good. What else?

treble stitch
He is faithful

treble stitch
He says he will never leave me or forsake me

Yes. He is faithful. He keeps his word, he is a promise keeper and he has said that he won't leave me alone. I can believe him. I choose to believe him because I know he does what he says he does.

treble stitch
I will live and not die

In the scariness of the unknown, of diagnoses with awful prognoses where everyone says you will die and not live or your life will be of poor quality or reliant on medicine for the rest of your life, yes, I will live and not die. My quality of life will be good and not awful. Somehow. Who knows how but God does.

treble stitch
I will declare the glory of the Lord

treble stitch
He sets a table before me

treble stitch
In the presence of my enemies

treble stitch
surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life....

I stitched for several hours like I have never done before. When I ran out of the promises I could remember, I got out the Bible app on my phone and stitched whispering each phrase of a psalm stitch by stitch, sometimes pausing to think about each statement, sometimes rattling through them.

I can't say that I've ever crocheted like that before and perhaps it will be a one-off. There's an Exchange that takes place however which makes me sit up and take notice. Instead of simply acknowledging the truth of God's word, something mysterious happens and you begin instead to live it, the truth of it enters your heart deeper than before and when you wake in the night you are less vulnerable to fears.

The truth of it is the Lord inhabits the praises of his people.  Where we praise him, there he is. His presence is real, tangible, mysteriously transforming. So why don't we praise him more? What is it to praise someone?

If I think about what it means to praise my child or my husband, it seems to be simply to declare all the good qualities we can about them to them, to ourselves, to others. We can't say enough good things about them, we rave about them, we talk about them all the time.

To tell the truth, I'm half afraid to post this post. It was such a special moment for me that my fear from way back in childhood of being labelled a holy joe comes back to haunt me. To experience a deep mystery of God and then to be misunderstood is difficult but then the truth of Ps 27 comes the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid? Literally. Of whom should we be afraid? What are their names? Who are they compared to God and what can they do?

So here I am, posting, confessing, that I now crochet like a Catholic.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #4: Remind yourself of The Rainbow

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1part 2 and part 3 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

Sometimes you need a rainbow blanket to remind you of The Rainbow
The hubster visited me the morning after being admitted and he had brought my crochet in the spare clothes bag. I’m halfway through my rainbow blanket, the wool of which was given to me for my birthday, one of my treasured birthday gifts!

After the hubster and the girls had left, I returned to the bed and saw it again with new eyes laid out over the bed. The Rainbow in the Bible features after God got so fed up with man’s sinfulness that he destroyed everything in the flood, saving only Noah and his extended family and samples of every animal in the Ark. After the flood God promises never again to flood the earth and he gives a sign of a rainbow in the sky to remind humankind of that promise. I often think of it when I see an actual rainbow but for me it is a reminder of God’s goodness, of his protection, that we are safe in his hands. A double rainbow for me reminds me of his abundant goodness and his generosity.

Seeing my crocheted rainbow across the bed spoke to me of God’s promise of his blessing, his favour, his protection and his love spread over my physical body.  I was so touched that I almost cried right there. We are literally physically covered with God’s promise, his protection. It is tangible and real, he holds our future in his hands and he has the safest hands.

I sit with it over my legs. I am determinedly not superstitious but instead I believe that there are certain things that speak forcefully to you of things God wants to communicate. Spending my nights and days lying in bed drifting in and out of sleep or staring out the window thinking, my fingers felt the soft wool and remembered: God is good, he is faithful, he is trustworthy, he has promised to keep me safe, his loving kindness lasts forever.

The Bible talks about Stones of Remembrance. The people of Israel used to make altars to God out of stones – one for each tribe of Israel – in places where there were important turning points, battles God had won for them, agreements and dedications they had made. Every time they would travel past one, they would have known what that pile of stones meant to them. The Old Testament is full of citations reminding us of the miracles God did for his people, the impossible victories that were given to them.

I’ve heard of people collecting pebbles and writing on things God has done for them and I love the idea of passing a tray of pebbles and picking one up, reading it, remembering how God came through for you. I imagine myself rubbing the smoothness of the pebble and reliving the miracle.  Yes, remember that time when God did this... or that... or the other. Remember? He can do it again. He will. His nature is good, his nature is loving, he can’t help being faithful or generous. In him there is only light, no darkness at all.

My blanket will be one of my stones of remembrance. I will always remember that his promise is as close to me as the blanket on my body, not some far off refraction but real, touchable, giving warmth, joy and reassurance, making a physical and visible difference.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #3: Every moment laid out

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 and part 2 by clicking the links. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

God sees every moment of your life even before you were born
I found this verse the other week every moment of my life is laid out before you before I was even born (Ps 139) and I have been meditating on it often since.  I think of it when I am overwhelmed by circumstances and feeling unable to cope with what I have to do.  I think of it when the unexpected curve ball arrives and my plans are forced to change.  I remind myself that God saw this moment, he made plans for it, he made a way out, he knows what comes next and he knows the end of the story before it even starts. 

I think of the peace that I have sitting here in the hospital tied to an IV, still visiting the toilet too frequently. Not an uneasy peace or a temporary peace but a different peace, a safe, confident peace that I am held by Jesus and that he has seen this moment before I was born. I know that this moment comes from the moments on Thursday and Friday when my friends were messaging me and praying for me and speaking words of faith over me. Those moments led to this moment.

I see the hilariously funny one where I was given a single room with toilet because someone had misunderstood what I had been admitted for and thought it was infectious when it wasn’t. Serendipity for me is just another word for God arranging things in advance.

I see the moment when the Indian Tea Man commented on my fast typing which led to him asking me what I do for a job and me telling him I work for a church and inviting him along and him saying yes, I’d love to, I’m a Christian who believes in healing too. We have a long conversation in which I feel guilty for taking up his work time but delighted to find someone passionate about Jesus.  Yup. Arranged in advance.

I see the moment in the middle of the night when a confused elderly lady in the room next to me cries for help and I hear the nurses struggling to reassure and calm her. My heart is distressed for her, distressed that I have to hear things like this and then it turns to the Moments Verse and I realize that I have an opportunity to pray for the voice of Jesus to whisper calm words to her spirit, to whisper peace to her, to give the nurses patience and loving kindness towards to her. I ask for the peace of Jesus to be so real you could cut it with a knife in that room.  A day or two later she is sleeping calmly for most of the day. I write a note to her relatives to let them know that I have been praying for but by the time I pluck up the courage to ask one of the nurses to give it to them, she has left the hospital.

In the room on the other side of me, I hear the shock machine go off. It really freaks me out. I don’t know if it is being used to save a life or just being tested. I hear someone groan and pray: God come into this situation. You put me here in this moment, you knew what would happen right now.

The delightful Catholic elderly gentleman offers me a newspaper then continues the conversation with me telling me that although he believes, his children don't. We talk about how God can change all of that and he works in some funny old ways. He tells me that everyday he tells his wife of the interesting people he's met on the ward and he'll tell her about me. These moments we can so easily miss when we have the opportunity to speak hope and life into people's lives, to encourage them to carry on believing that God can change any situation.

In the discharge room I ask how another patient is feeling, she tells me a heartbreaking story of hopelessness and terminal illness. I am so taken aback and shocked I have no words. I leave her a note to tell her we are having a healing service at our church and I would love to see her there. Who has these kinds of moments?

If every moment is planned by God then not only has he given us the strength to overcome our challenges but he intends for us to be aware of everything going on around us and to be praying him into those situations so that he can bring others his peace and transformation. It has huge implications for our lives.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Hospital Bed Revelations: #2: You can't do this journey alone

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 and part 3 by clicking the links here. I'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.

You cannot do this journey alone
If you think that you can do your faith life in isolation from others, may I politely say that in my experience and in the words of Darryl Kerrigan from The Castle, you’re dreamin’ mate!

In the last couple of weeks, people would ask me how I was going and not feeling in the mood for half-truths, I would cheerfully tell most people, including almost mere acquaintances, that actually I hadn’t been that well .

I started feeling guilty. Was I always talking about this? Did people think I was being a real downer banging on and on about it? I just wasn’t in the mood for social pleasantries but perhaps I should just not talk about it. I started to find ways of glossing over it of moving the subject on quickly or I would put try and couch it in light and cheerful terms when in reality I was going home and spending large chunks of time cramped up on the toilet.

I’m not saying that you should bare your soul to the checkout chick but when the hubster suggested that I should follow Christine Caine’s example and just ask 5 close faith-filled girl friends to pray for me, it rang the Ding-Dong bell of recognition in my head. I could feel myself resistant to the idea, after all they have so many other people to pray for and their own things they are believing for. Deep down though, I knew it was wise and I couldn’t win this battle on my own.

The older I get, the more I realize that God very very very rarely, if ever, does anything outside of a team setting. Moses had Aaron and Miriam right beside him. Abraham started out with Sarah and Lot and his wife. Paul always travelled with a team of guys, Jesus straight away picked 12 fellas and within those had his 3 ‘besties’, if you can call them that. Even Creation was a combo Trinity job. 

Why do I think I can do stuff on my own?  Again it comes down to those tricksy lies. Well look at you, can’t even muster up a single grain of faith can you? Can’t do it on your own? Always relying on other people? 

We’re made to be in a team. When we’re seriously ill, it is hard to muster up faith that things will change, that God is good, that he has good things planned for you. It’s like sickness and disease bring a sort of hopeless lethargy over you, a discouragement and a depression that creeps into your body like a black haze that stops you seeing clearly and takes over your mind.  You know you believe in healing, you know God is able but when people tell you that God has healing for you, you just think yeah right!

So I texted the best faith-filled girls I know, the ones I know who won’t take no for an answer, who don’t let doubt take a foothold. It’s not that my other friends aren’t but 5 was enough and I was proved right to take the hubster’s advice.  The very next day one of them was over at my house praying with me, sharing testimonies of miracles she has personally experienced, wanting to do my washing up for me, bringing me a huge box of fruit and veg which in itself was amazing because I hadn’t had the energy or capacity to go to the shops. And the other four, they were sending me boosting words of faith and prophecy and words of faith that made me cry.

It was these friends whose words gave me peace hours before I decided to get help at the hospital in a situation that could have created panic and anxiety in my heart.

In a word, I felt like even though I was battling my hardest to believe and stand in truth, I knew I was safe because these girls who are faithful powerful prayers were holding me up for real. Just like the four friends who climbed onto the roof of a house, dug a hole in it and let their friend down in front of Jesus.  You need faithful friends like that who will go to great lengths for you. You need Christ community. 

This is exactly why the local church is God’s hope for the world: however it flawed it may seem, this cracked vessel contains the glory of God and the glory of God is dazzlingly bright and beautiful.  It seems to me that the church is the jar of clay that the Bible talks about as being filled with treasure only picture this treasure as a very bright beautiful light. The cracks in the pottery widen and as they do, light streams out of the cracks to the outside world. The pot is the church and the cracks that are getting wider and wider are shining God’s glory. One day that pot will explode and God’s glory will burst out of the church in a glorious way. I don’t want to miss that. I don’t want to be looking at the pottery and devaluing it without looking inside or peeping through the cracks.

My faith-filled, faithful friends are God’s shining glory. They are the ones who rip out those weeds of doubt when you are unable to, they feed you with faith-filled vision and testimonies when you can’t feed yourself, they fight for you when you are too weak to crawl, they shield you when you have been mortally wounded and they call the Ultimate Physician to heal what no human physician can heal. No, I will not give up on community or the local church or humbling myself to ask for believers’ help. It is the Bride of Christ, the one he holds dear to his heart.

This post is part of a series written during a recent hospital stay for an episode of ulcerative colitis. You can read part 1 hereI'd love to hear your thoughts on healing, faith, long term illnesses, miracles etc so please leave a comment in the section below.