365 days ago to the day this little blog was birthed, primarily as a communication necessity. Much less a soapbox and more a window into our lives as followers of Jesus during a journey through the dark valley of cancer. How long the journey and deep the dark valley we would never know – though many others would hazard a professional guess. What we did know – and still know today with ever increasing assurance – is that Jesus is a living and loving Good Shepherd and Mighty King to those who yield their lives to Him through repentance and faith. The very fact that Jesus Christ has conquered death is the greatest and most important reality in the universe. It is the wonderful, sustaining, ultimate reality in and on which Annie and I walk and stand.
During a recent debate at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Has Science Buried God, 2009), atheist and Professor, Richard Dawkins, was challenged by professing Christian and Professor, John Lennox, to defend the claim he made in his book, ‘The God Delusion’, that most ancient historians believe Jesus did not even exist. The cadence of the debate quickly stalled and the scene played out more like one between an apprehended mischievous school-boy before a discerning headmaster rather than a pair of dueling Dons. Upon Lennox’ persistent challenging and countering, Dawkins actually made a public and verbal (and probably reluctant) retraction (although I don’t expect to see an updated edition of ‘TGD’ in print any time soon!) of his statement against the existence of Jesus only to add that the miraculous birth, death and resurrection of Jesus were – in his own words – “….petty by comparison with the grandeur of the universe.”
Annie and I don’t ever expect to be sitting opposite Professor Richard Dawkins – unless he frequents any of the McDonalds franchises in the Worcester area. Even with our minds combined, we certainly don’t have the academic capacity to duel with such a mind as his. But we do share this planet with him and believe we have a far greater sense and awareness of real life in the the real world than he appears to. Real life in the real world is far more complex and complicated than what lies beneath or beyond the lens of the microscope or telescope.
One year ago, Annie and I faced some pretty tough real-life decisions for two thirty-somethings, at an even tougher time. With a prognosis of just months to live, our first decision was whether or not Annie should undergo another brutal course of heavy chemotherapy in order to squeeze out possibly a few more months of life. You might think the decision was a no-brainer; but that’s the difference between looking down the microscope and being under it. We did all we knew to do: we asked God for wisdom. That wisdom came ‘from above’ as James writes (James 3:17) and we eventually took the route of no chemo. This decision was neither motivated by a scornful rejection of modern medical practices nor a resolute assurance of a physical healing miracle from God.
The Word that God’s Spirit spoke to us at that time influenced the theme of the next stage of our journey (and the title of this blog!):
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. – Psalm 20:7
The motivation behind our decision was simply obedience. We asked the God who speaks and guides today to tell us and show us what we should do. He spoke and directed. And we obeyed and followed in faith. We had no clarity on exactly what would happen next – especially once we were no longer in the hands of the cancer professionals – we simply obeyed on the basis that God had spoken, He is good and He works all things out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). Then – and only then – the decision became a no-brainer and all tension dissipated, giving way to the peace of God that transcends all understanding as He indwells our lives (Philippians 4:6-7).
So what did we do to commemorate this day? Well actually, we spent much of the day in hospital! Quite fitting, don’t you think? Only this time Annie went as a visitor, not a patient!
A dear sister at our former home church* had recently been diagnosed with acute leukaemia and given a 3-6 month life expectancy and so our purpose for going to the hospital this afternoon was to go and bring encouragement. It definitely felt weird going to visit a patient rather than visit a doctor but never enough to diffuse that (as Annie describes it) ‘inner yucky’ feeling which comes after years of associating the hospital as the temple of bad news oracles (one of our former blog entries might serve as an ode to that sentiment!). But a few moments at the bedside of a fellow ailing follower of Jesus and the mood changes quite dramatically. Jesus promises that where two or three gather in His name, we ought to pull up another chair because He will be there with us (Matthew 18:20). When we arrived she was hooked up to her chemo driver. Years ago we would have had no clue what was going on but it’s funny how Annie and I felt quite at home – even declaring to one of the nurses at one point “The flush is finished.” when the smaller pouch of fluid had dispensed and the drip alarm started to beep. But that’s not all that was familiar; we were familiar with the joy and peace and hope our dear sister expressed as she lay there. Fellow followers of King Jesus, please pray for our dear sister, C when you read this. She told us that she already told Jesus “I’m not afraid to die.” Pray for the Lord to achieve great glory through her suffering and through her testimony. Pray that during a period where her strength decreases, Christ may increase in her and be witnessed by many. Pray for an ever increasing amount of peace, joy, assurance and hope within her. And please pray for a miraculous and marvelous increase of strength and health in C in such a way that the miracle would lead people to faith in the risen King and Shepherd that she, Annie and I love to serve, follow and trust!
* On September 30th, our home church commissioned us to plant the church that has now been our new home church for the last month
We returned home from the hospital and within no less than a couple of hours the phone rang. Another dear sister (from our now home church) was calling us from the hospital, in tears, asking that we would pray for her mother whom she had found unconscious following a sudden stroke which had resulted in a very bad fall and fractured head.
On Sunday morning I was preaching from Mark 6:30-44 and the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand. The focus of our inaugural teaching series is the ‘Loving the way Jesus loves’ using 1 Corinthians 13 as our grounding. Last week the focus was ‘Love is not easily angered’ (1 Corinthians 13:5) and we referred to the feeding of the five thousand as our model of this aspect of love in action through the life and ministry of Jesus. Reading that account one thing that stands out is how motivated and gracious and compassionate and patient and glorious Jesus is when His day is interrupted – not only by the demands and needs of the crowds but also by the stinking attitude of His twelve disciples! – at the most inconvenient and inappropriate time. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Lord was specifically speaking to us and preparing us all for the week ahead!
As you know, Annie has been experiencing returning waves of nausea, pain and fatigue. It’s not as concentrated or relentless as it has been, but it’s still potent. The early morning and late evening (and by that I mean around 8pm) is when it’s at its most potent. And yet yesterday we witnessed another miracle of God’s overruling and empowering as she spent the late afternoon until the late evening accompanying our dear sister at the bedside of her very sick mother.
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” – John 4:34
Before we headed out a second time to the hospital and knowing the demands on time, health and energy that would lie ahead, we recalled those words of Jesus and asked that He would create the same appetite and attitude within us through His Holy Spirit. It needed to be something supernatural, something from above, something from Him, something that we didn’t and wouldn’t have without it being given to us. And that is exactly what He did! He replaced Annie’s usual awareness of pain and fatigue with a strength fueled and fed by His compassion for the needs of somebody else.
I rejoined Annie and our sister at the hospital bed of her mother later on in the evening (at around 10pm). Her mother (S) is not a believer and we prayed for her while she dipped in and out of consciousness. Fellow followers of Jesus, please, pray for S and for our sister C (a different ‘C’ to the one mentioned a few paragraphs above!) at this time. C usually lives with her mother in their little apartment but for now is going to stay with us, along with her dog (and new friend for Milo!) Rosie. At nearly midnight last night we all (including Annie!) sat around our kitchen table reflecting and rejoicing in the hope we have in Jesus. That little picture was a snapshot of God’s power and God’s resources at work.
I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated that one year anniversary of the blog. This has always been our prayer; that whatever life and health we have – whether it is on the increase or the decrease – we might use it all for God’s glory. Our prayers for healing are ultimately rooted in that purpose too. We don’t ask for healing so that we might continue to make roots in this earth and acquire and experience more for our pleasure. The funny thing about a terminal prognosis for Christians is that it gradually results in you wanting to die to self more and more that you might experience and share the boundless love and grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, our risen Saviour, Shepherd and King.
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. – John 12:24
He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4)