Somebody recently asked me: “When are you going to update the blog?” My response “When God gives me something to share.”
It’s been a while since our last post – over a month perhaps. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to assume that our blog or plight captivates an audience.
Quite frankly, I find myself increasingly reluctant to give time to read many blogs I come across today – and Christian ones are no exception. Many blogs I come by seem to me to be nothing more than a gallery of how clever the author is.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” – James 1:22
As Christians, we’ve never lived in an age where there were so many words; so many books, so many blogs, so many tweets. It’s easy and trendy to write to a large audience today. The danger is that it’s easier and trendier to write about God’s Word, discuss God’s Word, write songs about God’s Word than it is actually obeying it and incarnating it in the real world which doesn’t fit and flow into well thought, well reasoned, carefully balanced sentences, paragraphs, verses and chapters.
We didn’t start this blog because we thought it would make us look hip. It’s not a gallery of how clever we think we are. This blog was birthed out of a desire to declare God’s real greatness at work in our real weakness in this real and broken world.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7
Over the last month I have been increasingly reluctant to share anything on this blog.
Not everything God gives us is something we find easy to share. This particular blog entry is not the overflow of my creativity or zeal; it’s not a display of my strength, my talents or my blessings. It’s the overflow of my trust in God and His promises. I trust that when I am at my weakest, He will be more powerfully and majestically witnessed and adored. Much of what I’ll share doesn’t feel worth sharing. If this blog was kept for any other purpose than displaying the greatness, the grace and the glory of God, then I wouldn’t be posting this right now; in fact I’d never have written it.
Over the last month, the most difficult question you could ask me is “How is Annie?”; the second most difficult question you could ask me is “How are you?” Too bad for us that they’ve also been the most common questions! If you’ve asked me that question recently, most probably, I’ve not told you the whole truth. Not that I’ve lied or attempted to deceive you; it’s just that the whole truth is so inconclusive. What I don’t want to say is “I don’t know.” but that is precisely the answer to the question. “I just don’t know!”
Annie once described the aftermath of a tornado that she saw while visiting family in the US. On recent visits to family in the States we’ve often driven through the town where the tornado hit and Annie never forgets to point and describe how one building, one side of the road was torn apart, while another – even neighbouring it – stood untouched, betraying any sign of a furious storm. Experts observe that factors surrounding the makeup of the tornado can simply cause it to momentarily skip which results in the sometimes confusing aftermath where destruction and construction sit right next to one another. Nevertheless, if my home was one of the buildings that hadn’t been hit, I still can’t imagine that the devastation would’t have still severely impacted me.
That’s about the best picture I can give you of how life for both of us has been over the last month. From an earthly perspective the aftermath of each day is a scrambled and confusing picture. In the past I’ve been able to often report “Annie’s had good day today.” but it’s not been like that for the last month. Every day has been difficult; some more so or less so than the previous day but always difficult days all the same. Occasionally Annie might have a small window of time that betrays how hard the whole day will have turned out but then in a flash it’s gone. When the tornado of sickness momentarily skips, we’re just too tired and frail to attempt anything normal. When those brief windows open up, about all we are fit for is closing the shutters and sleeping before the storm gathers and plunges upon us again. There’s no pattern. The only pattern is unpredictability. We can’t predict where and when and for how long those moments will appear. We can’t prepare for them. Life feels constantly on storm alert; constantly on the brink. On the brink of the available physical and emotional energy we have; and at times, on the brink of the faith that we have. It seems like everything is an effort. Everything. It seems like everything is a battle.
Every little thing.
It’s been nearly seventeen months since we were given Annie’s terminal diagnosis. We have no doubt that we are this far by God’s sovereign will. We’ve seen and experienced a whole range of the damage that cancer can and will do and likewise, through faith we’ve seen and experienced the wonders of what God can and will do and has done and is doing. What Annie has experienced physically over the last month is probably not near the intensity at which she has previously experienced it. Pain, nausea, fatigue and sleepless nights – those four familiar and unwelcome intruders – are back. But we’re a year and a half on now…and we are wearing thin. In fact, we’re nearly six years into this difficult journey. Half of our married life has been burdened with cancer. We’re now a couple of mid-thirty somethings who feel simultaneously too young for this and too old, too weak, too weary for this.
For me personally, in the last month I have endured some of the spiritually darkest hours of my journey with Jesus. A few weeks ago, in the early hours of another sleepless night, the enemy attacked with such force that I felt like I was in the grip of hell itself. And let me assure you, I am not one given to use the ‘h’ word lightly or glibly. I cannot and will not detail to you what that night was like. All you need to know, is that my Jesus delivered me.
And that really leads me to the underlying message of what God has given me to share.
Weakness has not let go of us but more importantly, God has not let go of us. As desperate the hours and days, Jesus surrounds us and sustains us. And Jesus delivers us too. This is probably going to be a clumsy explanation but deliverance doesn’t always mean that He delivers us out of affliction. During this longer period of affliction we are being delivered into a place where we not only endure and accept affliction…but we are learning to embrace it, to treasure it, trusting that the risen Lord Jesus Christ will not only draw nearer to us but that He will – with greater efficacy – through our affliction and frailty, demonstrate His all-surpassing grace and power in and to this dark and broken world.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. – 2 Corinthians 4:8-11
It may not be easy for me to tell you how either Annie or I are doing; but I can certainly tell you how to pray for us. By all means, pray for healing; pray for peace; pray for both. But we would ask that you pray that we would have increased faith to really trust what God is saying here. To trust Him enough to embrace affliction for His glory.
As tough as this last month has been, as weak as we have been, God has not failed to provide the opportunity and the power for us to earnestly and joyfully proclaim and testify to His grace and power in and during the eye of the storm. Over the next week I’d like to post a couple of things that have flowed out of this period of ministry through the flames. I would love to have the time to bear witness to the many great things God has been doing through the gift of weakness and affliction in the lives of our church plant family over this last month. We are witnessing God work in ways that we have never witnessed before. We are witnessing fellow followers of Christ embrace weakness and affliction, and so begin to increase in greater faith, trust, hope, courage and boldness – and decrease in affection and appetite for the things of this world – by the grace and power of God and for His glory. But even if I had all the time, a blog and the World Wide Web is not the vessel for sharing these things. These things are better seen in the real world which doesn’t fit and flow into those well thought, well reasoned, carefully balanced sentences, paragraphs, verses and chapters. My greatest desire is that you experience these things, in the real world, for yourself. I’m not talking about joining our church plant. I’m talking about you personally trusting God enough to embrace weakness for His glory.
Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. – James 4:10
If you are not a follower of Jesus already, why aren’t you? Are you paralysed by the lie that your past – or your present – is too wretched and too messed up for Him to care about you, for Him to be able to transform you, for Him to do greater things for you and through you than you could even imagine right now? Are you crippled by the myth that maybe one day in the future, when your life is more presentable, you’ll be in a better position to invite Him into your life? Are the chains on your hands and feet the shackles of a problem (a lifestyle, a habit, a substance, an addiction, a debt…) that masters, enslaves and overpowers you; or is it simply that those chains are of your own making…you are shackled by your own lack of trust that God is not only mighty to rescue you, but actually willing? Well, if any of those are you…just remember that Jesus has an excellent track record when it comes to confronting and conquering paralysis, chains and crippling disease.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” – 2 Corinthians 12:9
If you follow this blog and live close by, then by all means, come and join us on Sunday mornings (Warndon Youth and Community Centre, Shap Drive, Warndon, Worcester, WR4 9NX from 11am – free lunch, every Sunday!) And if not, I pray that you’ll be able to find – or rather, find the courage to go to – a bible believing, Spirit-filled, God honouring, Christ trusting and following church and ask “Can you tell me about the God who loves me and sent His Son to save a sinner like me?” And if at first you don’t succeed don’t stop until the next person you ask smiles and with tears in their eyes cries “Yes! Because He saved a wretch like me.” And if they hug you – don’t see that as a negative!
If you are a follower of Jesus are you really embracing that simple, powerful truth that in God’s Kingdom logic, weakness wins…? Really?
…two cracked and fragile earthen vessels, glued together by the grace and mercy, faithfulness and love of the God who will not let us go and filled with the treasure we could never afford that He purchased with His own blood…