mountain stream

The River Rolls On

(a three-minute read)

The old saying is that we can never cross the same river twice. The same is true for our encounters with God. No two are alike.

Sometimes when I seek him, I don’t get what I ask for or expect. Sometimes I meet the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can lift me up, or remind me (always gently) where I need improvement. Or he will coach me until I am ready to compete.

Sometimes the Father shows up and overpowers me with His love and dominion. Sometimes Jesus appears, to teach – you guessed it – a word.

Sometimes when I seek God, He doesn’t come at all, in any of His persona. He leaves me alone. But it isn’t a lottery. Like the rest of life, it’s not random. It’s part of a plan. I always get what I need, and He knows what I need before I need it.1

He shapes and molds me into a vessel that can receive more of Him over time. Just as the potter’s lump initially holds nothing, the artist’s hands slowly, patiently, draw it into the shape of a primitive cup.

Then, with more revolutions and more, the cup changes in size. Its walls narrow and it grows taller. There’s no more material now than in the original lump, but it’s given an inside and an outside. It has boundaries. So should I.

God shapes these boundaries in us. If we accept them, our insides grow larger, and we can contain more of Him. If we reject them, we are misshapen, ugly and of little use until we are ready to lay ourselves on the wheel again as an unformed lump.

In eternity, I’m a vessel that can receive all of Him. Here in the world, I have time and space limitations, but He has me grow, steadily, patiently.

In eternity, I’m a learner with the patience and obedience to sit endlessly at His feet. I learn. I worship. I grow. I change shape. I’m filled. In the world, I’m a learner who can be impatient and disobedient, sometimes from wilfulness, more often from the loud and real distractions life presents.

So, I go in circles on the potter’s wheel. No, it’s not that. It’s a carousel. As I circle round, I reach for the brass ring that is Christ.

It’s His music playing as I orbit. It’s His pony I ride, up and down, up and down. Even though I move in a circle, I never quite come back to the same place. Like the water that is never the same river flowing under the bridge, the stream of my life is constantly moving and changing.

From my belly will flow rivers of this living water.2 Christ promised it. I’m just a rock face. It’s the Lord Himself that tumbles out of me to water the plains below.

1. Matthew 7:11 – ‘If you then, being evil, know how to gie good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!’
2. John 4:14 – ‘But whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water that I shall give him will become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life.’

People with their hands raised

Surrender to Win

(A six minute read)

There was an obituary this week of someone who died from cancer. Yet again, the deceased was proclaimed to have ‘lost a battle’ with cancer. Why is it about winning or losing? Why is this dichotomy even mentioned at all?

Cancer treatment consumed my attention for eight tough months in 2019. But it also consumed my prayer life, and the prayer lives of many who love me. Our declaration was this: ‘Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.’

Very simple yet very powerful. It reminded me of my identity and kept my eye on the solution instead of the problem. This, I have found, is the essence of evangelism.

Please – feel free to come to me with your problem. But when you are done describing it, then let me empathize, so we can turn our attention (through prayer) to the one who can solve it, the one who saves us. This standing at attention is also the essence of evangelism.

In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus says the shepherd leaves the other 99 sheep and goes after the lost one. That’s what he did when he rescued me all those years ago. If you know Jesus, you know that’s what he did for you too. If you don’t yet know Jesus, ask sincerely, repeatedly and he’ll come and do it for you too.

That’s right. You have to surrender to win.

Meanwhile, Back to Cancer

Since my own deliverance from cancer two years ago, God has brought me in contact with an inordinate number of people who either are being treated for cancer or have someone dear to them who is. I share my healing story, and we pray. This is so we tell God we recognize his innate goodness, and thus can make the demand that he do it again. We have the authority.1

But this authority doesn’t come because we do spiritual battle to obtain victory. It’s because we recognize Jesus’ victory at the cross, and so we begin there. We surrender to him in order to release his victory into the earth.

We surrender to win.

This is why my teeth grate when I see that term ‘lost a battle with cancer’ because this warfare language diverts us from the truth. It distracts us from where we should focus: on the healer instead of on sickness. Focusing on disease makes the disease into the most powerful thing. Focusing on the healer reminds us of the most powerful Person. It keeps us right-side-up. It keeps the disease from infecting our identities as well as our bodies.

If I speak of ‘battling cancer’, it implies I think cancer has a good chance of winning. Or, that I somehow fail if I feel unwell, or ultimately don’t live. Likewise, ‘fighting cancer’ implies that it’s a battle I chose to engage in. ‘Surviving cancer’ makes it sound like that outcome is somehow merely a product of luck or coincidence or random chance.

I grieve with anyone who has lost a loved one to cancer, but I don’t find the idea of dying from it in any way ennobling. It’s not my place to fight, but to surrender.

About Identity

Many people refer to cancer as ‘my cancer’, as though they’ve taken ownership of it and grafted it onto their identity. They’ve allowed it to change how they see themselves. I know one man who bought a personalized car license plate that read ‘Sur5or.’ He couldn’t wait to have people ask him about it!

Truth: receiving a cancer diagnosis and getting treatment took up gross amounts of my 2019, and made life painful and inconvenient. Further truth: this was far from the most important thing to happen to me that year. When I’m not praying with someone about it, I rarely think about it at all. Ultimate truth: Cancer is not my master. Jesus is my Master.

More Unhelpful Ideas

Those of us being treated for cancer are described as ‘brave’, as though we had a choice about being treated.2 Calling it ‘The Big C’ brings in the Bogeyman Effect, meaning that cancer is a malevolent force that’s incapable of being tamed or controlled.

And then there are the day-to-day phrases, which are also unhelpful. ‘Coping’ implies that overcoming cancer is somehow not possible, and that I’m in a passive, powerless state.

To ‘deal with it’ says that it’s a nuisance that cannot be controlled.

‘Living with cancer’ tells me that it’s an invited guest.

Finally, for me to say ‘I have cancer’ has me stating that I’ve taken ownership of it. I refused to do that.

December 22, 2021 will be the two year anniversary of the day the Lord told me unequivocally that I was healed. Cancer will never plague me again, I’m certain of it. On the other hand the doctors will never proclaim that I’m ‘cured’ or ‘healed.’ They will only edge out far enough to say I’m ‘in remission.’

I find no freedom in that. ‘Remission’ keeps me in a waiting room and off the train. I remain captive to the idea that cancer will never go away, that it may be lurking around the corner. I’d be no healthier than the paranoiac who compulsively peeps outside to see who might be watching.

Even if I were to say that I ‘beat cancer’ there’s still an assumption that somehow I waged a battle I chose, that it was a war of my choosing. As I mentioned, my best option wasn’t to fight, but to surrender.

That’s the Biblical way. I can’t successfully attack the devil, I can only ‘stand’ against him, or ‘resist’ him3.

Speak Life Not Death4

Warfare words tell me nothing more than I’m afraid of cancer. I once was approached by a friend who ‘caught a cold.’ ‘Why did you have your hands out?’ I asked. The medics tried to give me a diagnosis of cancer, and I refused to accept it. I was treated at Guy’s Cancer-Free Centre5 in London, whose logo proclaims simply, ‘Guy’s Cancer.’ Fine – I didn’t want the cancer. I gave it to Guy.

I have yet to say ‘I have cancer’, ‘I had cancer’, ‘I am (or was) a cancer patient’. I would certainly never label myself a ‘cancer victim.’ It’s definitely not ‘my cancer.’ But I tell the truth. I tell people ‘I was treated for cancer.’

Crisis provokes one of two responses in the human heart. Face up to it, or run and hide. Here is our choice then: Turn to God and lean on him, or turn away and blame him for my problems. Faith or fear. Surrender, or fight. Those are my only options. There is no ‘wait and see.’ One of them always comes out in the end.

I decided in 2019 that I must embrace the way of faith, and reject fear. My expectations were to be set by God’s promises. He hadn’t carried me this far in life to drop me now. I spoke His truth, even when I didn’t believe it. I relied on Scripture, not medical journals for direction.

I surrendered, and won. I won the moment I surrendered.6

1. See Luke 10:19, Mark 16:17-18, Acts 1:8 and Acts 3:1-10
2. I guess we actually do have a choice. Christian Scientists take note.
3. See Ephesians 6 and 1 Peter 5
4. See Mark 11:23, Proverbs 18:7, 20-21
5. It’s actually named Guy’s Cancer Centre but I didn’t go there to get cancer, I went there to get free.
6. Psalm 37:5

This essay is adapted from my book The Lie Called Cancer.

Photo: Luis Quintero via Pexels

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov

Pride and Passion Revisited

This is part of an ongoing series about the Ministry of Reconciliation.

Reconciliation (noun) /ˌrek.ənˌsɪl.iˈeɪ.ʃən/:The process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas or situations agree

Read the entire series

A Blast From the Past

This is the third time I have published this poem, or the fourth, if you include it being read live on the radio. I’ve also performed it at an open mic. It’s never been well-received.

It’s like the crazy uncle at the holiday table. Why do I keep inviting him anyway? Because I’m stuck with him. Like him or not, he’s family and so in my broken way, I love him.

At least, that’s my excuse.

When I last trotted out ‘Pride and Passion’ it was in June of 2020, in the chaos following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. I wrote this as preface:

Our nation is on fire emotionally right now, with too many shouting for scapegoats instead of pleading for forgiveness. I look back to the bleak days right after 9-11 when we were at a similar but not as dangerous a crossroads. What we see today is due to the work of the four grooms (Fear, Division, Suspicion, and Hatred). They control the reins of the steeds being held ready for the Four Horsemen: Conquest, War, Famine, and Death.

Nothing’s changed

Skip ahead to September, 2021. The paragraph above still holds. The untapped power of reconciliation remains, seemingly little used.

The poem “Pride and Passion” was written directly after the world-changing event we simply call ‘9/11′. At that time, emergency workers continued to comb the rubble of the World Trade Centers. People mourned their loved ones, or thousands of others’ loved ones they’d never met. The disaster video seemed to be on continuous loop with endless analysis.

People craved answers. People craved revenge. President Bush, that same week, announced his intent to ‘hunt down, to find, to smoke out’ those responsible for the attacks.

Now, twenty years later, Osama bin Laden is dead, many of his henchmen are either dead or incarcerated, and the United States’ long adventure in Afghanistan is officially over. I hesitate to touch on domestic politics in an essay about reconciliation and yet there’s a point.

What was once happily referred to as the ‘Art of Compromise’ has devolved into an endless cockfight of bitterness, division and opprobrium. Compromise comes from seeking understanding and greater long-term good, not immediate advantage. Reconciliation can get us there.

In the wider arena of the human heart, nothing’s changed since 2001. Sin, and a lack of repentance are still the main problems of the world. It’s not worse, but it looks worse, if bitterness and unforgiveness are our only lenses. The four grooms still hold the steeds for the Four Horsemen. And we all get to watch the livestream.

Politics is no longer about compromise. It’s about optics. Last spring, President Joe Biden said he wanted to remove US interests from Afghanistan by September 11th, the 20th anniversary of the attacks. In July he changed this, without explanation, to August 31.

The bookend symmetry of a September 11 pull-out sounds good and looks good. It fits on a bumper sticker. Twenty years to the day. But August 31?

August 31 is actually 20 years to the day, only on the Hebrew calendar. God’s calendar. The 9/11 attack was on 23 Elul, 5761. August 31 of this year was also 23 Elul. Maybe not so great on a bumper sticker. But there is a prophetic symmetry to it.

I’ll leave it to others to look for meaning. I only suggest there is some.

Pride and Passion

Time marches on,
Dragging our cliches behind it,
In the furrow that remains,
We plant our dead, and bury seeds of renewal.

When the twin towers of pride and passion fall,
Your absent human pulses leave only pulsing pictures,
And loving souls now gone leave scars on others’ hearts,
We jerk our knees, dig in our heels,
And need to pray for time to dig the furrow where we
Leave our losses, cover sins.

Turning in our bed to reach for one no longer there,
We sigh and then surrender up our own self-righteous indignation To the peace that comes from sleep
.

We ask God’s blessing on our nation,
I ask Him, “Bless all ‘round the world.”

We need collective will,
To find our enemy,
Hunt him down,
Smoke him out,
Get him on the run,
Grab him by the shoulder,
Look him in the eye,
And say, “I love you.”

Only then will our twin towers be rebuilt,
The towering pride and passion,
Built by mothers everywhere,
Who nurture children, teaching them
That conquest lies in love and service.

During the evacuations through Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, as many as 200 people may have died, including at least 13 Americans in an explosion August 26. The President’s response was, ‘We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.’ Just as Mr. Bush overlooked the Lord’s Prayer, Mr. Biden too has forgotten his Catechism.

But it’s never too late for things to change.

Granted, much forgiveness is bitterly hard, seemingly impossible. Yet it is the most rewarding. And, it leads to peace in the heart, which is where peace is most needed.

Pray for your country and its leaders. Whether you agree with them or not. It’s good for you – and for them. It’s your bit to save the world.

“Pride and Passion” was first performed September 19, 2001.
Image: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Viktor Vasnetsov via Wikimedia Commons