Category Archives: Ways to Grow articles

Growing in God through stopping fretting

“Oceans converge and sing praise” – Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple (c)

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last article, we learned about growing in wisdom. Wisdom was my heart’s desire, as it was for one of the children we worked with for many months here, Liam.  Wisdom was what King Solomon was most known for, and it was something he asked God for in a dream.  He wanted to rule over his people well.  And he was granted his request.  Godly wisdom is acquired by fearing, or honouring the Lord, and not leaning on your own earthly wisdom.  Godly wisdom is a gift, and one that can be developed through inclining your spiritual ears to God for direction, and through experience.  Wisdom and direction are two things that I constantly needed before I was a Christian and afterwards.  I would worry so much that even my dad would quote the Bible scripture about the lilies of the field receiving care without worry.  

Worrying, also known as fretting, leads to evil.  When I think of the word ‘fret,’ I think of this verse:  “do not fret—it leads only to evil.”   I remember this verse rang in my ears during a Vineyard camp meeting we had in the 1990’s.  I was a worrier. It took a lot of ministry, time and love to get the anxiety out of me.  I was fearful and fidgety but I didn’t know where these emotions came from.  This was in the days before soaking prayer and ‘carpet time’ were common.  Holy Spirit drew many of us to abide with Jesus on the carpet so he could deal with our hearts.  Of course, the very opposites of worry and fear are faith and TRUST. Do we really trust God?  Even though God is endlessly faithful, many of us need to realize in our heart of hearts just how faithful God is.  He isn’t like an imperfect earthly father who will let you down.  He’s God.  He’s master of the universe.

Corrie ten Boom once said, “Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow.  It empties today of its strength.”  [quoted in Huffington Post, Amanda Chan, “9 Scientific Ways to Stop worrying” December 6, 2017 https://www.huffpost.com/entry/stop-worrying-anxiety-cycle_n_4002914

Worry is bad for your body as well as your soul and spirit.  I learned from Caroline Thorpe on the Touching Hearts course, that too much stress can burn you out. It’s not the amount of work you do, but rather the amount of stress.  Amanda Chan shares that “while worry […] spurs us into action, too much of it can lead to anxiety, which can have a lasting impact on health and happiness.  For instance, research has shown that anxiety can take a toll on sleep, tax your immune system, raise your risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, and even affect your risk of dying from disease.” [Huffington Post, Amanda Chan]  Chan also shares nine “scientific” ways to stop worrying.  These include:  setting aside a designated worry time, kicking online addictions to social media, being mindful in choosing to think positively of solutions, instead of panicking, accepting the worry situation and moving on, writing your worries down, giving yourself a break, keeping your hands busy, making time to stop, breathe and pray, and ninth, to do some activity. Go out and exercise.  Except for the way of prayer, most of these are quite practical.  I found it interesting that Chan mentions keeping a designated worry time.  She says that if you have a specific time to work out items that you are worried about and keep it to that time, it’s actually a good discipline to cope from overwhelming worry taking over all of your time.  One stipulation during the worry time is to think of positive solutions; one is beginning to train the mind to think positively and to not panic. This isn’t an invitation to a pity party. Pity parties only invite you to dig a hole and disappear into it. We don’t want that.   Pursuing FaceBook also does not help when you’re in a worry mode.  It can make matters worse, and in fact even create an atmosphere of fretting.  Accepting the worry voice inside you may help you cope better than intentionally suppressing worry.  After all, the matter you are fretting about may be a legitimate one.  However, you can limit the worry, so it doesn’t become an obsession.  That’s where Holy Spirit comes in with His peace. It takes time to root out the issues that may be triggered by fretting.  But are you willing?  Find a good Christian counsellor, or a good person skilled in inner healing prayer. 

Writing your concerns down on paper also helps bring distance to the matter.  Sometimes your worries are fuzzy, condemning thoughts.  Those aren’t from you.  Don’t accept them. Tell them to leave in Jesus’ name. God’s Holy Spirit never condemns.  He convicts.  He leads us to the cross, has us repent, and then he touches and heals us.  That is good.  Condemnation is BAD.  But when you write down your own thoughts, and come back to the journal later, you will find you feel better. You can reassess the situation and possibly see solutions.  

Chan also advises to “cut yourself some slack.”  Some people worry about the funniest things.  For example, if one was worried about your health, and thought you had to eat blueberries every day, and they weren’t always available, you may worry that you could get sick.  Nonsense!  There are plenty of other anti-oxidants.  Give yourself leeway and live life.  Most people worry about things that won’t happen or about things that won’t matter in a week, let alone a year.   Next on the list is keeping your hands busy.  Some people knit or crochet.  I draw.  There was a reason why my chemotherapy nurses invited me to draw in the chemo room.   I’ve also kept busy continuing to draw at home.  It’s kept my hands and mind busy while we’ve been going through multiple challenges.  For me, it’s a matter of TRUST.   This means I’ve put the situation I’m concerned about in God’s hands, and to keep myself from worrying, I intentionally pour myself into drawing.  It’s an act of worship that takes my whole being.   During that time, I’m also praying – not only for my concerns, but other things as well.  I turn on worship music and even sing.  This takes my mind and heart off the concerns, and puts my focus on God.  That’s a sure way of letting go of fretting.  

Sometimes you can also burn off the energy that comes from anxiety, into a good way to both use up and generate better energy.  This is to exercise – to run, walk and be active.   I remember I had six months with my friend Lynn, exercising together in her basement.  She coached me in stretching, walking on her treadmill, climbing stairs, and other gentle ways to gain core body strength.  I found this bonded me to my exercise partner, as well as give me more resilience in walking.  This was very much needed later, while Tony and I were in Mozambique.  The base where we took the Iris Harvest School was on a steep hill, and we were walking all the time.  There were times that I struggled emotionally, since the school curriculum and life is based on much younger people.  However, through the Holy Spirit and determination I persevered. The exercise was good for me, and even allowed me to purge any frustrations and grumblings that I temporarily felt.  By the time I got to my destination, I was fine.

Notice that I used the word grumblings.  Natalie Savvides notes that to fret is to “be constantly or visibly anxious. [It also] gradually wears away something by rubbing or gnawing.” [Natalie Savviddes, “Fretting – Is it Really worth it?” Huffington Post, September 13, 2016. https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/natalie-savvides/fretting-is-it-really-worthit]

She notes that in twenty years, she had to question whether constant fretting […] served any purpose.  Fretting and worrying speed you into the far future, where you worry about what may or may not happen.  However, we need to stop and enjoy the moment.  God works in the moment.  He tells us in Psalm 46:10 to be still and know that He is God.  This word was not given during a quiet time in the valley.  It was given in the midst of a battle!  Natalie shares,” It’s important to be present in the moment, to live the day, absorb it and notice what’s going on around us.”  [Natalie Savviddes]

John McArthur states that “we all have to admit that worry is a common temptation in life – for many, it’s a favourite pastime.”  [John McArthur, “A Worried Christian”https://www.gty.org/library/articles/A112/a-worried-christian   He shares that the US is one of the most worry-filled societies.  What did Jesus say about worry?   “Jesus categorically prohibited worry […] as shown in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:25-34. Three times […] Jesus commanded, “Do not worry!” The way He said it shows the fullness of what he meant. In verse 25 he shows worry as a common practice. He says, “Stop worrying.” In verses 31 and 34 He uses the same word, but in a way that means, “Don’t even start worrying.” [John McArthur].  It is clear that Jesus thought worrying is not only a waste of time, but it’s a dangerous practice.  God wants good things for us, and worry is not one of them.  

Think of it this way: worry is not trivial.  John McArthur suspects that a majority of mental illnesses are directly related to worry.  Many cases of drunkenness and drug addiction are symptomatic of worry. And because of worry, many people make foolish life decisions, which bring painful consequences.  Worry is devastating in daily life.  But think of what is also does in your relationship with God.  McArthur notes, “When you worry, you are saying in effect, ‘God, I just don’t think I can trust you.’  Worry strikes a blow at the person and character of God.” [McArthur, “ Worried Christian]  In effect, when you worry, you make your circumstances, or your desires huge, when in fact, they are tiny, next to God’s love, power and faithfulness.

So you want to give up this burden of worries and cares.  It’s heavy.  Give it to Jesus! 

At this moment, I’m thinking of a chorus based on 1 Peter 5:7.  It’s the song that goes, “Cast your burdens onto Jesus, he cares for you, cast your burdens onto Jesus, he cares for you. Higher, higher. Higher, higher. Higher, higher, lift Jesus higher.  Lower, lower. Lower lower. Lower, lower, stomp Satan lower.”  This is what we need to do.    So we offer our cares to him.

Don’t let worry steal your joy anymore.  Worry is basically fear, shrouded in all kinds of unhelpful stuff.  And fear is cast out by God’s perfect love.    So, as you offer your burdens, one by one, let his peace wash over you.  And then wait in his presence. 

If you still struggle and fidget while waiting try these methods to stop panic attacks.  One.  Tell yourself to stop.  Take a breath. And then slowly count to ten.  Inhale and exhale, one, and repeat to ten.  Think of the numbers.  By ten, your heart rate should be lower.  Two, think about what the root cause of the fear is. Now that you know, you can deal with it in a positive way.  Three, pray about it.  Yes you offered the burden to God, but you can still pray, and offer up your feelings, and anything else connected with it.   Philippians 4: 6-7 remind us to not “worry about anything; [but] instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” So rest in the peace that comes as you pray and afterwards as you are still in your heart.  Four, start counting your blessings and thank God for each of them. You may have been so worried about one thing but then you have forgotten God’s faithfulness in other areas of your life.   They may be too many to mention here.  I’m sure you can think of at least three.  Think on these.   And step five?  Repeat as necessary.  Holy Spirit is near you. Remember that the next time you panic,  He is there holding you.  You do not need to take on the world.  It will carry on without you.  This is a good time to start to live in joy.  This means to live in the moment and to enjoy the little blessings.  God often blesses us with many small blessings in everyday life. We call these the kindnesses of God. Begin to think of all the little blessings you had today.  I’m sure that there are many more than one!   [Steps (paraphrased) – by Melissa, “Stop worrying and start trusting God. Joyfulinthemundane.com]

When you intentionally take time to think on good things, we remember the words from the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8:  “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  If you intentionally focus on God AND on all the good things he’s put in your life, there is no room for worry.   Choose instead to trust.  Stop, count to ten and say, “No, I will not fret.  I choose to trust God.”   And choose his way of joy that comes as you contemplate the good things.  Make this daily choice a part of your lifestyle.  In time, the worry, panic attacks and fretting will subside.  Remember, God is in control.  It’s not all up to you.  

Lord Jesus, we offer up our burdens, concerns and fears to you.  Dissolve them in your perfect love.  Lift up those who are battered by fear, and break the chains.  Lift their eyes up to you.  And bring your perfect peace, layer by layer in our hearts, minds, wills and spirit.   in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #72!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).   Now my husband Tony has both skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and prostate cancer).  The former in treatment, the latter monitored. It’s not life threatening thank God.  We are also concerned for a newer development that the doctors guessed was TB, due to three pleural effusions (water build up in the lining of Tony’s left lung).  A recent CT scan revealed the presence of a tumour the size of an egg near Tony’s heart.  The radiologist doctor gave a potential diagnosis of mesiothelioma, cancer of the lung lining. While the fluid was tested as benign, we don’t know if the tumour is malignant or not.  Since we are returning to Canada in December, we don’t have the time or the money to go to a chest specialist, or a potential oncologist.  L-A plans to take Tony to a hospital ER in Toronto, with the CT scan and report, which can be compared with new scans later. We are sure that there is a testimony in the making, so we are choosing not to fret over Tony, but to be prayerfully hopeful. God is in control.

Otherwise, we still have medical debt and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada (we were seriously delayed due to waiting 5.5 months for our South African medical visas).

We trust we will have them in enough time to ramp up our preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  She wasn’t able to get us out sooner than December 18th. Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).

After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate and skin cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery, and possible mesiothelioma). We are also working on care for me concerning a neck/spine issue that is causing considerable pain down my right arm.  It’s become increasingly painful to type, write and draw for periods of time.  So I rest more.  I had an MRI which showed various herniated discs and spine issues.  Yet, my physiotherapist is helping me work though.   

Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for lung issues, eye surgery, urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well (post cancer treatment, physiotherapy, MRI, medications).

Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring books:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson) and at Slow Living Café in Worcester.  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

Colouring with Jesus is available here:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

Colouring with Jesus 2 is available here:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486

The books are available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops.  They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica LeGrange.  After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books in English landscape format.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in God through Wisdom

“Jesus and the Riverview kids” by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last article, we learned about growing through humour and positivity.  We learned that laughter, good clean humour and fun are good for body and soul.  These help in many ways to combat disease – even serious illnesses like cancer.  Laughter and humour are also gifts from God – they were given to us as gifts, although some became tainted with sin and Pharisees and some Christians alike didn’t want to touch it.  It seemed sinful.  But Jesus offers abundant life to those who love him and follow him.  To the humble who have suffered, he offers laughter, he offers joy.  Heaven is shown as a wedding feast, and that there is enjoyment in abundance.  To have a taste of holy laughter is like tasting heaven.

Wisdom is also a spiritual attribute that is a taste of heaven, in fact so much so that many people desire it.  This was one of my deepest desires as a baby Christian. I not only wanted to know things, just to learn, but I wanted to know how to handle situations, and just how things worked.  I still desire to learn and was encouraged after Algonquin College radio broadcasting school to be a life-long learner.  It has taken time for Jesus to blend my different skills and learning together.   He’s taken the art and blended it into soaking prayer.  He’s taken the radio broadcasting into podcasting, story-telling, devotional writing and more.  And he’s taken the ministry degree with counselling into pastoral care and inner healing in unique situations that are situated outside of an office.  I’m what you call a secondary counsellor rather than a therapist.  But Holy Spirit’s wisdom shines through as he reminds me where to go to share some word of love or correction at just the right time.  Not long ago, I attended a South African inner healing course called Touching Hearts, which was cut short by lockdown.  It’s based on some of the teachings I learned from Elijah House in the 1990’s, as well as other ministries.  Even though some of the teachings aren’t new, refreshing knowledge in a new way brings deeper insight.  And wisdom’s insights don’t just scratch the surface.  Just remember that if you’ve read the Bible cover to cover once and think you’ve read it all.  No!  There is more, just waiting for you when you read it again.  The Bible just isn’t any book. 

During our time here in Worcester, we became part of a ministry called Legacy Relay.  We and others from our former retirement village community go into Worcester Primary School as Aunt Laurie-Ann and Uncle Tony.  Our day was Tuesday morning with the English grade ones.  We bring them music (usually children’s Christian songs), five-ten minutes of science, and then art.  This starts as colouring, goes into soaking prayer and drawing their own drawings, and then learning Christian symbols so they can express themselves better.  During our first school year, we had a little boy called Liam.  He was one of the bright lights of the class, and was very inquisitive.  He has a soft heart that easily hears Holy Spirit, and he grasps what we are teaching him – especially in art.   Some of the children couldn’t understand the concept of a Christian symbol, so we taught this a few times.  I was inspired to set up a 30×40 inch canvas that I divided into four.  We made four groups and each had a part of creating an abstract background first in watercolour pencil, and then by turning the pencil into paint by using water and a brush.  This was merely the backdrop of where the learners would place their own personal symbols on the canvas.  Some of the children knew in advance what symbol they wanted to paint.  Many were crosses, others were doves, hearts and hands.  Some drew rockets, which I thought was interesting, until the teacher told me they were learning about space that week.  Oh well.  But Liam?  He was told his special Christian symbol by another way.

He loved to colour or draw at my feet, and one day I sensed something from Holy Spirit for him.  I called him over and told him that I believed I had a word for him from Jesus, just for him.  I asked if he had been asking Jesus for wisdom.  I saw an impression of him whispering in Jesus’ ear with an earnest request for wisdom.  Like me, he just wanted to know and grow.  When I shared this picture with him, he brightened.  I also told him that Jesus will give him that wisdom, and wanted to shower love into his heart.  Liam’s Christian symbol was a hug between Liam and Jesus.  Of course, this wasn’t easy for a six-year-old to draw, so he drew Jesus and himself holding hands.  It was so beautiful.  He remembered what I told him, and when it came time to paint his symbol, this is exactly what he painted.

Asking for wisdom is biblical.  King Solomon asked for wisdom to be able to govern Israel. He was granted that request and given more, since it was a worthy and unselfish request.  His motives at the time were right.  Solomon’s heart was right and he was answered in a vivid dream recorded in 1 Kings 3:5-14: “That night the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream, and God said, “What do you want? Ask, and I will give it to you!”  Solomon replied, “You showed great and faithful love to your servant my father, David, because he was honest and true and faithful to you. And you have continued to show this great and faithful love to him today by giving him a son to sit on his throne.

“Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father, David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around. And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?” 

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for wisdom. 11 So God replied, “Because you have asked for wisdom in governing my people with justice and have not asked for a long life or wealth or the death of your enemies— 12 I will give you what you asked for! I will give you a wise and understanding heart such as no one else has had or ever will have! 13 And I will also give you what you did not ask for—riches and fame! No other king in all the world will be compared to you for the rest of your life! 14 And if you follow me and obey my decrees and my commands as your father, David, did, I will give you a long life.”

Solomon was humble to call himself like a child, and he asked for wisdom not for his own gain, but to use for governance.  As he governed, he later become noted for his wisdom, as shown in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  These collected books show wisdom from other wise men, as well as his own.  And yet, with all this wisdom, we are told in Proverbs 3:5-8 to “ Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.6  Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.  Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.Then, you will have healing for your body and strength for your bones.”   Solomon was the wisest man in all of history, and yet his downfall was in being led astray by his many wives into other religions.  He did not stay faithful to the Lord.  He did not heed to the wisdom God gave him.   The apostle James also spoke about wisdom.  James 3:13-18 shares about two kinds of wisdom. “ Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  So James is saying that wisdom is a fruit of the Spirit, even if it’s not officially on the Galatians 5 list of the fruit of the Spirit.  Wisdom is also a spiritual gift.   It’s something that God gives.  James 1: 5-6 share that “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone.”   So wisdom and direction come from God, where you must be in a position of trusting the one who gives.    

Tony highly respects the gift of wisdom, which is one of the gifts he often asks me to explain.  There is the gift of word of knowledge, which I am often given.  I can explain things intuitively, or I get pictures like impressions on my spirit.  I get inspired, and just ‘know.’  This happens when I pray for someone and I’m given direction on how to pray or what to pray about.  Or I get direction on how to teach, how to draw an inspiring drawing, or what to speak about when I’m to share in a Bible study.  This is Holy Spirit inspiration.  The gift of wisdom goes further in direction and the practical use of the knowledge given.  Wisdom is innately practical, as it is creative.  It’s almost like wisdom has a personality of its own.  

What is wisdom?  Is wisdom just a desirable trait or something more?  I went to Google and found various synonyms for wisdom, words like:  “sagacity, sageness, intelligence, understanding, insight, perception, acuity, discernment, shrewdness, acumen, soundness, foresight, savvy, prudence, and advisability.”  Wisdom is perceived as the “quality of having experience, knowledge and good judgement; the fact of being based on sensible or wise thinking.”  [Oxford Dictionary, via Google search engine, retrieved Feb 17, 2020]   Wisdom can be tied with experience.  In this way, Tony was discovered and encouraged by prophet David Wagner at our 2016 Harvest School. While Tony had never before had prophetic words for others, he now could prophesy.  David prophesied over Tony a blessing.  He said, “do any of you need wisdom?  Ask Tony.”  This reminded me of me of the apostle James reminding the church to ask God for wisdom.  Sometimes you pray and then ask a wise person for guidance shortly afterwards.  They will often confirm what Holy Spirit is saying.  I was very pleased for Tony’s accolades by David Wagner, since Tony does have this gift in how to practically flesh out Holy Spirit’s directions, whether in a stop for the one assignment, or on a long-term mission field like we have in South Africa.  Wisdom is practical as it is intuitive.  Proverbs 1: 21-33 share about wisdom being like a woman calling and teaching on the streets.  “Wisdom shouts in the streets. She cries out in the public square.
21 She calls to the crowds along the main street, to those gathered in front of the city gate:
22 “How long, you simpletons, will you insist on being simpleminded? How long will you mockers relish your mocking? How long will you fools hate knowledge? 23 Come and listen to my counsel. I’ll share my heart with you and make you wise.”    When I read this, I remember the streets of Avian Park, or any township really.  And in those streets, you will find gang members sitting around the ‘gates’ of their own territory, thinking they are wise by their mocking, and being the product of dropping out of school early to instead ingest drugs and alcohol, and to commit murder for money or status in their gang.  They are not wise, they are fools. Psalm 14:1 shares, “Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good!”   True wisdom begins with acknowledging God.   Proverbs 9:10-12 share just how important that is!   [The] Fear of the Lord is the foundation of wisdom. Knowledge of the Holy One results in good judgment. 11 Wisdom will multiply your days and add years to your life. 12 If you become wise, you will be the one to benefit. If you scorn wisdom, you will be the one to suffer.”  So wisdom adds to your health and longevity. Maybe that’s why some people associate wisdom with old age, because they have more experience.  Yet you don’t have to be old to be wise!  You do however have to have learned from your own experiences, as well as those of others.

Wisdom is also not locked up in one gender.  It’s not a gift just given to men.  Kristi Walker shares about characteristics of a wise woman, and chose to use Proverbs 31 as her source. She says that a “wise woman is a woman of godly character.” [Kristi Walker, “What are the  characteristics of a wise woman” July 6, 2019 (Bible Study Tools.com) https://www.biblestudytools.com/bible-study/topical-studies/what-are-the-characteristics-of-a-wise-woman.html?utm_source=jeeng]

 Proverbs 31: 10–12 states: “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life.”  “A wise woman is a woman who does not waste her time, her resources, her abilities, or her life.” [Kristi Walker] Proverbs 31:13-27 shares that the wise woman is industrious, she selects raw products like wool and flax, spins, weaves and sews. She makes useful things like bedding and linen, garments and sashes. She sells her goods, buys real estate, plants vineyards, helps the poor and needy, she teaches those in her household and well beyond. Due to the fruit of her labour, attitude and diligence, she has dignity and strength, and her husband is highly respected because of her.  She is also a woman who is praised and loved, even by her husband and children.  Too often we see families where the reverse happens; but the fruit of a wise woman is there for all to see, and she keeps her own praise for the Lord.    Kristi Walker notes that this wisdom is practical and active, in both Proverbs 31, and Matthew 11:19, which says that “wisdom is proved right by her actions.”   Wisdom is also something that can be passed on in legacy.  It’s one of the reasons why we are involved in teaching and loving the grade ones in Worcester Primary every week.  We are passing down gems of wisdom, whether it’s in science, worship, art, geography or about my cancer journey.  We shared this week about what my health concerns meant, and the deepest impact was the loss of my hair. I explained how my hair was, what the cancer medication does to hair, and what my hair looks like now.  Of course they were curious and got to see what was under my hat.  I was prepared for the shocked whoops and giggles, although I did warn them that my new hair was very short!   They now know what a cancer patient looks like, and they related their own hospital stories.  They learned from my story, and many of them shared their own.  Proverbs 13:20 shares that if we “walk with the wise [we] become wise.”   Wikihow shares a page on how to gain wisdom.  It says, “Wisdom is a virtue that isn’t innate, but can only be acquired through experience. Anyone who is interested in trying new things and reflecting on the process has the ability to gain wisdom. By learning as much as you can, analyzing your experiences and putting your knowledge to the test, you can become a wiser person.”  [https://www.wikihow.com/Gain-Wisdom

Wisdom is more caught than taught; but it’s also a gift that you can develop.   Wisdom is also the ability to discern the consequences of your actions.  Sometimes this is developed through bad experience turned into a learning situation.  Other times it’s to make that connection without having to go through that process.  Or it can be to take other incidents and extrapolate them onto their personal circumstances.  Tony taught three of our teen girls about consequences of certain actions and to warn them of the results.  One of the girls already had a pregnancy scare, so she should have put two and two together.  However, this same girl went into our bathroom and sprayed Tony’s shaving gel onto the wall and the toilet.  She apparently thought that was funny.  She did this before, but we didn’t know it was her.  This time, we knew and called her out on it.  When we confronted her, she was shocked because she didn’t believe we didn’t ask each girl if it was them, rather than her.  But we knew it was her, and we knew the other girls.  Tony forgave her, and we trust that she’s learned not to do this to other people.  Sometimes wisdom is hard won when you are a fool.  But when you genuinely seek to be wise, open your heart and ask God for it, he will generously give you the foundation of wisdom with some pearls to grow.  He also gives us mentors, and situations.  So grow in your garden, lots of pearls of wisdom.  You may just find the pearl of great price in that garden.  The one that leads many to the kingdom of God.  

Lord Jesus, thank you for wisdom, the gift of wisdom, and the potential for wisdom.  We ask  for your intervention from our own silliness, and to make us wise in you.  Please reach out to those who have been seeking you to learn and grow wise, like Liam.  It was his greatest wish and still remains one of mine.  Thank you for already making me wise, and yet to know there is still more to learn, so we must be teachable and humble in spirit.  Thank you for these wonderful things,  in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #71!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).   Now my husband Tony has both skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and prostate cancer).  The former in treatment, the latter monitored. It’s not life threatening thank God.

Otherwise, we still have medical debt and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada (we are still waiting on our South African medical visas that are already 12 weeks later than promised!)  At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs.  We had hoped to return in September 2021, but this may end up as November or even December (which is after the applied for visas would be good for). Why the delay?  There have been active covid cases at Home Affairs, which caused a stoppage to the already increasing processing backlog.  The visas that we applied for expire in November.  We trust we will have them in enough time to ramp up our preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).

After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We have good news that Tony’s eye surgeon found the equivalent in Toronto, so he will have his eye operation, which will save us the funds we expected to pay in South Africa. Good news, indeed   We are also working on care for me concerning a neck/spine issue that is causing considerable pain down my right arm.  It’s become increasingly painful to type, write and draw for periods of time.  So I rest more.  I will have an MRI in a few days to determine the damage, which my physiotherapist is helping me work though.   

Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well (post cancer treatment, physiotherapy, MRI, medications). Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring books:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson) and at Slow Living Café in Worcester.  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

Colouring with Jesus 2 is available here:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486

The books are available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops.  They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie.  After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books in English landscape format.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Tony and L-A with “Colouring with Jesus 1 and 2”

Growing in God through Humour and Positivity

L-A laughing while visiting family in Las Vegas, 2012

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last article, we learned about growing through ‘But God’ moments.  These are times where our circumstances were dire, and then God intervened.  We journeyed through the Bible, looking at Joseph’s transition from the pit to prison to the palace in Egypt. We learned of Paul’s experience on the Damascus road, where he was transformed in a moment from a murderer of Christians to a strong one himself.  Jesus death and resurrection was a huge ‘But God.’  Our faith is based on this ultimate intervention.  I shared the personal ‘But Gods,’ from Teresa’s in a Texas mission, where their extreme dependence on God is rewarded through many ‘But God’ turn-arounds. Finally we shared our own ‘But Gods’ – partly on the financial provision for my cancer treatments, but also in our lives generally, as a disabled missionary married to a senior citizen missionary.  Often ministry is done through vessels that the world does not consider important or powerful.  Paul shared in 1 Corinthians 1:2627.  “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 BUT, GOD chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” 

Sometimes the contexts of these But God moments are dire and difficult.  Yet while we wait for God’s intervention, he gives us secret weapons.  Some of these are mentioned in the fruit of the Spirit list, in Galatians 5:22-23.   “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.” Note that joy has a prominent place on this list, right after love.  Joy has many forms.  Tony and I are often reminded of the Joy of the Lord, which is the fifth core value of Iris Global.  The Joy of the Lord is NOT optional.  This is the same joy of the Lord that Nehemiah encouraged his people with in Nehemiah 8:10. This verse is in the midst of a feast. He says, “Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!”

Joy is not necessarily laughter, but it can include it.  This joy is a deep trust in God that cannot be shaken despite circumstances. The book of Philippians was written while Paul was in prison, and yet, this book is nicknamed “The book of joy.”   Paul had an unshakable faith, and drew joy from gratitude that God is in control. He also drew joy from the Philippian Christians, who saw to his needs and shone with love and faith.  Joy can also be a weapon in that it shows you are standing in extreme dependence on God.

Other forms of positivity come as humour. Ecclesiates 3:4 reminds of that there is “a time to cry and a time to laugh; A time to grieve and a time to dance.”   

It feels good to laugh, and to let go of stressors.  The Mayo Clinic and others confirm that laughter is good for body and soul.  They share that “a good sense of humour can’t cure all ailments, but data is mounting about the positive things laughter can do.”   It stimulates many organs, including: your lungs as you breathe, your heart, and the endorphins released in your brain. It even brings down your blood pressure and soothes tension by stimulating your blood circulation and relaxing your muscles. Long term effects of laughter improve your immune system.  Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that add stress and decrease your immune system. “By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more serious illnesses.”  Laughter may also ease pain by causing our bodies to produce its own natural painkillers.  Laughter helps you cope, by increasing personal satisfaction, and it helps you connect with other people as you laugh WITH others.  Laughter bonds you to them and helps relationships, as you share stories with each other.  Laughter improves your mood, even if you are struggling with chronic illness. [Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress relief from laughter: It’s no joke.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456]

How can you develop or improve your sense of humour?  Humour is learned.  Some people and cultures have very different views of humour.  They laugh about different things.  Just ask a stand-up comedian.  What one “room” as they call it may find hilarious, another would see the comic as an offense, and get angry.  Or they would have no reaction at all.   But personally, we all have something we find funny.  Often it’s something that we share with family; or an experience with friends.  And we laugh best, when we learn and grow from our own experiences. Try growing by increasing positives in your life.  The Mayo Clinic folk suggest that you put humour on your horizon by finding photos, greeting cards and comics that make you chuckle. Hang them on your home or office wall.  Keep funny movies, videos, books and magazines nearby when you need a boost.  Visit a comedy club or look at joke websites. [Mayo Clinic Staff, “Stress relief from laughter: It’s no joke.” https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress-relief/art-20044456]  I’ve found the Alpha Course jokes shared by the leader after the meal and before the presentation to be a time of bonding with the other attendees.  There are websites devoted to Alpha jokes, and Tony and I have our own arsenal of jokes, whether from Nicky Gumbel or other clean jokes we’ve picked up along the way.

Laugh and the world laughs WITH you.  The world isn’t laughing AT you, except for mean bullies that are insecure in their own hearts.  Find a way to laugh about your own situations, as you look at them from a different perspective.  One of my favourite counselling expressions is “call this a crazy thought, but have you considering looking at your situation THIS way…”  Often we get stuck in one line of our personal story that seems like it’s perpetually under a raincloud and we’re stuck in a groove like a needle on an old, scratchy record.  When you find a way to laugh about your own situation, watch your stress begin to fade away.  See Jesus in the circumstance with you. Where is he?  What is he saying to you in your situation?  He is there.  And sometimes, you can remind yourself that this story may seem funny in a few years.   

Intentionally make time to see friends who make you laugh.  Return the favour by sharing your own funny stories with those around you.  You just may brighten them up and make their whole day.   Check out joke and humour books in your local library.  But it’s important to know what isn’t funny.   Don’t laugh at the expense of others.  It’s not appropriate.  These include racial and gender jokes.  Use your best judgement to discern a good joke from a hurtful one.  Ask the Holy Spirit.  Does it lift up or does it tear down?  Does it build confidence, or batter the other in pain and hurt?  Good humour is to lift up, as is good faith.  So try laughter.  We can even ask God to show us and bring us things that are funny to lighten our day.  What is best is when we ask him to lighten our situation in our own hearts.  It is to be reminded that Jesus does not leave us.  Sometimes he even gives us a little prophetic glimpse of something that is to come.  A child that we may struggle with at the moment, may bring exasperation and even anger. But God can transform that child to become loving, joyful and strong in the Lord.  We are given hope as we are shown what can be.  And we laugh because we know that this is in God’s hands, NOT ours.

Laughter and positivity in general also help me battle breast cancer, as it did for HS.  If you have a chronic illness, it is essential to de-stress and keep positive.  This speaks life to your good cells, so they have a chance to fight the cancer.  Negativity feeds the cancer, as it increases the chemical reactions that cancer cells like.  Bitterness and unforgiveness can contribute to cancer, as well as other unchecked baggage that poison the soul, and so the body as well.  Jean Wise takes the Mayo Clinic staff’s view of laughter even further. While she agrees with all the physical and emotional benefits, she also believes it is a spiritual gift, and a way to stimulate creativity.  [Jean Wise, “The Spiritual gift of laughter” (healthspirituality.org) April 1, 2014 https://healthyspirituality.org/spiritual-gift-laughter/]  She believes that the joy found in laughter comes from God. It helps you recharge your focus, and renews your spirit to find courage to face a tough situation. Listen to Zephaniah 3:17: “For the Lord your God is living among you.  He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears.   He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

In some countries, people use the morning of April 1st as April Fool’s Day.  Sometimes those jokes are funny, but often some childhood pranks are not funny.  They create baggage.  Why not let these go by giving up that memory to God, and instead laugh back at the bully.  This is exactly what a radio host with a background of being bullied would do.  Radio hosts are encouraged to use humour to build comradery with their listeners.  As they laugh, they tell their friends, who join in on a later broadcast. Radio people are people of story. But when we think about it, we all are story-tellers.  Even the character of the Doctor  in the British show Doctor Who, especially the Eleventh Doctor, said, “we’re all stories in the end.  Just make it a good one, eh?” [Big Bang, 2010, season five]. 

The need for laughter is shared by many writers, philosophers, poets and Bible writers.  Ecclesiastes: 8:15, says “I commend mirth.”   Here is part of Jean Wise’s list. E.E Cummings wrote, “The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.”  Children’s author Dr. Suess shared that “laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere.”   Reinhold Niebuhr wrote that “humour is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer.”  Comedian Milton Berle said that “laughter is an instant vacation.”  Bob Newhart wrote that “laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.”  Newhart’s remark reminds me of the counsellor re-frame of seeing your situation a new way and letting you re-write the situation with you as the victorious, laughing overcomer.

Canadian author Mary S Edgar chose the way of laughter when she shared this message: “I will follow the upward road today; I will keep my face to the light.  I will think high thoughts as I go my way; I will do what I know is right.  I will look for the flowers by the side of the road; I will laugh and love and be strong.  I will try and lighten another’s load this day as I fare along.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson pondered on success in life.  Laughter is an important ingredient.  This is what he said: “to laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty and to find the best in others.  [We must also] leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition.  [This is also] to know even one life has breathed easier because YOU have lived.  THIS is to have succeeded.  Emerson’s success list is like a breath of fresh air that lifts our eyes from ourselves to others.   And finally, Jean Wise’s list ends with Tom Nansbury, who said “an optimist laughs to forget. A pessimist forgets to laugh.”  And so, we should not forget, but must make it a daily habit. [Jean Wise, “The Spiritual gift of laughter” (healthspirituality.org) April 1, 2014 https://healthyspirituality.org/spiritual-gift-laughter/

Even Jesus had and has a sense of humour.  Think of the way he used metaphors against the Pharisees to get them to wake up, or to explain things.  Eliazar Gonzalez shares that when you read through Jesus’ teachings, “you’ll find a great wit, a masterful command of the language, a profound gift for irony and word plays, and impeccable timing. These are the hallmarks of someone with a great sense of humour.” [Eliazar Gonzalez, “Did Jesus have a Sense of Humour” (Christian Living) https://vision.org.au/topics/christian-living/did-jesus-have-a-sense-of-humour/ ]

Then there was considerable debate among early Church fathers on laughter in the Christian faith.  Jesus was hard on the Pharisees for their attitude and unbending ways, but in the Beatitudes he turns the tables. Terry Lindvall of the CS Lewis Institute shares that Jesus promises laughter to those who suffer now.   Laughter in itself is not a vice to be condemned; it is a reward for those who would follow Jesus.  The significance of laughter is that it must know it’s time and place. Laughter is a reward of humility and utter dependence upon God.  It descends like rain upon a parched heart.”  [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]

In Philippians 4, Paul commands, “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice.  “He calls forth the heart to sing out with gratitude and laughter.  GK Chesterton explained to CS Lewis how the laughter of joy is necessary.  He said, “life is serous all the time, but living cannot be.  You may have all the solemnity you wish in choosing your neckties, but in anything important such as death, sex, and religion, you must have mirth or you will have madness.”  [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]

While some Christians now and in the past see laughter and joy on people’s faces as sinful, particularly while in church, they are not seeing that laughter is a gift.  Joy is a gift.  The enemy of our souls seeks to take life and laughter from us – the abundance of life from us.  Sometimes fun and laughter is tainted by sin, since we are born into sin.  It’s all around us.  But laughter and fun are gifts from God.  And joy, especially the deep joy of the Lord, is something to be treasured.  The joy of the Lord is not optional for Iris missionaries like us.  It’s part of what keeps you going.  That deep intimacy with Jesus, and the laughter you share in the midst of difficulties. Garrison Keillor once said, “some people think it’s difficult to be a Christian and to laugh, but I think it’s the other way around.  God writes a lot of comedy – it’s just that He has so many bad actors.  But it is in being truly serious about our miserable condition and about the hope of salvation that introduces an unexpected surprise – comedy.  … The incarnation [of Jesus Christ] strikes a staggering blow at the Pharisees, the Gnostics, and anyone who denies the value of the physical world or those to try to be more spiritual than God.  It is significant that for Augustine, the devil and bad angels are without bodies. For the Christian, the comic spirit is one of new life, feasting, banqueting, eating, drinking and playing.  This paradise is regained where heaven is described to be like a wedding feast or a sumptuous banquet.”  [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]

Even Israel was established on laughter.  Remember when Sarah laughed when it was announced by the angelic visitors that she would have a baby in a year?  This was a lady who had long given up, and yet the promise came.

And then there is the laughter of true joy.  Terry Lindvall shares that “joy is the laughter of heaven, the secret of the Christian life.  [It is] woven out of sorrow and woe. From the crucibles of suffering, absence and separation, comes the deep, abiding laughter of joy, without tears, promising health, wholeness, and reunion.  The desire of joy haunted Lewis, until he found its source in God.  Lewis confessed that he didn’t go to the Christian faith to be made happy.”  [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]

Yet laughter, like music, percolates as thanksgiving and praise.  Our enjoyment bubbles up and overflows with gratitude.  Or praise is [like] verbal laughter.”  The ultimate laughter of joy is in the reunion.  In the Narnia chronicles, whenever the children return, there are hugs and kisses and laughter all around, celebrating reunion.”   And then there is fun, the laughter of the earth, of our bodies.  It is play in a great sense.  We need to choose life and enjoy it.  One thing about having cancer in my life is that it forces me to live in the moment and take time to enjoy it as I can.  The Westminster Confession reminds us that our chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  This includes fun with the Lord.  Eric Liddell said in Chariots of Fire, “I feel God’s pleasure when I run.”  [Terry Lindvall, CS Lewis Institute, “The role of laughter in the Christian Life” http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/The_Role_of_Laughter_in_the_Christian_Life_FullArticle]

So we laugh when we enjoy God, and we know his pleasure.  It’s the same when I’m creating art, especially prophetic drawing.  I feel the Holy Spirit’s pleasure that I’m intent on capturing an idea or message that’s from God’s heart;  or even when I draw a mountain.  God created both, and he helps me to re-create it.  So laughter is good, and it helps us to grow in our relationship with him.

So dear friends, I thank you for journeying with me and I trust that if you have trouble in letting go and laughing, that you will take this to God.  He brings us the big and little things.  Sometimes he even brings things that make us laugh just to get us to stop and breathe.  We’re all just so busy!  Instead of just stopping to smell the roses, stop to breathe, relax and laugh.  As you spend time with each other and Jesus, he brings times of shared laughter in the journey.  Don’t resist it.

Lord, thank you for continuing to be on our journeys and bringing laughter to us. There is indeed a time to laugh as well as a time to be sad.  Help us to choose life in the midst of hardship.  Help us to stop for those life giving moments with you.  We trust that you will continue to give us those and to help us live that abundant life.  We thank you in Jesus’ name.  Amen. 

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #69!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).   Now my husband Tony has both skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and prostate cancer).  The former in treatment, the latter monitored. It’s not life threatening thank God.

Otherwise, we still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We had hoped to return in September 2021, but this may end up as October or even November. Why the delay?  There have been active covid cases at Home Affairs, which caused a stoppage to the already increasing processing backlog.  The visas that we applied for expire in November.  We trust we will have them in enough time to ramp up our preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).  Both of us have had our first covid jab, and wait the second one.  (Although it is the right thing for us to have the jab, we don’t impose that on those who refuse it out of conscience). 

After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We have good news that Tony’s eye surgeon found the equivalent in Toronto, so he will have his eye operation, which will save us the $8 – 9 K we expected to pay in South Africa.  We are also working on care for me concerning a neck/spine issue that is causing considerable pain down my right arm.  It’s become increasingly painful to type, write and draw for periods of time.  So I rest more. 

Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring books:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson) and at Slow Living Café in Worcester.  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

Colouring with Jesus 2 is available here:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus-2/PLID72991486

The books are available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops.  They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie.  After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books in English landscape format.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Ways to grow through “But God” moments

by Laurie-Ann Copple

“You Must Follow Me” – Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, 2021

Growing in and through But God moments

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last broadcast, we looked at principles on how to overcome.  We learned that we win victory through focusing on God rather than circumstances. This means we focus on his power and his love for us.  We must trust him even though it doesn’t make sense.  We must be consistent and not stop.  Remember Heidi Baker’s words that if we do not quit, we will win.  This means that we must continue in pressing forward, one step at a time.  We must also be obedient to how the Holy Spirit instructs us, directly and through scripture.  At times it may be difficult, but in the end it is worth it.  You also become stronger through the process.  Don’t forget to worship, and replace fear with love.  Keep grateful for all the little things, which keeps your focus on what God is doing.  That way you can prepare for a coming season of joy. That’s actually the beginning of a winning streak, for you are no loser.  You are a winner in Christ.  Remember that.  You are a son or a daughter in Christ. 

Sons and daughters often go through seasons of intense kindness from God, even in difficulties.  Tony and I call these the kindnesses of God – TKOG.  Our life and ministry has been full of them ever since we prepared to come to South Africa.  These included favour, open doors, opportunities, gifts, finances just when we needed them, and so much more.  Then our lives took a different turn, and I became sick; first with HS, and then with breast cancer.  Did this stop us?  The cancer nearly did because of the decision of the travel insurance company to repatriate me, however we strongly believed I must stay in South Africa for the chemotherapy.  It has been expensive, but we have been blessed with finances through friends, family, ministry partners, and windfalls just when we need to pay the bills.  We needed to stay to wrap up our ministry, and also to reduce risks to my health.

This is our season of BUT Gods.  A Biblical BUT God story is from Joseph, when he was sold as a slave by his brothers. His life dipped lower when he was stuck in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and seemed to be stuck there for a while.  Then finally, he was remembered by the cup bearer who Joseph had interpreted a dream for two years earlier.  His dream interpretation gifting was used to turn his life around.  One moment he was in prison, the next, he was ministering to the Pharaoh, like he did to Pharaoh’s cup bearer.  He was in prison BUT GOD turned his life around, and he became the prime minister of Egypt.   He also remembered God’s purposes for his time as a slave and an inmate. It seemed the years were wasted, but they were not.  Joseph helped and did good to his employer Potiphar, before his false accusation.  Joseph helped in the prison, and he helped in Pharaoh’s palace. When he was reunited with his brothers – the same brothers who sold him into slavery, he in time revealed himself to them in a way that would save face.  There was no retribution, but instead a loving explanation in private.  Listen to Genesis 45:4-8.   “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.[a] So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser[b] to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”   ‘But Gods’ always have a story and nearly always point to God’s faithfulness and goodness – as provider, healer and so much more.

Joyce Meyer also points to ‘But God’ moments.  She gives examples like, “”I thought my family would never change, but God…” “My life was spiralling out of control, but God…” “There was a time I thought I’d messed everything up, but God…” [Joyce Meyer, “But God: When A Holy God intervenes” article, Christianpost.com, December 8, 2012  https://www.christianpost.com/news/but-god-when-a-holy-god-intervenes.html ] The Bible says that Satan comes only to kill, steal and destroy, BUT God came so we can enjoy our lives.  Just read John 10:10, where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”   This But God moment is the one when God intervenes. Life may seem to go one way. Things may seem hopeless, but then all of a sudden a holy God intervenes and everything changes.  Meyer shares that one of the main prayer requests she receives is for loved ones who don’t know God and they’re in some sort of trouble. When you know God and you see people living miserable lives and you can’t get through to them, it’s heartbreaking. But God can get through to them.”  [Joyce Meyer, “But God: When A Holy God intervenes” article, Christianpost.com, December 8, 2012  https://www.christianpost.com/news/but-god-when-a-holy-god-intervenes.html ] Think of the apostle Paul.  He sought to kill and torment Christians.  He was on his way to Damascus to find some more to torment.  But God suddenly showed up.  Paul was knocked off his horse and blinded for days.  Jesus encountered him and it changed his life completely.  Meyer says that “after this experience, Paul got the truth about Jesus and ended up being mightily used by God to lead many people to Christ.”  There are many other ‘But God’ scriptures that we seem to gloss over as we read them.  Stop and take note when scripture says “But God.”   The ultimate ‘But God’ was when Jesus was laid in the tomb after he was taken down from the cross.  In Acts 13:29-30, it notes Jesus’ death and adds “But God raised him from the dead.”  The apostle Paul uses But God when he shared in Romans 5.   “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”   Paul also gives God the glory in 1 Corinthians 1:26-27.  “Remember, dear brothers and sisters, that few of you were wise in the world’s eyes or powerful or wealthy when God called you. 27 BUT, GOD chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” 

Every time there is a BUT God, it shows a powerful, loving God who intervenes.  It gives him glory.  It shows that no one else could have orchestrated this turn-around.  Here are some But God stories in the lives of people I know.  One of our colleagues, Maggie, is an Iris missionary here with us in Western Cape. She came from a rough background, and having lost her mother, she began to lose her way in life.  She became a rebel.  But God reached into her life and turned her around.  Instead of being a hard-hearted rebel, she is now loving, kind and loves on many seniors, teens and dogs in her area. She’s known for her motherly shot-gun kisses.   Then there’s Teresa, who runs a shelter, a church and a ministry called House of Mercy.  Twelve years ago she was a cocaine addict who nearly died.  Yet in the middle of a crisis, she said to God, “God, I love cocaine, but I love my Daddy more.”  Holy Spirit spoke into her heart and asked her why she didn’t love herself.  He reached her heart and she turned to Jesus.  She came to love her heavenly Father even more than her Daddy.  She came to depend on his faithfulness in extreme trust and obedience.

These days Teresa and her husband are in 24-7 ministry with the homeless and those living in her church that’s become a shelter in Baytown, Texas.  Many times there are financial emergencies.  Surprise gifts come often, for which she is incredibly grateful.  However, sometimes the situation becomes desperate.  Sometimes there is no money for the electricity bill, or the phone bill.  And then God intervenes with a shower of funds at just the right time.   Here are two recent examples that happened after Christmas:  Teresa says, “December was a ROUGH month for the ministry, but God sure enough did a miracle this morning!!!!  We could only make a payment on the light bill for December, because it was so high, yet the finances were so low. We had to pay 300 dollars today, or they would be shut off.
[And then we got a] BUT GOD!!!!!! [My husband] Paul called the light company to check our balance one more time and we only owed UNDER $30!!!!!  We are at the library right now using their computers [for internet], because our phones were cut off this morning, but they turned them back on [We got an extension). Our phones will be back in full swing when it is time, but we HAD to give GOD some praise for that light bill miracle HALLELUJAH!!!!!” [Teresa McCartney’s Facebook page. Jan 2, 2020].

This was on January 2nd.  On January 3rd, there was another intervention.   Someone then paid their phone bill!  Teresa had no idea who, but she was thankful and blessed them a thousand-fold.    The light bill and the phone bill weren’t the only interventions. Despite lacking finances, the shelter was still running.  Teresa shares, “[I] have been wanting to brag on God.  It costs between $4,000 – $6,000 a month to run the church and shelter.  In December [less than two thousand] came in BUT GOD [still] made the way for the people here to eat, have showers, lights, water and still have a place to live!  We were way under budget last month, BUT GOD!!  Nobody but God can get the glory for this, because in the natural, it makes absolutely no sense!  Thank you God for always making the way, and keeping your house and shelter open!”   Teresa also has stories of reformed addicts, and others whose lives were turned around.  Even her marriage was on the rocks and was restored so well that she and her husband are very much in love.  Teresa demonstrates to me persistence and love similar to Heidi Baker, who also has many BUT GOD interventions in Mozambique.  But God is something you have to stop and take notice.

We also have some But God stories.  I made it as an Iris missionary despite my bad knees.  So we had to work around the problem.  We still work with children and teens, despite the mobility issues.  And then the cancer came.  What would happen to our ministry now?  The insurance company insisted that I return to Canada before chemotherapy, despite strong protests from my surgeon and oncologist.  The cancer advanced so fast that it’s probable that had I travelled back to Canada without Tony, and went to an Ottawa emergency room, that the doctors there would have re-started the process.  I could have moved to stage four cancer very fast, which would have been dangerous. I believe that God’s intervention saved my life.  I was shown through several impressions that we could stay another six months, with crowd-funding for medical costs.  The chemo treatments and the prayers of many people, including children, caused the tumour to shrink 60 percent.  This is a But God.  While we were here without insurance, a shower of funding came from friends and Tony’s family. When the friends couldn’t contribute any more, we worked on getting the insurance company to pay at least my pre-chemo costs.  Eventually they did.  The funds arrived just in time to pay a large credit card bill full of medical costs. The insurance company kept saying no, and through prayer and appeals, there was a BUT God.  He intervened and turned their hearts to at least cover what they would have prior to sending me back to Canada.  And then when that money ran out, Tony was given a separate honorarium, totally unexpected, which was enough to cover two more chemo treatments. 

Each But God is another point on the journey.  Here I am now with likely three more treatments, before I am given a PT scan to see what’s happening.  I pray that there will be very little left.   Here is a disabled missionary, struck down with cancer, in the middle of a glorious season of mission work.  And in this season, I’ve blossomed in art and am about to publish a colouring book of prophetic drawings.  I’ve taught children, teens and adults how to do prophetic art.  And as I’ve been squeezed further, the kids pray for me, and I’m progressively healed enough to go back to Canada safely. Or even more than that.  This can only be a BUT God.    Also, Tony will be 79 soon, which is unusual for a long-term missionary.  But Tony keeps going, with his strong mercy anointing, and his love for the kids we work with. Who would call a senior-citizen missionary?  God would. The children and teens are loved on as an uncle, granddad and father.  He is a stable influence in their lives, and speaks sometimes the voice of reason and at other times, the merciful heart of God the Father.  Seniors are often people that younger generations would forget, BUT GOD has a wonderful gift to give through them.

Begin to train your heart and eyes to look for But God stories.  Do you seem to be in an impossible situation?  Do you need God’s intervention?  You need a But God.  But remember, those But God moments aren’t about you.  They are about God.  Don’t forget them.  Don’t just pass them off.  They are significant.  

These are but a few examples of God’s wonderful intervention.  This is only one of the ways he works. Often he works gradually, as he re-moulds us into living representatives of Jesus. He replaces fear and hurt with love and experience.  He makes the weak strong in a way the world never could.  This requires persistence; this requires that determination to become an overcomer.  And then there comes that point where we have done all we can.  Ephesians 6 reminds us in spiritual warfare, after you’ve done all that you can, stand.  Stand and wait.  God has our back.  Then it’s God’s turn with a but God.   He is faithful. 

Will you stand and wait for God today?   God is never late.  He was just in time for my chemo payments.  He was just in time to pay the House of Mercy’s electricity and phone bills. He will also come through with my healing before and as I go back to Canada.  I am certain of this, because Holy Spirit promised me twice in a small whisper to my heart.  He said that South Africa would be the place of my healing.  What is the intervention you’re contending for?  Don’t forget his promises to you.  It’s a matter of trust.  It’s a matter of believing in God’s faithfulness, just as Joseph waited while he was in prison. Don’t give up.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are faithful.  Thank you that you give us many kindnesses, especially the But Gods.  We thank you that these point to your glory.  Teresa would say that “YOU did this.”  And Teresa is right.  She can’t run that shelter without you.  You are the one who transforms addicts and street people into overcomers that shine for you.  Only you can take the prayers of children and bring healing to their visiting auntie with breast cancer.  You took the weak to shame the strong.  The children are empowered through their prayers for me, and I’m empowered by seeing them grow in you.  I am thankful.  Please touch the hearts of those who need a But God in their lives, and in the lives of their family members. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #68!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork). 

Otherwise, I still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We would like to return in September 2021, after preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).  Both of us have had our first covid jab, and wait the second one.  (Although it is the right thing for us to have the jab, we don’t impose that on those who refuse it out of conscience). 

After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We are seeing if these can in fact wait until our return to Canada, or if Tony’s eye surgery will have to be done in Cape Town.  It would be R90,000 (or $8,000) done in Cape Town.  We aren’t sure if how much it would cost in Canada (if done there). 

Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. He also was in the hospital this month due to struggles with TB.  The hospital bill alone was $1200, not including the surgeon’s fees and other costs.

If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring books:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 has been printed!  When the link is available, we will post it for you. The books will be available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops.  They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie.  After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in and through becoming an overcomer part 2

“Power from on high to overcome” – sketch by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, 1989 (c)

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During my last article, we looked at opportunities for growth through overcoming obstacles like our own old sinful nature, and how we grow through adversity.  We looked at Paul the apostle as an example, although Old Testament heroes like Joseph and Job received more than their share of adversity.  But they overcame and not just survived.  They thrived.  We also looked at the promises for overcomers in the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.  Since then, we’ve been given an opportunity to put the overcomer lessons to good use.  We had a lesson in this even before the covid pandemic hit.  Our car broke down while trying to get to a friend’s wedding.  We were towed home, and ever since, we were stuck at home with no transport and no way to fix the car for eight days.   We could only choose each of these eight days to turn this situation over to God and make it an opportunity to overcome. Let’s learn more about how we can become overcomers.

Dudley Rutherford believes we can learn to overcome life’s obstacles through the story of the battle of Jericho.  Some of these principles can be applied to any area of difficulty.  The first principle is focus on God, rather than your circumstances.  You’ve been looking too closely at your problem. It may seem huge because you’re looking at it too closely.  Or, it may actually be something that is life-threatening.   However, if we focus on God’s power rather than the size of the problem, it will seem to shrink.  When you can trust God to help you overcome it, the problem can be surmounted one step at a time with God’s help.  God is much larger than any obstacle we will ever face. When we focus on God’s greatness and faithfulness, you can begin to see the problem from the right perspective. God knows every detail of what we face, and he is right here along with us. So, choose to see your obstacle as an opportunity to cultivate your character. Increase your faith while you trust God to lead you through the process of overcoming it. [Dudley Rutherford’s new book Walls Fall Down: 7 Steps from the Battle of Jericho to Overcome Any Challenge (Thomas Nelson, 2014).]

The second principle is to trust in God’s plan even when it doesn’t make any sense.  God’s plan for your life may seem strange, unconventional and mysterious from your own limited, human perspective.  We only see one part of the picture; one piece of the puzzle at a time.  When you decide to trust God and his plan, you can count on God to fulfill his promises to you.  He will use whatever you are going through – even your toughest challenges – to accomplish good purposes.  While the well-known Romans 8:28 verse is certainly relevant, instead, let’s think of how the ancient Hebrews thought of marching around the walls of Jericho singing and then blowing shofars.  It didn’t make sense. But often God’s ways don’t.  He often does things differently from how we attempt to do them.  While he uses conventional means to get things done, he is creative and likes to do things ‘out of the box.’  It’s so we can say, “Hey!  God did this!”   So don’t try to solve your problems only in your limited strength.   As God reveals his plan to you, follow it day by day.  Be willing to say “yes” to whatever God asks you to do – even when it doesn’t make sense.  If you do, you’ll make real progress overcoming your challenges.  

Principle Three is to see supernatural grace in all situations and pursue holiness. Sometimes these are big “But God” moments, but many times they are smaller kindnesses of God.  Ask Holy Spirit to help you recognize the extraordinary ways that God works to break through the ordinary situations in your life.  Don’t miss God in the ordinary moments.  He is there.  Choose holiness and integrity in your everyday decisions.  You will become stronger and better able to overcome difficulties. Place your relationship with God at the centre of your life. Invite God to empower you as you practise spiritual disciplines like prayer, reading the Bible, and worshipping regularly both alone and in church groups like connect groups and larger Sunday gatherings.  Approach your life each day with faithfulness and zeal to discover and fulfill the purposes God has for you. Be confident that God is with you every step of your journey. 

Principle Four is to surround you with other believers who want the same goal. Other Christians who are honest and work to overcome their own challenges can help lift up your spirit. At times when you feel low, they can remind you of the truth, and cheer you on toward achieving your goal. Choose to be in a culture of people committed to what really matters eternally. Help each other set aside sin and disagreements. Instead, unite as pure people set apart for the plans God has for them.  In Iris, we call these “laid down lovers,” because they set aside agendas for what God wants instead. Rather than pride, they choose to go as Heidi Baker says, “low and slow.”  

Principle Five is to keep putting one step in front of the other consistently to make progress.   Take every day as a challenge and test in a good way.  Some people conquer mountains.  We don’t have to go that far, but we can choose to take whatever steps the Holy Spirit leads you to take.  Don’t compare your progress with others or get frustrated that every detail isn’t perfect.  Our timing is not God’s. Be patient and persevere through each step.  And while you’re there, find the joy in the moment.  

Also ask Holy Spirit to help you avoid becoming distracted.  That’s a big one for me.  Sometimes other things get in the way, or I become discouraged and feel like quitting.  But Heidi always reminded us in Harvest School never to give up.  She said, “if you don’t give up, you win.”  So try and keep small, consistent faithful steps towards victory.  You will get there.   I recently read the book Overcomer, which is based on the movie of the same name. The book features a girl named Hannah, who was shown at the beginning of the story to be a near-orphaned girl, who hardly saw her grandmother.  She was always working.  Hannah was a cross-country runner with asthma.  Every time she tried to run, she would be hit with asthma, a certain bully, and her own fears of not making it. She also was a chronic but guilt-ridden thief. By the end of the book, through faith in Jesus, encouragement from her newly-found but sick dad, her coach and new friends, she learned endurance. Through endurance and keeping a regular schedule in running for endurance, she became more and more an overcomer.  How?  Part of it was in learning endurance. Yet, it was important to have a coach who believed in her.   One of the book’s characters says, “Having a coach who believes [in you] is simply gold. For a runner, when you hit the wall, and in every race you will, you think you can’t run another step. You reach out and grab on to someone else’s hope, someone else’s belief. That can propel you in ways you’d never imagine. That’s the kind of hope you need to have and give your team.”  P 147 [Alex Kendrick/Stephen Kendrick, Chris Fabry, Overcomer, Tyndale House Publishers, 2019]

Finally, she was coached through the state championship cross-country race through listening to one audio file on a tiny MP3 player.  It was her father’s voice coaching her through all the sections of the race.  This was something that was arranged between her coach and dad. These were two men who greatly believed in her.  They helped get Hannah ready for a race over many weeks.  The author shares after the big win, “Hannah burst into tears and leaned back in Amy’s arms.  They were tears of joy, tears of victory. The emotion seemed the culmination of everything she had been through, the loneliness and fear, the hurdle of asthma, the guilt over things she had done.  The girl who had been abandoned and had had great loss, who ran alone with no team. She overcame it all listening to her father’s voice.”  P 345. P [Alex Kendrick/Stephen Kendrick, Chris Fabry, Overcomer, Tyndale House Publishers, 2019]  She also didn’t give up because she was focused on direction from her father’s voice.  This reminds me of Jesus, who was always listening and then doing what the Father was doing.  He was encouraged through the Holy Spirit.  We can also listen to OUR Father’s voice propelling us on.   It’s the same for the great cloud of witnesses in scripture.  They are like cheerleaders.  We can’t hear them unless we have a revelation, but they do cheer us on.  It’s our turn to run the race for Jesus.  And he will help us run it well, if we let him help us do so, step by step.

Principle Six is to usher in blessings by obeying God’s instructions every step of the way.  This is about diligence and obedience. Just like Hannah’s consistent running, we need to be faithful with every step. When we obey God in small ways, he leads us to greater levels of faith and responsibility.  Then we grow and can have victory over the next challenges that come.  This may be doing something that’s difficult, but right.  For Hannah, she repented from stealing and gave back everything that she stole with sincere apologies.  For us, it could be apologizing to someone whom you hurt, forgiving someone who hurt you, changing to a different job or beginning to tithe to your local church. When you do, blessings will come from the obedience.  

Principle Seven is to prepare for a season of joy. Even during difficult times we can have joy, but when you’ve overcome these hurdles, you can do the victory dance!  Then you’ll also be stronger for life’s other challenges.

Megan Bailey also shares strategies of overcoming obstacles.  Number one is to replace fear with God’s love. Often obstacles we face are full of different fears. If we can replace these fears with God’s love, we can focus through prayer, meditation and daily devotions. For example, after a bad breakup, you can focus on God’s love for you and that he is with you.  You are not abandoned.  [paraphrase, Megan Bailey, https://www.beliefnet.com/faiths/christianity/7-strategies-to-overcome-obstacles-with-god.aspx

Number two is to focus on God’s power.  “No matter how big your problem may feel, or impossible it may seem, […] we know that nothing is too difficult for God to handle.” Jeremiah 32:27 says, “I am the Lord, the God of all;  Is anything too hard for me?” Instead of focusing on how big the problem is,  look up at God.  He is much more powerful than any obstacle you will face.  This helps you shift your perspective to remind you that you are in God’s hands.  Just think of the children’s song “Great big God.”  God is bigger than the universe, deeper than the ocean, higher than the highest mountain.  Yet he will help YOU.   

Number three is to trust in God’s plan for you.  It can be frustrating at first to give up control of your life.  But you never really were in control anyway. We need fully to believe that God is in control and has a plan.  That plan may seem confusing, and even mysterious, especially if you can’t see much of it, other than the impossible piece you are looking at.  But you can always count on God to support you.  Be willing to say yes to that plan and the one who holds the key.     

Number four is to remember who you are.  You have a God-given identity. You are a child of God. The enemy of our souls does not want you to realize this in our heart of hearts. Don’t be afraid to stand up the obstacles and say, ‘God is here with me. I can overcome this through him.  This will not dampen my faith nor take me away from knowing him.’  Now, breathe.  You’re building faith as you stand.  

Number five is to surround yourself with other Christians.  Don’t do life alone. Don’t get isolated.  Spend time at church, and in small groups together.  Have people pray over you and with you. You aren’t alone. My Anglican pastor always tells his congregation that you cannot live the Christian life alone. It takes your community.  You are stronger together, and grow together.  They can pray, advise and cheer you on.  They can also speak life-giving words to you when you least expect it.   

Number six is to read the Bible.  The Word is incredibly powerful. It holds the key to many of our problems.  Listen to Hebrews 4:12:  “His word is alive and powerful, sharper than a two-edged sword, able to pierce to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and even able to judge the thoughts and the intentions of the heart.”  There are also many examples of how God helped others overcome. One such person was Sarah, who couldn’t conceive.  In God’s time, she gave birth to Isaac, one of the great patriarchs.  

Number seven is to pray often.  Prayer is the way to communicate one-on-one with God.  Then we are never alone.  We can pour out our pain onto him.  He listens, and as we hear from him, our trust in him grows.  There is no right way to pray, just begin to speak with God, as with a special trusted friend.  Write down your requests and see how they are answered over time.  You’ll be surprised how many are answered! 

Pastor Gary Stump has his own overcomer list. [Pastor Gary Stump, Onward Church, pastoral letter February 23, 2019, https://onwardchurch.org/2019/02/23/7-steps-to-become-an-overcomer/ Number one: Start over new.  It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been defeated. Don’t look back.   You’ll not experience victory going over the past again and again. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:13: “one thing I do, [I] forget those things which are behind and reach forward to those things which are ahead.”  While you can learn from your mistakes, getting stuck in them is not beneficial.  Press forward.    

Number two: Decide to make a change.  To truly overcome, you must be serious and committed.  You can’t give a half-hearted effort.  Remember this verse from Proverbs 16:3: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.”  To fulfil this commitment you must be specific in your goal so you can overcome, identify triggers and temptations, create a boundary of protection when tempted, and get others to help and encourage you.  

Number three: Hide God’s Word in your heart.  Memorize scriptures.  Sing them, put them on paper and paste them around the house. Read them over and over until they become part of you.  Psalm 119:11 talks about the power of the Word to restrain you from sin. “I have hidden your word in my heart,  that I might not sin against you.”  Specific scriptures will come to mind just when you need them. Meditating on scripture also helps renew your mind by re-programming it, in a good way.  

Number four: Use the power of the Holy Spirit. We often can’t solve problems on our own.  We need the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we give him control, he gives us the peace, joy and other spiritual fruit that come as a by-product. Also everything seems a lot more fun! 

Number five: Overcome one day at a time.  My counselling professor Brian Cunnington often told us that fear often tries to take over when we try to do too much.  It looks like too much because it IS.  Break down the tasks to day by day, little by little.  He called this “chunking it down.”  I call it making the tasks bite-sized.   Jesus reminded us not to worry about tomorrow, or the next task in Matthew 6:34. “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  Stay focused on having victory for TODAY. Don’t think too far into the future.  I am a visionary and sometimes get glimpses of something God has for me a year or two in the future.  I find this exciting rather than scary, but then there are the pesky details.  I might ask “How, Lord?”   when I don’t have all the info on hand.  Back in 2014, I was given an impression I would be teaching African children about art.  I got excited, and said, “OK” without knowing the details.  I would have no idea that I would be offered a position at MasterPeace Academy teaching art.  I’ve done this for two years now.  Did I know that then?  No.  Sometimes you just need to trust and not worry, since we don’t have all the puzzle pieces yet.   

Number sixBegin a winning streak.  Write down your little victories in your prayer journal.  There will be a time when you can soon say, “By God’s help, I really AM overcoming!”  The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:14:   “I press on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

Number seven: Celebrate your victory!  Don’t forget to give God thanks for the victory you’re experiencing.  Paul says through 1 Corinthians 15:57, “But thanks to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Thanksgiving for the victory will also be an encouragement to you on your journey.   

Our last source of overcoming strength comes from Shawn Shoemaker.  His strategy to overcome is through worship, relationship with God, respecting and loving the Bible, and getting priorities straight.  Worship is essential to lay a  groundwork of building something new – it dedicates your life over to him yet again. It reminds you of who he really is.  He is Lord, and he is faithful.  But in this case, Shoemaker learns from the example of Job.  When everything was taken away from him, he didn’t complain.  He worshipped God! Listen to Job 1:21  He said, “I came naked from my mother’s womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away.  Praise the name of the Lord!    “Job had a made up mind that He would not allow his circumstances to dictate his worship. This is the first characteristic of an overcomer.”  [Shawn Shoemaker “4 Characteristics of an Overcomer” March 2015 https://www.apostoliclife.org/4-characteristics-of-an-overcomer/]

You must also have a relationship with God and a revelation of who he is. Job shared in Job 19:25: “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.”  Job trusted God, and knew who he was. He knew God would overcome. He may even have had a revelation of Jesus Christ.  You must also respect and love God’s word (the Bible). Job 23:12 says, “I have not departed from his commands, but have treasured his words more than daily food.”  Jesus also treasured the Bible’s words more than food when he was tempted by the devil in Matthew 4.   We must also have right priorities.  Job was generous with the poor, fed those who were hungry, clothed those who needed clothes.  He didn’t put his hope in gold, or rejoice in his wealth.  He rejoiced in God and shared his wealth while he had it.  And when he lost it, he remembered that he still had God.  And in time, all was not only restored, but more was returned.  Job overcame.  Job had endurance and great patience as he trusted the Lord.  And he was not let down, because the Lord is faithful.

I pray that we will overcome through all these principles we have learned. We will win the victory through focusing on God rather than circumstances, remembering his power and love for us, trusting him even though it doesn’t make sense, keep going consistently and being obedient to current instruction.  Also we are to worship, replace fear with love, prepare for a season of joy, remember who you are in Christ, pray often, read and memorize scripture, recognize and rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, begin a winning streak (and take notes on God’s victories) and get your priorities straight.  These are trustworthy instructions. All of these are Biblical and I pray they speak into your lives as they continue to do into mine.

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are a master overcomer.  You overcame all for us.  We cannot imagine how hard that was, but you did this willingly.  We love you.  Please help us on our own journey to overcome.  Thank you that you journey with us along the way.  You don’t forget us in a single moment.  Please give your peace and strength to those who are listening.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #67!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I was declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).  Just this month, I had a follow-up mammogram, ultrasounds and x-rays. The radiology doctor told me that I still look as if I’m cancer-free!

Otherwise, I still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations. God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are still in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We would like to return in September 2021, after preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).  Both of us have had our first covid jab, and wait the second one.  (Although it is the right thing for us to have the jab, we don’t impose that on those who refuse it out of conscience). 

After our quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We are seeing if these can in fact wait until our return to Canada, or if Tony’s eye surgery will have to be done in Cape Town.  It would be R90,000 (or $8,000) done in Cape Town.  We aren’t sure if how much it would cost in Canada (if done there). 

Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is about to be printed!!!  They will be available online, through us personally (for a short time), and through the above shops.  They will also be available through Legacy Relay run by Louis and Carica Fourie.  After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

 
 

Growing in and through becoming an overcomer part 1

“Rest and Receive” – part of Colouring with Jesus 2. This was drawn at CapeGate Oncology, Brackenfell, Western Cape, South Africa.

Tony and I are Canadian missionaries in South Africa.  We have learned through our African friends in different countries how to slow down and be relational.  This is something all of us in fast-paced countries need to learn.  So come along with me and we’ll learn together on the adventures of Growing in God.

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During my last article, we journeyed through growing in God’s peace.  We learned about the importance of peace keeping and diffusing difficult situations and conflict resolution for God’s glory.  We also learned that peace isn’t just the cessation of hostilities.  It’s something supernatural that comes from God himself.  Deep peace is something you would have in a storm of life, and yet you are grounded in well-being that can’t be easily explained. It’s like Jesus is carrying you and you know it will be okay.  Just as Holy Spirit strengthens us with courage, he also fills us with deep peace.  This helps us to be still, and listen to his voice.  After all, we aren’t the ones in control; God is. We can choose to be at peace and trust God.

Overcoming is connected with courage and the deep peace we have been discovering.  My Canadian Iris supervisor Janis has been encouraging us in our missionary journey since August 2017.  So far that’s almost four years. Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I battled nasty Hidradenitis Superitiva.  It’s an inflammatory disease that involves skin, infected hair follicles and sweat glands.  It is painful and ugly.  It reminded me of Job’s boils. And it’s something that the inflammatory breast cancer hid under for weeks.  Both are sneaky diseases.  One of my oncologists believes the two are connected.  Yet through the HS journey, and then cancer, Janis told me, “you are one remarkable overcomer L-A!  I’m praying with you.”  She became my cheerleader through persevering through a difficult week.   Each season of our lives has different lessons.  Through our mission work, I learned to just love, trust and be fearless.  Through the HS, I learned perseverance. Through the cancer, I’ve learned courage, trust and overcoming.  So we’ll journey through what overcoming means.  Pastor Shawn Shoemaker says that, “An Overcomer is someone who prevails.” [Shawn Shoemaker  https://www.apostoliclife.org/4-characteristics-of-an-overcomer/].   We’ll discover later exactly what he means.  But I believe that an overcomer also runs the race of whatever life brings – difficulties, challenges AND joys – with perseverance.  The Apostle Paul told his spiritual son Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.” We are encouraged by Paul’s journey through suffering massive adversity in the mission field, Joseph in an Egyptian prison, and even Job, who endured direct and indirect suffering, and yet he praised God, trusted God, and never cursed him.  How did they manage to persevere?

There are overcoming promises in the Bible, especially in the Book of Revelation. The other overcomer scriptures to the seven churches in Revelation involve perseverance as well.  Revelation 2:10 showed the Smyrnan overcomers were to win the crown of life if they were faithful until death.   Revelation 2:17 shares about the promise to the Pergamum church:  “To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.”  To the Thyatiran church, there was much honour and authority given to those who withstood awful teachings and manipulation.  It’s too heavy to share here but I certainly couldn’t have endured that.  To Sardis, the dead church, Jesus commanded them to wake up in Revelation 3:5: “He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.”  To the Philadelphia church, who endured testing with perseverance, Jesus promised in Revelation 3:12 something special.  He said, “They who overcome, I will make them a pillar in the temple of My God, and they will not go out from it anymore; and I will write on them the name of My God, and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God, and My new name.”  This is an amazing reward if we do not give up.  Here is the last of the seven churches, Laodicea. This is the church that became so lukewarm that they didn’t realize their spiritual condition was dire.  But after repenting, and being restored to deep intimacy with Jesus, here is the promise in Revelation 3:21.   “He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”  This requires not only perseverance but deep humility.  

[Forerunner Commentary, https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1411/Overcoming.htm] Revelation 2:7 gives the promise that “to him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, with is in the midst of the paradise of God.”  In other Bible versions, overcomer is translated as winner, one who has victory, and the like.  Yet overcomer seems a stronger word that depicts a long, difficult but worthy journey.  The Christian life is not an easy one.  While some preach prosperity, that is incomplete. They forget the suffering.  They forget the maturing, and growing deeper, so the storms of life won’t shake us. We may lose everything, but we still have Jesus.  This promise was written to the Ephesian church but it still speaks to us.  Have we lost our first love? For many in the persecuted church, Jesus is enough.  They still overcome without all the fancy luxuries. They have kept their first love vibrantly alive.  Revelation 22:4 also shares that “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into [New Jerusalem].”  Forerunner Commentary notes that the “The Tree of Life is associated with a way of life — one that requires overcoming. This growth is against a standard of righteousness. It includes keeping (doing) God’s commandments. The only ones who are allowed to partake of the Tree of Life are those who have changed themselves (with God’s help, by His Spirit) to begin living in the same manner as He does. To those who submit to His standard of righteousness, then, He grants life that is both endless and of the same quality that He enjoys.” 

[Forerunner Commentary, https://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/cgg/ID/1411/Overcoming.htm]

Let’s hear how we can overcome our old sin nature, so we can clothe ourselves in that humility, and new nature.   Vinita Hampton shares that “we like to identify God with a day that goes well, and speak of God’s presence in terms of blessings… There is some truth to this, but such perceptions of God greatly limit our capacity to recognize God’s holy presence every day.”  [God Is in the Overcoming by Vinita Hampton Wright,  https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things/god-is-in-the-overcoming]

More often than not, God is in the overcoming, the action we take in order to navigate the constant difficulties of life. When we solve a problem, face the truth, wrestle with a decision, suffer through illness, wait for help, learn to pray, lend a hand, or admit our doubt—these are the situations in which holy energy is powerfully at work. God’s love is not static; it moves and acts within our real circumstances. Holy life is not some pretty scene to admire; God is in the doing, in the living, and the growing.”  Know that God’s love pulses through your struggle. Think on this.  The grace of God walks right along with you.

Overcoming also is part of our journey to spiritual maturity.  Some of this is in growing wiser, and setting aside harmful things.  This includes many of our old ways of thinking and doing things before we came to faith in Jesus.  Our coping styles in life are often formed in difficult situations.  We did the best we could, but now we can have better.  Instead of imperfect and sinful ways, we can have healthy, life-giving ways.  It’s a divine exchange that’s part of salvation.  We are being made better and better as part of our journey.

I looked through some extensive writing in the United Church of God manual on spiritual maturity.  It interpreted overcoming as coming into maturity, or some would say perfection.  It said, “God expects His true followers to grow, mature and bear fruit. What kind of fruit does God expect?  How do we produce it?  This goes beyond the basics of our faith.  Hebrews 6:1 states, “Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection.”

Correctly understanding the scriptural truth that the Holy Spirit is God’s power that can transform our lives and helps us better understand His purpose and will for us.”  [Growing in Spiritual Maturity, https://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/transforming-your-life-the-process-of-conversion/growing-to-spiritual]

This manual goes on to say, in many different ways, that we need to grow in our understanding of the Bible, and yet, we also need the transformation of the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully, we are not alone in this. Vinita Hampton Wright shared that God is with us in the overcoming.  That is a promise.  He does not leave us and he gives us the grace to keep going.  We do need to stir up the gift of the Holy Spirit in us.  2 Timothy 1:6 encourages us to do this. Then we can be renewed and empowered for the successful fight against sin in our lives.  We cannot fight it in our own strength.  Even Paul acknowledged that at times, he did what he hated.  We need not only to put off our old self, and our old way of thinking.  We must build into our character the positive traits that are the opposite of our flaws.  We must as Ephesians 4:24 says, put on our new self, the godly behaviour we now desire to practice.  Paul shares with us that he never attained perfection in his efforts to eliminate sin from his life. But he gives us this perspective in Philippians 3:13-14: “I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” So, we fill ourselves with more grace to overcome.  “The simplest way to remove the air from a cup is by filling it with water. Likewise God can overcome our human nature by filling our minds with His nature and its many wonderful attributes.” [Growing – UCB] 2 Peter 1:5-8 tells us: “Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. If you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  So this is about overcoming our old ways of seeing, acting and living. That’s important for holiness and living right. 

What about challenges that come that aren’t from us?

I’ve found quite a few takes on this. One of them is to look at the adversity that’s been allowed in our lives.  It may be difficult for us, but God can still use it for his purposes.

The Apostle James shared in James 1:2-4: “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.  Paul expressed a similar perspective in Romans 5. He gloried in tribulations and saw the fruit of it, since he kept his eyes on Jesus and lived by the power of the Holy Spirit.  “These men understood that in light of what Christ did for us by providing salvationthe difficulties we experience in this life take on new meaning. They are a means through which God works to accomplish His will in our lives: to shape us so that we reflect the character of Christ. On the basis of this purpose, all adversity “works together” for our good and God’s glory.  Just read Romans 8:28, and you’ll see what I mean. Adversity also gets our attention. When it comes, we are forced to face problems and pressures that are too big for us to resolve. In this way, God gets our attention. We can’t continue to pursue our goals, tasks, and relationships in the same way. We have to stop and evaluate our situation. We need to ask God for wisdom, obey His Word, and trust Him to bring the help we need. Troubles point out our weaknesses. They prompt us to rely on God in ways that we wouldn’t unless we had significant needs. Christ’s invitation to those who are weary becomes very attractive in the midst of trials. Listen to Jesus words in Matthew 11:28-30.  Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”  Therefore, adversity is a classroom in which we can learn more of Christ and become more like Him.

Adversity also reminds us of our weaknesses. The Apostle Paul dealt with this in his thorn in the flesh problem.  That’s when Holy Spirit brings even more grace, despite the affliction.  Paul depended on sufficient grace.  Then he was able to say in 2 Corinthians 12:10:  “That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Adversity motivates us to cry out to God.  The Psalms give many examples of crying out to God in prayer.  Psalm 34 verse 7 shares that “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles.”  Adversity also aids us to become matureAdversity motivates us to fear the Lord, and even strengthens our hatred for sin (as in realizing what we reap, we sow). Adversity is evidence of spiritual warfare against us – just read Ephesians 6:10-17.  And finally, adversity is God’s method of purifying our faith.  While our own mistakes work against us, other forces have been allowed to buffet us.  The cancer in my breast is not from God.  Still, the circumstances are purifying Tony and me as we navigate the cancer journey together with Jesus.  We aren’t alone.  We have Jesus, and the many dear people praying for us, and helping us with cancer treatment costs. Adversity strengthens our faith as we trust in God.  The apostle Peter shared in 1 Peter 1:6-7: “Be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.”  And there are even more examples of how adversity can shape us.  But I’ve given enough to give you the idea.  Each aspect of adversity allows us to trust God just a little more to purify us as we trust him in difficult circumstances.  Thank God for his deep peace in the process.

Next time, we will explore further on overcoming obstacles, and characteristics of becoming an overcomer. While this is difficult, it keeps getting better, even when facing bad days (through covid or any other obstacles). Let’s trust Jesus as he sends Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need to overcome anything that comes against us. Let us overcome as well as Job, Paul, Joseph and others in the Bible. We aren’t alone. Thank you Lord for your grace, and give us the perseverance to run the race no matter the time of year or season we are in. Help us to keep our eyes on you, rather than our circumstances. You are still Lord, despite the covid-19 pandemic. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #66!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).  I still owe credit card debt for some of the medical work and we are working towards that with art commissions and donations.

God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We would like to return in September 2021, after preparations to return with the help of a very capable Cape Town travel agent.  Gone are the days when we would plan our own travel online (apart from booking self-catering places).  After quarantine, we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Both of us have continuing health issues, including prostate cancer, eye issues (following Tony’s retina re-attachment surgery). We are seeing if these can in fact wait until our return to Canada, or if Tony’s eye surgery will have to be done in Cape Town.  It would be R90,000 (or $8,000).  Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.  Being an overcomer is truly a process. We still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery, the urologist (who is monitoring the prostate cancer), and I have debt as well. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments and Tony’s eye operations. If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!  If you’re led to pray instead, we welcome your prayers and please do contact us.

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works.  We are waiting on a teacher who is familiar with both Afrikaans and English.  She is proofreading the written section before it goes to print. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing in and through God’s peace

“Wimbe beach fishermen” drawn in Pemba, Mozambique by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last articles, we journeyed through growing in courage.  We found that true courage is a gift from God. But it is also developed as we choose to focus on our source: God. This is what David did when he confronted Goliath in a mighty way to defend God’s honour to the Israelite army.   Courage, strength and joy are connected, as the joy of the Lord is our strength.  But so too, is courage.  Courage goes beyond the ability to stand and not back down. It’s also strength in the face of pain and grief; especially in the example of fighting an extended illness with great courage.  The illness could be cancer, or many invisible disabilities that bring daily pain and discouragement.  This is why courage to face the day is needed. Canadian prophet Darren Canning recently shared a great example of courage a few months ago:  He said, “One person in a war may seem like one piece of sand upon the seashore but one person filled with courage can speak to the wildest waves and they will have to obey.”  (Darren Canning, FB post October 10, 2019)

Everyday courage is also shown in your life wherever you are.  Perhaps you are looking at your OWN situation through your perspective. God wants you to come up higher to where he is, so that you can view the things that make you feel small and weak.  Instead, be strong and accept HIS strength in you.  To move forward, it is best to face your deepest fears!  Through God’s perspective, those fears are small and He helps you move through it to conquer.  You are a warrior.  Now we are going to learn about peace, which to be honest has been a difficult topic to nail down.  

Peace is not just the absence of war and strife, but this is something that many people give a toast towards.  They clink their glasses and say “to world peace.”  I doubt that would happen, especially in some troubled spots, but we like to think that we have a handle on the situation.  We care.   A Christian version of that is to remember those who fought in World War 1 and 2, as well as later conflicts.  There are so many.  We remember them on Remembrance Day, November 11, at 11 in the morning.  The British call this Armistice Day and the Americans call it Veterans’ Day.  It’s important to remember those who work to protect us from harm, like the military and the police.   I remember when I was part of a church choir. I love to sing.  There is a song that we used to sing that goes, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”  If you know it, that mention may put the tune in your head.  It’s a good thing to remember.  

Peacemakers are special people put in difficult situations.  They can be military, chaplains, or ordinary folk like you and me.  Many times in church history, missionaries and pastors have been used to diffuse situations.  I remember reading some Olea Nel books about Andrew Murray’s life.  He diffused many storms during his ministry in Bloemfontein, as well as being used as an instrument of revival in the Cape Awakening in the 1860’s.    

Peacemaking is one aspect of stewarding God’s grace and peace.  Ken Sande has written a few books on resolving conflicts.  I read through much of his book The Peacemaker. He talks about the four G’s of peacemaking. These are: Number one: Glorify God.  How can we please and honour God in this situation? Glorifying God benefits you as well as inviting the Holy Spirit into the situation. 

Number two:  Get the log out of your own eye.  How can we show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for our own contribution to this conflict?  Jesus challenged the Pharisees in Matthew 7:3. He said, “Why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”  Sometimes our own sins and struggles colour your perspective and worsen the situation. 

Number three:  Gently restore.  How can I lovingly serve others to help take their own responsibility?

Number Four:  Go and be reconciled.  How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?  [Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, P 37 – 38]

Ken also notes that when people hurt you, and you respond in pain, he has a solution for that:  “Instead of reacting harshly or seeking revenge, God calls us to be merciful to those to offend us. Luke 6:36 says, “You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.”  We cannot serve others this way in our own strength. We must continually breathe in God’s grace” (through Bible Study, prayer, worship and Christian fellowship).  [Ken Sande, The Peacemaker, P 34]. You need to have peace to be a peacemaker.  Running away from conflict is not the answer, although temporarily it may give a little break.  It’s not a long term solution. 

But when you are in a situation, and show God’s glory in diffusing it, there is a special blessing for you.  Matthew 5:9 says,  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.”  Now all who come to faith in Jesus are sons and daughters, so this likely means peacemaking is very much part of our role at some time or another.

Peace is also something that combats uncertainty.  When you have confidence and trust in Jesus, you can have peace that while you aren’t in control, he is.  You can’t do anything about what you can’t control.  If the storm or situation feels too big, He will help show you the steps, one by one to take, to resolve the issue.  God is faithful and will finish what He started, and will fulfill his promises.  Philippians 1:6 shares that, “God is the one who began this good work in you, and I am certain that he won’t stop before it is complete.”

Max Lucado shares in his book Be Anxious for Nothing, on how to diffuse the anxiety that comes when you are overwhelmed and you don’t feel in control.  He confirms my thoughts that when you believe that God is sovereign and in control, you have a measure of peace.  He says, “Belief always precedes behaviour. For this reason, the apostle Paul in each of his epistles, addressed convictions before he addressed actions. To change the way a person responds to life, change what a person believes about life.”  “In the treatment of anxiety, a proper understanding of sovereignty is huge.

Anxiety is often the consequence of perceived chaos.  If we sense we are victims of unseen, turbulent, random forces, we are troubled.” [Max Lucado: Be Anxious for Nothing  P22]  So, the formula is simple: Perceived control creates calm. Lack of control gives birth for fear.” Here’s an example: “A team of German researchers found that a traffic jam increases your chances of a heart attack threefold. Makes sense.  Gridlock is the ultimate loss of control. You may know how to drive, but that fellow in the next lane doesn’t! We can be the best drivers in history, but the texting teenager might be the end of us. There is no predictability, just stress.”  Anxiety increases as perceived control decreases.” [Lucado, p 23] 

We want certainty, but the only certainty is the lack of it. This is why the most stressed-out people are control freaks.  “We can’t take control, because control is not ours to take.” The Bible has a much better idea. Rather than seeking total control, relinquish it instead. You can give it to God.  Peace is within reach, not for lack of problems, but because of the presence of a sovereign Lord.”   Instead of rehearsing the chaos of the world situations or a personal crisis, instead, rejoice in the Lord’s sovereignty, as Paul did.” [Lucado, p 24]  To read Paul is to read the words of a man who, in the innermost part of his being, he believed in the steady hand of a good God.  He was protected by God’s strength, preserved by God’s love.  He lived beneath the shadow of God’s wings.  Do you?”  It’s a choice.  Do you want to live in fear or let go and live in peace?

Peace is also a fruit of the Spirit, as shown in Galatians 5:22-23.  The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control.”  Peace is a supernatural by-product of getting closer to Jesus. If God is peaceful by nature, then to get close to God is to live in His peace. The nearer we move to Him, the more of His peace we can experience. Thankfully, the Bible provides us specific guidance about how to be closer to Him.  James 4:8 shares that if we “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” If you are genuinely seeking him, he will not turn you away.

Matthew 7:7-8 promises us to, “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”   That promise is the Holy Spirit, and this includes peace. The Apostle Paul also advises us in Colossians 3:15.   He said to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body, you were called to peace.  And be thankful.”

I found quite a few readings on peace, from my former employer, Darren Canning, to the editors of Christianity.com.  Let’s hear Darren’s prophetic words on peace.  When I read his message, think about trusting Jesus and letting him carry you.  Darren shares that God’s peace drips on us like dew, when we are in his presence.  His message is called “His Peace in the Storm.”  When I hear those words, I think of Jesus being asleep in the boat, while his disciples were fearful due to the storm.  And when he woke up, he was still at peace and commanded the wind and the waves to be still.  And they were.  That is peace in the storm.  Peace wins out over fear.  Look up the story in Mark 4 verses 34 to 41. Here’s Darren:

“The term ‘fear not’ occurs in the Bible 365 times.  This is one for every day of the year.  There is a reason that “Fear Not” is in the Bible that many times and that is because as people we deal with all kinds of fear, but you do not have to fear in Christ.”  [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm” ministry email message, September 8, 2019]

Darren says that healing of the mind is really healing from fears.  What is the fear that you need to overcome today?  Jesus is the answer for it.  Darren met two older women recently who told him they had a fear of heights; so to overcome that fear, they went para-sailing in Florida.  Afterward they told him they still had a fear of heights.   That might seem funny but we do all kinds of things in the natural to try to overcome our fear but really our fears are healed in Christ in God.  What is your fear today?  Are you afraid of being alone?  Are you afraid of the dark?  Are you afraid of losing it all or dying?


Whatever you are afraid of, God has the answer for that fear.  Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  Darren shares that “His precious peace in my heart says to me that everything is going to be OK.  There are times I don’t feel that peace and I even forget to pray in those times.  For a little while anyway his peace is not with me, but then I remember Him again and His spirit is with me.  His spirit inside of me is the assurance that I will pass through the troubled waters.  Isaiah 43:2 says, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”] This passage in Isaiah actually represents a promise from God.  Your anxiety and fear may feel like a fire but the Lord will meet you in the fire.  Just pray.  Just seek Him.  Declare His name over that storm that you are facing today.  The waters may be churning inside your life, but He is the one who can end the storm.  He will be with you through every trial and every problem.  You will overcome this world by the power of God within you. [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”]  Darren says that God’s peace drenches him like dew.

When Darren becomes aware of it, things have a way of turning around.  God is able to make all grace abound in his life. and He does.  Stay close to Him today and watch as He shifts you into a new mindset.”  [Darren Canning, “His Peace in the Storm”]  This goes back to what Max Lucado shared earlier. When we believe Jesus and his care for us, we know we aren’t alone.  Jesus is with us, walking with us and when we look into his loving, fiery eyes, we can’t help but have softened hearts, and know that he cares for every detail. 

Peace is also very important as a confirmation in decision making.  Just as I was writing this devotional, a teacher friend told me that her husband was offered a wonderful work position in Clanwilliam.  However, it would mean leaving his wife and child behind, in a time when they want to have another child.  He said no to the opportunity, because he did not have peace about it.  And when he shared his decision with his wife, she felt such deep peace that she could stop, breathe and feel the peace come and fill her like a waterfall. 

What is the peace of God?  Is it just goosebumps, or fleeting moments?  It doesn’t have to be.  We can live in peace, as we desire more and more of God.  It’s one of the benefits of being with him.  When I was diagnosed with cancer, I felt very deep peace when the doctor gave me the news.  I had a picture of Jesus carrying me, and since then, he still is.  Peace, joy and a positive attitude were part of the reason why the tumour already shrunk 60 percent in two months.  Think of it, 60 percent!  That’s not just the chemo.  It’s God.  It’s also the prayers of the children we teach, and the teens that we disciple.  It’s the prayers of many churches in the Western Cape, and eastern and southern Ontario.  There are so many factors.  But they are all weaved together by God through his deep peace.  Now in May 2021, I am cancer free! (However, the journey continues with recovering from the harsh treatments).

Elizabeth George writes devotional books.  One of them is Experiencing God’s Peace, which is a Bible study on Philippians.  I recommend this book, since normally Philippians is seen as a book of joy in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Paul was in custody as a prisoner, and chained to a guard all of the time.  Yet he had joy and he had peace, as he got to share the gospel with his guards, and he had joy in counselling the Philippian church.  In the midst of her study, Elizabeth shares, “But our wonderful God has provided real peace for us as his dear children – and this includes you!  What a splendid thought to know that, even though Jesus stated in John 6:33, “In the world, you will have tribulation, (BUT) you will have the provision of God’s perfect peace in every circumstance through all of life.”   [Elizabeth George, Experiencing God’s Peace p 10]  She even pairs together grace and peace as supernatural power twins in Philippians chapter 1.  This is part of Paul’s greeting to the church.  It’s not a throwaway line!  Here is Paul’s prayer in verse 2: “May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.”  These two together are like strength, perseverance and deep peace.  Wouldn’t you love some of that?

And then I read the very core of what God’s peace really is.  It’s not something that is fleeting.  It can last a long time.  Here’s the take on peace from the editors of Christianity.com.  “According to the Bible, the peace of God, “which transcends all understanding,” is the harmony and calmness of body, mind, and spirit that supersedes earthly circumstance. Nearly all of the letters of Paul start with the phrase “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Throughout scripture, we find that peace is defined as a blessing from God and harmonious with His character.”  [Christianity.com, What is the Peace of God? https://www.christianity.com/wiki/god/what-is-the-peace-of-god-biblical-meaning.html]

The Apostle Paul shared  in Philippians 4:7 that after we pray and leave our concerns with God, this happens… “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   The peace of God can also be described as a tranquil state of appreciation and faith. This happens especially when we submit to and trust the commandments of God and Christ. “It requires a mixture of humility and courage to experience God’s peace, seeking beyond the mere abilities of our own understanding.”  [What is the Peace of God] Sometimes we just don’t understand, but that’s okay.  We don’t see the whole picture.  Proverbs 3:5 reminds us to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. The next verse tells us to “acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will direct your paths.”  We need to trust God and let go of our fears.  Most of the fears are about things that won’t happen anyway. 

Ask him to give you that peace.  1 Thessalonians  5:23 shares a wonderful prayer of peace. Paul prayed:  “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  The nearer we move to Him, the more of His peace we can experience.

Daniel Pontius also shares about that perfect peace in a deep way.  He says that this otherworldly Peace has the capability of not just safeguarding you and your life, but also shifting the atmospheres and circumstances wherever you go as well.” [Daniel Pontius, “Jesus’ Powerful Peace,” ministry email through Darren Canning Ministries, November 10, 2019]

Philippians 4:7 speaks into our hearts:  “And GOD’S PEACE WHICH TRANSCENDS ALL UNDERSTANDING shall garrison and mount guard over your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” This Powerful Peace bypasses your natural understanding; because it will be there when you shouldn’t normally be experiencing such peace. Then if you take it, and speak to the storms of your life with it, it will even silence those storms around you as well! Whether they are in your life or the lives of those around you, this Powerful Heavenly force of God will be your ally when YOU NEED IT THE MOST AND EXPECT IT THE LEAST!!! Jesus told us, in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; My [own] peace I now give and bequeath to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you.” [Daniel Pontius, “Jesus’ Powerful Peace,”

So as I close, I pray over you the perfect peace that you need in your situation.  It’s not manufactured by us.  Our part is to stop, breathe and seek God.  Give him your situation.  And if you don’t know Jesus yet, give him your life.  Don’t worry, Jesus cares for you deeply.  Take a deep breath and walk forward.  Jesus is standing right before you.  Will you let him carry you?  Will you let him give you his deep peace?  Don’t be anxious.  Offer yourself and your requests to God.  Jesus is listening.  Holy Spirit is ready to touch and fill you.  He will wash away sins, and heal your heart as you continue to give all your hurts to him. 

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your perfect peace.  It’s not a worldly peace, but a supernatural peace that we all want more of.  We also want you.  You are the perfect prince of peace.  Thank you for all you did and do for us.  Thank you for everything.  Fill the hearts of all who are listening.  You are real.  And you are a very personal God.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

  
Remember, do not be anxious about anything.  In every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present those requests to God.  Don’t forget.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #66!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and blood work). 

On a side note, God’s peace is something that I’m clinging to as we plan our way back to Canada.  At the moment, our passports are in the hands of Home Affairs, so that we have an extension on our medical visas.  We would like to return in September 2021, and (after quarantine) we plan to stay with and care for my frail 92 year old dad.  Part of us longs for Canada, but we still greatly love South Africa.  We are glad that Jesus is carrying us, since we are frail.  Tony has prostate cancer, but it may wait until our journey to Canada.  We trust that its progress will be slow enough that the effects of the covid pandemic on the Canadian health system won’t hinder his healing.  It would have hindered me, since inflammatory cancer doesn’t wait!  Thanks for coming alongside us on our journey.

We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower.  We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  I want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift in February.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!  Most people who are led to give are friends, or friends of friends, so when friends we’ve not met yet respond, it’s very special!

We are still crowdfunding to cover the L-A’s post cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB, eye and prostate treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod   If you do, please introduce yourself and say that you read “Ways to Grow in God.”  It would really bless us!

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:

https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works.  We just finished translation mode into Afrikaans, and the book is in proof reading mode in both languages. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Love, Laurie-Ann

Growing God through courage part 2

“Armour of God” by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, 2001

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last broadcast, we journeyed through growing in courage.  We’re going to continue that journey.  We found that true courage is a gift from God. But it is also developed as we choose to focus on our source: God. This is what David did when he confronted Goliath in a mighty way to defend God’s honour to the Israelite army.   Courage, strength and joy are connected, as the joy of the Lord is our strength.  But so too, is courage.  Courage goes beyond the ability to stand and not back down. It’s also strength in the face of pain and grief; especially in the example of fighting an extended illness with great courage.  The illness could be cancer, or many invisible disabilities that bring daily pain and discouragement.  This is why courage to face the day is needed. Canadian prophet Darren Canning recently shared a great example of courage recently:  He said, “One person in a war may seem like one piece of sand upon the seashore but one person filled with courage can speak to the wildest waves and they will have to obey.”  (Darren Canning, FB post October 10, 2019)

Everyday courage is also shown in your life wherever you are.  It means you don’t have to be a soldier or a missionary to have courage.  Every day acts of courage include apologizing when you are wrong; it takes courage to admit that you are wrong partly because you are confirming that someone else is right and therefore has the advantage over you. You also need courage to be yourself, especially in a culture that likes to imitate, and succumbs so often to peer pressure. Don’t copy or compare yourself with others.  Pastor Shawn Gabie often tells his congregation that “comparison is a calling killer.”  You also need to take responsibility.  You are where you are in life because of your past choices, although God’s grace, mercy and favour may have altered these circumstances.  Keep your commitments, and don’t be a drop-out.  Let go of the past and don’t let it hinder you anymore.  Listen attentively to your mentors and grow. And there is still more.  If you’ve not listened to part 1 podcast, I invite you to do so; its available on our Copples Western Cape website.

Mark Altrogge shares five reasons to take courage.  One, we can take courage, because God is with us, by his Holy Spirit.  Even in Joshua 1:9, we hear, “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”  We are not alone.  Jesus also promised that he would not leave us alone.  He left us the Holy Spirit, who is a wonderful companion.   “We can take courage because we aren’t facing our challenges alone. God, the creator of the universe, the all-powerful One, is right here with us. He’s not far off and uninvolved. When we don’t know what to do, he does. He’s never tired, never weary, never takes a break.” [Mark Altrogge,  5 Reasons to Take Strong Courage Today, https://www.biblestudytools.com/blogs/mark-altrogge/5-reasons-to-take-strong-courage-today.html]

Number two: God has a plan for us. An example of this was when Paul was encouraged by the Lord who spoke into his heart.  He said these words in Acts 23:11, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”  God had a plan for Tony and me to come to South Africa, which was confirmed by dreams, visions and prophetic words from many different leaders. We are thankful.  And there is more after this assignment, although South Africa will always be in our hearts.  We truly love it here.

Number three:  we can take courage (or take heart) because Jesus has overcome the world.  Jesus shares with his disciples, and us in John 16:33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”   Jesus’ words remind us that we WILL have difficulties in life, and when we have tribulation for our faith, don’t be surprised by it.  The world hates Jesus, even though Jesus seems to be given a veneer of respect. But Jesus was radically courageous.  He didn’t care what the Pharisees and others thought of him.  He just kept his eyes on the Father, and was led by the Holy Spirit.  And nothing can separate us from his love, even though it may outwardly seem that way. Keep looking up at him… or if you are walking on the water OUTSIDE the boat – don’t take your eyes off of him. Forget the circumstances. They change like shifting shadows. They don’t last.

Number four: we need to remember that nothing can separate us from God’s love.  Just read Romans 8 and see what I mean. The list Paul gives is amazing. No matter what you are going through, you can be assured that we aren’t outside of God’s love.  Jesus will hold us in his love and never let go.  It’s the case with me, as I let him carry me through this cancer journey.  He hasn’t let me down yet, and he won’t.   Number Five brings us to the promise that God himself will strengthen us.  The prophet Isaiah declared many promises of hope and strength. Isaiah 12:2 shares “See, God has come to save me. I will trust in him and not be afraid. The Lord God is my strength and my song; he has given me victory.”  Isaiah also declared in [Isaiah] 41:10, “don’t be afraid, for I am with you.  Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.  “We don’t have to summon up strength from within ourselves.” [Mark Altrogge]   There just isn’t any inside. Pastor Mark Altrogge says, “don’t worry if you’ll have enough courage for tomorrow. God will give you all the strength you need for today. And he’s got bags and bags of grace stored up for tomorrow, a whole warehouse of grace stored up for the future.” [Mark Altrogge] I find that thought liberating.

Britnee Bradshaw shares how God makes a way through what seems impossible at first.  Earlier I mentioned the story of David and Goliath.  Tony and I have had impossible situations on our mission trips – from travel blocks stopping us getting to Sierra Leone (like the Iceland volcano grounding most trans-Atlantic flights), to bureaucratic slowness dealing with many things in South Africa, to my illness.  Tony and I actually persevered through the Sierra Leone situation, when the Holy Spirit whispered to my heart that there was another way to get to Sierra Leone, and we took it, with a professional travel agent. Britnee has her own story. She also leans on the promises mentioned earlier of Joshua’s declaration of God’s power over circumstances.  She also reminds us to live out of his strength rather than our own, and calls on Psalm 40:2, “He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground, and steadied me as I walked along.”   This is as much a promise as my favourite winter prayer from Jude 1:24: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy.”  Being steadied, and being kept from stumbling in many ways, is very much a promise that I depend on.  But then there is the time where God makes a way where there SEEMS to be no way. Here’s Britnee Bradshaw’s story. She says, “I thought my world was falling apart back when I was a new stay-at-home mom. Actually, though, my life was coming together. God gave me wisdom, experience, and the opportunity to keep moving forward in my life through faith, even though I didn’t understand how I was going to overcome. Well, I’m here and alive to tell you that God was right! During that season, he impressed on my heart that even though I felt weak, I was not. I had him on my side and my weakness only served to display his strength.

Since we are human, we all have areas where we are weak and where we are strong. In the areas where we are strong, we are, because He is. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul reminds us that in the ways that we are weak, God’s “power is made perfect.” [Britnee Bradshaw, Be Strong and Courageous: How to Rest in God when Fear overwhelms you https://www.ibelieve.com/health-beauty/be-strong-and-courageous-how-to-rest-in-god-when-fear-overwhelms-you.html]

In what areas of your life do you need to rely on God’s strength?  Missionary Tracy Evans uses the story of Gideon and his little band of 300 men.  Because this small group trusted God, the large army that came against them was routed – not by their own might.  They only brought lanterns and trumpets!  “No swords. No bows and arrows. No spears. No shields. Not one person in God’s army was carrying a weapon!” [Kris and Jason Vallotton, Outrageous Courage: What God can do with Raw Obedience and Radical Courage] Like Moses before him, who was led to battle for the release of the Hebrews in Egypt, Gideon was given the promise “I will be with you.” “An incredible bond of trust was formed between God and Gideon on the battlefield of self-abandonment.  Through Gideon’s courageous choices, and unyielding obedience, the impossible happened. A nation stepped back into its rightful place with God, and the people’s inheritance was restored to them. Those five words, ‘I will be with you’ are our security when God invites us to face an impossible circumstance.”

“You may be facing an impossible situation in your life right now, but whatever your circumstances, God wants to invite you to follow Him on this supernatural Great Adventure.  The key to answering his invitation is letting go of everything you look to for security, and simply trusting Jesus instead.” [Kris and Jason Vallotton]

What areas of your life do you need to rely on God’s strength?  If you can remember the book of Numbers, it features the leaders Joshua and Caleb. They were the only older leaders who originally had the faith, courage and confidence in God to cross into the promised land (where there were some giants living there).  Although the giants were bigger and stronger than the Israelites, Joshua and Caleb knew they could take the land because God was with them. Numbers 13:30 shares, ”And Caleb stilled the people before Moses, and said, Let us go up at once, and possess it; for we are well able to overcome it.”  This was because they knew God directed them to do so. Ten of the other scouts hesitated due to their fear of the Anakite giants. Their eyes were on the giants and their own physical ability; rather on God’s ability.   

Perhaps you are looking at your OWN situation through your perspective. God wants you to come up higher to where he is, so that you can view the things that make you feel small and weak.  Instead, be strong and accept HIS strength in you.

To move forward, it is best to face your deepest fears!.  Britnee Bradshaw shares how she faced hers. She says, “Fear and I have definitely gone round for round over the last two years of my life. I can say that I am a victor over fear, but it took my being afraid and having to be placed in situations to face and reject it. I met fear the day my daughter was born. We had to have an emergency c-section, which was never part of the plan for me and Christopher. We had planned for a natural birth at a birth center, not a surgical one in a hospital. I hated hospitals because it reminded me of sickness and death. Even though I intellectually knew that people get healed and live there, the reputation hospitals had in my mind wasn’t a good one.

I will say that I wasn’t ready to die on that operating table. But I felt like it. I mean, to be honest, up until that point, my pregnancy was healthy and extremely low-risk. I didn’t even understand how we got there. So, if being in the hospital could happen to someone like me, surely death could happen too, right? And it wasn’t just my life that I feared for. It was my daughter’s life, too. Her heart rate dropped with every contraction I had. The contractions that were supposed to bring her alive into the world were instead hurting her. I was afraid.”  [Britnee Bradshaw]  But Britnee did face her fears and found strength in her weakest moment.  She says, “In that operating room, I trembled with fear. I smelt it in the air. It was overwhelming. But in my heart, I knew that Jesus was my savior for a reason. He had defeated and conquered fear. So, I thought on his name. Almost instantly, the fear in that room melted away. Jesus gained the victory over fear and death. He gave fear and death black eyes and knocked them out for good. I had Jesus. I still do.”  [Britnee Bradshaw]    The scripture she clung to during that time was 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and sound mind.”  Other versions of that verse say self control or discipline, but sound mind takes into account deeper aspects of not only the psyche but the spirit.  Britnee notes that Fear IS a spirit, but it is not one that God gives us. Therefore, we can be courageous and live above fear. This doesn’t mean that we won’t ever feel afraid. We will. This means that when we start to feel fear rise up, we can combat it with the truth of what God has given us: Courage. 

Maybe the source of your weakness and fear isn’t the same as mine. That’s OK, it doesn’t make your weakness and fear any less valid to God. God’s Word is the same for my situation, as it is for yours, as it is for the next person. It is real and active and alive. Decide not to live in a place of weakness and fear. Take captive of the victim mentality and choose to know yourself as God knows you. Be strong and courageous!”

Tracy Evans (through the writing of the Valattons), says that after you accept God’s invitation to trust Jesus instead, “at first, it may feel as though you are free-falling, but you can be sure that He will catch you before you hit the ground.  The MORE you trust him, the more fun it gets, Before long, you will be like an excited child shouting to his or her father, ‘Do it again! Throw me up and catch me again!’  THIS is the secret to the Great Adventure – blind faith and wild trust!”  [Kris and Jason Vallotton]

Tracy Evans has many stories of how she developed amazing courage, in the Philippines as a hostage, in the dumps among disease, in Mozambique in the midst of riots and gunfire, and in emergencies like one I read on an earlier radio show when Tracy helped over 18 wounded people on a remote South African road side. She didn’t even have medical supplies yet.  She used her medical skills to tend to the wounded, and God took care of the rest. The rest included major healings, and a lady, who was confirmed dead, but came back to life.  To read of these stories and the courage that came from radical obedience and trust, please go find a copy of Outrageous Courage: What God can do with Raw Obedience and Radical Faith.  

You may not be at that level of courage, but there are times that you can be if and when you trust God.  There are times that I’ve been emboldened and Tony has looked at me with amazement. But it’s Holy Spirit, and me responding with authority.  I especially do this when there are children involved.  I guess it’s the mama or auntie in me.  I’ve truly become a spiritual mom, and that in itself is a courageous thing. Something changes in you when you become responsible for someone else. It is when we sacrificially love someone that we can become a hero.  Tracy Evans says, “These days, it seems as if the idea of sacrificing for a noble cause has fallen on hard times in Western culture. [Just look at veterans and how they are treated.]  Heroism has gradually declined. It has been replaced by a self-centred, comfort loving, virtueless culture.” [Kris and Jason Vallotton]  “Simply put, people who do not know how to sacrifice do not know how to love. They will never know the depths of human fellowship the way [that those who sacrifice have learned. These include veterans].  In the words of Christ, only he who lays his life down for his friends, knows such great love. [Just read John 15:13]: “Greater love hath not man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  [Kris and Jason Vallotton]  I know of many such people who are not afraid to be at the centre of God’s will for them.  Tony and I are even shown respect when we go into Avian Park. Our car is known.  We are known as friends, and the gangs and any who seek to harm, leave us alone.  We are even given smiles and greetings of “Uncle Tony!”  Others, such as Erena in Change Makers, are greatly loved by the people in Roodewal.  It’s such a delight to be with people who aren’t afraid to walk in their calling.  They have great courage.

It is also a courageous thing to stand up to cancer and not let it get you down.  There is a reason why the support groups call those who battle cancer, warriors.  Because it IS a battle. Some days the cancer seems to be stronger – but not for long.  Remember, that God is still bigger than the cancer.  Thankfully, due to my faith, Jesus is carrying me through it. Even when I had a fall due to a walking stick accident, and a loss of balance in a moment of chemo brain fog, there was a nurse who just happened to walk by.  She even remembered me from my time in the local Mediclinic hospital.  She got me up off the sidewalk safely.  I am thankful she was there at such a time.  It reminds me that even if we DO fall, God will be there to pick us up at just the right time.  Psalm 91:11-12 Passion Translation, says, “God sends angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go, defending you from all harm. If you walk into a trap, they’ll be there for you and keep you from stumbling.”  While I did fall, I was cushioned slightly and rescued quickly. I believe that I will not fall again, and have learned there is such a thing as loss of balance due to chemotherapy, as well as the associated brain fog that comes with it.  Then it will take courage for me to walk where I used to walk normally.  It will be OK – since God will give me the courage I need, the awareness of the surroundings as well as his presence.  Courage faces us forward.  Fear has us look back.  Which will you choose?  Will you move forward WITH me? 

Lord Jesus, thank you for protecting me, despite my fall.  May you keep me from falling again.  Thank you for those who are listening.  Reach out to any who have been dealing with fear of their circumstances.  And for those who are in a battle.  You fight for us.  Yes, we are warriors and you embolden us, but the battle is yours, and YOU fight FOR us.  Thank you that you do, and that you have won.  We don’t have to whine like victims. We are victors, as my name says.  Laurie-Ann is victory through grace.  And may you give us that victory through YOUR grace.  In Jesus’ name.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #65!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now declared chemically cancer free as of February 2021, but still in post-cancer treatments (lymphedema massage, physio, medications, scans and bloodwork).  On a side note, while I was in my cancer journey, I ordered a “Courage” key from the Giving Keys NGO in Los Angeles.  I still expect to wear this after we return to Canada later this year. 

It will take courage to uproot ourselves and move back to Canada in the midst of heavy covid-19 restrictions in Canada that will severely limit us re-settling in both Toronto to take care of my frail 92 year old dad, and then in Ottawa, where we have our condo (which is rented out to others at this time).  We also need courage to face a crisis with Tony.  He has TB, and has been in treatment for six months. 

He also is battling a nearly detached retina in his left eye.  It’s one thing after another, but we are in SA on medical visas now, so it’s appropriate that we are having treatment as well as ministry.  We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower. 

We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html

I want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift in February.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!  Most people who are led to give are friends, or friends of friends, so when friends we’ve not met yet respond, it’s very special!

We are still crowdfunding to cover the post cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB and eye treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424 The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works.  We just finished translation mode into Afrikaans, and are awaiting a proof reader in both languages. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French. 

Bless you and thank you for your support!

Laurie-Ann

Growing though courage: part 1

“The Angel of the Lord defends those who fear him” by Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, 2019.

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During the last article, we journeyed through growing in our refuge. This isn’t just running to a place of safety, like the days of old when people ran for sanctuary.  It’s also not about being a refugee, although there are so many examples of refugees and displaced people today. This is a world-wide phenomenon.  The Bible shares about the importance of being kind to strangers and soujourners in the land.  In some way, we are soujourners in South Africa, since we are here on a 3 year visa, with a medical visa extension. 

But the ultimate form of refuge is to lean heavily on Jesus in hard times.  He sets us above the floodwaters that come in.  I spoke of the refuge boxes that are placed on the pilgrim route and road into Lindisfarne Holy Island.  If someone is stranded while the tide comes, they can take shelter there.  There is also the form of refuge that Jesus carries you through difficult times like in the well-known Footprints poem. That pilgrim took refuge in Jesus’ carrying him, although he did not know it.  In my case, the Holy Spirit showed me an image where Jesus carried me close to his chest. Every time I began to look around, Holy Spirit nudged my head back into Jesus’ chest.  I felt safe.  I felt loved.  I knew it would be okay.  Now I also know that I was in shock, and later came to feel the normal feelings that come with loss: grief, sorrow, anger, and more.  But it’s OK.  Jesus has still carried me, he’s been inspiring certain people to pitch in towards our medical expenses, and giving me the needed strength to do what I must do.  Then Tony got sick with TB, and I was given a dream of Jesus carrying him across a windy beach.  Jesus looked back at me, walking behind him in a walker.  He said to be “follow me.” Fortunately he moved slowly so that I could follow, but gain strength and courage in the walking.

Strength and courage are strongly connected.  Courage is what we are filled with that gives us strength.  It’s also related to joy, as shown in Nehemiah 8:10, “Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Warriors often rely on strength and courage.  Warriors who are Christian trust God, despite their momentary fear, and choose to push on.  This is a very real and gritty thing. A soldier may find himself in grave danger, but he pushes on, one step at a time.  Sometimes soldiers will do heroic feats, like rescuing a child in the midst of a battle, or protecting a fallen comrade.  That is courage.  There is a special saying in Afrikaans that coloured folk here say that sums up what is needed: “sterke” or strongs.  It has a connotation that is deeper than the English mentality of ‘chin up mate and carry on.’  It’s strength that requires courage.  Courage strengthens.  I believe that true courage is from God.  During the first month or two following my cancer diagnosis, I have been told that I am strong and have shown courage and bravery, by many people, both in the church and outside of it.  Tony tells people of my strong attitude.  But I confess that it really is God’s strength that carries me.  What people see is my determination to trust God, and they see his joy and peace in me – at most times.  Even heroes have their moments of sadness, fear and confusion.  Tony’s daughter-in-law is a gem who has been a cheerleader for me along the way. Her name is Kathy.  She told me that I was near the top of her hero list for the strength and courage that was visible to her. Later, during a weak moment of sadness, she acknowledged that it was okay.  She insightfully and tenderly told me, “it’s okay to feel sad and be what you are in any changing moment.  This is your first cry since diagnosis, so you’ve probably been denying your negative feelings.  Let them be what they are, so you can acknowledge them and let them go when they’ve run their course.  You’re fighting an epic battle and there will be ups and downs. Walk in freedom and be beautiful you through it all. Love you and hope you find a lift in your psyche soon.” This is one of many wonderful messages that acknowledged the real journey where I have been growing in strength through God’s courage and joy.

What is courage?  Courage is often understood as the choice and willingness to confront agony, pain, danger, uncertainty and intimidation. Courage gives you the ability to stand, and not back down.  It is also the ability to do something that normally would frighten you, something that is BRAVE.  It’s also strength in the face of pain and grief; especially in the example of fighting an extended illness with great courage.  The illness could be cancer, or many other invisible disabilities that bring daily pain and discouragement.  This is why courage to face the day is needed.

Personal courage has two aspects, physical (to keep you ‘going’ during each day), and moral. The moral includes spiritual, which is at the centre of our hearts.  Our Faith in Jesus is the core of this.  Holy Spirit is the one who fills us with what we need.  There is a Bethel song called “You make me brave.”  It’s a favourite from 2014 that has emboldened many hearts.  One line goes “You make me brave, you call me out beyond the shore into the waves.  I have heard you calling my name, I have heard the song of love that you sing, so I will let you draw me out beyond the shore, into your grace, your grace.”  (You make me Brave – Amanda Cook)

The root of the word courage is COR- the Latin word for heart.  In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant, “to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.”  Over time, this definition changed to become associated with heroic and brave deeds. And bravery is shown on the battlefield AND in your daily walk of faith.  I used to work as the PA and social media assistant to Canadian prophet Darren Canning. He shared a great example of courage recently:  He said, “One person in a war may seem like one piece of sand upon the seashore but one person filled with courage can speak to the wildest waves and they will have to obey.”  (Darren Canning, FB post October 10, 2019)

Everyday courage is also shown in your life wherever you are.  It means you don’t have to be a soldier or a missionary to have courage.  Every day acts include:  apologizing when you are wrong. It takes courage to admit when you are wrong. You also need courage to be yourself, especially in a culture that likes to imitate. Don’t copy or compare yourself with others.  Pastor Shawn Gabie often tells his congregation that “comparison is a calling killer.”  You also need to take responsibility.  You are where you are in life because of your past choices, although God’s grace, mercy and favour may have altered these circumstances.  Keep your commitments, and don’t be a drop-out.  Let go of the past and don’t let it hinder you anymore.  Listen deeply to your mentors and grow.

You may do all of these things and still need to grow further.  How can you boost your courage? Continue to pray and read faith-building scriptures on faith.  Stories of David and his mighty men are helpful.  I will share more this later.  You can also read stories and testimonies of people who have been given deep courage, like Heidi Baker, and missionaries who walk into warzones with no outward fear, although they experience many times where they must heavily lean on the Lord’s strength.  Otherwise, you can remind yourself that fear isn’t always helpful. It is a warning trigger, but beyond that, you don’t need to act on it.  I used to wear a giving key on a chain called FEARLESS.  It reminded me to keep standing or advancing in the areas in which I was called.  I always remember where a visiting speaker shared to the Catch the Fire congregation this gem:  it was that when we become comfortable in the Father’s love, we become FEARLESS in our calling.  It’s all about who is backing you, like Elisha who told his assistant to look at the angel army protecting them from a much smaller physical army. This is shown in 2 Kings 6:17:  “Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.”  We need to open our eyes that the Lord is indeed with us.

Remember that you can advance in baby steps.  It’s also okay to stand where you are for a little while.  You can expand your comfort zone gradually.  If you are in a panic mode, remember to breathe.  You can even say to yourself, “STOP” and say, it’s OK.  I’ve done this on occasion when my heart was pounding.  Take a step back.  You may be looking too closely at your situation.  See it with new eyes, kind of like Elisha’s assistant. Ask Holy Spirit to help you. And begin to look to the future.  Ask yourself who you need to become. This is more of who you dream yourself to be, your best self.  Think of what God is doing in your heart to get you there.  And then, with prayer and direction from the Holy Spirit, take action.

Jon Bloom says, “Where does courage come from? How do you get it when you need it, when some fear towers over you and threatens you, and you feel like cowering and fleeing into some cave of protection? For an answer, let’s look at one of the most famous stories of all time in 1 Samuel chapter 17 — and one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible.”  Nearly everyone knows the story of David and Goliath.

Over three thousand years ago, a massive man named Goliath of Gath stepped out of the Philistine army’s ranks, stationed in the Valley of Elah.  He taunted and defied not only Israel’s army, but also the God of Israel. For forty days he continued heaping shame, insults and likely curses on them. None dared to accept his fight-to-the-death, winner takes all challenge.  With each challenge, there was no one to accept, as they froze or retreated in fear.  Then a teenage Hebrew shepherd boy named David showed up in camp.  He brought lunch for his older brothers who were in Israel’s camp.  He personally heard the giant “pour out his scorn on the impotent” soldiers.  “David was indignant. So he took his shepherd’s sling, chose five smooth stones, hit Goliath on the forehead, and chopped off his head.” [Jon Bloom, Where Real Courage comes from, Desiring God, June 2015. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/where-real-courage-comes-from]

Now David’s defeat of Goliath is not just a story of personal courage.  David was not like Rocky Bolboa in the Rocky films. He was an underdog, but not that kind.  He wasn’t necessarily a rebel fighter.  But his courage was empowered by something else.

But let’s look at the situation in context.  The Israelite army was looking at what was going on with only their physical eyes. Goliath was nine-feet tall and very strong.  He was a highly trained fighting machine that physically outclassed the Hebrews.  “Fighting Goliath looked like suicide, plain and simple.”  [Jon Bloom] David didn’t see it that way.  He looked through the eyes of faith.  Even though the soldiers had seen great feats, they were weak in faith at that moment.  Perhaps they forgot who they were and who God is. They were looking at Goliath’s size, and the physically impossible circumstances. They thought any challenger would end up as “bird food.” [Jon Bloom]

But David had deep confidence in God. He deeply believed in God’s promises and his power to fulfill them.  David wasn’t “self-confident, he was God-confident.”  Earlier in his story, the prophet Samuel anointed him as a future king of Israel. This was a promise. He went out to meet the Philistine giant knowing that God would give him victory over Goliath.  The victory would demonstrate God’s power and faithfulness, not David’s courage.  When David replied to the giant’s taunts and scorn, he didn’t show his own strength, but rather God’s.  This is what 1 Samuel 17:46-47 says: Today the Lord will conquer you, and I will kill you and cut off your head. And then I will give the dead bodies of your men to the birds and wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel! 47 And everyone assembled here will know that the Lord rescues his people, but not with sword and spear. This is the Lord’s battle, and he will give you to us!”

What’s the source of your courage?  “Real courage is always produced by faith. Courage is a derivative virtue.”   [Jon Bloom] For most Christians, when you lack courage, you ‘shrink back’ like the Hebrew army.  They may have been distracted by circumstances, or forgot about God’s promises.  All we see is our own weakness.  But look up.  It’s not about US!  All of us experience this fear. So did David. David is such a helpful example. He fueled his confidence and courage to face Goliath from God’s promises. But he also frequently felt fearful himself.  He also needed to encourage his soul again by remembering God’s promises. Just read the first 25 Psalms. It shows how often David battled fear and unbelief. Yet he always turned around the situation and declared that God was his hope and that he would trust him.  David was human.  Yet his gifting was to turn towards God, despite fear, and sometimes sin, and he knew how to repent.  He was declared a man after God’s own heart. 1 Samuel 13:14 says, “But now your kingdom must end, for the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart. The Lord has already appointed him to be the leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.”  (This was in context to King Saul when he blew it).

Faith made David more than courageous.  It made him angry at Goliath’s taunts against God. And when no one defended God’s name, it made God look weak.  Jon Bloom says that “our fears are not primarily about us, even though they feel that way.  Our fears are primarily about God and his character.” [Jon Bloom]  They see God as weak, or worse, non-existent.  It’s the same today in popular culture: from Chris De Burgh’s song “Spanish Train,” where the devil cheats and beats Jesus at poker (who is “just doing his best,”) to the remote God in the song “From a distance” and the lack of God entirely in the song “Imagine.”

But as Christians, we don’t actually fight the people we deal with day to day.  We are not on a battle field with them. Even if they are gangsters, or unruly learners in our little cottage school. The kids always fight, to my dismay, but I continue to pray for breakthrough.  Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that we are not to battle with flesh and blood. We are to LOVE our human enemies.  Yes, gangsters, that means you.  Yes sangomas here in South Africa, that means you too.  Yes, religious people who only complain in person and on Facebook, that means you too.  We love you.  Jesus loves you. And to say that truth takes courage.  Our own Goliaths are not people, but the sin that entangles us, as well as the snares of the devil. But once you get free, just remember, if you don’t believe his lies, he has no hold over you.

It also takes great courage to share about yourself and of God’s love.  But you can share your story.  No one can counter act your story – because it’s about God’s work in you, not a philosophy that is debated.  Missionaries are courageous – just look at Heidi Baker, where she willingly confronts people who are evil, but in a way where it is clear that she is a mama pointing to a mighty God.  Just read her books, which are many.  There are so many beautiful treasures in there.

So why should we develop courage?  You may be facing an overwhelming situation.  At this time we are in that place. While we love being on the South African mission field, we were hampered by my journey of inflammatory breast cancer.  So I not only fought forces of darkness outside of me, but also the cancer that was inside me.  But I won’t ask why.  I trust that the Lord is working out this situation for his glory.  And twice the Holy Spirit has spoken to me about my healing in South Africa.  This was before the cancer showed up.  I thought he meant about other ailments, one of which is now in remission.  I choose to believe in his promise, as David did of God’s greatness.  God’s glory will be shown in me no matter what.  I know his strength and courage does, but that’s not mine.  It’s his.  Heidi Baker often shares the analogy of stepping on Jesus’ feet and going along for the ride.  I do the same, except I’m allowing him to carry me.  My weakness is plain to see, but the strength pouring out is all from God.  I can’t claim any of it, except as a precious gift from a loving God.   So we take courage, because God’s perfect power is shown in our weakness.  There is much more I can still share, as I have found while researching about courage, so next month we will journey through part two.

In the meantime, cling to Jesus, the author of your salvation.  He is your strength and your song. He gives me strength when I have none.  May he do the same for you.  Remember, he is with you, as he is with me. He never leaves you. 

Lord Jesus, thank you that you are always with us – through your Holy Spirit. You guide and comfort us, and carry us when we need to be carried.  You give us strength to confront evil, and the resilience to persevere in tough times.  You are our strength and our shield. Bless my friends who are listening with all that they really need.  In Jesus’ name.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #64!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I am still receiving oncology visits in South Africa, and the awaited plastic surgery on the left side of my mastectomy scar has been postponed, since the surgeon was concerned about me being exposed to covid.    I am waiting on the surgeon for when it can be rescheduled.  He has generously waived the surgical fees, so we only need pay for the anesthetic (likely local) and the medical venue (a day hospital in Cape Town’s Panarama neighbourhood).

I had an excellent cancer post treatment appointment last month. There is no trace of cancer in my blood, although the high level of pain meds I receive does show.   The supplements however, have made a difference in recovery from the treatments as well as the cancer that was in my body.  Now we will continue to keep watch that the cancer doesn’t return.  I have extensive scans and blood work in July (pending a medical visa extension).  Tomorrow, I have a simple flush of my chemotherapy port, which I have chosen to keep for the time being.

I also receive MLD therapy, lymphedema treatments and physiotherapy to get me stronger for our eventual return to Canada (which was to be in May 2021, but it’s difficult to return so we will see if we can return in September). 

We did receive our first, allow us to stay until May 2021, but we are working to reapply for the extension this month.  According to Home Affairs, the wait can be up to 60 business days. That’s a long time without our passports, but we need to be patient and trust God and our lawyer during the process. 

We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower.  We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.html.  I want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift last month.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!  Most people who are led to give are friends, or friends of friends, so when friends we’ve not met yet respond, it’s very special!

We are still crowdfunding to cover the cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works – in translation mode into Afrikaans. After we return to Canada, we plan to republish the devotional colouring books into English-French.  Bless you and thank you for your support!

Laurie-Ann

Growing in God through our place of refuge

“Safe in Durham Cathedral” – Laurie-Ann Zachar Copple, October 2019

My name is Laurie-Ann, and I’m a missionary. During my mission travels, I have ministered with people in Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Canada and the USA.  I’ve also ministered in African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, South Africa, Botswana and Namibia. But at this time, we live in the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa.

During our last article, we journeyed through renewing our minds.  Sometimes fears and old taunts that have been thrown at us can surface at times.   I call these playing the ‘old tapes’ from past experiences. Some of these experiences are from childhood, and others more recent. But they all play on each other until they are resolved.  The child inside us still remembers incidents with childhood bullies, or a throw-away line in anger from a parent. The child doesn’t understand, and these events and words can limit, wound, and sometimes paralyze us with fear. The words limit growing past the experiences that brought pain, and the person will continue to react to anything similar until the issue is dealt with.  Until the experience is resolved, it may continue to be a barrier for emotional and spiritual growth. 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans that we need to renew our minds.  Romans 12:2 says:  “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good, pleasing and perfect.”  We need to, in a sense, have a mind transfusion – to get rid of all the bad stuff that would harm us that lodges in our memories. We need to be transformed.  We need to understand that we are loved and have been loved all throughout our lives. We have never been left alone.  Why do we specifically need to renew our mind?  Think of it as your mind being a computer.  When you go through computer maintenance, you need to run scan disk and defrag your hard drive.  You clean out the junk and empty the recycle bin.  But then you find other harmful things on your computer, so you clean those things out as well.  Otherwise you can’t run programmes properly.  The computer will be erratic because it’s trying to do too many things at once.  This is the same with us when we may try to do something that looks simple, but since our minds and hearts are full of junk, we can’t handle it and have a meltdown.  

Our mind is where we process info, thoughts and feelings.  It’s also the place where we make decisions and choose our actions through our will.  It is how we think that shapes our feelings and our behaviour.  It’s a process in cleaning out the junk in the computer systems in our minds, hearts and memories, but it is worth it.  In time, with God’s help through the Holy Spirit, you and I will change for the better.   Just be kind to yourself because this takes time.  Most good things do.  It takes time for good fruit to grow, but it’s worth it.  That fruit is a valuable symbol of how good things grow in our lives.  Refuges are also an important symbol to think about.

When we go through times where we may feel like the foundations of everything we know is challenged, we need a refuge.  When we have a storm, we aren’t out in the rain for very long. We go inside to be protected from the weather.  And then there are floods and earthquakes, where a house can’t necessarily protect you.  I don’t say this out of fear mongering, but out of having us consider where we take refuge and who we take refuge in.   Refuge is a powerful symbol.

This journey grows out of teaching Christian symbols to the kids we love in Legacy Relay. They have been learning about soaking prayer and drawing.  We do this with our teens in My Father’s House – but they already know many Christian symbols.  These children are only in grade one.  Our MasterPeace Academy and Legacy Relay learners learned about symbols slowly through their devotional times.  They know that Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is a symbol of Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.  And Jesus is called the Lion of Judah, because that’s one of the ways that he appears in the Book of Revelation.

A refuge can be different things, but it comes down to this fact. To take refuge is to find a safe place.  You might take refuge under a bridge when it hails, or in a basement during a tornado.  Refuge comes from a French word meaning “to flee”, and in many cases, a refuge, or sanctuary, is  a place to flee to so you can get away from people or places that are unsafe [Google dictionary].  A women’s shelter fits this concept – to keep vulnerable women and children away from violent men who would want to harm them.  This is a desperate need here in South Africa, where so many women die from violent partners and ex-partners.

Some people who take refuge for protection and safety draw close to God as he walks with them.  Psalm 91 talks about protection by angels. Psalm 46, which was written by the sons of Korah, shares that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  Psalm 34: 8 shares that we must “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed (or happy) is the one who takes refuge in him.”  Taking refuge during times of trouble is something that not only keeps us safe, we also receive JOY and comfort.  We receive peace.

The Psalms are a wonderful place to turn to for comfort and refuge. The word refuge shows up 98 times in the Bible. 43 of those examples are in the Psalms, where most of the time, the referred refuge is of God. However, if you look at other translations, you can use the terms “put trust in,” “protection”, “stronghold,” and other safety terms.  Apparently the word for refuge, Hasah, calls our attention basically to sin and how it wrecks everything.  “When the Old Testament speaks of refuge, it is always in the context of a threat, something wrong or dangerous in the world. [But] sometimes [that] threat is physical as in seeking refuge from a rain storm, as in Isaiah 4:6. Or perhaps shade from hot sun in Judges 9:15. Protection from adversaries is a common theme, as in Psalm 61:3.  

The threat can also be spiritual or emotional, such as a refuge from shame, as shown in Psalm 31:1: “In you, Lord, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.”  The refuge can even protect from loneliness, as in Psalm 142:4: “Look and see, there is no one at my right hand; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.”  However, in all these examples, the Bible’s use of the word refuge reminds us that we live in a world wrecked by sin.  This is a world of dangers around us, and of brokenness inside us. We cannot avoid these realities, but we can seek shelter from them.  The authors at Bible Mesh share that “the word “refuge” also calls our attention to God’s power to save us from sin and its consequences. Many times, it [refers to] His ability to protect us from the dangers [I described.] God provides shelter in a storm. He gives vindication in the face of shame, and friendship in times of loneliness. But even more significantly, the Lord is our refuge in the Day of Judgment. Though He will bring a day where [sin is reckoned], he grants his people forgiveness and gives them refuge from his wrath. This is shared multiple times in the books of Nahum and Deuteronomy. Perhaps, the greatest need of all people is shelter from the horrible consequences of sin. Scripture reminds us that God offers such shelter. (paraphrase https://biblemesh.com/blog/refuge-in-the-psalms/)

The Bible also shares about places, or cities of refuge that were set up to protect people in trouble, or had done crimes in desperation.  Joshua 20:2-6 shares about why these places were set apart before the locations were chosen.  Here’s the passage: “Then the Lord said to Joshua: “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”  The places of refuge they set apart were six communities around the east and west of the Jordan River.

There are cities of refuge now, for example during the beginning of the migrant crisis from the Middle East.   Writer Mathilde Teheur learned about refugee-friendly cities in Europe. In some places, they had sanctuary and supportive citizens who wanted to build a more humane migration policy (at least until it was abused).  She said, that during “September 2015, the mayors of Barcelona, Lesbos, Lampedusa and Paris [created] a network of ‘refuge cities’ aiming to provide better reception conditions for migrants at local or municipal level. Though the declaration is not legally binding, Teheur believes it was a first step towards ensuring that both the wishes of local entities, and the vital role played by them, are taken into account in national debates on how migrants are received. (Mathilde Têcheur, Cities of Refuge in Europe, 25 July 2018, https://www.equaltimes.org/across-europe-cities-of-sanctuary#.XXvpeS4zbIU )  However, the tide seems to be turning against many migrants currently, perhaps because there were too many at once.  Also, some migrants are spoiling it for the others with violence and criminal acts. 

Michael Syder from Charisma News speaks about another kind of refuge – that of people getting away from broken down, fast-paced Western society to live a healthier lifestyle. He met a New York state man who intended to convert a hotel and surrounding facilities into a place of refuge that could potentially accommodate hundreds of people for an extended period of time. (Michael Snyder March 2016 – Charisma News, (https://www.charismanews.com/opinion/55513-why-people-are-creating-hundreds-of-cities-of-refuge-across-america)  He has also corresponded with other communities in Idaho and elsewhere in North America with a similar mind-set.  Others in South America, Australia, New Zealand and the Middle East are doing the same.  Every place of refuge looks different – from former hotels and schools, to RVs and tent-cities.  Synder said in these places, major community concerns remain: food, water, shelter, electrical power, and security.

Places of refuge were also common in early and medieval church history.  Roman pagan temples took in people who needed help.  This especially applied to runaway slaves.

The Early Church took notice and took in people as well.  The symbols of sanctuary and fortress developed later in church history. Even Martin Luther wrote “A Mighty Fortress is our God” in the late 1520’s to remind us that God doesn’t fail us and is greater than our circumstances.  Here is the first verse: ‘a mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing: Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing. For still our ancient foe doth seek to work his woe; His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.” [Luther, wiki.]   Both refuge and fortress are defined as places of protection and defence.  Refuge is a place where one can have hope and or can put trust and confidence in that protection; whether it is fortified or not.  A fortress is a fortified place that sometimes shelters: a town, fort, castle, stronghold, and is for defence and security.  Our little gated retirement village in Worcester is like a fortress, rather than a refuge, but it’s nice when we find a place that can be both.  

The Church equivalent of the cities of refuge in Joshua 20 is reflected in the sanctuary of the English church (and elsewhere in medieval Europe). When people, usually the poor and downtrodden would steal or hurt someone, and it was either unintentional or out of poverty, they could run to the nearest cathedral, grab the sanctuary ring and claim sanctuary.  Sometimes this meant a longer arbitration through the church, which was either resolved, or the person would have to leave England. They would be shipped off to America or Australia.  They called this ‘transportation’ – the British way of getting rid of difficult common poor folk out of their country.  At one time it was to Ireland and France [Eric Grundhauser] and later, America and Australia.  Here’s Eric Grundhauser on what it was like to seek asylum in medieval England:  “So you are in 13th-century England, and you’ve been accused of, or maybe have actually committed, a murder. To be taken into custody and tried would likely result in execution, so you need to go to ground, fast. [All that you had to do, was to run] into a Christian church.

The right to sanctuary, as the tradition is called, is probably best known through the titular outcast of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who used the protective right to save his true love. But it actually dates all the way back to traditions from the ancient Greece and Rome, yet surprisingly survived (in a much changed form) into the 17th century. Taking refuge in these miraculous safe zones, though, was far more complicated and dangerous than most people think.” [Eric Grundhauser, What it was like to seek asylum in Medieval England, July 21, 2015 [https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/what-it-was-like-to-seek-asylum-in-medieval-england]

Professor Karl Shoemaker shares that early sanctuary examples of places of worship were knowns as examples of holy forgiveness.  He shares that “The earliest Christians were aware that pagan temples offered sanctuary for criminals, and they did not want to be shown up in their piety by their pagan rivals. Thus, criminals could be offered protection within Christian churches as well, with the added benefit that asylum seekers might be converted or offered a chance to repent.” [quoted from Grundhauser] Shoemaker explains that “as Christianity spread across Europe, sanctuary protections came along with it, supported by the church as well as the various crowns. Thanks to the precise and pervasive record-keeping of the English, their codified and standardized version of sanctuary procedure is the process best known today.] [quoted from Grundhauser]

 In order for asylum seekers to gain sanctuary, they only had to enter a church and wait for an appointed coroner of the crown to arrive.  The refugee was to confess the crime, and then was given the sanctuary of the church for a time, as a safe arbitration place.  In some cases, more specific action was required. One liturgical act was to ring a certain bell, perhaps sit on a special “frith-stool” (bench), or wrap their hand around a special door-knocker, as was the case at Durham Cathedral, and knock on the door.  I have seen that sanctuary ring, and held it.  I was not seeking sanctuary from the law, but I did seek the Lord’s touch in that very special place.

Shoemaker says during the early 17th century, “up to two-thirds of all the felonies were “resolved” in a sanctuary.” [quoted from Grundhauser] During this period all Christian churches offered sanctuary within their walls, although 22 particular churches were known safe places, including Durhum Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Unfortunately, fugitives had to forfeit their possessions, money and land to the crown before they left the country.  This left them vulnerable in the places that they emigrated into.  Shoemaker believes that when English law evolved in the late 16th century, it was the ultimate downfall of the church asylum. Before this, sanctuary was understood as an act of kindness, forgiveness, and piety on the part of both Christianity and the crown. But public feeling grew, which gave the belief that criminals took advantage of this option to avoid punishment.  They began to believe that sanctuary’s penitent treatment of fugitives seemed only to reward criminal acts by allowing asylum seekers to avoid the official penalty. By 1624, standard sanctuary laws were abolished, and fugitives were no safer in a church than they were in the streets. [paraphrased from Grundhauser]

One of my favourite places to meet God is in a place called Lindisfarne, Holy Island.  It is a tidal island in north eastern England, south of Berwick-on-Tweed.  It’s not far from Scotland.  It’s a place where Irish missionary monks, under Aidan of Iona set up a mission centre. He was similar in temperament to Francis of Assisi, and became known as the apostle of northern England.  He loved to relate on the same level as the common folk, so he never rode a horse, even though King Oswald gave him one.  Other monks followed for years.  Many pilgrims would walk over to the island during low tide.  However, even now during pilgrim walks, you must be very careful when you cross.  It is the same with the road that links to the mainland.  If you are caught when the fast moving tide comes in, your car can be flooded, and you must seek shelter.  There are refuge boxes along the trail and one on the road just for that purpose.  The threat of water is real if you are not careful.  Those refuge boxes, are a real symbol of refuge to me. That whole island, is like a ‘thin place’ where I can hear Holy Spirit’s whisper as easily as if I were having coffee with Jesus across from me. I feel safe on that island, especially in two of its churches that I attended. I also loved staying with the people at the Open Gate Christian guest house.

Earlier I quoted from the first verse of “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  There are other songs about refuge that come to mind.  A favourite of ours by English composer and playwright Roger Jones is “God is our shelter and strength.”  It’s the song Tony and I sang while we were barefoot pilgrims along the mud between the shore of mainland Northumberland and Holy Island.  There is also the children’s favourite, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower.”  But one of my current favourites is “You are my hiding place.”

Earlier I mentioned places of refuge: cities in the Bible and communities today.  Those who take refuge are refugees. Even Jesus and his parents were refugees, when Joseph was warned by an angel to take baby Jesus to a place of safety away from King Herod, who was trying to kill him.  He narrowly escaped the slaughter in Bethlehem. Matthew 2:13-14 relates the story:  When the [Magi] had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”[c]

There have been refugees in many ages, although they are called by different names. Some biblical names for refugees include strangers, sojourners and foreigners. Strangers and foreigners refer to anyone from another ethnic groups who have chosen to live in Israel.  Expats may be included in this list.  Tony and I might be considered one of these while we are here in South Africa.   The book of Ruth is about one such ‘foreigner.’  Sojourners are those who temporarily live in Israel or who are travelling through.  So in this, the Biblical world view would call us sojourners in South Africa.  Other sojourners would include: displaced persons from war and disaster and refugees.  Emigrants who stay longer would include: economic migrants, immigrants, asylum seekers fleeing from persecution, and even stateless persons.  Visitors are just that: people seeking education, a holiday or a sabbatical.

The Bible is clear in how God’s people are to treat these “strangers and foreigners.”  Even Matthew 25:35 shares a reward for those who treat these people well.  He ways to the sheep who follow his commands to reach out to specific people, including ‘strangers,’  “I was a stranger and you invited me in.”  World Vision’s Denise Koenig shares that “Middle Eastern cultures are famous for their hospitality.  For example (in Genesis 18), Abraham invited the angelic visitors into his tent and provided a lavish meal for them. Even so, strangers among the different tribal groups were looked at with suspicion, often conned or taken advantage of, and not treated well, especially if they were poor.  God’s instructions in the Old Testament were counter cultural.  Jesus (also) follows the Old Testament pattern and takes it a step further by saving that how we treat strangers indicates whether we are his followers.  We are to invite the stranger in if we are his disciples.  Foreigners or refugees are not to be oppressed.” [Denise Koenig, June 19, 2019, What does the Bible say about refugees? https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/what-does-bible-say-about-refugees]  Exodus 23:9 reminds us and the Jewish people to “Not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.”

The Old Testament law has more in how to treat the foreigner:  the cities of refuge as I mentioned earlier, and farmer’s gleanings for the poor and the farmer are great examples.  The gleanings were mentioned in Leviticus 23:22. It says, “when you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.” Remember that Ruth herself gleaned in the fields, as a widow, a stranger, and a kinswoman through her dead husband.

Strangers are also to be included in festivals and celebrations. The Passover celebration is mentioned in Deuteronomy 16, but later in chapter 26:12, they are especially noted in the year of tithing to the poor.  “Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.”  This indeed shows that God is generous, and gives us the provision to be generous also.  Notice the needs of the gleaning and special tithe. These refer to helping displaced people with food.  As Christians, we also are to treat the stranger with kindness.  We ourselves didn’t realize the kindness of God chased us until we came to faith.  Perhaps we are the very ones to reach out in God’s kindness to these people and offer them not only refuge, but to point to the one who GIVES refuge.   The author of Hebrews reminds us to open our hearts in Hebrews 13:1-2: Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers for by doing that some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  The Apostle Peter adds to this command by saying in 1 Peter 1:17, that we must “live out your time as foreigners here with reverent [godly] fear.”  “Think of how graciously God treats us, the foreigners living in his world. His kindness to us can guide our thoughts and actions towards those living as strangers among us.” [Denise Koenig, June 19, 2019, What does the Bible say about refugees? https://www.worldvision.org/refugees-news-stories/what-does-bible-say-about-refugees]  

And so, we who are no longer strangers to God, can be used as representatives of God’s refuge.  It’s like we’re invited to be a part of a post-modern underground railroad, like the days when slaves were rescued from the southern US.  Some mission minded people, like Cal Bombay of 100 Huntley Street HAVE gone to Sudan to rescue those sold into slavery.  He was bringing refuge and redemption to these slaves.  Ministries like Arkenstone in the Greater Toronto area and Iris Cambodia work against human trafficking.  They also offer refuge.  Homeless shelters such as Sanctuary retreat in downtown Toronto and Cornerstone in Chicago offer the same to those on the streets. There are many more that do the same – but not all take these in overnight.

These refuges are for certain circumstances.  But you may be listening to me while you sit safely in your home.  You may be in physical safety, but your heart is in turmoil like a stormy sea.  You may have been hit by a heavy loss recently, or found out some news that absolutely shocked you.  You probably didn’t believe the words you heard and said, ‘no, that’s not me’ and yet you knew in your heart it was.  During times like that, will you look up at Jesus?  As you look up into his face, he brings you peace, through your shock, denial, and the emotions that come later.  

Tony and I returned from our home visit on July 10th 2019.  Shortly after I began to feel pain and tinglings in my left breast, and I thought it was odd.  I’d never felt this before. I happened to ask the Holy Spirit, “what is that?”  The whisper I heard in my spiritual ears was “it’s cancer.”  I was in shock. I didn’t think anything – it didn’t even register until much later.  A few days after that I began having pain in the nipple and I went to our doctor. He wasn’t available, but a wonderful female doctor helped me.  She helped diagnose another condition I had that masked the issue.  But she was clearly worried about what was going on with my breast. We tried antibiotics, thinking it was post-menopausal mastitis.  After it didn’t respond to treatment twice, I was booked into the local hospital under antibiotic drip and introduced to a wonderful surgeon who cared for me. He expected to find lumps that he could remove, after imaging.  He didn’t find them, but some cancers don’t have lumps.  One week later, he took six large biopsies.  During the procedure I was nervous and asked the Holy Spirit to fill the room.  He came. When the procedure began, I was laughing at the sound of the machine, thinking that the doctor was stapling posters to my chest. I was given humour and peace.

After the mammogram and most lab work was completed, I was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer, which was staged later as 3B. When the surgeon phoned with the news, I had peace.  I already suspected due to that whisper a few weeks earlier, and a hint that the doctor said we should rule out the possibility of a rare form of cancer.  By then I knew what to research.  In my mind’s eye, I could clearly see that I was being held by Jesus, close to his chest.  When I would raise my head, the Holy Spirit would push my face back into Jesus’ chest.  I remained there for over a year and a half. Now my husband is carried in his own illness journey of TB. I let him continue to carry me.  Will you let him carry you?  Psalm 46 offers God to be our refuge.  Do you want to be safe in him?  You only need ask him. He’s listening.  

There is a special poem that shows Jesus carrying a pilgrim in distress.  The authorship is disputed, but the origin is still divine.   If you haven’t heard this poem, give it a listen:  [A] pilgrim arrived in heaven and God said to him, “Would you like to see where you’ve come from?”  When the pilgrim responded that he would, God unfolded the story of his whole life and he saw footprints from the cradle to the grave.  Only there were not only the footprints of the pilgrim, but another set of prints alongside. The pilgrim said, “I see my footprints, but whose are those?” And the Lord said, “Those are My footprints. I was with you all the time.”

Then they came to a dark, discouraging valley and the pilgrim said, “I see only one set of footprints through that valley. I was so discouraged. You were not there with me. It was just as I thought–I was so all alone!” Then the Lord said, “Oh, but I was there. I was with you the whole time. You see, those are MY footprints. I carried you all through that valley.”[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Footprints_(poem)]

Think on how he carries us.  There is room for you in his arms.  Lord, Thank you that you continue to carry me, and we will beat this cancer together.  I put my trust in you.  I pray for my friends who are listening and ask that you reach out to them as well.  It may not be cancer, but it may be bad news.  You are there for them.  You are their refuge. You are their strength.  And as they abide in you, they will be made strong.  In Jesus’ name,  amen. 

I also share my own version of being carried in my song lyrics, “Thank you Jesus:”

Thank you Jesus 
by Laurie-Ann Copple 
 
Lord, you are near, not far
You hold all things together
Spinning planets with the stars
It’s a dance you set forever
 
And even though you hold all things
You noticed I was falling
You promised you would carry me
When the cancer came a calling.
 
Chorus:   Lord, I want to thank you
You brought me back to life
My healing is a foretaste
Under heaven’s loving knife.
 
You carried me close to your chest
As we went through death’s dark shade
This journey was for my best
In your face, my troubles fade.
 
Chorus:   Lord, I want to thank you
You brought me back to life
My healing is a foretaste
Under heaven’s loving knife.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God (WTGIG) podcast page on the coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the “Listen” drop-down menu).  Click here:  (https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/wtgig-podcasts.html) and scroll down to #64!  If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

Updates:  For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I am still receiving oncology visits, and the awaited plastic surgery on the left side of my mastectomy scar has been postponed, since the surgeon was concerned about me being exposed to covid.    I did have an excellent cancer post treatment appointment a few days ago. There is no trace of cancer in my blood, although the high level of pain meds I receive does show.   The supplements however, have made a difference in recovery from the treatments as well as the cancer that was in my body.  Now we will continue to keep watch that the cancer doesn’t return.  I have extensive scans and blood work in July (pending a medical visa extension).

I also receive MLD therapy, lymphedema treatments and physiotherapy to get me stronger for our eventual return to Canada (which was to be in May 2021, but it’s difficult to return so we will see if we can return in September). 

We did receive our first, allow us to stay until May 2021, but we must reapply for the extension in March.  According to Home Affairs, the wait can be up to 60 business days. That’s a long time without our passports, but we need to be patient and trust God and our lawyer during the process. 

We believe that the medical treatment here is excellent, although expensive, despite the rand-Canadian dollar exchange has helped keep costs almost 15 percent lower.  We have incurred significant medical debt, although kind people in Canada and around the world have helped us so far.  God bless each and every one of them.  But we still need help. Tony has significant medical bills as well for TB, eye surgery and other issues. Please click here for the medical campaign page to get more info: https://www.coppleswesterncape.ca/medical-campaign.htmlI want to thank Teriro, who blessed us with a gift last month.  We weren’t expecting it when it came!

 We are still crowdfunding to cover the cancer treatments (as well as Tony’s TB treatments). If you feel led to contribute, please do so via our PayPal:  https://www.paypal.me/WaystogrowinGod

L-A’s colouring book:  If you are in South Africa, and would like to purchase one of L-A’s colouring books, they are available at OliveTree Bookshop in Mountain Mill Shopping Centre (near Pick n Pay), Worcester, Western Cape.  You can also buy them at LeRoux and Fourie Wineshop on R60 beside Cape Lime (between Nuy and Robertson).  Or you can order one (or more) printed for you through Takealot.com through this link:  https://www.takealot.com/colouring-with-jesus/PLID68586424

The Colouring with Jesus 2 is in the works – in translation mode. Bless you and thank you for your support!

Laurie-Ann