Tag Archives: cancer journey

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

Growing in God: Word based, Spirit Directed, the Radical Middle, part 2

 

This is a drawing that I did on Good Friday.  It is called “Carol – When I survey the wondrous cross.”  It’s of my mother, who died this January in Toronto, Canada, while I was tethered to South Africa during chemo treatments.  It will be part of my second colouring book, Colouring with Jesus 2 (the first version of the colouring book is available in South Africa via Takealot). Click here if you are in South Africa and would like to purchase one.

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 learned the how important the balance of the Word and the Spirit is in our lives.  I had learned this lesson through Canadian broadcaster David Mainse.  He said, If you don’t have the Holy Spirit in your life, you DRY up.  If you don’t have the Word, the Bible in your life, you BLOW up.  Yet when you receive from both the Word and Spirit together, you GROW up.  I thought that this made sense, but I didn’t ponder on it; other that I should always have a biblical base for sharing my prophetic impressions. After all, I did come to faith in a Baptist church.  They love scripture, and so they should! It’s important to have a good, solid understanding of the Bible.  We need to know the Bible, so we have a standard to go by in our faith.  Our personal devotions and words of knowledge aren’t scripture. But these often repeat scripture in a loving, personalized way.

RT Kendall was one of the speakers at our Iris Harvest School. He’s been on the Word side of the church for years, but he became Spirit-filled along the way.  Since he didn’t come from the Spirit side of the church, he keenly sees some tendencies that could pull people away from what is known as the “radical middle,” or the core of our faith.  This term is used by the Vineyard movement, especially by the late Bill Jackson. [Radical Middle ministries dot org]  I remember hearing the term “radical middle” when I was part of the Vineyard. It was certainly something that they strove for.  They even called themselves a ‘centred-set’ rather than a ‘bounded set.’  What they meant by this, was that mainline denominations have a clearly thought-out set of beliefs. Anything outside of these isn’t a part of their creed.  The Vineyard then saw themselves strongly agreeing on the central aspects that all Christians believe. Secondary, more divisive issues, were less central. Vineyardites could differ on these without it being a big deal.  This attitude seemed to change after the Vineyard distanced itself in 1995 during the Toronto Blessing revival.  Alan Hawkins is a theologian based in North Carolina. He unofficially shared with a Vineyard theology forum that he could see changes in the Vineyard after that unfortunate church split.  He said, “If you read [Bill Jackson’s book] Quest for the Radical Middle, you find an amazing record of the work of the Holy Spirit within the Vineyard. That is, until 1995, at which point the book literally changes character and tenor, and reads like a denominational report.”  If you read Jerry Steingard’s book ‘From Here to the Nations, “it reads like Jackson’s first 19 chapters.”  [unofficial report from a retired Vineyard pastor’s Facebook page, May 10, 2019]  The movement may have become ‘safe’ from scoffers, but they lost their place in the radical middle of Spirit and Word. This unfortunate split has been reconciled, and the Catch the Fire stream will always acknowledge their Vineyard roots.

So when you aim to be in the radical middle, you cling to the core truths of your faith. This helps keep us from going off the deep end.  Life is in the middle of the river, where the water is fresh.  It is in this place that many biblical truths that seem to contradict each other, actually don’t.  I would elaborate, but that’s another for another time.  What is important and what matters are the central truths of our faith. The Alpha Course movement takes that same stance. While the Course began in the Anglican Church, many different streams of the Church use it for seekers and new Christians.  Alpha includes all central aspects of Christianity, while secondary teachings like say, the differences of how to baptize, aren’t discussed. That’s what denominational classes are for. Nicky Gumbel shares an idea that he attributes to early church father Augustine, based on the Apostle Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace;” but not at the expense of the truth.  Nicky gently shared seventeenth century theologian Rupertus Meldenius’s motto, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty [and] in all things, Charity” in a gentle way. (Click for quote)  Nicky’s explanation was, “In the really essential things of the faith, the things that are at the core of our belief, there would be unity. In the things that are more peripheral (the non-essentials), there be freedom. People can believe different things; that’s fine. And in everything, love.” [Alpha Course, 2009 version, “What about the Church]  This motto has been picked up by many churches, from Anglican to Moravian.  [Mark Ross]

Unfortunately, this conciliatory attitude of unity in essentials hasn’t been adopted by all.  During my research, I discovered one anonymous blog author who wrote: “balancing Spirit and Truth is like trying to balance law and grace.”(for quote click here) [Ben Eastaugh/Chris Sternal-Johnson]  I don’t think this is a fair comparison.  The Bible contains law, but we don’t live BY the law. We need to read the law section of the Old Testament. It teaches us about holiness. The apostle Paul explained Galatians 3:24: “the law was our guardian until Christ came. It protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.”  This means the law teaches and shows us what sin is. But we can’t be made holy through the law; that’s impossible. So you can’t balance living by the law against living by grace. Paul speaks about that in Galatians. That’s going backwards in our faith towards legalism.  This is actually a pitfall of the Word side of the church.  Legalism chokes the life out of you, and only makes you religious.  Danny Silk warned that if teachers play their true role in the church, they will first have to be willing to pursue a supernatural lifestyle.  They will have to be dissatisfied with the armour of their arguments and the lifelessness of their theology. […] Teachers must embrace mystery.”   [Danny Silk, Building a Culture of Honour]

So as faith is dead without works, so theology is dead without the Holy Spirit! The Holy Spirit helps your faith become active.  The Bible helps your faith become stable.  When Jesus taught his disciples and all those around him, he used “show and tell.” Jesus’ teaching was not passive, even when he taught his disciples to “turn the other cheek.”  This takes an active decision. The writer of Hebrews shared that the Word is alive and powerful, but this is because the Holy Spirit breathes it.  He is the author. Listen to the words of Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”

RT Kendall shared in Harvest School talk about how we can grow in godly character and the fruit of the Spirit. This happens through genuine obedience and persistence in our faith, where the Holy Spirit helps us through difficult circumstances. He reforms our hearts. Scripture is an amazing tool to bring change.  Like the scripture in Hebrews 4 that I just shared, this is a living surgical tool. It’s important to not run from this and seek comfort instead.  It takes real guts to be an obedient Christian.  It takes not only head knowledge of Scripture, but also an open heart to let those words transform you.  Say you struggle with fear and insecurity.  You may feel like you are orphaned, and all alone.  Yet, as children of God, who love Jesus Christ, we aren’t orphans anymore. We are loved children.  You may read the words of scripture, but it’s the Holy Spirit that helps you take that word to heart.  It is he who transforms your heart so you can receive that truth, and the love that comes directly from God.

RT told us at Harvest School that we “need to work in the Word, to actively read it, pray it and think on it.  Too often Spirit people want a rhema, or (Holy Spirit) word, because it is quick and we are lazy” [RT Kendall – notes from HS 24, June 15, 2016].   When we pursue scripture with the Holy Spirit, he makes it come alive to us. This is where the practice of Lexio Divina comes in. This is actively reading scripture more than a few times, to allow the words to speak to you.  Sometimes the Holy Spirit can give you an impression of the context of the scripture you are reading.  Say is Jesus is speaking to Martha that he is the resurrection and the life, you can actually imagine Jesus comforting Martha on the death of her brother Lazarus with the hope that he will again be alive.   Jesus was creating a “now moment” full of God’s promise.

These “now moments” are similar to when Heidi Baker ‘stops for the one.’ She does this in obedience to a prompting from the Holy Spirit; the timing is God’s, but there is also a scriptural command to care for the orphans and widows. Some scriptures call these people the “least of these.”  James 1:27 says pure and undefiled devotion, “in the sight of God the Father, is caring for orphans and widows in their distress, and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”   The third Iris core value is to care for the least of these.  The IrisGlobal site shares:  “We look for revival among the broken, humble and lowly, and start at the bottom with ministry to the poor. God chooses the weak and despised things of the world to shame the proud, demonstrating His own strength and wisdom. Our direction is lower still.” [Iris Global site – https://www.irisglobal.org/about/core-values]

When Heidi responds to the Holy Spirit’s prompting, it’s partly by obedience to God’s general guidance in ministry to the poor. But she’s also obedient to the Holy Spirit for the time and place. Heidi shares many such stories in her books. She also was led in January 2010 to stop for me. She gave me roses, a hug and a kiss.  It took years for me to figure out that Heidi was simply led to bless me. I learned from another Iriser in East London, that Heidi often blesses specific people at conferences this way. And on that day, I was the one.  I was in the centre of that convergence. This was the morning after I responded to a missions call, by giving my yes to a life of service. I didn’t know what that would look like. A ministry team member prayed over me, and shared that I would be working with the poor. There are many kinds of poor.  In Ottawa, we have the refugee poor, the single mothers poor, and the hidden poor who work multiple low paying jobs to make ends meet.  I can identify with the latter, since I’ve only once had a job that was able to cover rent and basic expenses – and even that was short lived.  I’ve always just had a part-time job or no job at all.  If I weren’t helped by my dad or husband, I might have been on welfare, despite having two degrees, art school and radio broadcasting school.  Yet, God still supplied my needs.

Then I met the real poor in Pakistan and different African countries. I worked in Ottawa’s east-end with French-speaking west-Africans.  The poor are among us.  They are in townships and neighbourhoods, sometimes hidden in plain sight, sometimes secluded. Do we really require Holy Spirit to remind us about them?  I believe so, yes.  Sometimes we go about our daily lives, and forget about those around us, because we have tunnel vision.  It takes a prompting to shake us out of our stupor. We need to see a divine appointment that’s set up right in front of us.  I’m very thankful when Holy Spirit gives me that leading. Sometimes the Father wants to do something special right then with that specific person. When you respond to this nudge, it’s obedience to BOTH Word and Spirit. Can you reach out to people with just the Bible scripture?  Of course you can.  But will you?  Perhaps.

Brian Nickens is a valued teacher in Bethel Church, Redding. He used to be a Word Christian, and the pastor of a few Calvary Chapel churches.  He wrote a book called “Hunger Driven: Overcoming Fear and Skepticism of the Supernatural Lifestyle.”  Like RT Kendall, he has a solid foundation of scripture. He became Spirit-filled later on.  He shares on his website [brianknickens.com] that Jesus ministered by both Word and Spirit. He shared a Bible story from Luke 4:31-37:  “ Then Jesus went to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught there in the synagogue every Sabbath day. 32 There, too, the people were amazed at his teaching, for he spoke with authority.

33 Once when he was in the synagogue, a man possessed by a demon—an evil spirit—cried out, shouting, 34 “Go away! Why are you interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

35 But Jesus reprimanded him. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” he ordered. At that, the demon threw the man to the floor as the crowd watched; then it came out of him without hurting him further.  36 Amazed, the people exclaimed, “What authority and power this man’s words possess! Even evil spirits obey him, and they flee at his command!” 37 The news about Jesus spread through every village in the entire region.”

Nickens shares that Jesus taught the word, and acted in the Spirit in the same gathering. He says that “Jesus most often began his ministry events and then operated according to his observations as to what his Father was doing in that given moment.  Notice that response of the crowd after they witnessed the demonized man delivered. [They] said, ‘What authority and power this man’s words possess! Or, more clearly in the World English Bible, “What IS this word?This word “was the declaration and exhortation of the written word of God.  [It] literally agitated and activated the spirit realm.  Jesus did not teach a series on family living, he declared the Word of God.  This kind of example of Word and Spirit is the key that unlocks the kingdom of heaven in our midst.  [It also unlocks] the supernatural realm around us.” [brianknickens.com/word-and-spirit]

Nickens also shares that there are many Spirit people who don’t realize the journey that Bethel Redding has gone through to reach revival.  He says, “so many are reading the books, speaking the language and singing the songs of Bethel; while at the same time, [they] fail to see the big picture as to how they got there.  So many try to attach the bells and whistles of this movement to their ministry.”  [Nickens – website as prev noted]

They may expect the same result, but they won’t get it.  There is no shortcut to excellence, so there is no shortcut to revival either.   Nickens says, “you have to labour in the Word. If you trace the Bethel Redding journey, you will discover [that] it is a journey through the Word of God into the realm of the Spirit.  When … [scripture teaching] results in a move of the Spirit, Bill [Johnson] is never in a hurry to move out of that moment.  That is Revival at its core.”  [Nickens – website as prev noted]

Amos Yong is a Fuller Seminary professor. He reviewed RT Kendall’s book co-authored with Paul Cain.  Cain was to represent the Spirit side of the church, and RT the word side, and yet both were hungry for the other side. Cain encouraged Spirit people to get into scripture, and RT encouraged Word people to embrace the Holy Spirit, while having a biblical base.  Some critics had and still have a problem of using both, despite examples of Jesus and the Apostle Paul.  Amos Yong got to the heart of the matter. He said that “the problem is [in] how to understand the Word and the Spirit as both distinct and independent on the one hand, and yet mutually related and interdependent on the other.”[Amos Yong, “Between two extremes: Balancing Word Christianity and Spirit Christianity: A Review Essay (of a Paul Cain-RT Kendall book) Feb 25, 2000]

There is no either or.  Why choose when you can have both?  Bill Jackson was a writer and Vineyard pastor in various locations. He wrote the book Quest for the Radical Middle, that I mentioned earlier. He and the then Vineyard attempted to combine evangelical Word-based faith, with the Holy Spirit. This was called “empowered evangelicalism or the Third Wave movement.  It included the Vineyard, the Anglican Mission, Soul Survivor, Acts 29, and Canada’s Anglican Renewal Ministries, or ARM Canada.  [paraphrase from radicalmiddleministries.org] I was the secretary and later bookkeeper for ARM Canada, so I was blessed to partake of the Third Wave through the Vineyard, ARM Canada, and the daughter of the Vineyard, Catch the Fire. This became part of my culture, in my own search for the radical middle.  Surprisingly many Word Christians think this middle is actually the extreme.  Yet if you don’t utilize BOTH Word and Spirit, you ARE NOT in the middle at all.

Bill Jackson’s son, who now runs his ministry, notes on their website a beautiful rendition of what is the centre of the river.  He says, “the ‘radical middle’ is the beautiful intersection of the Word and the Spirit.  As empowered evangelicals, we are grounded in the Word of God, while listening to the Spirit of God, as he leads us into mission.  Radical middle people want to be about both the Word and the works of Jesus.  Jesus both proclaimed the reality of the kingdom of God and demonstrated the power of the kingdom.  Our call is to go and do likewise.”  When Word and Spirit converge, there is action and power.

I discovered a suburban Durban church called City Hill, that includes itself in the radical middle.  This is what they say this is: “One could argue that the wheel is one of man’s best inventions. A bicycle wheel, for example, is a brilliant piece of engineering. From the centre of the wheel radiates spokes that support the tyre which rotates and propels the bike forward. If the centre of the wheel is slightly to the left or right or just a little too high or low, the spokes would not be equal lengths and the tyre would not be perfectly round and it would not function the way a wheel should. Are the spokes important? Yes! Is the tyre necessary? Yes! But they would all be redundant without that all-important middle which forms an inherent part of the wheel. The centre is radical!”  The centre is Jesus, who used both Scripture and Holy Spirit. [Bonny Dales, Culture Magazine, Issue 31, from here.

If Jesus is the centre, what does this look like in our lives?   How do we live that out? RT Kendall believes that many forget God’s sovereignty.  They say, “Lord, increase my faith, help my unbelief.”  So, ask God for mercy. You never outgrow the need for mercy. RT shared at our Harvest School that we need to remember the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. We need to respect this.  We also need to remember the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit. It’s too easy to grieve God.  Listen to Ephesians 4:30-31: “Do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior.”

The chief way we grieve the Spirit is by bitterness. This could be pointing the finger at someone else, losing your temper or road rage. But if you ask Holy Spirit to help you to overcome these, he will give you joy, peace and authenticity.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t be angry – just not vent it in a sinful way.  David took his anger to the Lord in Psalm 69. Mercy tempers anger and cools it right down, which is why we don’t outgrow the need for mercy.   If you do grieve the Spirit, you don’t lose your faith, but you can lose your sense of his presence.  So our job is to be quick to repent.  Imagine if the ungrieved Holy Spirit filled ALL of us.  No one would take offence at mistakes. There would be no bitterness and nothing to prove. This is a beautiful part of being in the middle of the river.

When you have no offence or bitterness in your heart, you can walk with integrity. This is in balance between Word and Spirit.  It becomes easier to HEAR his voice.  Ask God his opinion on the attitudes you have. Work on not grieving Holy Spirit.   The Holy Spirit is like a dove, gentle, untrained and wild.  Pigeons on the other hand are angry birds, that can be trained. Too often we’re like the pigeons that squawk and hurt each other.

The Spirit and Word also converge in surprises.  Allow Holy Spirit to surprise you.  This is where specific nudges come in, based on Jesus’ words to love our neighbours.  The NOW aspect is the Holy Spirit’s timing. This is just like Peter and John with the beggar at Gate Beautiful. It’s like Heidi Baker with stopping for the one. It’s like Matteus van der Steen with stopping the car to reach out to two specific Ugandan street children.  God’s plans are wonderful, as are the specific assignments he gives us. When we walk in that middle, we are in just the right spot to hear God.  So watch your heart, and don’t choose any sides.  Just look up and keep your focus on the Lord.

If we, as Christians, are to fulfill our calls, we are to be a people of love, power, morality, truth, justice and equality.  We are to be an example of how to live: in love, peace and unity with each other. We are also to manifest God’s glory and power.  When we fulfill this purpose, we become the people of the radical middle; as a conscience to our nations, and a living testimony that points to God.

Bert Farias from Charisma Magazine notes that this radical middle is a stance that God often takes in scripture. He doesn’t take sides. One example of this is when Joshua was preparing for the battle of Jericho and his eyes are opened to see the Captain of the Lord’s army.  The  captain follows the Lord’s command, not Joshua’s.  Joshua 5:13-14 shares, “When Joshua was near the town of Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with sword in hand. Joshua went up to him and demanded, “Are you friend or foe?”  14 “Neither one,” he replied. “I am the commander of the Lord’s army.”  So Farias advises, “let us not take sides, but let us move according to the Lord’s command.” [Bart Farias, “The Church must move from the Right Wing and Left Wing into the Radical Middle” Charisma magazine.

Let’s pray. Lord, open our hearts to be at the centre between Word and Spirit.  Take away any bitterness, and offence we may have against others.  We forgive those who have hurt us, and ask for you to heal and soften our hearts.  We want to walk to hear your voice, experience your joy and be at peace as we love others through you.  Bring us to balance and show us mercy, as you transform our character.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you’d like to hear an audio version of this article, please visit the Ways to Grow in God podcast page on the Coppleswesterncape.ca website (under the listen drop-down menu).  Click here  and scroll down to #56!

If you have been blessed by this article, please let us know!

For those looking for news on my cancer journey, I’m now about to have a preliminary scan before 16 radiotherapy sessions in Cape Town.  My oncologist believes this may be the last major step of beating the cancer, so it doesn’t return.  I’m also in MLD and compression therapy for lymphedema (also known as lymphoedema), which is swelling of the lymphatic system.  While we explored that this condition was a side result of the mastectomy, I actually had primary lymphedema in my legs since 2006.  It’s time it’s dealt with.  Click here to the medical campaign page for info! 

Blessings to all,
Laurie-Ann Copple