Tag Archives: healing

Review: Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon

Grace in Strange Disguise, by Christine DillonGrace in Strange Disguise, by Christine Dillon (2017)

Esther Macdonald is diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer at age 28 – shortly before her wedding. Her fiancé doesn’t know how to handle it, and he’s too busy with his own reactions to take an interest in supporting her.

Her father’s even worse. He’s the polished pastor of the second-largest church in Sydney, Australia, and this is not in his script. When prayer doesn’t heal Esther, he blames her for harbouring sin or doubt.

Her mother is a more supportive, but having lived in the shadow of Esther’s father for so long, she doesn’t dare offer much in the way of original thought.

Help comes from an outspoken cleaning lady at the hospital, who overhears Esther’s frustration with God for not healing her. This lady, Joy, dares to suggest that asking in faith isn’t the only ingredient in a miracle.

Determined to prove her wrong, Esther searches in her Bible for the examples Joy gave. Reading more than her father’s sound-bites of Scripture opens her eyes to the context of his “victory” verses.

Joy becomes Esther’s mentor and friend, and shares Bible events with her through storytelling and simple, thought-provoking questions.

At this point you may be thinking “too preachy for me” and that the novel would read like a sermon. Not so – yes, faith and Scriptural themes are part of the plot, but it’s all driven by Esther’s situation and her need for answers.

Nothing is forced or dry. Instead, it’s one of those stories that kept me thinking about the characters when I wasn’t reading.

Esther is easy to care about, even in the beginning when she’s not operating from a place of truth. Readers see for themselves the flaws and blind spots in the characters and in the excuses Esther habitually makes for them until she begins to change.

Esther’s health crisis and the resulting fallout in her family make her a character we can care about, and seeing her learn to stand up for herself and apply truth to her life is encouraging. What’s heart-warming is to see her begin to share what she’s found with others. Non-Christians won’t get that part, but Christians will be inspired to look for more opportunities to share with the people around them.

The medical details have been carefully researched, and they’re sparingly revealed as Esther needs to know them. No information dumps here. The story is set in 1995, so some things will have changed in the real world. The only thing I was surprised not to see included was discussion of a prosthesis or reconstructive surgery after Esther’s mastectomy. Even if that’s not something that her body would have yet been ready for, she’d likely have asked. Side note: in Australia, radiation treatment is called radiotherapy. I like that much better – sounds less frightening.

Although the novel’s focus is relationships, another bonus is its setting. While most scenes take place inside, there are a few ventures into Australia’s gorgeous outdoors. I don’t expect to ever get there, so the virtual visit was a treat.

Favourite lines:

She might feel full of cracks but somehow her learned patters of behaviour were holding her together. Like a broken egg bound with string. [Kindle location 705]

The habit would have to be fought. It wouldn’t just roll over and die. [Kindle location 2187]

Christine Dillon has previously published the non-fiction books 1-2-1 Discipleship and Telling the Gospel Through Story, but Grace in Strange Disguise is her first novel. It doesn’t read like a first novel, and I hope we won’t have too long a wait for the next book in the series, Grace in the Shadows.

For more about the author, her books, and her Bible storytelling ministry, visit storytellerchristine.com. You’ll also find discussion questions for her novel.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Seeing and Believing

Jesus replied, “You may go. Your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at his word and departed. Then the father realized that this [his son’s healing] was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and all his household believed.
John 4:50, 53, NIV*

I was always amazed at how this father, some sort of royal official, could accept Jesus’ abrupt dismissal and promise of healing and just go. He was an important person, probably used to special treatment. He came to Jesus begging for his son’s life—already something beneath his position—and he’d asked Jesus to come with him.

Jesus didn’t even send one of His disciples along as a representative!

The man’s strength of faith made me miss a deeper point until now: Jesus originally told him, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders…you will never believe.” (John 4:48, NIV*)

I never understood why Jesus would say this here. After all, the man wasn’t demanding a sign like Jesus’ opponents so often did. He was pleading for his son’s life.

The man came because he wanted something. But it wasn’t until he received that miracle that he was open to receive the full package of who Jesus is. To move from believing what He could do to believing who He truly is.

To see what the miracle actually meant. It testified that this itinerant Rabbi could command the power of God.

How many times do I come to Him for what He can do for me—for what I want Him to do—instead of for Who He is?

Father, You invite us to come boldly, and to bring our prayers, petitions and praises. But too many times they’re the only reason I come. You didn’t reconcile me to Yourself just to listen to my prayer list. You drew me back into fellowship with You. Relationship. Sometimes the needs are huge. But my need of You is central. If you were to never answer another prayer, I’d still need to be in Your presence.

Let “Open the Eyes of My Heart,” by Paul Baloche, be our song and our prayer today.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Healed and Free

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:24-25, NIV*

Peter’s words echo Isaiah 53, and to me they speak of a spiritual healing: from sin into righteousness, from our transgressions and iniquities and sorrows into peace.

I have no insights about physical healing, but spiritual hurts go even deeper—and they are clearly promised to be  healed.

The Apostle Paul tells us to count ourselves dead to sin and alive to God, and he doesn’t mean to ignore our failings and pretend they don’t exist. I think he means to walk in the truth of God’s Word and not give in to the old ways.

To take Jesus’ promises as true and trust Him to be at work in us. To believe that His power is greater than our pain. To cooperate with Him as He changes us into what He designed us to be.

Father, there are so many things You want to heal and change in each of us. So much pain in the world. You are the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Message says You have named us and keep us for good. Help me love, trust and obey You.

I know I referred to this song last week, but I can’t read these verses without hearing Peter Furler’s impassioned recitation of parts of Isaiah 53 in the newsboys’ song (extended version), “I Am Free.” What I’d really like to share with you is the 7-minute version on the special edition Go CD, but this is at least more of it than you’d usually hear on the radio. It’s loud, but take the words to heart. It’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Seeing… and Responding

Then [Jesus] turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.”
Luke 7:45, NIV*

Simon the Pharisee certainly does see the woman, and he’s offended that someone “of that sort” would invade his righteous household. But he doesn’t see her at all: drawn to Jesus, hoping, trusting, desperately needing a miracle.

I remember Mark Buchanan reading this story a few years ago at Write! Canada. “Do you see this woman?” He challenged us with this: do we see an individual’s heart, or just skim over the surface?

Do we see?

Are we free to make a difference, or do we hold back in fear? What if we’re rebuffed? What would the onlookers say?

The Gospel of Luke also tells how Jesus interrupts a mission to heal a dying child. Someone in the crowd has sneaked a healing by touching His robe. As the desperate father is nearing wits’ end, Jesus looks around and asks “Who touched Me?

He knows full well which of the many bumps and jostles made the difference, and He knows the woman’s story: the 12 years’ incurable bleeding, the physicians’ helplessness, the woman’s despair. Under the Jewish law, she would have been considered unclean for all this time, outcast, feeling defeated and unworthy.

Jesus could let her slip away, healed and filled with wondrous hope. But He stops the whole progression and singles her out. Not to chastise her as she might fear, but to acknowledge her worth. He’s not about to let her go whole in body but wounded in soul.

Who will we meet today who needs some kindness?

Lord, grant us to really see the people you bring our way.

We’ve had this song before, but I don’t think there’s a better one for this topic than Brandon Heath’s “Give me Your Eyes”.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Praying in the Dark

Who among you fears the LORD
and obeys the word of his servant?
Let him who walks in the dark,
who has no light,
trust in the name of the LORD
and rely on his God.
Isaiah 50:10, NIV*

The past few weeks have weighed a bit heavily on me. Prayers, alone and in groups, dwell on a mountain of needs: sickness, death, emotional suffering.

In one of my prayer groups, a member spoke of having a hard time “seeing God’s plan” in a heartbreaking need. Not that God caused the problem, but why isn’t He intervening with the miracle we’re praying to see?

I thought of this on Good Friday. Nobody could see God’s plan when it included Jesus dying on the Cross.

But He had a plan.

And it shook the universe.

If we know God’s character, we know we can trust Him. Even when He’s silent and everything is going all wrong.

So I choose to keep bringing the sick and wounded to Him, bringing my lack of vision too.

Father, prayer isn’t meant to dwell on the problems, but to dwell on You. Forgive us when we get it wrong. Thank You that we can bring these needs to You. Help us find our rest in who You are, in Your character and Your promises. When we can’t see Your plan, let us see You – caring, moving, sustaining.

To focus us on God, this week’s song is Chris Tomlin‘s “You Do All Things Well“.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Holy Week

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him.

Jesus replied, ‘Friend, do what you came for.’

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

‘Put your sword back in its place,’ Jesus said to him, ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?’

Matthew 26:47-54, NIV*

Holy Week.

We count down to tragedy… and triumph. We remember the events that led to our Saviour’s cruel death on a rough-hewn cross, disfigured and despised.

For us.

Sunday’s coming, and we’ll celebrate His glorious resurrection, perhaps the pinnacle moment in God’s mind-boggling plan.

But first comes Thursday: the Last Supper, Gethsemane’s agony, the betrayal. Friday: the mockery, the abuse, the physical torture of crucifixion. Saturday: the quiet before the storm nobody knew was coming.

It’s tempting to skip all the hard stuff, move right into the celebration. But look what Jesus did for us.

I’ll never be able to wrap my head around it, but He gave Himself intentionally, the perfect Lamb of God foreshadowed in the Old Testament sacrifices, despite the unimaginable agony of body and spirit. Because He loves us.

He.

Loves.

Us.

Hallelujah, what a Saviour.

Have a blessed Holy Week. Our song is an extended version of the Newsboys‘ “I Am Free.” Listen to the Scriptures about ¾ of the way through. This is the Gospel. He came to set us free.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Faith to Receive

In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed and called out, ‘Stand up on your feet!’ At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
Acts 14:8-10, NIV*

Paul was spreading the good news of Jesus: Emmanuel, God with us. He saw this crippled man – really saw him, and saw he had faith to be healed.

This reminds me of Jesus teaching in his home town: “… he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.” (Matthew 13:58, NIV) And of the way He had to first deal with the father’s faith issue before healing the tortured son:

“O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”

“From childhood,” he answered. It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
Mark 9:19-25, NIV*

God is all-wise, and if He chooses not to heal someone, no amount of manufactured faith can make it happen. But if He offers healing, or deliverance, or salvation… it seems to me like we need faith to receive it.

The good news here is it’s God who gives us the faith: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV)

The gift of God: but we still need to receive it.

For the people on my prayer list, this adds to my prayers. I’m praying for God to give them faith to receive the salvation, healing, and/or deliverance they need.

For me, I need to pray for faith to receive whatever God wants to give me. He’s still growing and shaping me, and I don’t want to miss anything because I couldn’t receive it.

I wanted to share a link to Robin Mark’s “With All Faith,” but couldn’t find it on YouTube. Instead, here is a song the LORD and I shared yesterday as part of my prayer for a young man who doesn’t know Jesus. I’m playing it now in anticipation of the day when he can sing it himself. This is the David Crowder Band’s rendition of “Heaven Came Down” from the Illuminate CD. I prefer the simpler version on their Lime CD, but this is still great – and check out the pictures with it.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

A Satisfied Soul

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:1-5, NIV*

In last week’s post, I was caught by the promise of forgiveness, healing, and rescue from the pit. They shaped my prayers, both for those who don’t yet know Jesus and for myself.

Later we had a beautiful snowfall, and I thought about how something will occasionally renew my sense of wonder. These same verses came back to mind.

I’ve praised and thanked God for forgiving all my sins and healing all my soul’s diseases. I’ve committed to Him any diseases I’ve nurtured or kept from Him, praying in trust and thankfulness that He wants to finish what He started. I thanked Him for rescuing my life from the pit.

In prayer for certain hurting people, I claimed the rest of the passage and prayed for renewal. For me, I thanked God without thinking about what it meant.

LORD, what does it mean to tell my soul You crown it with love and compassion?

That you satisfy its desires with good things so its youth is renewed?

What sort of things does a soul desire?

When something renews my sense of wonder, everything feels more alive. The world is brighter, my faith more vibrant. Hope glows, excitement and possibilities dance.

Father, please open my soul to be satisfied by the good things You provide: Your own presence with me, sunlight on icicles, a flight of birds. A rainbow. A good story. A miracle. Help me let You renew my soul’s youth… my innocence?

String these moments together to make a lasting change. Help me embrace them and renew my soul. Forgive me for how quickly I’ve forgotten and subsided under the daily stress. Help me let Your renewal glow within me, a holy light to warm and heal.

Oh, LORD, I praise You for Your mercies toward me – mercies You promise are new every morning. Let my soul not forget Your benefits, nor discount them as “only for others.”

I’m not being a bother or an inconvenience to accept these benefits from You. Instead, I’m actually blocking Your will if I don’t. Your love and grace initiated this, and my proper response is joyful acceptance.

And wonder.

Today’s song is “Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul“, sung here by Andrae Crouch and choir.

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Healing for the Soul

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits –
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:1-5, NIV*

King David is reminding his soul of all these benefits – not speaking to a group of people but to a single soul. Look at verse 4a: “redeems your life” is singular, not plural.

It’s safe to apply these verses to any and all souls belonging to God, not just David’s own. What strikes me today is how the context implies David isn’t listing the God’s benefits for all believers but for all believing souls.

I’d never seen this distinction between soul and body. Knowing the passage isn’t promising to reverse physical aging in verse 5 nor necessarily promising to satisfy all fleshly desires, I didn’t know how strongly to take verse 3’s promise of healing all diseases. But if this is all specifically promised for the soul, there’s a huge difference.

Forgiveness of all the soul’s sins – that’s fairly straightforward. Isn’t the soul the part sin kills? Some sins, such as inward rebellion, may even be specifically soul sins. Redemption language talks of our souls, once dead in sin, being made alive again.

Crowning a soul with love and compassion sounds like tender restoration. Renewal of youth sounds like rejuvenation of energy and wonder, maybe even of innocence. Reversal of the damage of sin.

Healing all diseases… what would be a disease of the soul, and how many might one soul have? Shame, self-deprecation, pride, fear…? God promises to heal them all in the same breath as promising to forgive all sins. Past, present, and future.

Shame and company are harder to get rid of at times than physical diseases. Praise God, He promises healing!

In this light, how can I pray for the people on my heart? How can I pray for myself? Father, lead and show me how to pray in faith for the souls of those You lay on my heart. Help me walk in faith that You are healing my own soul and finishing what You have begun. Thank You so much for the forgiveness, healing and renewal You give.

Today’s song is “By His Wounds,” sung by Mac Powell, Steven Curtis Chapman, Brian Littrell and Mark Hall on the Glory Revealed CD. This is an amazing video of Christian performance artist and speaker Mike Lewis painting as the song plays. 

*New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.