God’s Healing – Do We Need Doctors?

As a young doctor I was always concerned because it seemed to me that the Bible had nothing to say about doctors.  When healing occurs it is usually linked with the miraculous. Luke is the only doctor mentioned in the Bible, and he was not working as a medical practitioner.

With Steve & Michelle Ruetschle

I was thinking about this yesterday when our good friends Steve and Michelle Ruetschle came to visit. Some of you may remember when I wrote about him a couple of years ago in Do Miracles Still Happen. According to the doctors Steve should be a quadriplegic. Though medical science certainly helped in his healing, Steve would not be walking today without the healing powers of God.

Health and healing, the practice of medicine and the principles of hygiene in the Hebrew world, all fell under the Levitical mantle, part of the religious framework of life.  Medicine and the care of the sick is part of the priestly calling a life set aside in service to God. 

It was the Levites to whom God gave the principles for health and hygiene.  They were responsible for both the physical and spiritual health of the community.  God gave them detailed instructions for basic cleanliness and sanitation that if followed today would greatly increase the level of hygiene in many a struggling nation.  It would be hard for us to imagine our church workers as garbage disposal experts or as sanitation workers, yet for the Levites this all came under their jurisdiction.

Spiritual and physical health were linked as one ministry.  Physical cleanliness was for the priests a symbol of spiritual cleanliness. One depended on the other and both were performed by those people whose lives were set aside to serve God.

In the early Judeo – Christian church, healing was considered part of the religious function of the community.  Monetary compensation was forbidden.  In contrast the Graeco-Roman tradition professionalized medicine and saw it as a vocation to be monetarily compensated – the model that we now embrace.

The rapid growth of the early church was probably a result of its power to heal, to cast out demons and to create communities of mutual care.  Interestingly, this was closely linked to an acceptance of suffering as an identification with the sufferings of Christ and an understanding of physical illness as part of a larger paradigm in which God’s grace works through human weakness.  Throughout most of Christian history, the church provided centers for healing and cared for the sick and the suffering.  In the Middle Ages the monasteries were centers of healing They were often famous for their herb gardens which provided a broad range of medicinal substances that were produced for the use both within the monastic community as well as in the outside secular community.

In this framework, the medical attendant was seen as a servant to the poor and the sick, someone who came to relieve their pain, to heal their hurts to comfort their concerns.  Spiritual and physical health and healing walked hand in hand, separate parts of a whole person.

I thought that you might be interest in  this interesting reference to health care workers that I found.  It is not in the Protestant Bible but in the Appocrypha, those books between the Old and New Testament that are considered by some to be a part of the Biblical text.

From the Book of Ecclessiasticus (part of Appocrypha)

“Hold the physician in honour, for he is essential to you,

and God it was who established his profession.

From God the doctor has his wisdom, and the king provides for his sustenance.

His knowledge makes the doctor distinguished, and gives him access to those in authority.

God makes the earth yield healing herbs which the prudent man should not neglect;

Was not the water sweetened by a twig that men might learn his power?

He endows men with the knowledge to glory in his mighty works,

Through which the doctor eases pain and the druggist prepares his medicines;

Thus God’s creative work continues without cease in its efficacy on the surface of the earth.

My son when you are ill, delay not, but pray to God, who will heal you;

Flee wickedness; let you hands be just, cleanse your heart of every sin;

Offer your sweet-smelling oblation and petition, a rich offering according to your means.

Then give the doctor his place lest he leave; for you need him too.

There are times that give him an advantage, and he too beseeched God

That his diagnosis may be correct and his treatment bring about a cure.

He who is a sinner toward his Maker will be defiant toward the doctor.”

Ecclesiasticus 38:1-15


God Will Healing – Symbols that Tell me So

Over the next week or so my posts will revolve around healing in the Bible. I started with the idea of one post on healing gardens but this has grown as I have reflected on my own history in healing and quest for a Biblical understanding. The forst post is adapted from one I wrote several years ago


Examining patient medical outreach Dominican republic

I no longer practice medicine but am still passionate about health, particularly for the poor.  One of my yearly tasks is to download the latest World Health and United Nations Human Development reports.  When I first started reading these reports in the mid 1980s there was a sense of optimism and excitement.  Life expectancy was increasing rapidly, child mortality was plummeting and infectious diseases such as smallpox and measles were being brought under control.  Over the last few years however many of these trends have been reversed and I have found the statistics rather discouraging and somewhat daunting.

The greatest health challenge for millions of children worldwide is still whether or not they will survive to their fifth birthday.  Children in developing countries, already lack proper nutrition and may also lack access to affordable measles vaccinations and simple interventions for diarrhoeal diseases. Children are also most likely to die from malaria. Overall 35% of Africa’s children are at higher risk of death today than they were 10 years ago.  Every hour 500 African women lose a small child.  Even those who do make it past childhood are confronted with adult death rates greater than 30 years ago.  Life expectancy is shrinking – in some countries by as much as 20 years

Tragically the causes of many of these deaths could easily be controlled with simple vaccines or antibiotics.  Six deadly infections – pneumonia, tuberculosis, diarrhoeal diseases, malaria, measles and more recently , HIV/AIDS – account for half of all premature deaths, killing mostly children and young adults.  And, while not major killers, a number of other diseases, often neglected by researchers because they have little impact on health in wealthier countries cause chronic disability and stigma for millions of men, women and children.  Unfortunately those who are most vulnerable often lack access to essential medicines.  WHO estimates that 15% of the world’s population consumes 91% of the world’s pharmaceuticals.

Many of these challenges overwhelm me.  They make me wonder: “Does God care about physical health particularly for the most vulnerable in our world?”  I often struggled with this as I worked in poor communities in Africa and Asia.

God does care.  From the time the children of Israel came out of Egypt God showed concern for their physical as well as their spiritual well being.  However God’s prescription for health was always very different from that of the surrounding cultures.  During Moses life, the Papyrus Ebers written about 1552 B.C. provided many of the standard treatments for disease.  Drugs included “lizards’ blood, swines’ teeth, putrid meat, stinking fat, moisture from pigs ears, goose grease, asses’ hoofs, excreta from animals, including human beings, donkeys, antelopes, dogs, cats and even flies.”

Not quite our idea of good medicine and not God’s either.

Central to God’s model of health and wholeness is reconciliation to God.  Healing depended not only on the taking of medicine but primarily on obedience to God’s word and commandments.  Many of the laws of Leviticus are good preventative health directives that we still use today.  These regulations include nutrition, environmental laws and behaviour – the three primary factors that influence the health of any community.  Others are guidelines for how the most vulnerable in society are to be cared for.

Interestingly the Greek word most commonly translated save in the New Testament SOZO can also be translated heal. It means to heal, preserve, save, make whole.  Healing from a Christian perspective is the process of moving towards wholeness in body, soul and spirit.  The purpose of medicine is to support and encourage human wholeness in every respect.

Nothing speaks more highly of God’s desire for healing than the incredible systems of protection and repair within our own bodies.  The immune system cures most of the illnesses that attack us.  Wounds heal, bones knit together and tissue repairs itself in miraculous ways we rarely think about unless something goes wrong. At best doctors and nurses assist God’s healing work yet we rarely thank God for these miracles.

Unfortunately in our imperfect world, corrupted by sin and disease, these systems don’t always work but God provided other elements to assist the healing process.  Most modern medicines originate from medicinal plants and herbs that are a part of God’s wonderful creation.

The Cross is probably the most powerful symbol of and power for healing in the world.  Its redeeming and transforming power brings healing to body soul and spirit – and beyond that it brings healing to communities, and eventually will bring healing to our entire broken world.

The taking of communion is another powerful symbol of healing.  In many churches healing services are Eucharistic, deliberately linking our need for healing to confession, repentance and forgiveness.  (1 Cor 11:27-34)  Baptism too, because it infuses a person with new life, the life of Christ, can drive out before it all the powers of sickness and death.(Rom 6: 1-14)

James 5:13-16 lists other important symbols of healing we need to pay attention to.  Praying for the sick, often associated with laying on of hands, anointing with oil, singing psalms and hymns, confession and forgiveness are all practices that can encourage the healing process.

Observing the liturgical calendar is another way that God’s people can find God’s healing.   “By connecting to the seasons of the church year we enter into a rhythm that focuses every day and every season very intentionally on the One who gives all of life meaning and purpose.  By celebrating through the structures of the Church we actually are given the forms we need to become whole and we are given the formulas to make whole every human experience.

An wholistic approach to health that embraces the need for both spiritual and physical transformation is an extremely effective way to eradicate infectious diseases.  LifeWind International (formerly Medical Ambassadors International) www.lifewind.org works to improve the total health and well-being of children, women and men in communities worldwide by addressing the root causes of poverty, disease, and hopelessness. LifeWind’s Community Health Evangelism (CHE) is an integrated wholistic strategy that equips and empowers communities to discover and implement effective and lasting solutions to their problems through the combination of disease prevention, economic enterprise, and social and spiritual renewal. People from over 150 organizations are using CHE training and materials to serve the poor around the world.

God does will healing not just for us but for all human kind.  Incredibly we are asked to become participants in the process and bring God’s healing and wholeness to others.  The statistics are overwhelming but fortunately God does not call us to change statistic but to transform lives.  Even providing a cup of clean water can make a difference.  And as Matthew 10:42 reminds us “if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

Shopper’s Guide to Pesticide – Which Fruit Can You Eat?

Tomatoes and summer squash - Are they safe?

Tomatoes and summer squash – Are they safe?

The 2013 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides is out. If you are concerned about eating supermarket food but cannot afford to go totally organic here is the latest guide on what gets the most pesticide spray. Maybe like us you just want to start your own garden and target those crops that receive the most spray.

The Dirty Dozen for 2013
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Cherry tomatoes
  4. Cucumbers
  5. Grapes
  6. Hot peppers
  7. Nectarines (imported)
  8. Peaches
  9. Potatoes
  10. Spinach
  11. Strawberries
  12. Sweet bell peppers

Dirty Dozen Plus category to highlight two crops – domestically-grown summer squash and leafy greens, specifically kale and collards. These crops did not meet traditional Dirty Dozen™ criteria but were commonly contaminated with pesticides exceptionally toxic to the nervous system.

The Clean Fifteen for 2013
  1. Asparagus
  2. Avocados
  3. Cabbage
  4. Cantaloupe
  5. Sweet corn
  6. Eggplant
  7. Grapefruit
  8. Kiwi
  9. Mangoes
  10. Mushrooms
  11. Onions
  12. Papayas
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet peas (frozen)
  15. Sweet potatoes

So why should you care. Listen to what Dr Alex Lu of Harvard has to say

Facing the Pain of Lent

I wrote this morning’s reflection for the series  Return to Our Senses in Lent as a result of some the struggles I have experienced in the last few weeks.

Christine Sine

Christine Sine

This morning I am almost pain free and my head does not feel as though it is full of cotton wool. That may not sound remarkable to most of you but for me it is a wonderful feeling. For the last 5 weeks I have struggled with a bout of facial neuralgia that has slowed me down physically, mentally and even spiritually. I have struggled with constant pain, sleepless nights, and an inability to think straight. And for someone like me who generally memorizes their calendar, rarely writes down appointments and loves to work on half a dozen projects at once, this has been extremely limiting.

Sounds appropriate that this should have hit during Lent, one of my friends commented.  At the time I dismissed her comment but now find myself reconsidering. After all, Lent is about craving for wholeness. As we walk with Jesus towards Jerusalem and the cross, we look not just for spiritual healing but for physical healing too. Sometimes, as in the case of my facial pain, there is little we can do to bring about that healing except wait patiently, pray and hope for a better world. At other times we can actively work towards healing, changing our lifestyle and daily activities to nurture the healing process. And always there is that amazing sense of freedom when our pain or whatever other issues we struggle with, disappear and we are released. 

So it is with our faith. The healing from the brokenness within does not always come easily and sometimes we feel there is little, if anything, we can do to hasten it. We are acutely aware of the pain, we stay awake at night agonizing over its impact on our lives and those of others, but we feel incapable of changing. All we can do is pray and hope.

Then suddenly something changes, we don’t know why or how, but suddenly the burdens that have so weighed us down are lifted and we feel life has returned. It is as though we have arrived at the foot of the cross and been able to lay them down. Fortunately that is not the end of the story however.

The freedom, the rejoicing, the celebration in our spirits is huge, not because we have reached the cross but because in this moment we have looked beyond the cross to the resurrection and the new life of God’s eternal world. May we always remember that the cross is not an end but a beginning, not a failure but a triumph, not a death but an entrance into new life.

Changing Perspectives – A Brief History of Monsanto and Seed Houses Who Got Screwed

Territorial seeds catalogue

Last week I posted about what I discovered recently regarding the ownership of many of my favourite seed companies. This morning Bill Guerrant from White Flint Farm  sent me a link to this very helpful article at Northwest Edible Life which I decided to post as a follow up. All is not how it seems on the surface and we often need to keep our minds open and continue researching to help us have a realistic perspective. I must say this is a huge relief to me because I love Territorial Seeds not just because it is local to the Pacific NW but because its catalogue also contains great planting advice on a broad array of vegetables.

People are under the impression that Territorial Seeds and other beloved seedhouses are owned by or otherwise eager to peddle Monsanto seed onto unsuspecting home gardeners. While this story line has found a lot of play on various websites, it’s inaccurate and, I believe, does a lot of harm to very ethical seed houses who are doing everything they can to provide the best product to their customers while making business decisions that allow them to stay in business. Read the entire article.


Which Seed Catalogues Can I Trust?

Catalogues galore

Catalogues galore

I mentioned yesterday that the seed catalogues have started to arrive. This is a great time to curl up by the fire and drool over all those wonderful photos in the seed catalogues that in your saner moments you know won’t grow in your climate zone but which you just can’t resist when it is too cold to grow anything. This year I have done some research on who owns our seed companies and which we can trust to have organic non GM seed.

I always like to buy from those companies that specialize in heritage and organic seed like:

Seed Savers Exchange

Bountiful Gardens

Peaceful Valley Farm Supply 

or those that are based in the local Washington area

Territorial Seeds

Raintree Nursery

I also cannot resist a couple of big company catalogues like the English classic  Thompson and Morgan and Park Seeds which have products I can’t seem to find anywhere else.

Unfortunately I discovered recently that many of my favourite companies are owned by Monsanto or Mars.

Seeds of Change – I love their seeds but someone told me recently that they are owned by MARS  incorporated, one of the largest food conglomerates in the world. So though Seeds of Change itself provides ethical seed, non GM products, its parent company has a different philosophy. As Tim Stanton who alerted me to this commented: They present themselves as a warm, inviting, environmentally conscious company, but Seeds of Change has a money-hungry corporate core.  Tim goes on to say:

Even though Seeds of Change signed the safe seeds pledge (pledging to not sell genetically modified seed), Mars. Inc. spent almost 400k to defeat Prop 37 (which would have required the simple labeling of GM food so PEOPLE could make informed choices). Seeds of Change had been a New Mexico based company since the beginning (since it started out small and independent) but Mars uprooted it from original place of operations in New Mexico and moved it to Los Angeles, leaving almost their entire faithful New Mexico crew jobless. They even abandoned their warehouse cats in the process –

So if you want to get away from any seed company that is associated with Monsanto, here is a very helpful list that documents some of the companies owned by Monsanto who may be using GM food. Unfortunately I notice some of my other favourites (including ones listed above) are on the list. It also contains a list of those that sell safe seed even though they have not signed the safe seed pledge.

So you may also want to check out this link to where you can research seed companies that have signed the Safe Seed Pledge,

I would love to hear your comments on this. How do we decide which seeds to use? Should we be concerned about who owns the seed companies?

Going Green for Halloween – Seven Tips to Consider

Halloween lantern

Halloween lantern

This morning I was reading through Green America and came across an interesting article on Halloween. Now I am not an advocate for Halloween. It always seems weird to me that Christians celebrate it as much as non Christians. But here in America it is such a part of the culture that this rarely seems to be questioned. And I certainly know it is coming because the number of horror movies on T.V. has increased astronomically. So instead I thought that I would turn my thoughts to preparations for the season.

First some thoughts from the Green America article and elsewhere you may want to consider:

  1. Face paint: A 2009 study by the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics found that 10 out of 10 children’s face paints tested contained at least trace levels of lead. This article provides some DIY alternatives.
  2. The Candy Problem: 41 million kids in the U.S. go trick or treating. Last year Americans spent something like 2.2 billion on Halloween candy. No wonder one out of three children in America are overweight and many will develop diabetes. Consider making your own healthy treats, giving out non food items like polished stones, temporary tattoos, or friendship bracelets.
  3. Swap costumes: Millions of costumes are purchased in the U.S. each year. Consider holding a pre Halloween party to swap, mend, make or borrow costumes from your friends.
  4. Reverse Trick or Treating: I wrote about this a couple of years ago in this article. My growing concern for just working conditions for children makes me a strong advocate for this. I think it is a wonderful way to raise awareness of these issues and show consistency for our values.
  5. Hold an All Saints Party. Rather than celebrating Halloween celebrate All Saints Day November 1st. Have kids dress up as their favourite person or saint. Share stories, decorate pumpkins if you must but also consider some alternatives like decorating window panes with non toxic paints, making Christmas decorations and wreaths.
  6. Organize a Community or Neighbourhood Event. Green Halloween started in Seattle but grew into a national phenomenon with community events at more than 50 locations. You might want to join in the fun and get to know some of your neighbours.
  7. Make the most of you pumpkins: Kids and adults alike love carving and decorating pumpkins, but I hate to watch them slowly rotting on the porch. So here are some thoughts to use that pumpkin more effectively. Save the seeds and toast them in the oven with a little salt. Use the pumpkin flesh (discarding any melted wax) to make pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup and pumpkin bread.

How God Changes Your Brain

While I was in Canada recently I started to read a fascinating book entitled How God Changes Your Brain. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered a copy and am thoroughly enjoying reading it and reflecting on its relevance. Interestingly, the authors Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman are not writing from a Christian perspective. Andrew is a neuroscientist, Mark is a therapist. They are more interested in the impact that spiritual practices have on our physical and emotional health than on our spiritual development.

That does not reduce its importance however. I think they say some wonderful things for all people of faith to think about. They provide some very practical exercises for all of us to consider.

So here is some of what they say (quoted from the back cover of the book):

Prayer and spiritual practice don’t just reduce stress, but meditation for as little as 12 minutes a day can slow down the aging process.

Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety and depression and increases feelings of security, compassion and love.

Intense prayer and meditation lastingly change numerous structures and functions in the brain, altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

Fundamentalism can be personally beneficial, but the prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.

I know that some people find books like this threatening because they interpret them to say that God is just a chemical reaction going on in our brain. For me however they are exciting because they confirm the activity of God in my life – if God is truly at work in our lives then we should expect that his activity in our brains should create discernable changes. What do you think,


The Overflow Project by Brian Wolters

Water is life

Water is life

This morning’s post comes from Brian “Wolt” Wolters. Wolt is the executive director of the Overflow Project . The issue of access to fresh water is one that I am particularly concerned about and I think that The Overflow Project is a very creative response to this issue.

I remember a report in my church’s bulletin the week after Easter titled “Easter by the numbers” sharing the number of Easter volunteers, attendees, services, and flowers. In general, churches promote and plan well in advance for Easter by decorating sanctuaries, orientating volunteers, and expanding parking lots. This year a church even rented out the Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle for its Easter gathering. Clearly, a phenomenon exists where people attend a church service on Easter more than any other day of the year, and churches make a big deal about it.

I am fascinated with Jesus, the very one people celebrate coming back to life on Easter Sunday. Joyfully and ironically, Jesus doesn’t disappear after Easter Sunday. In fact, Jesus lives on earth after his death before he ascends. The Holy Spirit then arrives on Pentecost. Easter is a season that spans 50 days.

Why do people – including churches- typically stop celebrating the day after Easter?

An alternative exists: living a life similar to Jesus as he actually teaches by being light in this world where there is so much darkness, caring for the poor and broken, and celebrating the hope and new life of Christ that he offers to all. Enough is enough. You have all that you need in Christ. Jesus ushers a new way of living in the world post-death as a testimony to us.

What does Easter and the significance of how Christ lives after his death mean to you? What would it look like to form new habits of faith and live intentionally? Could you go beyond writing checks and instead live and give generously out of the overflow in your life?

This year a small team and I launched a new endeavor called The Overflow Project to invite individuals and communities all around the world to participate in a new kind of living. During the 50 days between Easter and Pentecost we developed resources for groups and churches to celebrate and live simply to break down the barrier that divides rich and poor and to free us from ignorance about poverty.

Providing water brings life

Providing water brings life

Currently about 1 billion people in the world live without access to clean safe drinking water –a basic human right and a fundamental need for empowerment and economic development.

On Pentecost Sunday we will receive participant’s collective contributions to support sustainable clean water projects in Uganda. This effort changes our lives by opening our eyes to a different kind of life and changes Uganda through investing in clean water solutions and hygiene training.

The Overflow Project’s 50-Day Challenge is still happening right now. Anybody can join, even for the few days that remain.

We have so much to celebrate today! Christ has risen. Remember Easter for what it is, even today, nearly 50 days later.

Brian “Wolt” Wolters

You Can Help George Win A Van – by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

George needs a new van

George needs a new van

One year ago this week, as the birds were hatching on our porch and the rose bush was in full bloom, our friend George was shot, just four blocks up the street. The bullet that hit his neck lodged in his C-7 and paralyzed him from the chest down. For eight months, George lay on his back in a hospital bed. Most of the medical and social work professionals who worked with him said George would never live outside of an institution again.

But George said, “I’m gonna drive.”

After working hard in rehab, George came home to stay with us at Rutba House in early February of this year. With good medical care, determination, and the patient love of lots of friends, he’s made steady progress–getting out of bed, learning to use a wheel chair, even hoisting himself in and out of our family van. But all along, George has maintained, “I’m gonna drive.”

I believe he will. But here’s the exciting news: you can help make it happen. For National Mobility Awareness Month, there’s a contest. Three people will win a fully equipped, handicap accessible van. And the winners will be determined by the number of votes that each nominee gets by May 13th.

So here’s what we need you to do.

1) Click here to Vote for George. (Use the promo code “963″ to multiply your initial vote times five.)

2) Share this. Email it. Tweet it. Post it to Facebook. Holler at everyone in your office and ask them to help.

3) Vote Early, Vote Often. We’re getting a late start, but you can vote once every 24 hours until May 13th.

George thinks I’m a little crazy for thinking we can win this. And maybe I am. But if I’ve learned anything in our life here at Rutba House, it’s that the unimaginable is possible when people come together in the power of love.

As a matter of fact, that’s the only thing that makes our life here possible.

I’m glad for this chance to invite you to join us.