The Setting Sun (and a message of hope!)

09-07-13 (3)

We are finally at the prophets in our Bible Reading Challenge. These are the books that gave me the greatest challenge when I was reading through the Bible last year. So far we have read Jonah, Amos, Hosea, and now we are in Isaiah. Prophets are what God used to speak to His people before Christ came to the earth. I do love seeing where each prophet fits chronologically. Isn’t it helpful to see what was going on in Israel when they prophesied? The hearts of Israel and Judah were turned far, far from God. They had sacrificed their relationship with the living God to prostitute themselves with the gods of the pagans. The books of the Old Testament prophets make so much more sense now.

But the prophets can be very hard to read. There are so many predictions of death and destruction and exile. God had had enough and judgment was coming.

And it did come. The sun was setting–at least temporarily–on God’s special people. They had chosen to worship idols and there were grave consequences for this.

The prophets weren’t a bunch of wild, long-haired guys waving their hands all akimbo as they preached to no one in the wilderness. They were real men with real messages from God. They took a lot of heat (and some even paid with their lives) to present God’s messages to the people.

I find myself wondering what it was really like in Israel when the prophets were giving their messages? Were there a faithful few? A remnant who still worshiped the true God? Or was it like in the days of Noah, when only Noah and his family were found faithful?

Unfortunately, if there was a remnant, those faithful few experienced the same judgment that the unrepentant did. They were exiled, they were attacked, they were in the land when judgment hit.

Isn’t this taking on extra meaning, as we enter the strange, new world that America has become? The faithful are shrinking quickly. Those who stand for the Truth are becoming smaller in number, as most fall away through the deception that is so rampant in this land. And while we don’t have prophets speaking to us, we do have God’s Word to show us what is to come. (By the way, if you have never done it, do a study sometime on the fulfilled prophecies of the Word of God–it will remove any traces of doubt you may have about the Bible).

So the discouraging message is that, if the Lord tarries, we will experience persecution against the church and we will also experience the judgment of the wicked. The sun is setting on America and her days are most likely numbered (barring a miracle–which is possible, of course!)

Many of us have been thinking about this in the back of our minds a lot in these past few years, given what’s been going on in America.

But there is also an encouraging message. If we experience persecution and if we are swept into the coming judgment, we are still God’s people. He will not desert us. I was reading the other day in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of the horrendous atrocities that the Catholic church committed against true believers during the Spanish Inquisition. Torture that we can’t even fathom. And, yet, people sang during their gruesome deaths. They sang!

You may think why read of such terrible things? I read them because I want to be encouraged by their strong faith during such terrible persecution. I read because it strengthens my faith. God is real. And He will not desert us. If we receive a martyr’s death, we will receive a martyr’s crown.

Be not discouraged. He is faithful and will give His people the right amount of grace at just the right time.

I know this is easy to write, but as things start heating up, it will get harder and harder. Are we ready? How do we get ready?

I was talking with a friend the other day and she expressed her desire to memorize scripture because she just wonders how long we will be able to carry our Bibles freely. This is a great way to prepare for what is coming! Memorizing scripture and some of the great hymns of the faith rich with doctrine is a great place to start.

But even as we try to prepare our hearts and minds for what is coming, we can’t stop living our lives now. We can’t spend our hours in fear and worry of what is to come.

Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:34: Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

We are in the care of the great God of the universe. We need not live in fear. No matter how this thing ends, we have so much to look forward to– like all of eternity!

So live joyfully! Extend love and grace freely! Share the gospel! And never, ever cower in fear! For we are told in 2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

Now let’s go live these words!

 

Making a Choice

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The woman was always down. And, for sure, she had a good reason. When I met her many years ago, her husband had already been gone for five years, a victim of cancer. Our daughters were the same age and got along well together so it naturally led to some conversations. Conversations that always centered on her horrible life and how hard it was. She was forever the victim of awful circumstances and– from what I could see– was content to wallow in despair for the rest of her life. I found it terribly sad for her and for her kids. She had been given very difficult circumstances and had multiplied the pain with her “woe is me” attitude.

I just can’t help but contrast her with another woman who also lost her husband. This woman, while not denying the heart-wrenching pain and overwhelming struggles, refused to give in to self-pity. Even through her pain, she was always looking out for the needs of others and ready to offer her help and resources in any way possible, always aware that she wasn’t the only one struggling in life. Her reliance on God’s strength and her focus on Jesus has been an amazing testimony to all around her.

Two women.

Two totally different responses.

I am not judging the first one, because, honestly, I have no idea how I would react in those circumstances.

But the second one? She has taken something horrible and has shown how God walks with you baby-step by baby-step through the drudgery of long, painful days and never-ending, sleepless nights if you stay focused on Him. She has been a shining example of the strength that God’s grace provides when we turn to Him.

You know, when we sin, we will often blame our circumstances.  Difficult finances, trouble at work, or health issues give us the excuse we need to become full of self-pity, anger, or bitterness.

But, as I think of this second woman, I can’t help but realize–

It’s not the circumstances but how we react to the circumstances that really matters.

No one can force us to pity ourselves, to be filled with angst and despair, or to give way to anger and frustration. They are choices.

As I write, King David comes to mind. Many times he was crushed by despair, surrounded by enemies, and yet he often turns his anguished cry to praise. Psalm 69 is  a good example of this. The first few verses say this–

Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
I am weary with my crying;
My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.

But by the end of that very same Psalm, David is praising God–

Let heaven and earth praise Him,
The seas and everything that moves in them.
35 For God will save Zion
And build the cities of Judah,
That they may dwell there and possess it.
36 Also, the descendants of His servants shall inherit it,
And those who love His name shall dwell in it.

He would give voice to despair, but he would always turn his eyes to God and the hope of salvation.

Voicing our despair, hopelessness, and frustration isn’t the problem–It is dwelling in that place of despair–taking up residence in that dark place– for all of our days. It’s never turning our eyes to God and letting Him meet our needs in the way He chooses. It’s growing like a petulant, spoiled child in the face of our trials, instead of submitting ourselves to God’s Sovereignty.

This is a hard conversation. I know that very well. But trials and difficulties are when the “rubber meets the road” so to speak. It’s when we really get to show the world that God is always good and provides for our every need. And it’s when, if we choose to humble ourselves and live obediently to His word, we truly understand the faithfulness of God in a much deeper and fuller way.

The two women, both professing Christians, responded to the same circumstance in totally different ways. One setting a shining example for fellow Christians to follow and the other one alienating even the most loving souls by her constant, self-centered despair.

 

 

Wednesday Wisdom: Naming and Claiming Our Christian Candyland

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“It is vital for us to understand that it is illegal for Satan to put sickness on us, and there is no good reason to let him do it…It was illegal for Satan to kill Jesus, but he was able to do it because Jesus allowed him. Why? Because Jesus was going to use Satan’s illegal action to bring salvation to the world! So it’s illegal for Satan to bring sickness on us, and we must stand against it. The moment we begin to recognize the symptoms of sickness, we need to stand against them—we need to resist them in the same way we would resist the temptation to sin.”   JOYCE MEYER

I’d love to see the scripture reference on which she bases this {very} false assumption? This is just one of the quotes used in the book Fire-Breathing Christians (The Common Believer’s Call to Reformation, Revival, and Revolution) by Scott Alan Buss to show the unbiblical stand of Joyce Meyer. If I am remembering correctly, I read a review of this book in World magazine.  I purchased it awhile ago and am finally getting around to reading it. I have not finished it yet but so far it is has been an eye-opening journey into the actual theology of some of the best known “Christian” preachers, motivational speakers, and authors.  The portion I am presenting here seems appropriate in light of the news of the tragedy in Oklahoma. Bad things happen to those that follow the Lord sometimes. It is the nature of life and has nothing to do with having enough faith. This is the personal testimony of the author and his wife as they struggled through a battle with cancer. I have a sneaking suspicion this kind of thing has happened to many others, as well.

Here is his story, as found in Chapter 8–

One summer day in 2005, I realized a fear that I believe lurks in the minds of most men and women who’ve given mortality much thought. This moment came as I was standing in the Intensive Care Unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, watching, for the first time, a machine help my wife to breathe.

We’d been in the hospital for many days already. I.C.U. was not a new experience. But seeing her this way was something very different. It was hard.

She was awake and aware, but her eyelids were heavy. She was so very tired. But that didn’t last.

It wasn’t long after that day that Kristi decided she didn’t need help to breathe anymore, so she pulled the respirator tube out. She’d had enough and was, at that point, a little more angry than scared, I think.

As you might imagine, the hospital staff expressed serious concern over the whole episode, but, in light of her display of determination, they were willing to give Kristi a little time without the respirator. If she remained stable, the machine would be kept at bay. If she was to falter, the respirator would, like it or not, be returned to her service.

Kristi embraced the challenge and proceeded to improve by the hour. In this, there was finally a moment of tangible triumph. Kristi had won a battle, but there would be many more to come, and the challenges heaped upon her would sometimes come from surprising places.

Several on the paternal side of Kristi’s family had become, at some level, captivated by Word Faith Mythology. For those who are not well versed in the expressed worldviews of Word Faith luminaries such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn, and Joyce Meyer, one core tenant of this system of belief is that Christians need never be physically ill. Sickness is not something that a Christian must endure. In the minds of Joel, Benny, Joyce & Co., all genuine Christians have complete power over illness and, as a result of this power—a power expressed through the spoken, omnipotent “word of faith”—they are able to deny sickness any footing in their lives.

Christians can simply speak whatever they want, health-wise, into or out of their lives.

Ironically, biblical Christians are always sickened by the expression of such views, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

As if metastasized breast cancer, chemotherapy, extended I.C.U. stays and battles with respirators weren’t enough, Kristi had to also contend with Word Faith Mythology as heaped upon her by confused family members.

If only she had enough faith, she would be healed. Or maybe it was my faith holding up the guaranteed-healing program. One could never be certain. Apparently, the only thing we could know for sure was that if there was enough faith had and spoken on her behalf, Kristi would be just fine. That was a guarantee. So say the Word Faith Mythologists.

However well-intentioned a purveyor of such metaphysical tripe might be, it is an easy thing to see the pain inflicted on the already suffering through the imposition of such a heresy as this. It is difficult to imagine a more vulgar perversion of God’s truth to be deliberately aimed from one professing believer to another in such a dark and challenging time.

But even in this, as the Sovereign of Scripture has made plain from the start, there was purpose. This was another challenge that God had equipped Kristi to conquer with grace. Just as she had inspired so many through her handling of everything from diagnosis and surgery to chemo and mechanical respiration, so, too, was she enabled to present a Christ-centered response to the man-centered mythos of the Word Faith movement.

When relatives would quote particular verses out of context and insist on their “new” meaning equaling a genuine, real-deal guarantee direct from God to Kristi for perfect physical health, she would patiently listen. When a Word Faith “Pastor” would roll into town and drop by to pray a certain kind of prayer over her—the kind that, when done just the right way and with just enough faith, would make Kristi physically well—we would let him do so…with the clear requirement that he “keep it orthodox Christian,” as I explained it to him.

This was more than a hassle, of course, but it was a trauma that Kristi and I had to endure at this time because biblical Christianity has lost vast expanses of territory to heretical movements such as that found in Word Faith. The greater this mythology’s influence grows, the more biblical Christians will suffer.

But at the end of the day, Kristi knew the score. She knew that God was God; His plan was purposeful and had been crafted by Him as such from before the dawn of time; and that sometimes that perfect plan of His called for our great suffering here and now. This gave her peace and strength when the Word Faith adherents in her family knew only panic and confusion. Her resting in the full revelation of God’s perfect Word made it all—even the “prayers of guaranteed healing” aimed at telling God what to do—not only endurable, but glorifying to the God she so dutifully served.

One of my most treasured possessions is Kristi’s Bible, which bears the marks of her diligent study over the last years of her life here. The notes, highlights, and underlines never cease to amaze when I revisit them. Her depth of understanding was a beautiful thing, even more so as it was born though the most challenging of trials.

She was far from perfect clarity on why these things had happened to her. But she had more than enough clarity as to the purpose of such suffering. It was this that gave her grace to deal kindly even with those who had brought this most vile of man-centered mythologies to her during a time of great trouble. She knew that they meant well and were terribly deceived. And she knew the truth. This was a magical formula.

Did we believe that God could miraculously heal? Absolutely! Kristi and I know and worship the God who literally spoke the cosmos into existence, has decreed every moment of His history, and will have no trouble whatsoever seeing to it that He will be completely glorified in every single solitary second of that vast span of time. He is in complete control of everything. He is sovereign. Put another way: He is fully God.

Even knowing this, we were shaky, frightened, and frustrated. This frustration was frequently aggravated, to say the least, by the barrage of “if only you’d have enough faith” moments that seemed to always be right around the corner, courtesy of some destructively delusional family members and friends.

Their confusion and co-option into the Word Faith Mythology movement is but one example of many thousands that are endured annually within American Christendom. As with most accessories available to Mr. Potato Jesus (a term the author uses to describe the modern church movement that allows Jesus to be whoever you want Him to be, rather than what the Bible teaches) , the Word Faith mythos has great appeal. It offers us a whole lot of power, after all, and the benefits literally encompass everything for which a fallen mind could yearn. But make no mistake: This most alluring of options is dangerous to and through its rotten, Christ-deposing core.

Buss, Scott Alan (2011-09-25). Fire Breathing Christians. R3VOLUTION Press. Kindle Edition.

You can find this book here. The kindle version is only $4.99 (at least as of this date) and can be found here.

Wednesday Wisdom: Thinking Outside Our Box

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It was mid-afternoon and I was running out of energy after a busy morning. I decided it was the perfect time for a cup of coffee. I put a cup into the Kuerig and while it brewed I noticed the May issue of the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter lying on the table. Perfect. I would read while I took a short coffee break.  

For a few moments I entered a different world. In this world being a Christian means great sacrifice. I read of a couple who lost a job, their home, and familiar surroundings because of their new found faith. As I turned the page, I learned of a  family whose father was ruthlessly shot in front of his young children while his wife had run out to help a neighbor. 

I was overwhelmed with how small so many of my problems are. And challenged, too, wondering how strong I would be in similar circumstances. I felt a deep sense of sympathy for my Christian brothers and sisters in other lands. But, mostly, I felt admiration for the firm faith of these believers as they face the unthinkable. Their faith does not disappear under the weight of their trials, but grows stronger. Surely our God is alive! 

I wanted to share one of the stories here with you, but I could not find the newsletter online. However, I did find a very similar one on their website. Please take time to read this. I can say with assurance that many (of course, not all) of our trials pale in comparison. Violent movies and video games are part of almost all American homes, and yet most of us aren’t willing to face the very real violence that goes on every day in the lives of those who love the Lord Jesus. They deserve our prayers. Let’s step outside our comfortable boxes for just a moment–

Four months ago, National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas demanded that Alicia Castilla leave her home in Arauca, in northeastern Colombia. On the evening of Jan. 7, during a visit from the family’s pastor, assassins entered her home and shot her in front of her three children and her father. She died immediately. The guerrillas had killed Alicia’s husband, a lay-minister, two years earlier.

The guerrillas told Alicia’s 18-year-old son, Hernán, that the rest of the family had three days to leave the region. After that, they warned, the killers would return and kill the other family members one by one.

Alicia was the widow of lay-evangelist Nelson Ramos, who was killed by the ELN in January 2011. Nelson became a Christian two years before his death and often shared the gospel in Saravena, a town near Colombia’s border with Venezuela. A few months after his conversion, the ELN issued its first expulsion order against him and his family.

According to Hernán, the guerrillas never fully explained why they were so adamant about driving the family out of the area. Nelson was shot to death in the family’s home as his wife and two small daughters, now 9 and 6, watched.

After Nelson’s death, Hernán declared that he would avenge his father. He intended to join the Colombian military to gain training in weaponry, but he renounced his vow after a July 2011 encounter with children whose parents had been killed because of their Christian witness. Instead of seeking revenge, he was baptized and became deeply involved in church activities.

Hernán’s mother was at a workshop for widows of martyred believers in December when ELN guerrillas visited their home and warned them for the third time to leave the area. Although Alicia was willing to move, her elderly father was not.

After Alicia’s murder, government authorities refused to remove her body from the crime scene for fear of retaliation by the ELN. Funeral-home workers finally retrieved her body.

Founded in 1964, the ELN is one of several illegal armed groups fighting for control of the rich petroleum resources along the Colombia/Venezuela border. The guerrilla groups use the Arauca area as a narcotrafficking route. They forcibly recruit children into their ranks and persecute those who oppose them, including the church.

You can read more stories of faith and courage at persecution.com. It’s a great site to visit for a “perspective check”.  Voice of the Martyrs is an important ministry that helps persecuted believers and is worthy of our support. And, no, I have not been paid to say that! ;) 

You can find the above story here.

 

Wednesday Wisdom: God, You are Faithful

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There are so many beautiful words that describe God: Loving, Kind, Good, Just, Perfect, Omnipotent, to name a few. But I am not sure any is more comforting than the word FAITHFUL.  Lamentations 3:22-23 tells us about this: Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

About five years ago now, Christian music artist Steven Curtis Chapman found out about God’s faithfulness the hard way. He and his family experienced a tragedy that none of us would wish on our worst enemy. I heard him say in an interview that he had to figure out if all of the stuff he had sung about for so many years was actually true. Through it all, he grew to understand God’s faithfulness in a way that only those who experience anguished and heart-breaking adversity can. I love this song so much. It is honest and raw and oh, so hopeful. God is faithful!  

FAITHFUL by Steven Curtis Chapman
I am broken, I am bleeding,
I’m scared and I’m confused,
but You are faithful.
Yes You are faithful.
I am weary, unbelieving.
God please help my unbelief!
‘Cause You are faithful.
Yes, You are faithful.

I will proclaim it to the world.
I will declare it to my heart
And sing it when the sun is shining.
I will scream it in the dark.

You are faithful!
You are faithful!
When you give and when You take away,
even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe
You are faithful.

I am waiting for the rescue
that I know is sure to come,
‘Cause You are faithful.
Yes, You are faithful.
And I’ve dropped anchor in Your promises,
and I am holding on,
‘Cause You are faithful.
God, You are faithful.

I will proclaim it to the world.
I will declare it to my heart
And sing it when the sun is shining.
I will scream it in the dark.

You are faithful!
You are faithful!
When you give and when You take away,
even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe You’re faithful.

So faithful…

Though I cannot have the answer
that I’m wanting to demand,
I’ll remember You are God
and everything is in Your hand.
With Your hands You put the sun, the moon,
the stars up in the sky,
for the sake of love, You hung Your own Son
on the cross…to die…

You are faithful…
Yes, You are faithful…
When you give and when You take away,
even then, great is Your faithfulness!
Great is Your faithfulness!

And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe You’re faithful!
Oh, oh, oh…
Oh, oh, oh…
When you give and when You take away,
even then still Your name
is faithful!
You are faithful!
And with everything inside of me,
I am choosing to believe…

…You’re faithful…

**If you are not familiar with the tragedy that beset this family, you can read about it here.

**You can listen to this beautiful song on YouTube here.

Would I be ready for this?

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What do the following people have in common:

Timothy, Symphorosa, Germanicus, Blandina, Ponticus, Felicitas, Perpetua, Cecilia,  Julian, Denisa, Alexander,  Epimachus,  and Agatha?

Any ideas? Are these names ringing a bell, somewhere from the deep recesses of your mind?

Every single one of these listed above (and thousands and thousands more) were martyred under the Roman government at one time or another. Here’s a quick rundown of how they entered heaven:

Timothy – reproved the idolatry of the people and was beaten with clubs so badly that he died from the bruises within 2 days.

Symphorosa – refused to sacrifice to heathen deities, along with her seven sons. She was scourged and then hung up by the hair of her head; after a time a large stone was thrown around her neck and she was thrown in the river.  All seven sons were fastened to seven posts with pullies and torn asunder, all their limbs dislocated; they were all eventually stabbed, except for the youngest who was sawed in half.

Germanicus – a young man, delivered to the wild beasts; he handled his death with such astonishing courage, several pagans were converted.

Blandina – Attached to a pole on the ground and exposed to the wild beasts for food; during this time her earnest prayers encouraged others; The wild beasts wouldn’t touch her. She was sent back to prison and forced to endure all kinds of torture, and then was eventually slain.

Ponticus – A 15 year old boy, who was in prison with Blandina and partook of the same sufferings and torture, eventually dying by the sword, as well.

Felicitas – A very pregnant young woman who, along with another lady named Perpetua, were forced to run between hunters of wild beasts and they were severely lashed; they were then stripped and thrown to a wild bull, where they were gored dreadfully, and then finally perished by the sword.

Cecilia – a young lady of good family, who converted her husband and brother, who were beheaded, and also the officer who led them to their execution, who was also beheaded; she was forced naked into a scalding bath for a considerable time; eventually she was beheaded with a sword.

Julian – He was put into a bag with serpents and scorpions and thrown into the sea.

Denisa – a 16 year old girl who was beheaded for her faith.

Alexander & Epimachus – beat with staves (plural of staffs), torn with hooks, and, at length, burned with fire.

Agatha – a godly and very beautiful Sicilian woman who caught the eye of the Sicilian governor. When put into a position to compromise her faith, she refused, and therefore she was “scourged, burnt with red hot irons, and torn with sharp hooks. Having borne these torments with admirable fortitude, she was next laid naked upon live coals, intermingled with glass, and then being carried back to prison, she there expired on the 5th of Feb, 251.”

____________________________________________

Perhaps I should have not written so many of these stories. I couldn’t decide which ones to use and which ones not to. There are dozens more and I am only a few pages in the book Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

Here’s the thing — these were all REAL people. So, yes, they lived a long time ago but that doesn’t make them any less real. A 15 year old boy, a 16 year old girl, a pregnant woman, wealthy people, poor slaves, bishops, and beautiful women. All perished at the hands of evil men and women, whom Satan used in his efforts to douse the light of Christianity.

But it didn’t work! Here’s what it says regarding one of the persecutions: “but though the persecuting malice raged, yet the gospel shone with resplendent brightness; and, firm as an impregnable rock, withstood the attacks of its boisterous enemies with success.”

Fast forward 2000 years. Most of us have no clue what it means to suffer for Christ. Many of us wonder if we would choose to do so, if it really came to that.

I can’t help wondering if it will. Soon. Each year brings more and more persecution to those who stand firm on biblical Christianity. The persecution is nothing like those our persecuted brothers and sisters faced all those years ago, or even what many of our Christian brothers and sisters face in foreign lands. But if it comes, will we be ready?

I think it comes down to this: If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, Christianity isn’t a religion, it is your whole life. There is no part that remains untouched by God’s grace and the Holy Spirit’s conviction.  We know that we are condemned to hell without Jesus’s death and resurrection and we won’t trade anything — not worldly reputation, material wealth, nor our very life– for it.

As I write this, I feel very weak as I read the sufferings of those mentioned above. I imagine my body being torn by hooks or burnt by scalding water or hot coals and I shudder and cringe. Lord, am I strong enough to withstand that?

But it’s not my strength that will see me through that day, should it come. It’s HIS.

The men and women who have died and continue to die for their faith in Jesus Christ do not do so on their own strength. They can’t sing and pray while being tortured on their human strength. Only God can supernaturally supply that strength. We are so far from needing that kind of strength in our own lives that it is a completely foreign thought to us.

Is it coming? I don’t know. I tend to think it is. We’d like to think that man could never become so evil again, but if we read recent history –of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot– or we follow current events–Sudan, Eritrea, and Iran, for example–we can see that men are still coming up with horrible ways to torture their fellow man.

Will I be strong enough to stand if that day comes to America? Only if I rest in God and draw on the strength that He will supply only to those who are truly His.

 

Find Foxe’s Book of Martyrs here.

 

 

Facing the Fear

As our congregation bowed in prayer, I found myself distracted by a sudden thought: where is the closest exit? I sighed with relief as I saw a door nearby through half-closed eyes and then went on to think about what I would do if a gunman entered the church. All while we were supposed to be focused on the Lord. I am not excusing myself, but after Friday, I doubt I am the only one finding myself thinking unfamiliar thoughts about murderers and escape routes. What a world we live in.

I never dreamed last week at this time that my heart could feel so heavy for people I have never even met.  That I would be writing about death and murder and fear during the holiday season.  It just feels…wrong. Jesus came into the world to save us and give us eternal life and, while murder is absolutely horrific any time of the year, it seems especially tragic at Christmastime.

We grieve for families we have never met. We hear the cries for gun control from the media. We see Facebook statuses that promote returning God to our schools. Everyone has an opinion.

But there is one thing I haven’t really heard much about: FEAR.

There have been multiple stories of shootings and assaults– Friday’s was the worst, by far, but there have been others. And, if I am not careful, I can start to become controlled by fear.

When something happens like what happened last Friday, we suddenly become aware that we are not in control of our lives. We could be violently shot down at any time. Life could end for us or our loved ones instantly. We start to fear for ourselves, even more for our children. And then the fear grows as we think about what the world will be like for our children and the worry and anxiety can start overtaking us if we aren’t very careful. Or maybe I should say “I”. I may be alone here. Not really sure.

So what do we do in the face of fear?

This has happened to me in the past and there are a couple of really helpful things I do that I thought I would pass along, just in case I am not alone.

1. I thank the Lord for what I currently enjoy.  There is nothing like a tragedy to remind you of the fragility of life and the wonderful gifts we have been given in our spouses, our children, our parents, our siblings, and our friends. We need to thank the Lord everyday for these blessings. Somehow — I can’t explain it — fear lessens in a thankful heart.

2.  I memorize God’s Word. When I went through a very fearful time many years ago, I turned to God’s Word and found many scriptures that speak to fear. I memorized a couple of them and when I would be filled with fear, I would start saying them to myself. It was very comforting and I still go to these verses today when I am struggling with fear.

3.  I am very careful about what I watch and listen to.  I am one who becomes very disturbed in my spirit if I hear all of the negative stuff going on. It will give me such a heavy heart. It is very difficult for me to see that someone’s life has been destroyed and then go about my business of the day. Because of this, I rarely watch any news at all. If something especially tragic happens, I usually will hear about it from someone or see it on Facebook. But I try to be very careful about how much news I feed myself, because that feeds the fear.

4.  I discipline my mind. This is so much easier said than done, although, after many years of practice, I have become much better at it.  I find in my life a tiny thought will become a gigantic worry if I am not very careful.  And so I try to turn my mind away from dwelling on any thoughts of fear and worry.  Although, I have to be honest, I am definitely being tested in this — as is obvious by my thought life in church yesterday!

5.  Dwell on the Truth. God knows all. Nothing happens without His knowledge. Yes, the world’s going to get worse but His grace is sufficient. If we are truly saved, then we truly have nothing to fear. He will take care of us and our children. He will see us through. I have read missionary biographies attesting to this fact. I have talked to people going through the worst of circumstances and yet they see God’s faithfulness clearly. We are not alone and bereft. God has not left your heart or this country.

Fear won’t disappear in an instant. It will take time. And we will think we have it beat and then it will crop up again in the face of the next tragedy or accident or disease-stricken relative. It is a battle I fight on a regular basis. But we can’t give in to it. We are called to live in love, not in fear.

 

PSALMS 46:1-3

God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging.

 

There’s No Place Like Home

Last week I was on vacation.  The posts you saw here had been written ahead, my husband prepared a weeks’ schedule for his employees, the kids took off work, and our whole family packed up and headed to the Great Smoky Mountains.  We had an awesome time doing all kinds of things.  Of course, 6 adults and “almost” adults being together 24/7 in a camper makes for some challenging times, too!  But, overall, it was a lot of fun.   However, as our last day rolled around, I found myself ready to go back home.  Nothing bad had happened on my trip to drive that desire, it’s just that I love going home.  Home is the place where I am most comfortable and where I feel like I belong.  I know that I am blessed because I actually love going home.

As we talked about this readiness to go home, one of my girls mentioned a conversation she had had with Grandma  about a favorite relative that had died recently.  My mom had told her that she thought perhaps dying was a little like that if you are a believer.  You have had a great life on this earth, you really enjoyed it, but you are, after all, a traveler in a foreign land and you are ready to go home.  That analogy took on new meaning for me this past week.

It makes perfect sense.  I feel so blessed to be here on this earth and to be living the life the Lord has laid before me.  But I know that I don’t really belong here.  I realize it when I watch the news or when I look at Facebook.  I can feel that I don’t belong when I am in the store and I hear a song with lyrics that make me cringe or when I hear the foul language coming from a group of people nearby.  Oh, I am having a great time here — but it is not my home.

I find this a comfort as I think of those who have gone on to Heaven before me. They are home!  They are no longer pilgrims on this earth where they do not belong, but instead are home in the arms of the one Who loves them most. What an incredible realization!  What a blessed hope!

Philippians 3: 20-21  For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.