Beyond the Clouds

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No matter what weather is going on down on earth, when a giant, silver-winged plane soars beyond the clouds, the sun soon appears. Have you noticed that, too, when you have had the opportunity to fly? Above all of the black clouds or fuzzy gray fog, we always–without fail–will find the sun.

I have often thought that there is a very similar spiritual parallel to this. As you may already know, I am a Bible Study leader. Currently, we are studying Philippians and I have been struck–as I usually am in this epistle–by Paul’s focus on joy. When you really think about all of the pain and suffering Paul endured (much of it because he was standing for truth), it seems almost incongruous, doesn’t it?

How in the world could Paul have been content and joyful through all of these hardships? And yet, we read in Philippians 4:11-12

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.

And he wrote this in 2 Corinthians 7:4

Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.

So just how did Paul learn to be content in all circumstances? What was the source of his joy?

It is generally agreed that the key word for Philippians is the word joy. And that is most definitely the main theme throughout the book.  The Greek noun or verb form of the word “joy” is found over a dozen times. But I would like to draw your attention to the fact that Paul mentions Christ 50 times in this short epistle. John MacArthur puts it this way in his introductory sermon on Philippians

The theme of these chapters is joy; Paul mentions it at least 16 times in these four chapters.  He also mentions Christ 50 times.  And that is because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

I think that last sentence is worth repeating–

Because his joy is found in Christ, and so is our joy.

Now think about this with me for a moment. Is your joy found in Christ? Because I can tell you right now that this is a huge struggle for me. Instead, I spend an inordinate amount of time looking for happy circumstances and personal comfort and convenience. And when all is lined up just perfectly, then I claim to be joyful. But is this really joy? Or is it rather just a temporary state of well-being that I am calling “joy”?

You may be wondering by now what all this has to do with an airplane and clouds and the sun…

Well, I am glad you asked!

I wonder if we are so desperate for sunny skies and carefree living that we forget that Christ is always there–working through all of our circumstances–whether we can see Him clearly or not. And I wonder if our finite and temporal view of things makes us distracted and forgetful? Are we so focused on the here and now that we lose sight of the big picture?

If we can only see the clouds and forget what is beyond them, we can become embroiled in grief and depression and despair. Without proper perspective, we become unhappy, thankless, selfish people who live just like the rest of the world.

But if we, like Paul, can remember that our joy and, in fact, our very lives, are wrapped up in the Person of Christ, then we become a joyful and peaceful person that not only stands through the storms of life, but who can also boldly testify to the strength and power and faithfulness of Christ’s love through those storms.

For He is always there.

The winds may blow, the skies grow dark, and the rains pour down but Christ will not move. He is the constant that our whole world revolves around.  And He is always there, working in and through the shadows and storms for His glory and our good.

Paul says it best in Romans 8:28-29

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

I guess joy and contentment will always be a battle for most of us. It will be something that eludes us as we focus on ourselves and on our temporal situations. But when we turn our focus to the Lord Jesus, the temporal will fade a bit. Oh, it never fades completely, of course, but it fades a bit. And as we become more and more mature in the faith, we become more and more content. And contentment yields greater joy and peace. Isn’t this a most wonderful thought?

Change is in the Wind

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My daughter walked out the front door, ready for her first day of soccer practice. It all seemed quite normal, except for one thing that kept running through my head: It’s her last first day.

After having three weddings within 13 months, I was quite ready to settle into normal again. Of course, it was a drastically changed normal, but it was a normal. And somehow over the past year, I have gotten used to having only one kid around. Things are quieter and so much more laid back. There is much less laundry and I spend a lot less money on food and clothing. The kids come to visit and it’s fun and loud and crazy and then they go home and we are left with just the three of us once again. It took me a while to get used to this new normal. But I realized the other day that I think I am okay.

And then I watched my last child head off in her car to soccer practice. It is her senior year of high school and I can smell change in the wind again. My heart sinks a little to think of it. What will life be like with just my husband and me? Will my baby be okay in her new life? What will I do all day? Questions assail me if I let my mind dwell there.

Reminds us just a bit of this upcoming election, doesn’t it? Change is in the air. We can feel it. No matter who wins, this is a historical, unprecedented election. Neither candidate comes with a stellar reputation. Neither seems to have the qualifications or integrity necessary to lead a nation. And questions assail us. What is going to happen? How is this nation going to survive? And what does it mean for us personally?? Will our normal continue or will it be forever changed?

Clips of the unrest and starvation going on right now in Venezuela haunt those of us who understand what socialism really does. We hear about pastors being arrested in Canada for speaking out against homosexuality and can feel that change making its way south. Isis threatens the innocent and unsuspecting across the globe. Natural disasters like floods, wildfires, and tornadoes have uprooted thousands of lives here and throughout the world.

And we are going to have WHO leading this country??

But here we are. And it is what it is.

Now may be a good time to remember that we are just aliens passing through. If we are saved, our citizenship isn’t here.

Now may be a good time to remember that we have had it SO GOOD. So much better than any Christians in any other place or any other time on this earth. We must be thankful for what we’ve had and prepare as best we can for the changes that are coming.

Now may be a good time to thank God for the freedom we have right now on this day. Let’s be sharing the Gospel with that friend or neighbor–while we still have the freedom to do so.

Now may be a good time to stop complaining. As of right now, we can still go to the store and buy almost anything we want to. We can still stop for ice cream. And we can still gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Life is still mostly good for those of us in western countries and we dare not forget that amidst the fear and doubts that threaten to overtake us.

And now may be a great time to turn our eyes to the One who never changes. He never rests. He is our strength in times of trouble and our refuge amidst the storm. He not only knows what is going to happen, but He controls what will happen. We are safe in His arms.

Life may change but our God never changes. Of this we can be 100% certain–no matter what chaos and craziness swirls about us.

 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Malachi 3:6

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father
of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.
James 1:17

God is not human, that he should lie,
    not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
    Does he promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19

Misplaced Confidence

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Over the weekend, we had a lovely time by the bay. Well, most of it was lovely. There was about an hour that wasn’t so lovely. Oh, the hour started out beautifully. My friend and I thought we would take a little ride in the kayaks they had brought along. I got into the kayak, completely confident that our ride would be uneventful and peaceful. An hour later, I got out of my kayak, drenched and declaring that I would never get in one again.

So what happened?

I started out with a confidence I should not have had. The bay was pretty choppy and I was a novice at kayaking. We were just at the point where we planned to turn around. One second I was in my kayak and the next second I wasn’t. I have absolutely no idea what happened. In talking it over later, we concluded that I must have been horizontal to the wave. Instead of putting the point of my kayak into the wave, I just rolled over with it. I didn’t even know anything about that. Whatever happened, I landed in the water and in my efforts to get back into the kayak, it ended up completely filling with water. There was absolutely no possible way I was getting back in that kayak. As I bobbed around the boat, trying to hang on to whatever I could, I could feel the panic welling up in me. I looked at the shoreline–which looked so far away– and felt quite hopeless.

My friend, in trying to help me, ended up in the bay with a boat full of water, as well. I can laugh about it now. What a sight we must have been! But at the time it wasn’t a bit funny and extremely frightening. We just started paddling toward the shore. At one point we decided to just rest a bit and as we did, my friend let out a little scream of delight. She had felt the bay floor beneath her. Somehow it felt so much safer to have the earth beneath our feet. We continued walking to the shore, pulling the water-filled boats behind us.

I won’t go into detail about how we finally got the water out of those boats and back down to our campsites, but I can tell you it would have been quite entertaining to watch! When I was finally back in the kayak (thanks to some help from my hero–my friend’s son who had walked down the impossibly rocky, uncomfortable shoreline when he noticed we were having trouble!) I found myself just longing to have my feet back on dry ground. What had brought fun and happiness when I had started out, now instead brought fear and dread. When we finally rowed (is that the right word when you are in a kayak?) into the boat launch area, I looked like a drowned rat and was quite shaken up. I also felt like a stupid idiot. Who capsizes in a kayak?? Seriously.

But while I was having my own little traumatic event, much more was going on in the world, wasn’t it? First, Christina Grimmie, the Voice contestant, was shot and killed while signing autographs and then later on, there was a horrible mass murder in Florida at a gay nightclub. Before I left on Friday, there was also a shooting at the Dallas Love Field airport–an airport that our family uses. Sometimes it feels a little like we have capsized into a swirling ocean, doesn’t it? Like we are paddling hopelessly, wondering where we are going to end up.

If you think about it, there are many analogies in my kayak story to what we are all experiencing in this world. Slowly the things we had confidence in are being removed– our freedom of religion and speech, our confidence in being able to travel or run errands without fear of being shot, and, very possibly, our freedom to bear arms.

And just like I had complete, albeit unwarranted, confidence in my kayak, so, we, too, have placed confidence in the comfortable life that we have known in our western world. But as things change and the horizon grows darker, we find ourselves becoming stripped of these things that have made us feel safe and secure. And we, too, are left paddling in the ocean with only a life vest.

But let’s not forget! We, of all people, have the one and only life vest that will always hold as we swim in this mass of chaos. The Holy Spirit comforts and helps us as we go about our lives here on earth. In fact, perhaps we are finally being stripped of the confidence we had in the things of this earth and turning towards God, the only One in whom our confidence should ever rest.

We will probably never find sure footing until we reach the shores of heaven, but aren’t you so thankful for the life vest that you have on, if you are a genuinely saved child of God? And aren’t you also thankful for the respites God gives us to rest in our efforts for a moment or an hour or a day, as we vacation with family or smell a rose in the garden or help someone in need? They are a little earth to walk on for just a few moments that renew and restore us and energize us once again.

God is so good. Sometimes it is hard to see that in the midst of all that is going on. And, yet, I was reminded as I looked up at the nighttime sky over the weekend and saw millions and millions of stars, of just how small I am. I know nothing. How can I — a tiny speck on the timeline of history–dare to judge what is good and what is not good? How thankful I am to be able to rely on God and His Word in this sea of life. It is only by placing our confidence there that we can know that our souls are safe and that we will accomplish God’s purpose for our lives, whatever that may be.

And, so, I hope that something good came out of my weekend adventure. I am still not interested in getting in a kayak again, although my husband tells me I must try again. I doubt he will take no for an answer, so you may be hearing more kayaking adventures sometime in the future.

Have a great Monday!

 

Lessons from a Snowstorm

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To say my weekend turned out nothing like I planned would be an understatement. It started off with a phone call on Friday morning that forced me to change my plans for the whole day. As I drove home on Friday night the snow was coming down much earlier than had been forecasted and the weather reports seemed to be raising the amount of snowfall expected. Our landscape company does snow removal, so I knew we were definitely in for an interesting weekend.

As the snow fell on Friday night everyone gathered at our house and we turned on a movie. But it was not a normal relaxed movie night as my husband, son, and son-in-law kept their eyes on the weather and wondered how they were going to handle such a huge storm.

Three days later, it is mostly over. Although as I sit here at my laptop, my guys are still clearing snow in their efforts to get normal life back up and running for folks. Oh, how I respect and admire them for this. I don’t think I could do it. They have been going nonstop since during the night on Friday with just a few hours of sleep. I don’t know about you, but I know that I couldn’t do that. I am so thankful for the men in my life!

My job is to take the inevitable phone calls, which is always an adventure. One of our secretaries made it into the office this morning, so I am finally getting the opportunity to sit down and write on this Monday morning. My thoughts feel a little scattered, so I am going to try to pull them all together.

The weekend was full of interesting stories and tidbits, but instead of relaying everything, I thought I’d just summarize a few lessons that I learned (or was reminded of yet again)–

1. God is faithful. I never fail to be amazed at how God works out all the details when these days come. We have breakdowns and we have problems, but God is there in the midst of it. Without question. I know skeptics call this coincidence. But really–is there such a thing?

2. Most people are still generally nice. At least that is what I experienced yesterday. Because of the huge amounts of snow, we had run into the unusual circumstance of our normal snow equipment not being adequate for all of our jobs. This meant contracting subcontractors with bigger machines. But most people were patient and very kind when they called to ask about their driveway.

3. Some people are not so nice and they are the ones who remind me that I still have such a long way to go in the sanctification process. At one point, one lady called to complain about something. Her complaint was certainly legitimate, but it was made with such anger and accusations that I had a very difficult time holding on to my temper. I did manage to do so, but I got a little sarcastic and felt quite a bit of glee informing her that I was one of the owners when she demanded to speak to one of them. It is people like this that remind me that I still have such a long way to go in loving others–especially the ones that are selfish and unkind.

4. God answers prayer. In the midst of the weekend, we ended up having quite the crisis. Without going into details, I felt so helpless and really had to reign in the worry and fear that was rising quickly inside me, threatening to overtake me. I learned again that when I am faced with circumstances far outside my control, that I am not that spiritually mature, after all. I enlisted a few people to pray and God answered in an amazing way. We feel undeserving but offer our deepest and most humble thanks to Him!

5. A thank you in the midst of something like this is like a balm to the soul. This morning, before I switched the phones back to the office, I answered a call from a local business that we plow for. As most calls are usually negative, I prepared for the complaint that was sure to come. Instead, they had called to thank us for doing such a great job. Wow. What a blessing! Just a simple phone call, so easy to do, and yet so many of us never take the time to do this. I am thankful that this man did so. It means so much to our guys to hear words of praise once in awhile. We are always so quick to complain but most of us rarely offer a thank you. This phone call reminded me of the importance to express my gratitude to others.

6. I won’t die if I can’t leave my house. One of the things I have had to get used to is being the last one plowed out. Even now, my driveway is full of snow and drifts. This used to really get to me and I would grow a little angry. But as I have gotten older, I have realized that it was just my selfish desire not to be stuck here that drove my anger. Now I just try to be patient and not to be an extra burden that my husband has to worry about. When I feel a little claustrophobia rising in me, I just remind myself that I have people who could pick me up if there was an emergency!

 

These are just a few of things I learned this weekend. I am sure I could come up with more, but I need to go get busy and see if I can get my life back to some semblance of order! Hope you have a great day!

 

 

The Prison of Worry

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I would like to tell you that I am worry-free. But, alas, I am not. There are just so many things that can go wrong! If we are the kind of person that thinks too much, we can tend to be worriers. Am I the only one who thinks there is something desperately wrong if I am unable to get a hold of my child on their cell phone for ten minutes or if I have a strange pain somewhere?

Worry can be so debilitating.

It steals our peace.

It controls our thoughts.

It takes our joy.

And the wonderful reward for all this worry?

Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

The time we spend worrying steals our present, yet makes no difference in the future. Worry keeps us locked up in a prison of our own making, far away from the joys and blessings of life.

When I was a young twenty-something, I was positively crippled by worry. I would lay on my sofa for wasted hours feeling sick because of worry. It was so awful. But God rescued me. He taught me to take my thoughts captive. I learned to move my mind from my worry to something else. Oh, the first few months it felt impossible. But it got easier and easier, until it became a habit. Of course, every now and then, a few question marks show up in my life to remind me that I haven’t mastered worry.

Theologically, I have learned that worry is really an affront to God. When we worry, we are telling Him that He doesn’t know what He is doing. That we can’t trust Him.

But this week as I was reading in Luke 12 for the Bible Challenge, I found some very practical and helpful principles for this raging battle with worry and anxiety that so many of us face–

  1. We are loved and valued by the Father. Luke 12:7 tells us that not even a sparrow is forgotten before God and that we are of far more value to Him than many sparrows. We need not fear.
  2. The Holy Spirit will guide us through trials. Luke 12:11 tells us that the disciples brought before magistrates and authorities for the sake of Christ will be given words to answer the accusations through the Holy Spirit. When I read this verse the other day, I felt comforted to know that if (or when) the church faces persecution, we will not be alone. And there are other verses throughout scripture to show us that the Holy Spirit is there to comfort and to counsel us: John 14:26; Romans 15:13; 2 Timothy 1:14.
  3. Worry changes nothing. Luke 12:25-26 asks this: And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 26 If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? 
    When things are outside our control, many of us tend to stew and fret and make those around us miserable (if we are honest!) and yet, all that frustration and misery won’t change one thing. That is sobering to think about, isn’t it? Especially for us worriers. How many precious hours have we wasted on this time-sapping activity?
  4. God promises to take care of us. A little further on in Luke we read this in verse 28: If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith?  Worry is probably a timeless sin that has affected almost all human beings at one time or another. And yet, Jesus tells us here that we can trust the Father. He will care for us.
  5. Knowing God and making Him known needs to be our first priority. I don’t think it is an accident that verses 34-35 (Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.) follow right after this whole passage on worry. After all, worry is often the result of having our priorities a little out of order. It is much easier to yield our will to the Father’s when we can keep our worldly possessions in perspective or when we truly want to please the Father in all things first and foremost– even before our own health or popularity, before any relationship, or before our reputation. When we really keep God first in our lives and seek His kingdom, it helps us to sift and sort through all of the trivial–and not so trivial– things we worry about.

Of course, all of these principles are well and good, but if you are in the midst of a battle with worry this may feel a little rote to you. And some of you are facing really big struggles right now, with no good conclusion forthcoming. Illnesses, loss of jobs and income, straying kids. There are very legitimate causes for concern in so many of our lives. If this is the case, I encourage you to pray, begging God to help you live out these principles in your life. If you are a true believer, the Holy Spirit is there to comfort and guide you.

Sometimes in the midst of a deep, dark trial that has me captured by worry, I find myself unable to even pray. If you find yourself in a similar place ask a friend or family member to pray for you until you get though the worst of this.

But, most of all, let’s keep our eyes on the Father, the author and finisher of our faith. He will never leave or forsake us. Let’s glorify Him by showing the world that we trust Him implicitly instead of staying locked up in our prison of worry.

 

Face Value

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I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. It was so unexpected. I was with a fellow Christian that I had known for a long time. We were different ages and in different circles but ended up working together fairly frequently. I had always assumed that we had the same respect and admiration for each other and that our occasional disagreements and debates were viewed as a healthy part of a relationship.

But, on that particular day, I found out that I was quite wrong.

This person did not have the same feelings toward me as I had towards them. In fact, that conversation showed me that they viewed me as a particularly irritating part of their life. There was no confession and no closure. Just a statement that needed no further elaboration. I didn’t really know them well enough to follow up the conversation any further and so I walked away that day with a shocking and hurtful realization:

People can act like they like you when they really don’t.

For many years after that, I found myself just assuming that most people did not like me. I assumed that I was irritating and that most people did not enjoy my company. Even if someone was really nice to me and I thought I had found a friend, I would hear a voice in the back of my head saying: They don’t really like you. They are only pretending. Just like _________.

It would take a long time for me to trust someone and believe that they actually did enjoy my company. After all, a fellow Christian had pretended to be my friend and it had never been true.

Isn’t it amazing how one conversation can change your life?

By my very nature, I am quite outgoing and outspoken (I can almost hear the “amens” even as I write this from those of you who know me!) It is so hard for me to just sit in a room quietly without speaking. I suppose my parents knew they had a problem on their hands when, as a young child, I spoke my unfiltered thoughts about the fat lady walking towards us on the street.

I’ve had a lifetime of trying to curtail my mouth. To learn to think before I speak. To honor God with the right tone, looks, and body language.

And I do think I have made progress, in large part due to God’s amazing grace and the Holy Spirit working in my life. I am not the same person I was. But I do still mess up sometimes. I still–quite unintentionally–make enemies. And I still worry about that. Especially when people are so good at covering their true feelings.

But, recently, I believe that God has been teaching me to take people at “Face Value”. I cannot know anything about a person that they do not choose to share with me. I cannot be responsible for their grudges and unforgiving hearts if they do not choose to come to me with their issues. If someone treats me like they like me, then I should assume that they do. If they are pretending, that is not my concern. That is between them and God. I can’t spend my time worrying about it and I can’t make assumptions that may not be true.

And since that first conversation, I have learned a few things. First, sometimes people are just really shy. It doesn’t mean they don’t like me. It just means they don’t know me. And, second, I’ve learned that moods often determine how people interact with me. Some people just aren’t friendly if they have had a rough day. It doesn’t mean that they have some deep, abiding hatred of me.

Instead of focusing on the reactions and thoughts of others (which are completely outside my control), my concern is to treat people with love and kindness. If there is a truth that needs communicated, then it is to be covered with prayer and spoken with much thought and tremendous grace. If I do these things, then I must let the rest up to God.

It’s been a long journey that I am still on, but I keep learning that I need to get the focus off of me and my feelings and keep it where it belongs– on God and His Word.

If someone doesn’t like me because of my stand for God, then I am okay with that. If they don’t like me because I’ve sinned against them, then, unless they tell me, there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. If they do confront me, it is my job to be humble and willing to receive the criticism with an open mind.

Relationships can be so tough. We can make assumptions and we have expectations. When we are disappointed or devastated in a relationship, it can really make a difference in how we treat others for the rest of our lives. But God’s Word shows us how to have healthy relationships. And the first step is almost always putting aside our own desires and thinking of what’s best for the other person. (Philippians 2:2-3). It’s painful. It’s so hard. But it works.

 

Why Crime Will Continue to Rise

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Everyone is so shocked when a shooting occurs in some part of this country. We hear of banks being robbed, young ladies being molested, and drug use abounding. And we are surprised.

But my question is why?

Why are we so shocked? I can think of a number of reasons why we should not be. And why crime will continue to rise in this country–

  1. We have brainwashed our kids in the education system for almost 100 years, teaching them that they are nothing but a bunch of cells thrown together by chance.
  2. We have taught our young people that there is no God to which they are accountable.
  3. Somewhere in the midst of the sexual revolution, the general population started believing there are no absolutes. Something can be right for one person but be wrong for someone else. It just depends on the situation.
  4. The entertainment industry has spewed forth tv shows, video games, movies, music, and books filled with all that God abhors. Violence, sexual perversions, illegal drug and alcohol use, and filthy language are not only portrayed but glorified. Instead of our youth learning to work at a job, they are sitting in front of screens learning how to murder and shoot.

When these philosophies started making it mainstream, did anyone ever consider the devastating consequences that would result? All philosophies have consequences.

It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out the consequences of a culture that has decided there is no God and no absolutes. Barring unforeseen revival or some other miracle, anarchy almost has to be the final result.

Because what keeps a desperate drug addict from shooting a store owner? What keeps a sexually hungry man from raping a young girl? If there is no God and there is no right and wrong, then NOTHING will stop them. Their conscience has been completely hardened (Romans 1).

It is a rather frightening thought, isn’t it?

If we are a Christian, we need not fear. Many believers before us have gone through awful, terrible times. God has not deserted us, for the Holy Spirit lives within us. He will walk us through these tough times and dark valleys.

If we aren’t a Christian, then these events –like the shooting on an Oregon campus this week–should demand our attention. You need to be asking yourself this question: Where am I going to spend eternity? Because at any moment–at any time–you could be murdered. Instantly, you could find yourself face to face with God. Are you ready? Don’t delay in finding a godly Christian to talk to about this (or feel free to email me at leslie@growing4life.net if you don’t know who else to talk to).

These stories we hear on the news are absolutely frightening. Whether we are believer or unbeliever, may they lead our thoughts towards the eternal.

 

 

Great is Thy Faithfulness

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A few months ago, we celebrated my parents 50th wedding anniversary. I talked a bit about that in this post, sharing a few bits and pieces of their testimony of God’s faithfulness as they presented it on that day. But this celebration came to mind, once again, when we started Lamentations in our Bible Challenge this week (I am a few days behind, so perhaps it was last week for you). I always love to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness to His people, through all of the stressful moments, questions, and dark places.

And it becomes clear that we Christians don’t lead an easy life, but traverse through the same fallen, broken world as our unsaved counterparts. In fact, many times our lives may be harder because of the hatred that we experience from a world that can’t see the Truth.

We love to quote verses 22-23–

Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.

In fact, these are two of my favorite Bible verses. But I guess I never really thought about the context of these verses. The words of God’s faithfulness come after several verses of really hard things that God has allowed. Seriously, go read all of chapter three–even if you aren’t doing the Bible challenge. It’s full of unbelievable difficulty and pain. But then we get to those glorious verses of God’s promised faithfulness.

No, the Christian life isn’t easy, but we are never alone and God provides just the right amount of grace and peace we need to get through the difficult tunnels in which we all find ourselves sometimes. Some of us travel through more tunnels than others. And some are longer and pitch black. But we all have our tunnels of blackness through which we walk in this life.

I finished a book about a small country in Asia this week and it brought all of this so fresh to mind. It was the story of a new church with people who had never heard anything about the true God of the Universe who loved them enough to send His Son. It was the glorious testimony of the difference God’s Word makes in the lives of people, despite the weaknesses of the messengers. But the most noteworthy part of the story was that the people of this village that turned to Christ endured prison, persecution, and maltreatment with songs in their hearts. It was amazing. They counted it joy to be in prison for Christ and although they suffered illness and great trauma, God walked with them each and every step. (As a side note, I do not feel good about recommending this book because, although God’s powerful Word did what it always does, the missionary that brought God’s book to this village seemed to be a little mixed up in His faith, seemingly caught up in some philosophies of men and causing me to wonder if even really understood what the Bible says!)

But this story reminded me that no matter what is ahead of us, God will remain faithful. And, actually, Eric and I were just talking about that the other night as we drove home alone in the car. We can look back and see choices we have made or events that have happened that caused us great fear and trembling. What would become of us? Did we do the right thing? And, yet, through it all, God worked and changed and grew us and now we can look back and see God’s hand through it all.

Reading about God’s faithfulness, talking of God’s faithfulness with fellow Christians, and seeing it in our own lives firsthand are a big part of what makes us stronger as believers. It helps to take the pointlessness and frustration out of the hard times– giving us hope for coming through our present trials stronger and looking more like Jesus.

Verses 25 & 26 of Lamentations 3 aren’t quoted as often, but they, too provide such hope–

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him,
To the soul who seeks Him.
It is good that one should hope and wait quietly
For the salvation of the Lord.

God’s faithfulness is real. It is not a made-up fairy tale told by naive and stupid people who need a crutch of faith to get them through life. It’s real and amazing and incredible! Follow hard after God and study His Word and you, too, will experience it. And that is a promise I feel I can confidently make.

 

The Setting Sun (and a message of hope!)

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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!

 

Brief Thoughts on the Supreme Court Ruling (It’s Not All Bad)

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As most of you know by now, the Supreme Court just ruled this morning that marriage can be between any two people, regardless of sex.

This is disheartening, to say the least, but certainly not surprising. With the steep downward decline of this culture, this should have been expected.

So what does this mean?

If means that, as believers who stand firmly on God’s Word, we are going to be called a lot more names, be targeted by government and liberal organizations, and start losing our rights to operate our businesses and churches as we choose (which has already been happening, anyway).

Our churches will eventually be forced underground and our kids forced into public education systems that will brainwash them. Study the histories of Rome and Germany if you’d like some idea of how this is going to end. While we are not a carbon copy of either culture, there are eery similarities that do not bode well for this great nation.

But what else is going to happen?

There are a couple of things about this decision that are positive. Yes, I said positive.

You can be sure that there is going to be a vigorous sifting of believers and those who call themselves believers. The true church will be purified through all of this, because anyone who has taken the Christian label but has never experienced genuine salvation is not going to stick around to take heat for something the world is telling them is normal.

While I am not making a judgment about those who call themselves Christians and believe homosexuality is okay (if they are a true believer, they will eventually be convicted about this and it is certainly not my place to judge each individual), scripture is extremely clear on this issue and this ruling will cause “fake” believers to start falling away.

The other good thing I can see coming out of this ruling is that we Christians will (hopefully) stop arguing about unimportant things. I am sometimes amazed at the debates and fights that take place within the church walls that are so unnecessary. Things that just do not really matter. But can’t you see this unifying our churches? Somehow the little stuff will fall away in the light of losing our right to free speech and the other rights we have so long enjoyed in this country as a church body.

I do believe that this ruling is the beginning of unifying and purifying the true church.

It reminds me of something I once heard Mark Lowry say in a concert. He compared the church to a river of water. When the river is above ground it is wide and shallow and often very muddy. But when it moves underground, it becomes narrow, pure, and crystal clear.

It also reminds me of something I recently heard Jan Markell say:

Things are not falling apart, they are falling into place.

God is sovereign and this did not take Him by surprise. And so, while this wasn’t the greatest news to hear this Friday in June, we need not be devastated because we are not hopeless. We know the Truth and we are on the winning side! But we’d better hang on, because I have a feeling the ride we are on is going to get pretty unpleasant.