Trials

It’s All in How You Look at It

Do you remember laying on the ground when you were a kid and finding shapes in the clouds? Oftentimes, two people looking at the same cloud see two different things. One might see a dinosaur, while another may see a truck. That is because those looking have two different perspectives.

As believers, we should always have a different perspective than the world around us when it comes to the small irritations, the bigger frustrations, and even the great trials in our lives. But how often I fail at this very thing! I thought of this the other day when I took a quick trip to a store.

My eyes strained and tried to make sense of the words. But, as I stood in that toy store, I knew there was no way that I could decipher the small print on the box I had picked up. The words were just blurred blobs of black. And I have to admit that I sighed as I pulled out my reading glasses. The sigh indicated my frustration and my heart of complaint. Though I didn’t speak, my head was certainly thinking it and God knows my thoughts.

A few minutes later, this thought struck me: Have you considered just how many people in history never had the incredible gift of reading glasses to extend the usefulness of their eyes?!?

Whoah. As I thought through this, I knew it couldn’t have been but a few hundred years that they have been in existence. And, although literacy has not been in existence all that long and the need wouldn’t have been terribly great for reading glasses, I knew that it would have been frustrating to grow older and not be able to see anything close up.  All through history, women would have to have had to mend and sew and cook and bake and wash clothing. How frustrating it must have been for them as their eyesight failed and detailed work became impossible to do well–if at all.

And I was complaining? If even in my heart, I knew this was sinful. I had the wrong perspective! Instead of being thankful for God’s gift of eyeglasses, I was grumbling because I needed them.

As I intentionally turned my perspective right side up, my overall attitude changed. There is just not room for complaint in a heart that is filled with gratitude.

I wish I could say I am always so quick to see what is going on in my heart when I complain. But, alas, I am not. It’s like second nature for us all. It is the thing we turn to when things aren’t going our way. Sometimes we have the wherewithal to simply think it. Other times, we vocalize it. No matter how we express our complaining hearts, it is always sin.

The Bible says this in Philippians 2:14-15–

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.

There are no exceptions that make a complaining heart acceptable. No conditions or set of circumstances that give us a right to complain.

If we continue to read the verses, we can see that this is how we shine as lights in the world. Isn’t this so interesting to reflect upon? We shine as lights in the world by not complaining and arguing about everything.

This has to mean then that when we do complain and argue (dispute), our lights are dimmed. Perhaps even turned off.

Later on in Philippians we read the following–

do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

Did you catch that word in there that keeps us from having a complaining heart? It is by bringing our requests to God with thanksgiving.

Complaints and thanksgiving cannot reside in a heart side-by-side. They are mutually exclusive.

So, practically speaking, how do we cultivate a thankful heart rather than a complaining heart?

Sometimes, we can just turn our complaint on its head and change our perspective, as I did with my glasses. When we are doing housework, we can instead thank God that we have a home. When we are taking care of the children, may we remember the tremendous blessing of caring for these precious souls. When our car breaks down, well, let’s thank the Lord for the car in the first place. You get the idea. This change in perspective can be a powerful tool.

But what about the things that happen in life that have no upside? The things that devastate us and are life-changing? How do we go from complaint to thankfulness then?

It is only through trusting God and His Sovereignty. Intentionally resting in His promises in scripture will enable us to endure and be thankful–not for them but through them as we dwell on His love, His grace, His mercy. Understanding and believing that ALL things work together for God’s purposes and for the good of those that love Him (Romans 8:28) –this truth can and will uphold us and carry us through the darkest days.

Yesterday, I was in the company of an elderly couple who has been through some very rough times in the past couple of years. Things are still frustrating and difficult for them. When I asked them how the Lord has helped them, the wife said something like, “He’s just been with us all the way.”

When she said that, I thought of these verses from Psalm 37 (vs 23-24)–

The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord,
And He delights in his way.
Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down;
For the Lord upholds him with His hand.

The Lord will uphold us, no matter what happens. And that is a reason to be thankful, no matter what we are going through.

Hearing this truth in the lives of those who have experienced it can be greatly encouraging. Even more encouraging is thinking back over our own lives and remembering the times we have been upheld. God won’t drop us now. We are His sheep and we can never be lost–

And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. (John 10:28-29)

So may we turn our complaints into gratitude today. May we remember God’s promises. May we look at things from an eternal perspective and, with a heart of gratitude, shine as bright lights in this very dark world!

 

Life and Legos

Have you ever had assumptions made about you? People are really great at assuming. They assume they know your motives, your reasons, your “whys”. They make assumptions about choices and decisions. These assumptions are often fueled by rumors. Rumors that we are all too quick to listen to and pass along.

These rumors and assumptions can really get us down for we are rarely given an opportunity to defend ourselves.

Have you ever been faced with a terrifying bit of news? Of course you have. Whether it’s an unwelcome diagnosis from a doctor or a piece of news that comes to our ears through a news anchor, we have all had those moments.

These terrifying moments can bring on major fear and anxiety for they make us realize that we have zero control over what happens.

Have you ever been accused wrongly or unfairly treated? Whether it is through favoritism, a misunderstanding, or because of standing for what is right, these moments come to us all.

These unfair accusations can make us really angry, because, well…it’s just not fair!

Have you ever been broken-hearted or hopeless? Perhaps through the loss of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, or the realization that you will have chronic pain for the rest of your life?

These moments of despair can make us depressed and zap all the joy from our lives because we just don’t feel like going on.

__________________________

I just finished reading the *biography of John Bunyan. He dealt with all of these things and more. As a young man, assumptions were made about him because he had been quite the wicked young man. The Lord got a hold of him and radically changed him but people just couldn’t forget the old man. He faced more trouble when his young wife died and left him with four young children to care for. Later on, he received the news of a prison sentence for a crime that wasn’t even a crime by the law of the land. It was totally and utterly wrongful imprisonment. While imprisoned, his precious Mary, his oldest (and blind) daughter passed away. When he was finally released from prison, his rabid opponents tried to stop his ministry through rumors and wrong accusations.

John found himself in a prison cell for twelve years. The religious wars in England at the time were ferocious and the tides turned every which way at any time. But, no matter which way it turned, his young wife (his second wife) found herself up against a brick wall in any effort to get him released.

Now, he could have grown depressed or angry. He could have ended up languishing in bitter disillusionment and unabated fury. But he didn’t.

Instead, he picked up quill and paper and started writing. And kept writing. And then wrote some more. His best known work is called Pilgrim’s Progress and is still a best seller among Christians today!

What was his key? Why could he continue on, despite the ill treatment and the heartbreak in his life?

There’s a small quote of his that shows us how he managed to do this. I have been mulling it over and over in my mind since I have first read it. I believe it is the key for us all–

“If ever I would suffer rightly I must first pass a sentence of death upon everything that can properly be called a thing of this life, even to reckon myself, my wife, my children, my health, my enjoyments, and all as dead to me and myself as dead to them. The second was to live upon God that is invisible.”

You see, he was putting scripture into practice. Paul basically told us this same thing in Philippians 3:8–

Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

And so we must realize that it’s only in releasing our grip on the things of this world that we can experience the peace and joy that God has promised. It’s only in surrendering our sense of fairness, our reputations, our family members, our health, our finances, our futures to God and His Sovereign will that we can conquer our fears, worries, anger, and despondency.

This brings to mind an example of this I saw just a few years ago lived out right in front of my eyes. How well I remember the calm acceptance of my brother and his wife as they faced the fact that her journey on this earth was winding down to an end. It is because they were learning to release the things of this life to grasp instead the bright shining eternal gift of Christ.

As believers, the more we die to self and gain Christ, the more we are victorious in our Christian lives.

This isn’t exactly what most want to hear. In our self-obsessed culture, we want God to fulfill our dreams and pour down blessings.

But the actual blessings we receive from God aren’t all that appealing to the carnal soul.

__________________________

The other week, my son came into the house and said, “We have lots of legos!” I was confused and followed him out the door. What I saw sitting in the bed of his truck were 5-6 boxes of varying sizes filled with legos! A customer’s children had grown tired of legos and she didn’t want to bother selling them, so she asked if we wanted them. My son loaded them up and brought them home. Thousands of dollars worth of legos.

When our grandchildren laid eyes on those boxes they grew wide with excitement. As we pulled one off the truck and they saw all of the pieces and parts and potential, they were thrilled. Particularly the oldest, who at six years old, could really appreciate them.

Now, to an adult or a small baby, eh… who cares. Legos are not really their thing, right? Not really considered that big of a blessing. And maybe even a nuisance.

But to a child? Wow.

I think God’s blessings are a bit like that. They don’t look all that attractive to the unbeliever. Forgiveness of sins and peace with the God of the Universe? Eh. Not all that important, as they yearn after the worthless “fool’s gold” of this world. Peace and joy in the midst of trial? But they want promises of NO trials.

It isn’t until we are saved that God’s blessings fill us with awe and appreciation. Because they are specifically for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation and eternal life.

And so victory and blessing in the Christian life isn’t going to look all that appealing to the unbeliever or perhaps even to the immature believer.

It isn’t until we give up the temporal for the eternal that we begin to understand.

 

I wish I could say I am able to live out the truth of John Bunyan’s statement above. I wish I could say that God’s blessings are always enough for me. But, unfortunately, in my battle with my flesh and my {ever-loosening but still tight} grip on this world, I cannot. I can only write about it in hopes to encourage us all towards this ideal, knowing that God will faithfully continue His work in those of us who are His as we journey together towards the eternal city.

 

for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:13

 

 

*A Pilgrim Path: John Bunyan’s Journey by Faith Cook. Highly recommend!

 

What Really Matters When Life Falls Apart?

This world is full of so much suffering. The latest we’ve been hearing about (or experiencing, depending where we find ourselves in the world at this time) is the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. There are many different stories, accounts, and reports making their rounds and, as has become the norm for us, we wonder who we should believe. There are so many lies. So much false information.

This is why hearing from reliable, first-hand sources becomes important in these situations. What is really going on? While there is much we can’t know, there is also so much we do know.

We know, with certainty, that the lives of millions of people have been thrown into utter turmoil in just a few hours. Sleep, food, water, gas have all become so much more precious as the Ukrainians strive to survive in the midst of an invasion by a neighboring country. They are sleeping in bomb shelters or corridors in order to protect their lives. Can’t imagine any of them are getting much sleep in that situation, can you? The shelves at the stores are becoming empty and they are starting to wonder how they will get food. If they want to escape the city, they find they can hardly move as they fight their way through all of the chaos and confusion. If you can even get gas, which has become scarce. Overnight, apartment buildings of peaceful citizens have been bombed in several cities, leaving innocent victims without homes in the middle of the winter. If they even survived the bombing…

Some of these struggling people are our Christian brothers and sisters. There is a thriving church in that country. Years ago, I was in Ukraine for a couple of weeks and one of my fondest memories is worshiping with the Christians there. I can remember singing in English while they were singing Ukrainian and feeling our bond in Christ. If we are believers, then we have family in Ukraine. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. And they are really struggling right now.

Last week, my daughter, Jess, sent a couple text messages that are the heart of today’s post. She said something that really made me reflect on what really matters when your life falls apart. Such as what is happening to our Ukrainian siblings right now. At this moment.

Basically, her thought was if your Christianity can’t sustain you through these times, then it probably isn’t genuine. If it doesn’t work for Ukrainians in bomb shelters, Chinese imprisoned for their faith, or Nigerians and Indians under death threats from extremists, is it even real? Or is it, rather, some made-up ridiculousness that has absolutely no value when life grows ugly?

Do you think our Ukrainian Christian brothers and sisters are talking about their dreams or self-fulfillment? Are they sitting around and discussing the feminist agenda or social justice? Do you think getting wealthy is even on their list of priorities?

When life falls apart, none of these things matter. Not even a bit.

What matters are God’s promises to sustain us. To be our shield. To protect and shelter us. To give us peace and joy and comfort. The kind of peace and joy that goes far beyond “happily ever after” because, let’s face it: We all know life doesn’t work like that. It is not happily ever after (at least not in this world) and Christians do die in explosions. They get cancer and heart attacks at the most inopportune times. They lose their businesses and their savings. They get viciously killed by those who oppose them.

Christians are not guaranteed a happy life without problems. There is nothing in the Bible to suggest we are. Christians are not to fight for social justice (a Marxist term, never a Christian one) or to fix the world. We aren’t to be focused on our own selfish agendas or to use God like a genie in the sky to get what we want.

If anything can show us that these types of “Christianity” are false, it is what is happening right now.

What exactly does the Bible teach us about the Christian life? What does it say we can expect?

Yes, we can expect trials and troubles. Rather than avoiding them, the Bible says God will use them to grow us (Romans 8:28-29; James 1:2-4).

Yes, we can expect to be hated by the world, because our own Lord was hated. But we know that this is proof that we are Christ’s own and that the Holy Spirit will help us endure…even unto death (John 15).

So, contrary to much that is taught from “Christian” pulpits today, we cannot avoid these things. There is no magic prayer or sum of money we can give to a {fake} apostle that is going to miraculously make our life wonderful.

But, while we know these things will come (and may already be upon us), we also have the rich and abundant promises of our Heavenly Father to carry us through–

He will never, ever forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

The peace He gives is not like the world; it surpasses understanding (John 14:27; Philippians 4:6-7).

He will walk with us through the “valley of the shadow of death” so that we need not fear evil (Psalm 23).

When we fall, we shall not be utterly cast down for the Father upholds us with His hand (Psalm 37:23-24)

Of course, as we read of God’s promises, we also find in scripture that there is an attitude we must have in order to experience these promises of God to the fullest–

We must keep our mind stayed on God (Isaiah 26:3)

We must trust in the Lord (Psalm 112:7)

We must choose not to worry or to be anxious (Matthew 6:34; Philippians 4:6-7)

We must cast our burden on the Lord (Psalm 55:22)

We must draw near to Him in truth (Psalm 145:18)

We must forsake the world and purify our lives (James 4:1-10)

And, then, after all of this, there is one important thing to remember that helps us to keep all of this in biblical perspective: The true believer knows that their best life isn’t now. It is the one to come!

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. (John 14:1-4)

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

The verses I’ve shared above are just a small sampling of the promises, the hope, and even the instruction that we find in God’s Word for those who have repented and trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. We can experience peace in the midst of the greatest storm. It has been a great joy reading of Ukrainian Christians testifying to this very thing!

I don’t think there are any Ukrainians turning to God’s Word to find out how they can be rich this morning. They are trusting in God to see them through the next day, the next hour…perhaps just the next few minutes.

What kind of Christianity are you hearing about on Sunday mornings? What is your preacher preaching? Is he pointing you to God’s Word as the final authority for the Christian life? Is he interpreting the Bible historically, grammatically, and literally, rather than allegorizing great chunks of it and casting doubts on its authenticity?

These are important questions we need to ask ourselves as the world grows darker. If we aren’t being fed true, biblical Christianity we are at much risk for having shallow roots that will not hold in life’s storms, much less in the chaos and confusion that threatens to consume us in the days ahead. We must be in the Word, both personally and in our churches. If our church is not preaching biblical Christianity, then we should not stay.

I don’t know how I ended up on challenging you all on your churches, but I believe that it is probably a challenge that we all need to hear. So many sit under and are influenced by ungodly preaching these days. May we not be numbered among them.

 

 

The Doomsdayer, The Ostrich, and the Faithful One

In the spring of 2020, right about the time it became obvious that what was going on was about more than a virus and would most certainly last more than a couple of weeks to “flatten the curve”, someone sent me an article. The article predicted such impending doom for that following fall that I lost a whole night’s sleep over it. It is generally best for me not to read those at night. Actually, it’s best not to read them at all.

The following morning, I was able to refocus myself on the Lord and to remember His promises, but I will never forget that long night of panic. Since that time, predictions of doom and gloom have only multiplied exponentially. It is easy to understand why, considering the strange and unprecedented times we are living in. But predictions are just that…predictions. The only predictions that come true 100% of the time are in the Bible. While we can reflect on others and consider them (if that is something you are wont to do), we dare not take them too seriously.

These times are challenging, no question about that. And I’ve noticed that most Christians respond one of three ways. Some people (like myself) have responded all three ways on different occasions. Let’s take a look briefly at two types of responders–

The Doomsdayer-– These are the ones that are all about what is going on in the world. Their conversations and communications are generally along the line of what is happening. Nothing else really exists for them and they are obsessed by the events, the news, and the future of this world. Some of these doomsdayers are working hard to “save” the world. Others are intently focused on how these events all fit into the Bible and what we know is coming.

The Ostrish– These are the ones who don’t want to hear anything. They surround themselves with only the positive and close their ears to anything that threatens their way of life. It’s actually been rather difficult to be an ostrich in this past couple of years with all that’s going on, but we all try to dig our heads in the sand at one time or other through various means of escape and endeavors of industry.

__________________________

Both of the above are incorrect ways to approach anything in this life. Although it may be tempting to handle anything difficult or vexing in one of these ways, as believers we are called to something higher.

This has been such a learning process for me and I’ve not arrived (to say the least) but the Lord has been very patiently teaching me over these past two years that all I need to be as we face these weird times is a faithful one. He may be teaching you the same thing.

In the Bible, we find many examples to follow during any trial–even a situation as strange and unusual and, yes, sometimes frightening as this one. Let’s consider just a few of them–

Noah was given the worst prediction in the world: The whole world would be destroyed and he and his family alone would be saved (Genesis 6:13-14). We don’t read much of Noah but what we do know is that he was faithful and obedient in the midst of the greatest world tragedy in existence up to this point (Hebrews 11:7).  So, too, we must be faithful and obedient in the midst of what appears to be the preparation for the “as in the days of Noah” time (Matthew 24:37).

We are called to obey.

 

Abraham faithfully followed after God, having no idea where he was headed (Hebrews 11:8-9). So, too, must we follow hard after God, even when we can’t see where we are going. Amidst the questions, the what-ifs, and the confusion, we remain faithful.

We are called to be faithful.

 

Joseph faced the unimaginable but God worked all things out in and through these unimaginable circumstances (Genesis 37-50). From being sold into slavery by his own brothers to being falsely accused, Joseph was probably very discouraged many times. And, yet, God was intricately involved in the timelines and minute details of Joseph’s life and used all of it to eventually save the nation of Israel during a dreadful famine. This account reminds us that God has every little detail of our lives under His sovereign control and we can trust His plan.

We are called to trust God.

 

Esther put her life on the line to do the right thing (Esther 4:16). It was a very different time and place and her audacity in approaching the king could mean her death. Can you imagine how she felt as she waited to see if the king would hold out his sceptre and welcome her? But, even knowing it could mean her life, she did what was right. How often we are unwilling to do or say what is right because of a little ridicule that might come our way. Oh, that we may be more like Esther and be willing to sacrifice whatever necessary in order to do the right thing.

We are called to sacrifice.

 

Job lost everything and still bowed to God and surrendered to God’s will (Job 1:21). As we read Job, we see this man struggle through great trial and finally come to understand that God is immeasurably great and man is called to surrender in the face of God’s greatness. So, too, must we understand that God’s plans and purposes are far higher than ours and only through surrendering our own will to God’s will can we find any peace at all in the midst of trials and tribulation.

We are called to surrender.

 

Stephen faced his death with valor, while calling upon the Lord to forgive those who stoned him (Acts 7:60) He remembered–even as he was dying–what was really important. So, too, must we face the truth of our circumstances with eternal souls in mind. May we never lose sight of what really matters amidst the craziness and chaos of all that’s going on.

We are called to remember what really matters.

 

Paul bravely faced much persecution for speaking the truth (Read the book of Acts to find out more). So, too, must we be willing to speak up with courage and boldness, pointing people to God and His Word. Amidst great unpopularity and ridicule and, yes, even coming persecution, we must speak the truth.

We are called to speak the truth.

 

Can you think of other examples in scripture that we can pull wisdom from for this current world we live in? There are so many others, including Jesus Himself. God has not left us to our own devices in this world but has filled His Word with examples of men and women for us to emulate. He has filled His Word to us with promises, encouragement, commands, and guidance. He has told us how to face anything that we may have to face.

I have been both doomsdayer and ostrich over the past couple of years. But what I want to be is a faithful one, being and doing all that God has shown me to be and to do– no matter what the circumstances.

None of us can know what lies ahead. None of us can know what God’s specific and detailed plan is or the timing of that plan. But we do know what we are called to do. And so we live one hour at a time in obedience to His call.

Rather than to be known as the prophet of bad news or the scaredy-cat unwilling to face bad news, may we be known as the faithful Christian who is willing to face the truth with courage and to live in such a way that always points people to Christ.

 

 

The Road Trip

A few days before we left to see family it became clear that a dear friend of mine wasn’t going to make it. I agonized for a whole night over the fact that I was going to miss her memorial service and then, finally, just surrendered it to the Lord. I couldn’t change my trip dates and I couldn’t change the date of the service. It was out of my control. For some reason, God didn’t think I needed to be there.

A few days into our visit, we were told the date of the service. We would be able to make it –if we’d do the 19hr drive home straight through. We aren’t particularly “straight through” kind of people and generally like to take our time and make stops as needed. But these were special circumstances and, so, at 4am on the day before the service, we crawled out of bed, threw some clothing on, hugged our family, and headed out into the night.

Things went pretty smoothly for the first few hours. Until we got to Tennessee. South of Chattanooga we ran into horrendous traffic. It was around 4pm on Friday evening. We stopped completely. Waze offered no tiny accident symbol so we couldn’t figure out what was going on. I nervously watched our waze “arrival time” creep in the wrong direction. Finally, we breathed a sigh of relief as traffic started to crawl toward the city. I had to use the restroom something fierce and was feeling discouraged about that, as well. I felt like I was going to burst when, in God’s perfect timing, a rest stop appeared. I know this sounds foolish but if you have ever had to go to the restroom when you are in a traffic jam you will know the joy I felt at seeing that sign!

We continued to crawl after that stop and then gradually started to move at a more lively pace. But it was short-lived as we ran into more traffic on the north side of that city. Again, we sat. And crawled. And then sat again. Losing more minutes, we were both pretty discouraged. The drive was long enough without this. We continued to crawl towards Knoxville. This pattern continued on the other side of Knoxville.

We had had no traffic issues on the way down and were a bit puzzled. It was Friday evening rush hour but this seemed much worse than usual. I finally remembered the popular attraction that the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area is in the autumn. I can’t help but think that perhaps people were traveling there for the weekend. But that is just a guess.

We started to travel along again and then, suddenly, came to an abrupt halt. This time there was a little accident symbol in the waze app along with a tiny red line running up the left side of the app and this discouraging number: 1 hour and 30 min. 

We could expect to be sitting in this traffic for an hour and 30 minutes. I was downright frustrated at this point. And pretty discouraged. I hate staying up late at night and determined in college, actually, that 2am was my limit. I learned pretty early on that 2am was the latest I could stay up and actually function the next day. Our original time to get home was around midnight. Our arrival time was already showing after two and now we were stuck in this accident traffic.

I stewed and stewed and stewed. And then I finally just surrendered. This was in the Lord’s hands and He knew what was going on. And how thankful we were not to be the ones in the accident. There is always something to be thankful for.

I sent out a few texts asking for prayer that we would stay awake in those wee hours of the morning as we sat there waiting to get going again. I didn’t know how this would all work but I was just going to trust God.

When the traffic started moving again our arrival time had crept to after 3:30am. We realized that we should grab supper soon, as it was already after 8pm and restaurants would start closing. When we stopped I also grabbed a large cup of coffee and stuck it in the Yeti cup I had brought with me on the trip. The cup was a last minute, unplanned thing to grab that morning we left and, oh, how thankful I was for it now.

Around 10pm, Eric laughed and said we only had a trip “to see my brother” left. He lives about 5 1/2 hours away. That was pretty discouraging but we were happy to be moving along at a good pace and so we laughed and kept going.

Around 11pm, the coffee was working pretty well so I told my husband I would drive for a bit so he could rest his eyes. I turned on a radio drama of The Prince and the Pauper that I had on my Music app but had never listened to and sipped on my coffee as I drove into the night.

I was surprised to feel pretty wide awake and drove until 1am while my husband slept. I know that it had to be those prayers that had been lifted for us. My husband took over the wheel and the rest of the night was uneventful. We pulled into our home driveway just a bit before four.

So in the midst of that frustrating day, I was reminded of a few things and wanted to share with you here.

First, God was so good to allow me to be at my dear friend’s memorial service. Just when I had resigned myself that I would have to miss it, He made a way for me to be there.

Second, He provided small blessings that just wouldn’t have been necessary. A perfectly placed restroom and a travel coffee cup that was a last minute grab reminded me that God cares about the little stuff. The King of the Universe cares about the littlest details of our lives and I am always so amazed by that.

Third, It wasn’t until I finally just yielded my will to God’s that I felt any peace in the midst of those traffic jams. I think this is true in little stuff like road trips, as well in the big stuff of life. I always remember this profound statement by Elisabeth Elliot: With acceptance comes peace. That is just so true. While we fight against God and His will, no matter what the circumstances, we will be in turmoil. It is only when we surrender that we experience the “peace that surpasses understanding” that God has promised His children.

And, fourth, when we started moving along again, I had a moment to reflect on the frustrating hours behind us. In the past, those hours would have been filled with an irritated and short-tempered couple snapping at one another. We don’t tend to fight a lot but those kind of circumstances usually bring out the worse in us. Imagine my surprise when I realized that we hadn’t fought even once. Oh, we came close a time or two but we both restrained our tongues and our tempers in ways never before. God used that opportunity to show us that we are growing in Christ. We are actually changing and growing. It was an encouraging realization that we would have never noticed or become aware of– had we not run into those problems on the road. Our true colors generally don’t show themselves until we are put under some form of heat. We had been in a bit of heat and we could see growth. God is changing us!

This post may seem rather inane and silly to some of you. Who cares about a road trip, anyway? But I feel like this road trip is a microcosm of all trials and what we learn through them.

 

No matter what the trial, God is good.

No matter what the trial, God pours out His mercies (both small and large) on us.

No matter what the trial, we must surrender our will to God’s will.

No matter what the trial, we experience the opportunity to examine ourselves spiritually in light of our responses.

 

Life is full of troubles and trials–both great and small. But if we are Christ’s own, we are not alone. God walks with us, supplying us with His sufficient grace and mercy. No matter what the trial, they are all within His Sovereignty and He is using them for His eternal purposes and for our good.

 

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.

Romans 8:28-29

 

 

(A Lot of) Lessons I Learned This Past Month (Part 1)

A few weeks ago, I made a rather spontaneous decision. My mom and I were talking about how June has been hi-jacked and she casually mentioned that we should make it Missionary Month. Without any background research or preparation in advance, I decided to do just that.  And so, on the Growing4Life Facebook page and also on my personal Facebook page, I’ve been featuring a different missionary each day. The well-known and the not so well-known. Martyrs and those who lived into their nineties. At home and on the foreign field. So many different missionaries but all with the same purpose: Proclaim the Gospel!

I have to admit when I made the last-minute decision to do this, I had no expectation of it changing me. I just wanted to bring some attention to these amazing men and women who sacrificed all for Christ. And that was that. Or so I thought.

And so I spent about hours this past month pouring over articles and watching videos to learn more about this special group of people. I had already read some of the biographies. Others I knew only by name. It was a profoundly rewarding exercise. (I am considering creating a PDF that includes each featured missionary along with the links I used. If this is something that would interest you, just let me know by replying to this email.)

As I researched and studied from my very comfortable home with my coffee cup in hand, I started to recognize how weak and spoiled I am. Honestly, I did already knew this but this study really drove home the point. Oh, to be more like these people who truly followed Jesus by denying themselves and taking up their cross (Matthew 16:24). They had it easy and chose hard. And I complain when the smallest thing doesn’t go my way. It’s a contrast that is striking and disgusting and I truly came up wanting. This month really challenged me personally both in living my daily Christian life, as well as in what should be done to prepare for whatever lies ahead.

Here are a few of the lessons that had the most impact in my life–

1. God is faithful. (Lamentations 3:22-23) Over and over again, through all circumstances, God proved Himself faithful. Many–I would even say most–of these missionaries lost multiple children and their spouse throughout the course of their ministry. Some endured terrible hardships under the Japanese and communist regimes. Many were hungry, out of money, mocked, scorned, persecuted, in need of clothing and other necessities, in the filthiest of conditions, surrounded by disease and yet God remained faithful. This doesn’t mean that only good things happened to them. It means that God was faithful through the good and the bad. I always cringe when I hear people imply that God intends for us to only experience good things. So many in the western, materialistic word believe that God is the great genie in the sky just desiring to make our own personal, selfish dreams come true. Nothing could be further from the truth.

2. The missionaries had one purpose and one purpose only. (I Peter 2:9-10) They did not set out to change the world and make it a better place in a temporal sense. They did not go to a third world country to provide the impoverished people there with clean water, food, and other necessities. While this may have been part of their plan, their main goal was always to proclaim the Gospel. Nothing could deter them from pointing people to Jesus and saving them from hell. Oh, what a contrast this is to modern day missions where the focus has moved to fixing temporal, earthly problems. Caring for their bodies while ignoring their souls. I am thankful there are still some very godly missionaries out there but that group is shrinking fast.

3. The Word was foundational. (2 Timothy 3:16) In the lives of these missionaries, the Bible was key. They recognized that the power for the Christian life was there and it was the center of their ministry, as well as their source for strength. It’s no wonder so many Christians are leading powerless lives encumbered by sin, depression, addictions, worldliness, and idols. The Bible has taken a backseat in homes and churches across the world and this is where that leads. God has given us His Word as the tool by which we are transformed day by day. And yet so often it just sits on a shelf.

4. Christians who give up everything are happier. (Philippians 4:11) Yesterday, a friend of mine put a photo on Facebook with the covers of two books. One book had missionary stories and the other contained short biographies of movie stars from bygone days. She mentioned that the contrast between the two groups of people was striking. I have noticed the same thing. The biographies of most famous people are incredibly disappointing. They are generally full of broken marriages and families, addictions, materialism, bitterness, resentment, and deep and abiding sadness. They have wasted their whole lives chasing after something that they just can’t find.

Contrast that to the missionaries and other sold-out Christians. God has filled them with a purpose that is far outside themselves. I know it doesn’t make any sense to our finite minds, but somehow God has designed us that when we live for Him, we are happier. When we turn away from our selfish desires and submit to and obey God, it brings a peace and joy that can’t be explained. We can grasp after that next house or car, we can try to fill our hearts with earthly relationships, we can attain the greatest success in our jobs or we can gain fame and fortune–but none of that leads to the peace that passes understanding. This only comes through God. And when you have that, then nothing else matters. It truly is the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46). These missionary stories gave real life evidence to this over and over and over again.

5. Missionaries aren’t perfect. (I John 1:8) Many of these missionaries made errors in judgment or chose to do something that ended up costing them dearly. They had tempers, they lacked management skills, they had to work through bitterness–just as we do. Some came to wrong conclusions about some secondary biblical issues. Some sacrificed their children for their missionary call. In summary, they were sinners. They were regular people just like you and like me. And yet God used them mightily. For it isn’t from our own stores and talents that we do great things for God, but it is His working through us.

6. They wouldn’t change a thing. (Romans 8:28) I remember listening to the testimony of one missionary as she described her experience as a POW of Japan during the second world war. It was absolutely horrifying and far beyond anything you and I could comprehend. And yet, she said she wouldn’t change a thing. She not only submitted to God’s sovereignty in her life but she recognized that He had used these unspeakable trials to bear fruit that could not have otherwise grown.

 

Well, this may be a good place to stop for today, as this is getting far longer than I expected. I think I will divide this into two posts and try to get Part 2 out later this week. Thanks for reading!

 

 

The Fragrance of Christ

As I sit outside writing this morning, the incredible fragrance of honeysuckle wafts up to the porch on a light breeze every once in awhile. We have a bit of woods behind our house and the last few weeks of May and the beginning of June always bring the blossoming of, first, the wild roses and, shortly after, the honeysuckle– both filling the air with their wonderful scents.

But to some people, farmers and others, these plants are viewed as noxious weeds to be destroyed. Many don’t appreciate their amazing– albeit brief– time of glory each year and seek avidly to rid their landscape of these pests.

One person views them in a positive light and one person views them in a negative light.

As I was enjoying the scent of the honeysuckle the other evening, I examined my own life and wondered if I am the fragrance of Christ to those around me. I long to be, although that sinful nature does trip me up all too frequently!

What is the fragrance of Christ? What does it look like? It’s love and peace and joy. It’s selflessness and self-control. It’s honesty and patience and kindness.

But is that all there is to it? And if it is, then why are we viewed as noxious weeds to so many? Why does the world hate Christians so? 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 helps us understand, showing us that, while we are the fragrance of life to a few, to many we are the fragrance of death(!)–

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us [d]diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things?

None of the things listed above would ever make an enemy. Who doesn’t like someone who is kind and patient and loving? What is the fragrance of Christ that turns people off and makes them want to attack and destroy Christians?

Let’s turn to scripture to gain some insight. For it is there that we find some of these offensive principles that make people turn away from, reject, avoid, and rebel against God. It is here we find out why the world at large hates us Christians.

Being the fragrance of Christ to the world also means that–

–We are committed to the truth of the Gospel. We proclaim that Jesus is the only way. There are no good works we can do or supernatural, mystical happening we can experience to make us right with God. (John 14:6)

–We understand that we–and everyone else in this world– are not good people. We are all born sinners and are in desperate need of a Savior. (Romans 3:23)

–We intentionally surrender our own desires to live for God. We give up our dreams in order to obey God. We take up our cross and deny ourselves. (Matthew 16:24)

–We separate ourselves from the world. From its passion for success. From its definition of love. From its goals and values. From its entertainment. (James 4:4) (please note that I didn’t say we separate ourselves from the people of the world–for we are clearly told to reach the lost. But, according to scripture, we must separate from the world’s system. Contrary to today’s popular opinion, you don’t need to participate in the world and its entertainment to reach someone for Christ.)

–We trust God instead of self. We turn to the Bible for answers instead of to man’s wisdom. (Psalm 118:8)

–We expect persecution and trials as we live our Christian life. We don’t want them, but we understand that we are swimming upstream in a world that is going downstream. (2 Timothy 3:12)

There are so many more things the Bible teaches that we must stand upon. And these are things HATED by the world. We teach that women are the keepers of the home and are to submit to their husbands (Titus 2:4-5). That homosexuality is a sin (Romans 1:26-27). That we are to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). Can you think of others?

__________________________________________

 

These things are not very popular to teach and preach and write about, are they? And they garner the antagonism and ridicule of the world and even much of the church. Only someone who is already a true believer or seeking after God will be drawn to these principles for life. Only this small group of people will recognize the benefit and blessing of a life lived in obedience to the principles laid out in the Word. Only these few will find these words life-giving, and comforting.

But the rest of the world (and much of the church) will view us as noxious weeds. People to be destroyed. An invasive plant to be gotten rid of.

And we are seeing this, aren’t we? My daughter-in-law sent a photo of a response someone sent to a Christian on Instagram. It was the very essence of what we are talking about. In a nutshell, this woman declared that Christians are a bane on society and should be destroyed. If Christianity is only about kindness and love, why would she declare this? It is because Christianity is about more than love. It’s about TRUTH.

There are a few things for us to reflect upon as we consider this idea of fragrance.

First, we should examine our own lives. Are we giving off the aroma of Christ in all ways? Or just the easy, appealing ways that will gain the acclaim of the world? This is tough and it’s getting tougher. We are all so susceptible to peer pressure. It is only through the strength of the Holy Spirit that we can speak the entire counsel of God and defend the Bible. It is only through His power that we can be the light of truth in this dark, dark world.

Second, I have to confess that one of the biggest puzzles to this for me is how Christians who love truth are often strongly disliked–and even hated–by other Christians. These are good people who are living for Christ. And, yet, when you declare someone to be a false teacher based on their own words and actions, they get mad at you. When you give clear documentation of a false doctrine or some other unpopular truth from God’s Word, they declare you to be negative or legalistic and ridicule you. What is going on here? If they are saved, why don’t they love the truth? Why don’t they want to see the Church and its members protected? I don’t have any answers but it is a puzzling and discouraging truth. If you are a watchmen on the wall, trying to protect the church, the arrows will come from both sides of the wall. And the arrows from inside the church hurt far, far worse than the ones coming from the world!

The perfect Christian life is to live like Christ. We will never attain that on this side of heaven, but this should be our desire. This will consist of those wonderful things that everyone loves but it will also consist of those things that aren’t so loved. To be a true representative for Christ, we must embrace all of who He is. Not just the parts that are pleasant.

And then we must expect, just like the wild rose and honeysuckle plants, to be delightful and pleasant to a few and to be viewed as a pernicious and virulent weed to most. This is the life of the true believer.

 

If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also.

John 15:18-20

 

 

 

Our Response to Christ’s Sacrifice

It is Good Friday. When I was younger, this was an official holiday. Banks and stores were closed and the mail wasn’t delivered as the population at large stopped and contemplated what Christ had done on the cross. At least that was the idea. I think that the actual contemplating had stopped long before I was born but tradition remained for a long time. Until one day, the holiday was just no longer.

But this is still the day, in fact the entire weekend, that we Christians focus on all that Christ has done for us. And, oh, what He has done! I believe I realize more and more each year the wickedness of my own heart and the significance of the gift that was given to me when Christ died on the cross.

As we continue to live in “limbo land” and wait for all the changes that will result from the upheaval to our “normal” lives in 2020, this gift has become even more precious, hasn’t it? And I think any of us who are genuinely born again has thought about this in a different light, as we wonder what it will cost us to continue to follow Jesus in the coming days.

But Christianity has never been costless. Or at least not for the majority of people in the world. We are simply moving into what has been the normal experience for Christians throughout history.

It is difficult for many of us to pay even the price of a scowl or an unkind word when we speak up for Jesus and so we remain silent. This is because we have been deceived by the wave of self-centered Christianity that has taken the world by storm. A Christianity where it’s all about God’s love and His “genie powers” to make our lives on this earth amazing.

But, while God’s love is certainly an integral part of the Gospel, we must continue to read God’s Word to find out what salvation means. What all it entails. You see, we aren’t saved so that God can fulfill our dreams and give us a great life on this earth. His Word makes this abundantly clear. And, while it is true that we experience peace and joy that the unsaved cannot experience, it is supernaturally experienced through the trials–not in the lack of them.

So what does God expect from us after we are saved? What does He have for us to do?

Let’s look to the Word for this answer–

Philippians 3:8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.

Matthew 6:20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

Colossians 3:1-3 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

These verses clearly show us that after we are saved, our love for the world should start waning. Oh, for most of us this isn’t instant but, gradually, as we mature in Christ, the gleam of the world shows itself for what it is: Fool’s gold that has no value. The fame, the glory, the riches, the popularity of the world dim as we grow closer to Christ.

James doesn’t mince words as he also echoes this change in affections–

James 4:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

Not only are our affections changed, they MUST be changed if we are truly born again. For them not to be changed gives evidence that we aren’t saved at all since it is impossible to be friends with God and with the world at the same time.

As we stand for the truth of God’s Word in a world that hates Him, we will face difficulties and persecution. This is made clear throughout scripture–

Matthew 5:11-12  Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

I Peter 4:12-14 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are [e]reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. [f]On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.

Christ died on the cross to give us life. What an awesome, incredible gift! But that life is to be lived for Him, doing the good works He has set out for us–

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

In response to God’s amazing gift of grace and mercy, we are to take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow Christ–

Luke 9:23-26 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross [b]daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it. 25 For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and is himself destroyed or lost? 26 For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him the Son of Man will be ashamed when He comes in His own glory, and in His Father’s, and of the holy angels.

We are to deny ourselves. Lose our lives (all earthly advance and glory) to live for Christ. If we are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of us. In a Christian culture that promotes the complete opposite of these verses, these are sobering thoughts, are they not?

Biblical Christianity isn’t popular these days and it’s growing less popular by the minute. People think we are strange and odd and even dangerous (which makes no sense at all until you read John 8:44 and I Peter 5:8 and recognize Satan’s pure hatred for believers).

As we contemplate Christ’s sacrifice this weekend, may we also prepare ourselves to pay the price to follow Him to the end. No matter the cost.

And let’s remember that we aren’t relying on our own strength as we face the days ahead. (I can’t think of a more comforting thought than that, as my heart can tend to quiver at the road that lies ahead.) We know the ending to this old earth’s history. We know the King who will be victorious and we are on His side. He will give us the fortitude and courage to stand strong. May we proclaim Him to the end, no matter the cost!

 

 

How Studying the Bible Changes You

I was so perplexed and started to grow angry. Was she kidding? No, there was an unpleasant glint in her eye that gave credence to her words.

My daughter had been given permission from the guy at the top of the bridge to have her baby’s car seat in the plane. When we arrived in the plane, the stewardess informed us in no uncertain terms that this would not be possible. She condescendingly told us it was a full flight and she highly doubted there would be room for his seat. But the plane was far from full. So not only was she rude but she lied. We did question why permission was given at the top, which seemed to set her against us. She continued her churlishness with us throughout the flight. This same stewardess was quite rude to the rest of family behind us as they made legitimate requests. It’s hard to believe that someone like that has a job working with people.

A few moments before the flight started, a man came and very kindly explained that, due to Covid, car seats were no longer allowed on the smaller planes. While this didn’t make any sense to us at all, his calm and kind manner as he explained was comforting after the stinging meanness of the stewardess. (They all seemed to be rather confused as to protocol regarding car seats and the rules about them. It was very disorganized. It does seem like we now live in a world where anything and everything can be blamed on Covid. It’s actually very strange.)

As we taxied on the runway and then took off, I could feel myself growing angrier and angrier at this woman. I wanted nothing more than to be rude back to her. But about fifteen or twenty minutes in, as I started to settle down, it dawned on me that she was very likely unsaved and that I had a Christian testimony to keep. While I (to my shame) did not go out of my way to “kill her with kindness”, I did manage to hold my tongue and to mumble a “thank you” a time or two as she brought things by.

I do long for the day that I can overcome my flesh in these situations and actually be extra kind when someone is so incredibly rude to me (or my child.) But Sunday was not that day.

The next morning, I was reading in Matthew and I came across these verses in chapter six–

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I thought about this lady from the day before and remembered the danger of holding grudges. I thought of how anger and bitterness shatter all relationships–whether it be with a stranger, a customer, a person at church, a friend, or a family member.

Unforgiveness and bitterness destroy everything in their path. It can never be allowed to set up residence in our soul. Even over the small matter of an extra-ordinarily rude stewardess. At that moment, I chose to forgive her. I wished I had been able to do that on the plane so that I could have been a better testimony. I will probably never see her again and that chance is gone.

So, honestly, I am not a big one for flying. Flying with masks is far worse. But the thing that had me the most worried was that all of the women, save one, in our family were on the same plane for four different flights. About two weeks before we had left this hit me and I grew incredibly worried about something happening to all of us at the same time. Enter Matthew, chapter six again. It was from the end of that chapter that I drew much comfort and chose to trust the Lord.

You see, in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge we have been reading Matthew 5-8, which contains the Sermon on the Mount. There have been so many times that what I have been reading and studying over this past month have been practically applied to my daily life. I gave just two examples above but there are so many more. The scriptures have exhorted, reminded, encouraged, and rebuked me. They truly are life-changing.

Any good in me, any right response, is the Holy Spirit working through the Word to transform me and make me look more like Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my efforts to be a “better person”.

I wish I could get every single person who claims to love Jesus to actually study the Word. It would change the world because it changes the individual.

If you’d like to study the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to invite you to join this year’s Bible Reading Challenge. It’s a great time to join because we will begin the book of Ruth on April 1st. You can find the details here. I would love to have you join me in studying God’s Word.

But any study of God’s Word is life-changing. The key is to get started. Paul tells us in I Timothy 3:16-17–

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If we want to be transformed by the Word, it will require study and meditation. Cursorily reading it isn’t a bad thing but it could be compared to a lollipop in its sustenance regarding our spiritual health.

Life happens. Every day we face various trials and challenges. Big ones and small ones. We face rude stewardesses, customer service reps, and clerks. We find out a company scammed us or cheated us or didn’t receive our payment. We learn that our child or spouse or family member did something very disappointing. We find out that someone passed away, is getting divorced, or has been diagnosed with illness.

God has told us how to respond to these things and so much more in His Word. But if we don’t know it, we are missing out on the greatest strength and guidance God has offered us. Let us not ignore this wonderful gift God has given us for this life.

 

 

Leaning Into God’s Will

The encouraging posts about God’s love and care for us are in abundance these days. You will find them on blogs, social media, and in many articles. We so desperately want to be reminded that He will see us through whatever lies ahead. And it is so important to be reminded of this. I share this message often myself here on the blog and over at the Growing4Life Facebook page.

But there is something else that we really need to remember.

Many years ago, I read a book called Green Leaf in Drought. I was so impacted by it that you will find it on my Favorite Books page here on the blog. I hadn’t read it for years, so I decided to pick it up again. It seemed like it might be even more relevant the second time around, given the concerns and fears we’ve experienced over the past year.

Yesterday, I finished it. It’s a short little book and I highly recommend it (I’ll add a link below for anyone interested). When communism started to fully infiltrate China, most of the missionaries left immediately. However, a few were unable to leave. This book is about a family that was held there for almost three years before they were released by the government to come home.

The lessons that they learned are important lessons for us all. I am not going to say a whole lot about their story so I don’t give too much away for those who want to read it. But I do want to share one important lesson they learned that is critical for us all. Perhaps especially right now.

When they were about a year and a half into their coerced stay in China, things were really bad. They were almost starving, fuel was hard to come by, and people were punished if they talked to the “Imperialists” (as they were known) which led to extreme loneliness. And then, on top of it all, imagine being a missionary and being told by the foreign government that you are not allowed to talk to anyone or to leave your house? Their whole purpose for being there could not be carried out and they were left in the nondescript corner of a foreign country with few resources and even fewer friends.

At one point the wife, in a state of fretting and restlessness, waited impatiently for the Lord to rescue them. She was frustrated with the Lord’s timing and, though she was submitted to His Will, she was none too happy about what that “will” was. One day, as she spent time with the Lord in His Word and in prayer, something dawned on her. What would happen if she would gladly and joyfully yield to God’s Will for her life instead of begrudgingly agreeing to it? What if she were to act more like a daughter carrying out a loving mission for her Father than a slave that was forced to do the master’s will? She resigned herself to lean into God’s Will and thus began a change of heart.

As she took this step of joyful submission, the peace and joy that had been missing from her Christian life came flooding in. She recognized that living a joyful life dedicated to the Lord in spite of their trials would be a light that the Chinese Christians could see, even if they never said a word. These conclusions were drawn in the midst of horrible circumstances that neither you or I could even imagine and will hopefully never have to endure. A few months later, God helped her husband understand the very same thing.

As they purposed in their hearts to have a good attitude, Satan did his best to discourage them and they were hit with even harder trials than before. But the peace never left them. The peace and joy they experienced was completely unrelated to their circumstances, just as we are promised in scripture.

I believe this is more than a little relevant for us today.

Or shall I say I find it relevant for me?

You see, I find my heart filled with sorrow and even anger when I think of the world we are living in currently. I feel like I am on the set of a movie that just won’t end. The masks, the social distancing, the vaccine, the economy, the dying small businesses, the election, the unbelievable compromise of Christians we trusted, and then there are the strong opinions about all of these things. The realization that whatever world my kids and grandkids grow up in (if the Lord tarries), it’s going to be quite a bit different than mine. The awful uncertainty of what lies ahead, always there like a dark shadow in the back of all of our minds, no matter where we live in this world. All of this makes my heart just ache and I can even grow angry if I am not careful. The world we lived in is no longer. And life as we have known it is over.

But this book convicted me. We—you, me, all of us—are here right now because God has ordained it. We are in His Will for our lives. We are going to be relatively ineffective as believers if we are focused on all that we don’t like about this new world instead of leaning into His will. We are going to be filled with dread, unhappiness, and fear if we are begrudgingly living in this new world. But if we joyfully submit to where God has us right now, we will show a lost world that God is true to His Word and we will be able to encourage and edify struggling fellow believers.

Do we want to be bright lights for Christ in this new world? If the answer is yes, than I am convinced we need to lean into God’s Will instead of resist it.

On a practical level, we will be faced with a variety of small tests and trials each day. How do we show this in the midst of family disagreements over the whimsical “laws” put in place by over-reaching governors? How do we show this in the midst of our disappointment in the way our churches, workplaces, or schools are handling things? How do we show this when someone asks us to wear a mask or move away from them? How do we show this when we hear more bad news? How do we show this when yet another discussion comes along regarding all that’s going on? How do we show this each and every hour of our lives?

I am not sure of the “how” but I am sure of the necessity of this. You see, if we are dragging our feet and have a bad attitude, then this will show in all of our words and actions. (I am talking to myself here as much as to you!) But if we joyfully yield our will to God’s, then this, too, will show in all of our words and actions.

Look, we are all here. Stuck on a ride we can’t get off. Watching the prophecy of scripture come to life in a way we never thought we’d see. But I can say with 100% confidence that this is where God has placed us.

For such a time as this.

No amount of railing, wailing, or flailing is going to change it.

While I am not saying that we don’t work actively to help change what we are given an opportunity to change, it’s pretty fair to say that most of this is completely outside of our control.

But it’s not outside of God’s control and, in His vast knowledge and incomprehensible Sovereignty, He knows exactly where He’s placed us in the history of this world.

So let’s not just resign ourselves to live in this new world but let’s choose to joyfully live in this new world. Let’s show the world that God’s peace and joy is not based on circumstances.

And, on a bright note, living in this time of history may actually mean we are the generation that is raptured! How awesome would that be? It seems more and more likely each day.

So may we all ask God to help us be joyfully submissive as we walk this path we don’t really want to be on. He is sufficient and He will supply our needs. And, eventually, this will all be behind us as we face the prospect of a marvelous eternity together with Him in heaven.

 

 

—If you are interested in being encouraged further by reading the story of Arthur and Wilda Mathews as Isobel Kuhn writes it in Green Leaf in Drought, you can find it here. (This is not an affiliate link and I receive no compensation for you clicking on it. I am merely pointing you to where you can find the book.)

 

 

Scroll to Top
%d bloggers like this: