THOUGHTS ON MY FATHER’S HOMECOMING – A YEAR AGO TODAY

Dear Friends,

I just wanted to take a minute to share something that God put on my heart the other day, an encouragement from Hebrews 12:1-3:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

It’s one of my favorite passages. We could spend days on these few lines, but today I just wanted to share a small insight about the first line. Who is this “cloud of witnesses”? We need only to look back one chapter to Hebrews 11, which contains a long list of Old Testament saints who were noted for their exceptional lives: Noah, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses to name a few. Those were individuals who endured suffering and great hardship, yet persevered to become the great pillars of faith that we read about today.

There is a sense of community and courage that we as Christian can glean when we study the lives of those who have gone before us. We get the benefit of reading how each of their stories are living proof of God’s faithfulness as we all follow our ultimate example, Christ Himself. Like a relay race from generation to generation, there is a sense of the torch being passed to us.

And then it occurred to me on a personal level. I indeed have a torch in my hand, so to speak. It was passed to me by my father, who went to heaven exactly one year ago today. You know, life is a funny thing. It feels so long in the midst of it, yet so very short when it ends, doesn’t it?  Looking back, it almost feels like he was a shining star that shot through our lives to point the way, and then he was gone.

I watched my dad persevere through financial hardship, trials of faith, illness, and grief, and not once did he waver in his trust in God or the joy of his salvation. Not only that, but I am more than humbled that God somehow saw it fitting that I would carry on my dad’s passion for studying and writing bible studies.  Why this is the case both blesses and baffles me.

So I ask you today what I ask myself: What are going we to do with the torch, the light that we have? How then shall we run this race?

My “Baba”, he ran the race, kept the faith, and finished strong.

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I Shouldn’t Be Alive

 

There’s a TV show I used to watch called “I Shouldn’t be Alive”*. It was a documentary series that featured re-enactments of dramatic search and rescue operations. Each episode involved the story of someone who had gotten lost or injured in the wilderness and were rescued in the nick of time. What I found interesting is that when many survivors, (of the ones I watched), were asked what they attributed to their survival, they would almost always say it was due to good fortune, or a wonderful “stroke of luck”.

Many whispered prayers when they came to the end of their resources and had lost hope…so I wonder why they didn’t mention that maybe God had heard their prayers. Even so, would God and the concept of luck even be a compatible thought?

Some said their mental or physical ingenuity kept them alive. They tried everything they could, and it did keep them going, until even that did not ultimately save them. Each literally would have died, and true to the title of the series should not be alive.

I thought about that, and I couldn’t think of a more accurate phase to describe God’s own rescue of my life, because guess what – I shouldn’t be alive either.

I refer to Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world, and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”.

As mentioned in an earlier post, the word for “dead” in the Greek translation in this passage is the word “Netros” which means “a corpse”. (Stong’s concordance, P. 49, Greek Dictionary)

Because man is born in sin, he carries the wages of sin, which is death.  This death is described as a pre-existing condition – the condition of everyone since the Fall of man, except Christ Himself. We are walking spiritual corpses – spiritually dead while being physically alive. As such, we don’t even have the ability to save ourselves. This we remain, regardless of the efforts of good works, resources, smarts, or good behavior.

“The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” (1 Corin. 2:14).

But…praise God…

“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions. It is by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5).

Unable, unwilling, undeserving, hopeless, dead, a corpse…

I’ll say it again. I Shouldn’t Be Alive.

****

Have you thought about the reality of your own spiritual condition?

 

*”I Shouldn’t Be Alive” title and trademark by Darlow Smithson Productions, a UK-based production.

HOW TO SIT BY THE SEA

Ahhh…

Seven amazing days at sea aboard a cruise to Key West and the Bahamas…

You know, the wind through your hair,

                and the salt in the air…and all that…

Well, anyway, here’s the view:

Just the right spot to sit and  do nothing more than listen to the whoosh whoosh of the waves as the ship cuts through the water; just  close enough to notice the subtle  shades of blue – first a deep royal, then sapphire, and then a light turquoise (my favorite), as each currents coiled and collided against the  decks below.

Do you know the scripture that states that all of creation declares the glory of God? (Psalm 19:1). Well, now I had a front row seat to witness just that.

It is a reminder of the many references to God’s handiwork, particularly the sea, that give glory to God. Here are just some that I thought of:

In creation:

“And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas’ And God saw that it was good”. (Genesis 1:9)

In judgement:

Even in calm waters, I couldn’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to be thrown overboard – like Jonah, in his rebellion, or how small Noah must have felt to be a speck in a world drowned by a flood…or think about the parting of the Red Sea, first to clear the way for Israel, then to drown their enemies.

In calming:

In much the same way, even in that potential power and devastation, Jesus displayed his power to subdue nature, as shown here when he calmed the sea:

 “Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’  He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.  He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’  They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ ” (Mark 4:35-41).

Looking over a very wide area of the gulf, I realized I was viewing much the same waters that were so turbulent during Hurricane Harvey just a year ago, and I knew it was God that kept our waters calm today.

I thought of the one who could transient any rule of nature, when He caused an ax head to float, (2 Kings 6) and He himself walked on water, (Matthew 14:22-23)

I saw life, no doubt teeming with animals and plants in an unseen world all its own. What mysteries must exist within the only planet (that we know of) that’s over 70% covered with water, 95% of which is still undiscovered? 1

In forgiveness:

And given that, isn’t it amazing that God Himself has inspired reference to the enormity of the ocean to describe His compassion and forgiveness?

“He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea”. (Micah 7:19).

*****

Can you recall a time when nature reflected God’s glory and reminded you of His Word?

 

 1) https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html

 

 

 

NOW ON AMAZON-“THE RACE BEFORE US”

The race before us JPEG for blog

(Click here to order)

Dear Friends,

I’m happy to announce that my Bible Study, “The Race Before Us” is now available on Amazon, and I’m so excited to share it with you!

It’s a study of one of my favorite passages, Hebrews 12:1-3:

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

By comparing our lives to a footrace, the passage encourages us as Christians to prepare and condition our hearts and minds to run a race worthy of God’s calling upon our lives. On a personal note, this study is a product of a lesson that God has repeatedly resonated in my life as I grow older…that to run this race well, we must cast away the many distractions and train ourselves to focus on Christ and our eternal purpose in Him.

Whether you feel like you are just running in place, or simply desire to build a more focused faith, this study offers a closer look at God’s perspective to gain that momentum:

  • How to identify and cast away the spiritual weights that slacken our pace
  • How to recognize the entanglements of sin that keep us from moving forward
  • How to develop a faith that is conditioned to endure throughout the trials of life

It’s written in a verse-by-verse, very simple interactive format that’s ideal for individual or small group study, with a focus on Christ as our Perfect Example, the  source of our hope and strength to keep the faith and finish strong.

LESSONS WITHIN THE STORM: WHAT HURRICANE HARVEY HAS TAUGHT ME

Dear Friends,

I’m writing this from the shelter of a relative’s home in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It’s been a few days now since it finally went away, and we are all taking a collective sigh of relief. The latest numbers estimate 30,000 homes destroyed. While it’s one thing to read the numbers and see it on the news, it’s another to see the devastation first hand. On my way here, I passed one home after another that had piles of debris in their front yard. There are areas that still look like a lake, and traffic is stacked up due to road closures. However, I also saw distribution centers, and groups of people working together to clean up. It’s a mixture of chaos and hope. We’re pulling together to help those who have been directly affected and hopefully starting to heal as a city.

It’s perplexing as I experience yet another destructive flood in the Houston area. I don’t know what the future holds in this life, and in those times I am not left to my own wonderings but lean on the only truth and source of comfort, which is my sovereign God.

I’m reminded of His instruction as to how we are to view these trying times, some of which I’d like to share:

We live in a broken world, but believers will be delivered from this world one day

As I kept a vigilant eye on the radar during the storm, I couldn’t help but notice that the constant stream of one weather band feeding from the gulf quite resembled a relentless snake, the first symbol of sin and destruction in the Bible. How appropriate – It reminded me of the fact that we live in an imperfect and broken world, one that will continue to suffer the effects of sin.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:20-22)

It rains on the righteous and the unrighteous

Some of the dearest, strongest Christians I know had ­2-4 feet of water in their homes. A pastor’s wife that I personally know had to be evacuated while under hospice care. Another couple, both strong believers, have had their home flooded twice now.

It’s tempting to wonder why these God-fearing people have had such a trial. I wonder why He spared me for that matter, for they have been far more an example of what it means to be faithful believers than I’ve ever been.

I also notice that those who don’t know Christ at all have also lost their homes. Does that mean they are being punished? God’s word gives us some insight:

“…He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt. 5:45).

There’s a character in the Bible by the name of Job, maybe you’ve heard of him. He is commended by God Himself to be one of great faith and righteousness, yet God allows Satan to take his children and his health. Not only that, but he has three friends who come to “comfort” him with what turns out to be misleading counsel. They claimed that he must have done something wrong to deserve punishment, when all along, his affliction was a test that he would not curse God, and it was as an example to us not to question God’s purposes when we don’t have a direct answer. When Job presses for an answer, God simply reminds Him of who He is:

“Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man, I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. (Job 38:1-3)

In the end, Job’s response was humility and awe, saying:

Behold, I am vile; What shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth. Once I have spoken, but I will not answer; Yes, twice but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)

Which brings me to my last point:

God is sovereign in the storm

As one friend reminded me, we as believers do have one thing to rest upon: He is our deliverer, He is our refuge, not just in this life, but in the next. He works all things together for His good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Flooded or not, we as believers can rest in the assurance that He will never leave us. We acknowledge His power in the storms of life, and we also acknowledge that the beauty from the ashes will find its source in Him.

He is the one who put compassion in the hearts of those who came to the rescue and those who helped to lend a hand.

He is the one that has seen to it that many have been spared.

By faith, we cling to Him in the coming days.

The evidence of His love? He paid the ultimate price by giving us His Son, who has saved those who will turn to Him from a far greater destruction.

Have you trusted Christ as your Savior? Turn to Him today. Tomorrow is not promised. Know the joy of His salvation.

TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER

Dear Readers,

On 7/17/2017, my father went to be with the Lord. That’s an awful lot of sevens, and that is interesting because the number 7 is often associated with perfection or completion in the Bible. What’s even more interesting is that his name, Kamal, in Arabic, means perfect.

I think he would get a kick out of that. 🙂

One of the things I remember the most about my father is how light-hearted he was and how easy it was to make him smile. Anytime I would come over, he’d grin from ear to ear like it was the first time he’d ever seen me.

As I grew older, I grew to appreciate his sweet disposition and sense of humor.  He was just one of those types of people that was a delight to be around…and he had a quick wit! One day we were at his Dr’s office for some tests. I asked him if he remembered the tech’s name. He did. He stated her name, and I said, “Baba, that’s right! You got it right!”  He smiled and said, “Of course, but I only remember the girls’ names!”

Yet this sweet, unassuming man also went through many difficulties – he moved his family to the U.S. with limited resources, cared for my mother through her illness, and persevered through his own failing health with a quiet strength. I’d often get so worried about him, only to discover that he would again surprise me with his energy and tenacity. I later came to understand that this perseverance came from a strong faith and trust in God. He lived a life that proved God’s love.

I remember once when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. He and I would take walks around the neighborhood every day after work, and I’d complain about my troubles. He’d look at me and say, “Margaret, if God will allow anything negative in your life,” – and he’d say this with emphasis – “it is for a very good reason.” He was right.

And when I had regrets, even the big ones, one of the most hopeful things he taught is that God can even use my mistakes to work together for my good and His glory.

I will always consider him a gift to us, one that I have often wondered how I could deserve.

One thing I am especially grateful and honored to have gotten from him is a love for word of God. My father was a prolific writer, and I think this interest was a strong and distinctive bond between us. I’d often joke with him about how I was most blessed of the three of his daughters to have seemed inherit this from him.

His legacy will live on in countless binders he has written, Bible Studies on every subject you can think of. He’s poured his heart into a study about the book of Galatians that’s been published in Arabic. I’m so grateful to continue his work and vow to publish it in English.

He was the spiritual leader of the family, teaching us of God’s love, even from an early age. I remember we would come home from church and he would always bring up the sermon and we’d discuss it over lunch. One day, reading from our children’s bible, he turned to each of us and told us that Jesus loved us enough to die on the cross for us. I remember that moment because it was the first time that I knew in my heart that someone had to, and I believed.

He lead me to the Lord, and without this, without the fact that he reflected Christ so much, without his demonstration of how life is to be lived, I would not be who I am today.

He was fascinated with Heaven, and often spoke of it with eager anticipation. I can’t imagine how much he is beaming from ear to ear right now, finally reunited with my mother and in the presence of God. It blows my mind that he has all of his questions answered now and is brought back into the arms of the God who created him.

Was my father perfect? If he was here today, he’d laugh and “Yes, of course, that’s my name!”  Yet although no one is perfect, Hebrews 1:14 tells us that because of Christ’s atonement for sin, one day we will all be made perfect:

For it says, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”.

Just like my father is now perfected in Heaven.

KEEPIN’ THE FAITH: OUR PROMISE OF PERSEVERANCE

 

Dear Readers,

“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine, O what a foretaste of glory divine”1

We sing this old hymn from time to time, but I also wonder how many truly born-again Christians struggle with doubt when it comes to their salvation.

One of the things I love the most about the Doctrines of Grace is that it biblically asserts that any attainment of salvation, any price, and any means we have to God is dependent upon Him, not of ourselves, who can and will fail. Is there a greater security of a believer’s place in heaven that is greater than God Himself?

On the contrary, His word shows us that:

Since

…we are unable to save ourselves so…He saves us. (Eph. 2:1)

…we are unable to choose Him…so He chooses us. (Romans 9:18)

…we are unrighteousness…so Christ provides the means to salvation (John 6:37-38)

…we are given ears to hear…so He calls us (Romans 8:30)

What He has ordained to save, died to save, and called to salvation, He will preserve to the glory of His Name.

So, we, as products of God’s grace, Christ’s work on the cross, and the Holy Spirit’s calling will surely persevere to the end, eternally saved.

Thus, the fifth and final point in the Doctrines of Grace: The Perseverance of the Saints.

“He that hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6)

The word of God confirms this truth over and over:

“And this is the Father’s will, that of all He hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39)

“I give unto my sheep eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:28)

“There is now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1)

While we may fall, while we may have times of spiritual weakness or rebellion, the Holy Spirit within each true believer’s heart will continue to convict. The believer will come forth, and go forth again unto the ways of the Lord.

I love the words of W.J. Seaton – “The salvation that begins in the mind and purpose of God must end in the fulfilment of His unthwartable purpose that those ‘whom he did foreknow’ are eternally united with their Saviour.”2

Blessed Assurance Indeed!

 

1) “Blessed Assurance” Christian Hymn – Lyrics – Fanny Crosby, Music –Phoebe Knapp, 1873

2) Pamphlet “The Five Points of Calvinism”, © The Banner of Truth Trust 1970, Reprinted 2012 by VersaPress, Inc. P.22