Archives

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.

 

 

Advertisements

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN (PART 2)

Passport kingdom of god

Dear Friends,

In my last post, I shared some thoughts about what it means to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, specifically the blessings inherent in it.

For one, when we are born again by faith in Jesus Christ, we gain the undeserved privilege of being called a child of God. We are given His Holy Spirit to dwell within us and to transform us to be more and more like Him. (Romans 8:29).  Our focus as His own now turns from the earthly to the eternal. As we grow in our faith, the goal is to align more and more with God’s purposes and His glory. We strive to do his will, as stated in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done”. (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus commissioned His disciples, (and all of us), to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:16-20).

So you see, as citizens of the Kingdom of God we are given a holy mission that transcends whatever obligations we have that is earthly. A citizenship by any definition is not only to know the blessings of belonging, but it is also an opportunity to gratefully serve that to which we belong.

So, to continue this series, let’s look at our citizenship in the Kingdom of God in terms of our commissioning. Is there a sense of responsibility I bear as a citizen of the Kingdom of God? What does being a citizen mean from this perspective? I thought of a few:

Responsibilities of a citizen would include:

Allegiance – If I am a citizen of a country, this means I give up all prior allegiance to any other nation or sovereignty. If our citizenship is in the Kingdom of Heaven, we align ourselves with God first, above all else. The motivation is gratitude for what we have been given. We are told in Exodus 20:3-5 to cast way any idols that could become bigger than God to us:

“You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me” (Exodus 20:3-5).

Defense – If called upon, I am to defend my country. Even more so,  for someone who professes to be a Christian, am I not called upon to stand up for my faith, to speak up when my God’s name is taken in vain? Sadly to admit, I have fallen short, and I’m convicted of these words:

 But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)

Here Peter says it in a nutshell…be alert, always ready to stand up for your faith. Our attitude shouldn’t be argumentative and aggressive, but done in love and respect in order to share the hope we have.

Obey the laws – If we obey the laws of the land, how much more should we obey God? Yet, here again is the key: God does not demand compliance out of a sense of duty, but from the heart. We as Christians long to do what is pleasing to Him, not necessarily because He has decreed it, but because He has enabled us to want to (if we willfully submit to Him) by the Holy Spirit.

One final word: As a good citizen of this country, I’m supposed to obey the law and follow the decree of the land, but what if a given law goes against what God has said? What do I do then? If you are a Christian, what would you do?

I don’t think it will be long until we are all personally confronted to give an answer, one way or another.

 

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A CITIZEN

Passport kingdom of godWe in the U.S (if you haven’t noticed) are in the middle of an election year. In light of the present threats we face, I believe that the outcome will be pivotal to this country. Without getting too political, let’s just say that I believe this election could mean the difference between a steep decline or restoration for our country.

As I think about the times we live in, I have to remember two things that bring me back to faith:

1) God ultimately rules over the offices of the government and our leaders. There is no one who holds a prominent position that has not, or will not be used for His purpose. (Romans 13:1).

2) Although we are citizens of this country, as Christians, we ultimately hold a greater citizenship in the kingdom of God:

Philippians 3:20 says, “Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ”.

This encourages me to focus on God’s great and mysterious plan until the day when He will make everything right. It got me thinking about what it means to call ourselves citizens of a given country. Then I looked at God’s word and what it says about our citizenship in heaven. Here’s a little perspective I thought you might enjoy:
Being a citizen means:

1) I have certain rights and privileges within the country to which I belong – Here in the states, it means many things, from voting to getting certain jobs.

Being a part of the kingdom of God means far more. For one, Galatians 4:4-7 tells us that we are given the undeserved privilege of being joint heirs with Christ Himself:

“But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”

2) I have the protection of citizenship – in the case of unrest or emergency, being a (US) citizen can be helpful to obtain assistance. We can seek asylum in U.S. Consulates or call upon the government while abroad.

Being a part of the kingdom of God is to be protected by Him from anything that would sever our inheritance or citizenship. We read in 1 Peter 1:4-5 of this inheritance:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Just like citizenship does not come without certain requirements, notice here that this citizenship, this alliance with God comes to those who are born again, (made spiritually new) because of Christ’s death for us and His resurrection. This not only involves belief, but a covering of sin, obedience to Him, which is the righteousness of Christ. It is trust in Him alone, and living out of that faith as evidence of our salvation.

3) Last, being a citizen means I have a confirmed passage back into my country. For example, as a law-abiding individual, this status is meant to give me the security of knowing that I am recognized back into my home with relative ease.

I remember once many years ago when I was traveling abroad, when our borders were more secure. We had landed in New York, a very busy airport for international flights. I vividly remember airport security waving those of us with US passports right through the gate while a very long line of non-citizens were held back for further screening.

As great as this nation is, I’m pretty sure we will all want heaven’s gates to open to us even more. The word of God tells us clearly what will provide the only passage:

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

May none of us ever know the frightening judgement of separation from God. If you have not done so, I plead with you today, in love and not condemnation, to trust Christ alone for His gift of salvation, while the gate is still open for you.

IF YOU NEVER WORRY, DON’T READ THIS EITHER (PART 2)

worry 7For the few of you, (two or three, or so it seems smiley face ) that are never tempted to worry in this day and age, please scroll right along. For all the rest of us, a timely reminder:

Do not be anxious [do not worry] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil. 4:6)

We could worry about a thousand things, yet this passage says do not worry about anything.  I can’t think of a thing that wouldn’t fall under the category of anything. Additionally, we are to bring everything to God in prayer. There isn’t a circumstance that is outside of His care for us, nothing that escapes his sight. In fact, God’s word says that He knows our needs before we even ask Him. (Matthew 6:8)

To overcome anxiety, according to this passage, is to come to the Lord in the right understanding of who He is. The passage, as stated by the synonyms “prayer” and “supplication” all indicate a specific, direct petition to God.1 This is shown in a context of humility and not rebellion. It indicates an attitude as one would approach a loving Father, as One who is “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

It also tells us to come to Him with thanksgiving. In “Anxiety Attacked”, John MacArthur points out the example of the prophet Jonah. Even when a great fish swallowed him, he prays:

“I called out of my distress to the Lord, and He answered me…while I was fainting away, I remembered the Lord; and my prayer came to Thee…Those who regard vain idols forsake their faithfulness, but I will sacrifice to Thee with the voice of thanksgiving…” (Jonah 2:2, 2:7, 2:8-9).

I have a long way to go in this area, but what helps me stay in a mindset of thankfulness is to keep a journal of answered prayer through tough times. It helps to show me how much worse a circumstance could have been, and it is a way to record an ongoing testimony that I can draw from in times when I need more faith.

God never promised us that He would eliminate pain from our lives, but He has promised His supernatural peace if we trust Him. Read the next verse in this passage:

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

The word “guard” here is the transliteration “Phroureo”, which is a military term, implying the vigilant protection of our hearts and minds as a soldier might protect his own.2

The next time you are tempted to worry, ask God for this peace that is beyond you. Ask Him to protect your heart and mind by the promise of His diligent care.

**********

Are you struggling with a specific care or worry? Why do you think it is so easy to hang on to? Take those specifics to Him. He already knows our every need.

What are some of the many mercies of God that you can draw upon in grateful prayer?

 

1. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary – Philippians, 283

2. Ibid, P. 284

 

 

 

 

IF YOU NEVER WORRY, DON’T READ THIS

worry

Dear Friends,

I hope all of you have had a great start to this new year. Praise God in everything, especially if all is well in your world right now. However, if you happen to be in the midst of a difficult time, you may be facing  2016 with  a sense of dread or uncertainty of what this new year holds. If you are, you are not alone. Given my last several months of 2015, I have at times wished time to stand still, so I don’t have to plunge back into the reality of what may lie ahead.

And yet the reality is that life does  go on, whether it happens to be pleasant or not…and while I don’t know what 2016 will bring, I knew I had to write to share an insight that God has been  bringing to my mind over and over:

Take one day at a time.

Simple, and yet so much easier said than done, at least for me.

Jesus addressed the issue with worry in the Sermon on the Mountain in Matthew 6:25-27, and Matthew 6:34, saying:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

He goes on to add: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”(Matthew 6:34)

What does it mean to worry? Well, when we worry, we are essentially saying we don’t trust God, because He already told us not to.  While in this context, Jesus was referring to worry about the daily provision of life (worry about having enough food, clothing, and shelter), which was a common concern in that day. However, I believe we can apply the principle to our trials and concerns today.

Worry is like assuming the responsibility of catching all the snowflakes of tomorrow’s blizzard, and never once stopping to consider that the sun may come out and the blizzard may never even materialize.

I’m reminded to reflect on God’s faithfulness as demonstrated in His word. He Himself sustained the children of Israel with manna from heaven, just enough for that day and that day only, (Exodus 16). He is the same God today, yesterday, and forever. Just like they could look back and see how He sustained them on a day-to-day basis, can’t we as His children also look back and see how much He has already brought us through?

I’m not gonna lie. From the beginning looking forward, 2016 looks daunting to me. Yet it is my prayer for myself and anyone reading this that we can look back at this time next year and notice that God has  brought us through the good times and the bad. May we see that many things we fret about often have a way of working themselves out, that there is more stress in the “what-ifs” of each tomorrow than the tomorrow itself.

In the next few days I want to focus on Philippians 4:6-7, which tells us how to pray in times of trouble. We can go to the Lord with our needs, but also balance it with a thankful attitude. And the outcome?  He will supply us with an unexplainable peace when we do:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:6-7)

May this next year be a year of unwavering trust in Him, that we may grow in faith and finish strong.

*********

It’s good to plan and prepare for tomorrow, but where do you think the line is drawn between planning and worry?

Do you tend to over-think and fret? Do you have a testimony to share about how you have overcome this struggle through prayer and God’s word?

To pray specific scriptures concerning worry, check out this list from “Room to Breathe”.

 

 

 

 

WHEN LIFE HAS NOT TURNED OUT AS YOU PLANNED

LIFEDo you believe that whenever God closes a door, He opens a window?

That is, do you believe that when we come upon a dead end in life, that it’s because there’s always a better opportunity around the corner?

I wish it was that simple, but we all know that there have been many times when crawling out of the only open window meant being caught outside in the cold, harsh world. You want to kick that slammed door back open, or at least crawl back through the window where it’s warm and cozy and just start over.

But to no fault of your own, you can’t. The door is shut, that ship has sailed.

It could be a job loss, a break-up, a misunderstanding, a disappointment, anything.

It could be losing something that you cherished and thanked God for every day, something that you knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that He gave you. So you cry out:

Lord, why did you take it away?

What if you knew from an early age that God set a purpose for you, only to find yourself on a roller coaster ride of extreme ups and downs, none of which made any sense?

Think you have problems? Take a look at the life of Joseph, the son of Jacob, as told in Genesis 37, 39 – 47. Here’s how all the highs and lows of his life played out:

  • As a boy, he was his father’s favorite (high)
  • He was hated by his brothers for it, and sold into slavery (low)
  • After being delivered from slavery, (high)
  • He rose to prominence in Potiphar’s (an officer of Pharaoh) palace (high)
  • Then, he was wrongfully accused of rape (low)
  • As a result, he was thrown into prison for years (low)
  • In prison, he interpreted a fellow prisoner’s dream. After getting out of prison, this prisoner (a butler), promised to speak well of Joseph to get him out, too. (high)
  • Yet Joseph was forgotten, and left in jail (low)
  • Years later, the butler finally remembered Joseph. Joseph was taken out of prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. (high)
  • From there, Joseph was elevated in rank right next to Pharaoh himself.  (high)
  • This put him in a position to forgive his brothers and save them from a famine in their land. (high)

If you ask me, that doesn’t look like an easy life of one progressive step of success to another, and for such a godly guy, you’d think life would be easier. Yet in the end, Joseph life came full circle. He looked back on it and the pieces finally made sense. It must have been such a soothing balm to his heart as he realized God’s hand in everything the whole time.

So back to that slammed door.  Do I believe that God can open a window of greater opportunity?

Yes, He certainly can.

And He can use that slammed door, (that one that feels like it’s slammed right on our heart till we can’t breathe, yeah that one), as a blessing to immediately bring us to a bigger, better circumstance.

Or…He can bring about the good in your life through a series of shut and open doors. Either way, His love is cast upon His children to the point of no denial in the end.

If you know Jesus as your Savior, if you are His child, know this. He is FOR you and not against you. I’m glad to know that, so I hang on for what’s ahead. Sure, I pray for blessing. Who doesn’t? Yet in hope, there must be submission to His authority in this not-so-perfect world.  We can make our plans, but it is the Lord’s purpose that presides.

*********

 Have you had a circumstance happen that left you absolutely baffled? Has someone handed you a raw deal? Have you come through it to see God’s ultimate purpose? I look forward to hearing your stories!

 

 

 

WHEN NEW WILL ALWAYS BE NEW

all things new

Who doesn’t like something new? Nobody, if you ask anyone in retail. There’s something about that new outfit with the price tag still on it, that new book with pages that have never been cracked open, that shiny-new grill that’s almost too pretty to use, that new iphone, or new whatever (you fill in the blank), that has kept the malls crowded and our pocketbooks depleted. Yet, we continue to go back to get more new stuff, since the new stuff that was once new is now old.

Take a look at kids on Christmas day. They tear into each present, paper flying everywhere, squealing with joy as they move from one gift to the next…till they realize there isn’t anymore, turn around and sadly ask, “is that all there is?”

I’m not sure there’s quite an exact synonym for the word “new”. Sure, there’s “novel”, or “fresh”, (according to my thesaurus) or even “latest” or “recent” but when we talk about something being “new”, it connotes a sense of hope… a “new” day, a “new” year, or a “new” outlook.

Newborns bring joy just by the fact that they are teeming with a life that’s just beginning. We love the idea of a new job or a new start. Heck, I always tell friends I feel like a new woman after just one day off!

When I think about newness, I reflect upon how desperately we need to be renewed. There’s a world of people who are in despair, caught in the same prison of the same old struggle with sin, whatever it may be. There are people who are sick of the constant gray cloud of depression, or abuse, or illness.

Even the physical world around us is tired. Nature groans in its turmoil on a daily basis. (Romans 8:22). Even as I write, we are under yet another flash flood warning as we are experiencing the remnants of Hurricane Patricia coming up from Mexico into Texas.

Maybe it’s that I’ve had a long week, watching a loved one struggle with age and all that comes with it. What I wouldn’t give to see him young and vibrant again, able to be the superman he always was.

Dear Lord, we are tired. We are weary, worn out, caught in between this trap of pain and the glory ahead…and yet we know that you do bring newness in this life. You have healed diseases and worked miracles.  

We also know that even in these victories, You will bring the ultimate NEW. You have made the sinner pure and clean in your eyes. You have brought us new life, and there will come a day when You have promised to make ALL THINGS NEW. You will make a new Heaven, and a new Earth. We will have new bodies that will never grow sick or old. We will run, sing, laugh and worship You in a new forever.

And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new…” (Revelation 21:5)

As the song says, we’ve no less days to sing Your praise, than when we first begun.