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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.

 

 

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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.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: AN OPEN LETTER TO CHRISTIANS

Same Sex marriageYesterday the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. Going forward, this country will now recognize marriage as man and woman, man and man, woman and woman.

“Love Won”, they say.

The path of least resistance is to remain quiet if you don’t agree, or else be accused of bigotry and hatred.

But what do we say in response to a ruling that is a mockery of God’s laws, a ruling that many believe will tear away at the moral fabric of this country?

I submit to you today that it isn’t ultimately about speaking our minds or having a right to do so. I believe at the heart of the stereotyping and name-calling towards Christians is a rebellion against God, but it is also a backlash on Christians that perpetuate that image by the way they relate to those who have different beliefs.

We are told to speak the truth in love, which is a loaded statement. It’s a balance of conviction and compassion that can only be practiced through God’s work in our own hearts.  My simple perspective is to look to Christ, to Him as our example. When He came upon a woman about to be stoned for committing adultery, (and just for clarity, homosexuality is just as much of a sin, Romans 1:26). What was His reaction?

The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they said to Him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?” They were saying this, testing Him, so that they might have grounds for accusing Him. But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground. But when they persisted in asking Him, He straightened up, and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.  When they heard it, they began to go out one by one, beginning with the older ones, and He was left alone, and the woman, where she was, in the center of the court Straightening up, Jesus said to her, “Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one Lord.” And Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.”(John 8:1-11)

It’s important to remember that Jesus approached this woman with kindness and genuine love, yet He never shied away from speaking the truth. Notice what He said next:  He said go and sin no more. It was not ok that she committed adultery. It was not ok if she continued in her sin.

Jesus was in balance. His love for this sinner wasn’t just with words, it was demonstrated.  Yet He was bold to speak the truth. I see two extremes among Christians: If we say we love, but don’t do anything to speak the truth, we can’t win anyone to salvation. There is also no salvation with a display of condemnation to someone else. It only breeds hate.Yes, I believe we as Christians must be involved politically. I will say this strongly.

There is no doubt that the government is a God-given tool to keep society from going completely berserk, and we must fight to put the right people in office. Yet spiritual change will not ultimately come as something pressing upon the masses. It begins in the heart, in preaching and sharing the Gospel. It begins from the inside out, as it does with all of us.

Then love will truly win.

***********

I’m challenged to examine my heart first. We must ask ourselves:

  • How do we really view those who don’t know the truth? Do we genuinely love them as human beings?
  • What is the motivation of a condemning spirit? Is it Fear? Anger? Our own guilt?
  • Are you and I prepared for the testing of our faith ahead? What should we be doing right now to understand the challenges ahead?

 

ON THE RECENT DUGGAR CASE

Duggars

Like many “19 Kids and Counting” viewers, I’m saddened to hear of Josh Duggar’s confession of sexual molestation of 5 girls, 4 of which were his own sisters. Over the weekend, I’ve read many articles and comments that either sweep it under the rug by saying “forgive, it was a mistake”, to downright glee at his downfall. Both are disturbing to me because they represent reactions written from emotion and bias. Yet, with as much talk about this right now, I can’t be silent not to address this issue. It’s a very public, real-life  circumstance that has generated a windstorm of assumptions. It’s brought up questions concerning forgiveness and accountability, honesty and moral dilemma. How do you and I, as Christians response to such a crime committed by a professing brother in Christ? This story seems to beg the question. I’m writing today in hopes to offer a clear-headed, balanced response.

I don’t know Josh Duggar nor anyone in this family. I don’t know all the details and I never will. I can’t read anyone’s heart or mind. What I have pondered are some general thoughts and principles I believe are to be considered:

  • First and foremost, Josh Duggar committed a horrific crime. It was committed deliberately and repetitively. You cannot shrug it off simply by saying “He who is without sin, cast the first stone.” Are you saying that because he professes to be a Christian? Would you say that about anyone in his shoes? He wasn’t a “child” at the time and knew exactly what he was doing, and was NOT just a “mistake”. For that, he needed (or still needs) extensive help, and needless to say, a punishment worthy of the crime. Accountability and Forgiveness are not the same thing. 
  • Josh Duggar is a sinner. He possesses the same origin of sin as any other child molester, any murderer, any thief. Let me ask you this—(because I see it in myself also) —have you ever noticed that our jails are full of such criminals that most Christians never evangelized, nor visit with the gospel? Yet when, and if, they show an interest in God are suddenly extended a hand of fellowship or a pat on the back? They are suddenly humanized because they have stepped over on our terms. Why aren’t we seeing the same potential of repentance in them as we think we see in Josh Duggar? Why is there such a double standard? 
  • Don’t trust appearances. Even the most pristine family may not always be what they seem. Now, I admire what the family and their show stood for; I share their values and I definitely rooted for their success and witness in the middle of a world waiting for them to fall. Yet, even before this came to light, I never thought it was wise to publicly hold anyone up on a pedestal.  On a large or small scale, men will fail us. Whether they are reality show stars, Sunday school teachers, or family. I’m not saying to throw trust out the window, but that our standard and confidence is ultimately only One, and that is Jesus Christ. 
  • I’m grieved that this very public incident has hurt the body of Christ as a whole. By being so much in the public eye, this family was under a microscope. As such, their credibility is under question. I support TLC’s decision to take them off the air, at least until some restoration or restitution can be made. I cannot speculate on this point, but if the parents knew the history with Josh, I question the wisdom of the decision to have a show, knowing the damage this revelation would do in the long run. 
  • I believe in restoration of the sinner. I believe that if Josh Duggar is truly repentant, if he has truly mourned over his sin, if he has dealt with it in his heart and before his victims, that God has forgiven him. I believe that about anyone in his shoes. Does that mean that just because someone is repentant that there are no consequences? No. Otherwise, we might as well let everyone, even those who are truly repentant out of jail. Additionally, even if this repentance has already taken place, as someone in the limelight, he has a responsibility to his viewers to prove that repentance. I don’t know what that looks like, God does. 
  • Our job is to pray…pray and understand that all things work together for the good for the Christian. (Romans 8:28). Pray that their eyes would be open to any false doctrine or wrong teaching, and any dysfunction in the family would be corrected if there are any. Pray for the victims, that they have healed and will heal from this present crisis. I think it’s wishful and probably unlikely that all is well across the board, but who knows – maybe God will choose the right means of restoration to create an honest and even more transparent witness for Him. Otherwise, pray that He would use this in the individuals that were more directly effected in ways that we will never know.

WHY I DON’T BELIEVE THAT “HEAVEN IS FOR REAL” IS FOR REAL

Nearly five years ago, a young man by the name of Alex Malarkey made the claim that he died and went to heaven after a horrific car accident. He detailed his experience in his book, “The Boy who Came Back from Heaven”, which became a best-seller.

Just a couple of weeks ago (January 15, 2015), this same young man said that the story was a lie, that he made it up to get attention.

“I did not die. I did not go to Heaven,” Alex wrote. He continued, “I said I went to heaven because I thought it would get me attention. When I made the claims that I did, I had never read the Bible. People have profited from lies, and continue to. They should read the Bible, which is enough. The Bible is the only source of truth. Anything written by man cannot be infallible.”

It seems to me that if fallibility was suspect in any book written on the subject of near death experiences, it certainly hasn’t effected their popularity. The genre known as “heavenly tourism” include many best-sellers – Betty Eadie’s “Embraced by the Light”, Don Piper’s “Ninety minutes in Heaven”, even “23 Minutes in Hell” by Bill Wiese.

“Heaven is For Real” Book Cover

The more recent “Heaven is for Real” tells the story of four year old Colton Burpo’s visit to Heaven during an almost fatal emergency appendectomy.  After the Malarkey recant came out, the now fourteen year old Colton wrote his own letter stating that he stands on his word.

This got me thinking. Those once on the bandwagon with Malarkey now agree his story was a scam, based on his own statement. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that Colton Burpo comes forward tomorrow and says his story was a scam as well. Wouldn’t those who believed him do an about-face? It seems odd to me that what is labeled as “truth” one day would then be “false” simply based on what the speaker says it to be.

After all, if someone says they went to Heaven, who are we to judge their experience?

And that is my point in writing today. Does experience determine truth? If it does, a reasonable conclusion is that there is no limit to what we call theology. Our doctrine would morph from one experience to the next. From someone else’s experience to the next.

Curious about the entire buzz, I rented Heaven is For Real”, the movie based on the book, this last weekend.  It’s a feel-good, family oriented movie in many respects. There’s a sprinkling of scripture and a positive view of Christianity, and yes, that’s good. I’d like to continue to say good things about it, since saying anything other than a glowing “thumbs up” to spiritually-oriented “wholesome” films is often seen as unloving or critical. That’s not my heart in this at all, but I am passionate about seeing life through the filter of scripture. In fact, as believers we have a responsibility to be discerning, and Biblically speaking, there’s a lot wrong with this story. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “…Examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” In this day and age, that can be challenge. That being said, I am convinced that Burpo’s story cannot possibly be true. I don’t necessarily doubt his sincerity. He and his family could very well believe he went to Heaven and back, I just don’t believe He did. However, as I’ve always said, consider the issue and decide for yourself:

THE FOCUS OF HEAVEN

First and foremost, of all the scriptural accounts of any mortal vision of heaven, (which include only four people – Isaiah, Ezekiel, Paul, and the Apostle John), there’s one common denominator. They all focus on the all-encompassing, glory of God. To behold the glory of the Maker of the Universe staggered them speechless, as we would expect it to. Isaiah was immediately mortified by his own sinfulness, crying out, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)

Paul perhaps is the most demonstrative. In 2 Corinthians 2-4 he writes, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows.  And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.”

He, being the Apostle Paul and the founder of the early church, out of humility doesn’t even identify himself as the one who visited heaven. This is a picture of a man who is absolutely stunned by His vision. He is petrified with a holy awe. He doesn’t even dare to broach the thought of talking about it; he is hushed silent.

What’s more, with the exception of Paul, all recorded revelation was for the purpose of communication of prophesy for what was to come. If God restricted his revelation to a few for a specific message which is already written in His word, why would He have anything more to add to a four year old, or anyone else for that matter?

In contrast, Burpo (told by his father), describes Heaven in entirely man-centered terms. He mentions angels singing to him, not to the King of kings. Apparently these angels saw it more fit to serenade him as he sat on Jesus’s lap rather than Jesus himself…unlike the angels and holy creatures described in Revelation 4:8 and Isaiah 6:1-3 that continually sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” around the throne of God.

THE COMPLETED CANON

We can ask ourselves the same question we ask of any of these modern near-death experiences. Can we trust that these men are telling the truth? The answer is yes, by virtue that their experiences are written in scripture. Furthermore, since the canon is closed (that is, the gathering of books together to complete the Bible), no other revelation can be validated in the same way, neither can it be altered.

The words of Proverbs 30:6 are pretty straightforward: “Do not add to his words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.”

As a Christian, I believe that God’s word is precise and complete (1 Thess. 2:13). It doesn’t change from one day to the next. (Luke 21:33). It must be the plumb line to measure any claim, otherwise, we are tossed by every wind of doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14).Tell me, friends, are we really believing the Bible if we latch on to whatever sounds right without checking it against God’s word? Where is our solid anchor if not God’s word?

OTHER CONCERNS

There are many other direct contradictions in the movie (and excerpts from the book) as compared to scripture, but here are just a couple that put the Burpo’s account into question:

  • At the end of the movie, a very handsome picture of Jesus is painted by a young lady (Akiane Kramarik) who claims this image comes from a vision from God. Colton identifies this image as an accurate depiction of Christ. However, this is in direct conflict with scripture, which describes Christ as having had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. (Isaiah 53:2) 

    Jesus picture

    “Jesus, Prince of Peace” painting by Akiane Kramarik

 

  • Little Colton describes Jesus having “markers”, on the palms of his hands and his feet. However, the Romans actually drove spikes through a victim’s forearms rather than the palms. It seems that Colton’s description falls more in line with pictures of the crucifixion or resurrection he may have seen in a children’s book.

OBJECTIONS

“What’s the big deal?” You may ask… “these stories and others like them have inspired faith and brought hope to many”. While this may be true, my question in response would be “to what faith would this draw someone?” Is it toward hope in scripture, or is it toward a greater clinging to the supernatural “signs and wonders, anything goes” mentality?

Futhermore, where a nebulous foundation of faith exists, there is a foundation for false teaching and a skewed center of worship. We are opening the doors to a seductive realm of possibility that God never intended. Any time we rely or depend on anything that isn’t in the Word of God, we are depending on our own understanding, and that undermines God’s word.

But what about all the information that little Colton knew that he couldn’t possibly have known had he not “gone to heaven”? He said he recognized his grandfather who died before he was born, and met a sister who died before she was born. To this I can only say that there can be many explanations, even though they may be mysterious to us. It could be a connection to lost memories or a supernatural impression on the mind’s blank and unconscious state. It’s possible that the explanation is not mysterious at all, but a coaching and/or influence by those around him. It could be due to conversations overheard, responses to prodding and even embellishment of a child’s imagination to please those around him. Due to the world we live in, the unexplained, apart from scripture, does not prove the truth that anything is true in my mind.

 THE GOOD NEWS

I realize that many of us have loved ones in Heaven; I realize there are strong feelings on this subject. We long to know how those who have gone before are doing, what they are seeing and experiencing. Stories like these appeal to our sense of imagination and wonder. They spark a “could be” mentality with convincing descriptions. However, let us bear in mind the warnings in Scripture: “For Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light”, (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

But here’s the good news: Without a doubt, if your loved one trusted Jesus Christ for their salvation, their Heaven is far greater than any of the accounts we are reading today. We all have our Heaven is for Real story, and there’s an age-old book that already has all the details we need to know for now. Rest assured in this hope and be encouraged.

The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7-9)

Have you seen this movie or read any of the books about visiting Heaven or Hell?  What are your thoughts about the recent statement by Alex Malarkey?

 

WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? (PART 2)

The pressure must have been tremendous. Three young men, bound in chains, had a decision to make. They could either renounce their faith or be put to death within the flames of a blazing furnace…

FireLast week we looked at the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, (Daniel 3:1-30). It’s the story of three Jewish young men who refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. If you recall, we tried to put ourselves in their sandals while remembering that there are Christians who are living (and dying) under that same kind of persecution today. We asked ourselves what we would say if we found ourselves in a similar situation.

What would you say if you were in any one of these present day scenarios?

  • You are one of these Christians that faced a number of tortures and even death for their faith?

I love Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response:

“Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you O king that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” – Daniel 3:17-18

They said, “We do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter.” Just like that. They didn’t protest or preach. They didn’t feel any obligation to explain, apologize, dialogue, or defend themselves or God. The lesson here? Sometimes we are called to speak up, and sometimes we are simply called to quiet resolve. In this case, they knew that any lengthy explanation to King Nebuchadnezzar would be useless. Christ also didn’t say a word as He was lead to the cross, knowing that His death was the will of God.

Notice a very important phrase: “If it be so”, they said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire, and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king, But even if He does not…we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image.

Did they show a lack of faith by not “claiming their miracle” as some may profess? No. Did they have a fit loud enough to reach heaven to get God to act on their behalf? No, I don’t see that either.

What I do see is three believers who stood firm in the object of their faith, not in faith itself. There’s a difference. The first is centered on trust in God, the second is centered on man’s ability in himself. Even more so, I see three believers who loved and worshiped God for who He is and not what He does for them. They did not withdraw their love or faith in God based on what happened that day. They believed God could save them, but they did not presume He would. They believed the greater audacity was not standing up to an idol when others fell, but rather to stand up before God and tell Him what to do!

I’m sure that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prayed for deliverance. Who wouldn’t? They may have begged and pleaded to God to save them. Look at Jesus himself. He cried and pleaded to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, (Matt. 26:36-46). He didn’t stand up and “claim” deliverance from the cross. At the end of the day, He resigned that it not be His will, but the Father’s.

This passage is a clear message that God is not a power to be put to use for whatever the believer wishes.

Dear believer, if they had this attitude about their very lives, why would we “name and claim”, assume and demand of something of God for so much less?

 

 

FROM MY CHRISTIAN COUSIN IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Dear Friends,

 

My cousin Hoda

My cousin Hoda

Today I’d like to share a pretty neat conversation I had with my cousin Hoda, who lives in Egypt. (Sorry the pic is so big ~ major issues with uploading this week! I’m just glad I got it posted at all!).  Anyway, she was in the states on vacation, and (after catching up on her and her family), our talk almost immediately turned to the condition and welfare of Egypt itself. Since the Revolution of 2011, I’ve been keenly aware of the precarious position that my family and many other Christians are living in in that part of the world.

As you may know, Egypt went from bad to worse even after the initial revolution with the “free” election of Mohamed Morsi, who was a leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He granted himself unlimited power and issued an Islamic-backed constitution. Undoubtedly opposed by Christians and even moderate Muslims, the people rose again and forced this loser to step down by the summer of 2013.

Fast forward to their second-ever-in-history election to their current President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who, in my cousin’s words, is a good guy and finally looks to be a better leader for Egypt. He doesn’t appear to be as aligned with the terrorist groups or the Muslim brotherhood that have reaped such havoc in the country. So far so good.

So, while we may all read the headlines, it’s not every day that we get a glimpse of this situation from an insider’s viewpoint. I gained some wonderful gems of insight from her, a testimony we won’t ever get from the news.

First of all, she said, the outcry for positive change in Egypt was not instigated by the military (as we have been told), but by the power of the people. I bookmarked this in my mind. If a socialist country could band together through the sheer power of their people, how much more can we as American citizens use our power in a democracy?

And then what she said next was an eye-opener. She said, “Margaret, had it not been for the election of Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt would have turned into another Syria or Iraq, [in terms of Radical Islamic dominance and oppression to Christians] within a very short time.

And then she added, “Christians were praying and fasting around the clock, standing in the gap, and I believe that made all the difference”.

I guess when all you do is hear the news reports, you don’t really realize how God moves behind the scenes. As with any trial in life, it’s one thing when you are praying for a situation that you’re not directly involved in and quite another when you are the one experiencing it.

Yet, as I talked to my cousin, I realized that when trials are great, so is strength in Christ.

I could see that this dependence on God’s grace produces a special joy and undeniable zeal for Him. It is a living testimony of His sustenance, a wake-up call to those at ease. There is a certain added vigor, a sensitivity to His Spirit, and a strength that only comes from trial.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

She reminded me of the story of Gideon, the Israeli Army commander who’s story is told in Judges 7. He was chosen to lead the army against the Midianites. Although he only had 300 men against their thousands, God gave him victory by confusing the enemy till they started to fight amongst themselves. Well, she said, “that’s exactly what happened with the Muslims! They started fighting amongst themselves!

Even more than that, according to her testimony, many Muslims themselves turned to Christ during this time. Of those that did, she said they devoured their Bibles word by word…and they wondered why we don’t read it more!

Listening to her, I wondered how many other countless stories God has already weaved in spite of the atrocities of all the fighting in the Middle East.

I don’t believe we’ll understand all the purposes God will bring about from the evil in the world until we’re with Him in eternity, but I do believe He is with each believer in undeniable ways.

Though He has been merciful to His own minority in Egypt and they are relatively stable for now, that doesn’t in any way diminish our own diligence in prayer for all the Middle East as they face what I believe is the greatest evil we know today. The tide is troublesome and disheartening and the enemy is relentless against those who love the Lord. Please keep each in your diligent prayers. Especially now.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39).