Tag Archive | Christ

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

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.

THE CHARACTER OF ONE WHO FORGIVES

Do you hold a grudge against someone that has let you down or offended you? Are you trying to live with the tension of a broken relationship caused by someone else’s betrayal?

How do we respond to people that have hurt us? How do we even develop the character (or desire!) to forgive them?

As you may know, I’ve been knee deep in the study of the book of Philemon through the upcoming release of my Bible Study, “An Invitation to Forgive: A Study of the Book of Philemon”*.

AnInvitatiotoForgive_FrontCover_Final_72dpi - Small 160x160

This simple-to-read, interactive Bible Study was written to address these questions and more. But first, what is it with this book called “Philemon”?

The Book of Philemon is a short epistle written by the Apostle Paul to his friend Philemon. It is just one of many places that God’s word addresses the topic of forgiveness because it is such a need in so many of our lives. I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t had to forgive or be forgiven in relationships. At any rate, he wrote this letter to persuade Philemon to forgive his run-away slave, Onesimus. By running away, Onesimus broke the law and insulted Philemon, who (by all accounts) didn’t deserve to be betrayed.

We are never told, but all the studies I’ve read believe that Philemon did indeed forgive Onesimus, based not only on evidence that points to the fact that Onesimus later became a prominent priest, but also based on the description of Philemon’s character as stated in the epistle itself.

Paul writes:

“I thank my God, making mention of you always in my prayers, hearing of your love and faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints, that the sharing of your faith may become effective by the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:2)

I believe Philemon had the character and heart to forgive. Why?

1) First of all, we see that Philemon has a love and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ – he has the indwelling Holy Spirit in him, and therefore he has the ability to forgive like Christ forgave us. It would have been understandable for Philemon not to forgive Onesimus. The law was on his side, but Philemon had a love for Christ, and as a Christian, he was prepared to forgive.

2) Second, Philemon displays a love toward all the saints. The Greek word used in this phrase is “agape” love. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testimament Words, “this is a love that is proven and shown through action and not just merely words.” As described, “it seeks the welfare of all, and…the opportunity to do good to all men.” As such, we see here that Philemon had an unselfish, action-oriented and deliberate love towards others.

3) Third, Philemon effectively lived out his faith – Note Paul’s words in the NIV: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”. Paul is saying, “Philemon, I want your faith to continue to be powerful”. How is this done? “Through the acknowledgment of every good thing which is in Christ Jesus”. The Greek word for “acknowledgment” here (or “understanding” in the NIV) is the word “epignosis” which expresses a thorough participation in the acquiring of knowledge on the part of the learner, a knowledge that’s laying claim to personal involvement.1

We as Christians know that we are equipped with every spiritual blessing which is in Christ (Eph. 1:3). We know that we are given the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23), and everything we need for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3). Yet, to say that we know spiritual blessing by reading God’s Word is not the same as knowing the joy of yielding to the Spirit enough to live it out. That would be like saying we know how to play tennis by watching someone play tennis or sitting in on an instructional video. Until we put the racket in our hands, we cannot fully know what it is like to play tennis.

Can you relate to the “acknowledgment of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus”? How do you think this can be applied to circumstances that call us to forgive others?

1) W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, NJ: Barbour, 1985. Print. P. 19

     * I’ll be posting more excerpts from my book as the time comes for it’s release.I know I’ve said this before, but really, I think it will be in the next month or two!

THOUGHTS AS I LAY ON THE DOCTOR’S TABLE

So I’m lying on the Dr.’s table waiting for my test results. I’ve had a mammogram every year but this is the first time they’ve ever called me back to take a closer look.

Earlier, as I looked up at the ultrasound monitor with the swooshy pattern moving with the wand across my skin, I thought of John Piper’s words in, “Don’t waste your cancer”:

******

Suffering really is meant to wean you from sin and strengthen your faith. If you are God-less, then suffering magnifies sin. Will you become more bitter, despairing, addictive, fearful, frenzied, avoidant, sentimental, godless in how you go about life? Will you pretend it’s business as usual? … But if you are God’s, then suffering in Christ’s hands will change you, always slowly, sometimes quickly.  You come to terms with life and death on his terms. He will gentle you, purify you, cleanse you of vanities. He will make you need him and love him. He rearranges your priorities, so first things come first more often. *

******

I thought of all the things that take attention and energy in my life .  Many of those things suddenly seemed silly and mundane.

Now here’s the really strange thing. Part of me (almost) wished for this life-changing diagnosis because I knew it would shake things up for my good.  I concluded that this odd thought could only come from an awareness that the soul is separate from the physical body, and in having experienced the comfort and peace of God in difficulty.  The dichotomy of the soul being renewed, even while the body declines is a strange thing to those who may not know the peace of Christ.

It comes from 2 Corin. 4:16:

Inner outer man

The Apostle Paul (the author of 2 Corinthians) is saying here that by the dying of one, (the outward, that is, the physical body), the life of the other (the inward, that is, the spirit) is actually furthered, that the hardships become food for our soul’s growth.

I braced myself for the possibility of illness. Knowing the real need for my own spiritual renewal, knowing my lack of discipline and inconsistent pattern of prayer, I had to ask, “why not me?”

What was so special about me that God would spare me when He hasn’t done so with others? What, in our finite way of thinking, makes us blind to His purposes for His children, for that matter?

When the specialist came in and gave me a clean bill of health, my reaction was both great relief and again, an odd sense of a missed opportunity to know and glorify God more deeply, more fully, with more of that spiritual spark that comes when the props of our lives are kicked aside.

Don’t get me wrong. I had a great sense of His mercy and a wave of gratitude washed over me.

Yet I had to ask myself one more thing…why do I necessarily need a crisis to have such a fullness of His Spirit? Do I have to come to a crossroads to look at my spiritual well-being? What is keeping me from living more abundantly in fellowship with Christ?

Has anyone else had a similar experience? Have you ever come to a point that allows you to see the spiritual gain in adversity or even sensed a spiritual renewal, even in physical weakness?

*http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/taste-see-articles/dont-waste-your-cancer

THE ME I DON’T KNOW

Facebook female

Are we so sure that we can say there are some things we would never do? For instance, I’m sure there are many people who have gotten married that never dreamed they would end up divorced. There are probably plenty of people who struggle with addictions that swore they would never go down that path. While I know it would take the perfect storm to succumb to some extremes, I’m learning to say “I’d like to think I wouldn’t” rather than “I would never” do any of these things, and more. Why? In order to remain diligent to examine my heart of  pride and maintain a godly focus. Besides, the Bible warns us repeatedly about the deception of our own hearts.

The me I don't know scripture 2

I believe we all think we know ourselves and are sure that our intentions are pure. Maybe they are, but it can be interesting that many times we are surprised that our actions don’t measure up. Even in smaller situations, our own emotions can catch up with us. I know they have for me. Today, I really want to share two circumstances that together have really taught me how little we know our hearts apart from God’s leading.

The first was an embarrassing failure….

I was with a group of friends and one of them asked us what we wish for in the next year or two. Several people mentioned things they wanted, and then when it was my turn, I simply said, “I have more than I deserve”. Everyone ‘oooed’ and ‘awwwed’, and of course I didn’t mind that reaction. I really thought I meant it…but apparently I didn’t. Just a little while after that, I thought that I misplaced my favorite jacket. Boy, was I mad, and it showed! Now, if I truly believed that I have more than I deserve, I wouldn’t have acted that way. Action speaks louder than words, and my action gave me away.

Our pastor happened to say an interesting thing this morning. He said that we would be “terrified and devastated” if we had any idea of the depth of our depravity apart from Christ. But thankfully, we have  the Holy Spirit and His help, if we choose to live in submission to Him.

 The second story I wanted to share was a victory.

Not long after that, I got into a spat with a friend. I’ll call her “Jan”. I didn’t think about the value of that friendship or how our argument put tension between us. I prayed about it that evening. I hated the awkwardness I had and how the whole thing wasn’t necessary. Well, I ran into her the next
morning. We were the only people in the room and I couldn’t avoid her. God gave me a golden opportunity. Was I going to take the easy way out and ignore her or would I apologize?

Everything in me wanted to ignore her, but I found myself trying to get her attention.

She glared at me.

“Listen, Jan, I’m sorry about our fight yesterday”

Her reaction was immediate and dramatic. You could see how she was taken off guard. Her face softened and her whole demeanor changed.

“That’s ok, Margo. I’m sorry too”

A swift acknowledgement was all it took. I had a second to nip it in the bud, and once I did, everything was ok again. I thought about these two instances and I realize that even though they were two very different circumstances they had one thing in common.

I was surprised by my own behavior both times.

In the first story, I felt like I was hit with a 2×4 the instant I realized what I did. My heart showed its true sinful nature when I least expected it to. I was surprised at the huge discrepancy between what I believe and how I acted. It reminded me of how Peter must have felt when he heard the rooster crow after denying Christ. (John 18:15-27)

On the other hand, the Bible says so much about how we are given the capacity to live beyond ourselves, but we can only do that if we live by His Spirit. This means that we often must die to our own desires. When we determine to obey God, we can bet that He will give us an opportunity to follow through. In the case concerning the fight with my friend, I was surprised by how quickly our fight was resolved, I guess because it wasn’t my nature to seek reconciliation.

The me I don't know scripture

Have you ever been surprised by how sinfully you are capable of acting?

On the other hand, have you ever acted so beyond yourself that you knew it had to be God’s Spirit working within you?

A “CHILDISH” QUESTION

Little girl singing

What is your first reaction when you see this picture? Strange question, I know. I mean besides how over-the-top adorable it is? Is your first thought:

a)      What a wonderful thing that this child knows God so purely and early in life. Praise God!

b)      This is really sweet, but it’s nothing more than a child imitating what she sees. She’s too young to understand what it means to come to saving faith.

I don’t know where this picture originated, but it strikes a chord with me. I first got it through Facebook after it had already circulated awhile. I clicked on it to find that while most people had comments that were very similar to “A” above, there were some with a more hesitant comment similar to comment “B” above.

I thought about it, and I’d like to interject that I believe it may be more consistent to say:

c)       We can’t be too dogmatic either way.

Every child is different and therefore has different degrees of comprehension. I don’t believe there is a specific age that we can label as the age of accountability for every child. I do know, however, that the condition required for saving faith is an understanding of sin and confession and belief in Christ as Lord. (Romans 10:9). I also believe that confession, if genuine, will show repentance, and trust in Christ alone to live out the faith. (Acts 3:18-19, Romans 11:6).

It doesn’t have to be complicated – No one is asking children to be able to analyze the finer points of Armenian vs. Calvinist doctrine to understand that they are sinners (i.e. people who think and behave badly) and that Jesus loves them and died for them to save them from sin and its consequences. It may not be a very mature faith, but if the Lord has really gripped their hearts, it is a faith that will mature.

Whether a certain child can grasp this to the degree of saving faith is the Lord’s doing. It may be possible at a young age; we can only continue to lead, watch, and train that child in the way that he should go.   (Proverbs 22:6)

On the other hand, children could very well just be imitating what they see. They are like little sponges that soak up what others do, just for the sake of doing so…but again, let’s not be dogmatic and say that the Lord isn’t somehow revealing His love or that children aren’t cognizant of who He is on some level.

People ask me when it was that I made a decision for Christ. Typically my answer has been that it was around the age of 11 or 12 when I was in confirmation class, but when I re-wind the years even earlier, I have a memory of my dad reading Bible stories to us at night. One night he told me that Jesus died for me. The strangest thing was that in my little six-year-old brain, without really knowing much else, it made perfect sense. I remember thinking, “Well, someone had to”.

Somehow, I just instinctively knew that there had to be a love so great that it would go beyond just claiming to love, but also to willingly give His all for me. I knew that there were too many hurting and forgotten people that would not know this love for there not to be a love like that.  I was struck by the complete sacrifice and fulfillment of our greatest need in Christ’s act of redemption. (Sure attests to the scripture that states that God set eternity in our hearts! Eccl. 3:11)

I say that even if this little child is just imitating what she is seeing, let’s not throw the baby out with the baptismal water. She is singing and praising God with an open heart. God can use that good experience to form an immediate impression upon her, or He may bring it back to her memory in the midst of difficulties as an adult. You just don’t know.

One thing is clear. Jesus taught that children are precious in His eyes. In fact, He scolded His disciples when they tried to shoo them away. Instead of discounting them, He opened His arms to them, saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:14)

Do you believe that a child can comprehend the issues of law and grace, sin and salvation enough to make a life decision for Christ? 

Why do you think so much of the most vivid memories of our spiritual history can be traced back to our childhood? 

THE LITMUS TEST OF FAITH

Do you ever struggle with the insecure feeling that you may not be saved? After all, Jesus said, not everyone who claims to know the Lord actually has saving faith. (Matthew 7:21)

Picking up from my last post about doubt in regards to the Christian life, I’m here to tell you that the Bible addresses this challenge head on.

It’s found in the book of 1 John. The book was written by the Apostle John to the church in order to combat false teaching and to bring them back to the basics of Christianity. He outlines a list of principles as a “litmus test” in order to ask the church to take a look at their faith and examine whether any of their doubts were substantiated or not.

In quick bullet points, I’d like to list what these passages in 1 John are not saying:

–          That we are saved by works. The Bible is clear that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone. (Eph. 2:8). The challenge is to test the evidence of faith as a result of salvation, not how well we can live up to these principles to save ourselves.

–          That someone is definitely not a Christian if we aren’t seeing any evidence in his or her life, (they may not be showing any growth YET), but I think it can be cause for concern, guidance and prayer for them.

–          That we should approach these principles as a list to check off and go about our way. On the contrary, we examine our lives against them on an ongoing basis. If we are growing in our faith, our goal is to be more and more like Christ.

So here they are:

1)      Have you enjoyed fellowship with Christ and the Father? “We have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us – what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. – (1 John 1:2-3)

2)      Are you sensitive to sin? “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” – (1 John 6)

3)      Do you obey God’s word? “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.” (1 John 2:3)

4)      Do you reject this evil world? “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” – (1 John 2:15)

5)      Do you eagerly await Christ’s return? “Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be. We know that, when He appears, we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him just as He is. And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” (1 John 3:2-3)

6)      Do you see a decreasing pattern of sin in your life? “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God”  – (1 John 3:7)

7)      Do you love other Christians? “The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” – (1 John 2:10)

8)      Do you experience answered prayer? Whatever we ask of God “we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:21-22)

9)      Do you experience the ministry of the Holy Spirit? “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” – (1 John 4:13)

10)  Can you discern between spiritual truth and error? “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.– (1 John 4:1)

11)  Have you suffered rejection because of your faith? “Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil, and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. – (1 John 3:12-13)

As believers, we all display these qualities to some extent. One of us may be weaker in one area than the other. Yet God planted these seeds of faith within us, and if we continue to obey Him, he will be faithful to yield the result of fruitful lives within each of us.  (1 Thess. 5:24)