Weeping in the Passing Lane

Because we indeed live in “terrible times”, as warned by the Apostle Paul, there is plenty of life to lament and regret.  The “terrible times” described in II Timothy 3 are not rooted in natural disasters or even Christian persecution but the woe that comes from abounding sin within and around us.  Believers and unbelievers suffer from personal failure and defeat as well as the destruction of others’ sins against us.

rough-road-ahead

Although God warns, we are often crushed under fiery trials

The promise of healing and restoration is intrinsic to our covenant relationship to God.  But how does that work?  How does this happen when we are convinced, ‘no job is better than the one I lost’, ‘my marriage will never be what it was’, ‘I cannot overcome this grief’, ‘I cannot live with this pain’, ‘the ministry was utterly destroyed…

“No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise.”  Ezra 3:13

Contextually, the Israelites here were being restored to their homeland after 70 years of exile and captivity.  All God’s people suffered due to prevalent sin and rebellion.  But restoration is glorious, as God moves even the hearts of world powers to bring His people back.   Ezra and Nehemiah describe not only the return of the Jews but the rebuilding of the altar and temple.  The magnificence of the first temple of God however, was lost forever, “…many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud…” when they saw this new temple foundation laid.

It is natural to weep and lament for what or whom is lost, to anguish over sin that robbed and destroyed, to regret life opportunities that seem forever gone.  But even as we’re weeping, God is building a new thing within the life of His Body, His believers.  It is okay to deeply lament even as others are rejoicing if together we grasp the truth and trust that God is doing a new thing – He is not refurbishing the old but building anew. 

When true believers weep and lament while choosing to believe – a more genuine faith arises for the world to see.  We have a sure anchor that the world’s culture cannot promise – God is faithful to His people and will once again renew.  Later in Ezra, after the completion of this new altar and temple, “…the priests, the Levites and the rest of the exiles – celebrated the dedication of the house of God with joy.”

We are surely suffering the fruits of sin in these “terrible times”, we may be broken down and trampled upon but we need never be out of the race.  God honors the faith of those that cry out to Him, that move toward Him, no matter how ‘bruised the reed’ or how weak the ‘smoldering wick’.

If we set our hearts to believe with a will to seek Him, we can move in the ‘passing lane’ – not surpassing those around us but moving past the loss, regret, and wounds that would stop us.

Following the Lord Jesus and holding onto God’s word, we can journey into this passing lane.  Even moving inch by inch with tears abounding, we can and will surely win the race.

passing lane

 

 

The Snare of Looking Back

“…and Lord, don’t let our country push You out of everything, bring prayer back into the schools, help us regain and restore the reverence for You which was lost…”, the brother prayed.

A sister continued, “Lord, keep our hearts from looking back, from lamenting over eras gone by…Lord, fix our eyes upon Your promised future, upon Your promised return….”

“Stop!” the brother snapped, “this prayer is over!”  Earnest prayer before the Lord erupted anger!

Aligning our prayer and walk with Jesus is essential so, we must ask, which way is He going?

Yes, we’re called to pray for our nation, our families, our neighbors – that they may come to repentance and be saved from the sure judgment to come.  However, prophetic certainties make futile any attempt to regain America’s ‘reverence to God’.  That train has left the station, it’s on route to a slow crash which no one can stop. 

Whether we’re lamenting our nation’s past or personal losses of life, health, prosperity, or passions, looking back can be a snare.

In fact, the Bible is forward marching, relentlessly into eternity – a new heaven, a new earth.  When we’re born again, we join in that march.  Not ‘happy-clappy’ or ‘easy believism’ but a hard discipline to reframe our thinking forward – heavenward – through God’s word.  

Only turning from the past and this temporal life can we find living hope and true freedom.  As Joseph M Stowell writes,

“Eternity is the only reality that can resolve life’s insolvable dilemmas.  Only an eternal perspective enables us to adequately cope with life’s disappointments….Followers (of Christ) view all of life – its good times as well as its bad – through the lens of eternity.” excerpt from Following Christ

Scripture holds ongoing admonishment to forward march – our Commanding Officer is ahead of us! From Lot’s wife looking back, to the Israelites’ lament over ‘life in Egypt’, the risk of ‘mental backsliding’  gives ground for Satan to move in. When God seems to strip our life, crush our expectations and obliterate our plans, we don’t want Him to do a ‘new thing’, we want the old back!

But our life in Christ hinges on that forward march, detaching ourselves from this temporal world and everything in it – even our very ‘self’.  Pain, loss, and suffering often pry loose that grip and lead us desperately into God’s word.   

Stowell further states in Following Christ,

“Followers can reduce all of life to the question, “What is it that my Father in heaven wants for my life in this moment?”

Looking back is often a snare that opens our soul to regret, remorse, guilt and futility –  a muddied road that can lead to depression.   God continually calls us to, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past”, “…to be transformed by the renewing of your mind”,  “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”.

Thankfully, that praying brother and sister, almost immediately, reconciled in prayer.  The Lord humbled them through the upstir and brought clarity.  Prayer resumed!

Heal us Lord, from past things that haunt and grieve us, even draw us in.  And lead us Lord, as Your Body, in a forward march to follow and serve You.       

“We don’t know what to do but our eyes are on You.”

 

Why is Christmas so Depressing?

Many believers and unbelievers alike anticipate the ‘holiday season’ with heaviness and anxiety.  While personal reasons for depression vary greatly, the fleshly sensation of Christmas accentuates every grief in our heart.  However, rather than masking our heart with a pretense of joy, why not consider that the Lord Himself shares in that grief? 

Many believers stifle controversy in their heart over this holiday.  They know that Jesus was not born in December and find sentimental reenactments of His birth inaccurate,  often serving as spiritual entertainment.  For sure the Apostles never engaged in any such rehearsals of the Lord’s birth and the early Christians and Puritans rejected establishing this event.   None of the founding fathers would dream of shopping for gifts to each other – especially if they lacked nothing. 

The unmistakable spiritual truth of Christmas is this:  when believers and unbelievers alike can join together and celebrate a spiritual event, it is laden with worldliness and idolatry.  

Thankfully,  commercial ‘joy’ and ‘peace’ elude most folks – the only thing worse than a false joy is building a foundation upon it.  The world accepts and celebrates a god they deem benign and vulnerable but rejects a reigning King to Whom they must give account.

empty manger

He is no longer here!  Our hope lies in His power to deliver and redeem us.  

If we are outsiders to the flashing lights and tinsel that ‘deck the halls’ and the holiday cheer that reeks of cliché, we can certainly find consolation and hope in this – Jesus is on the outside as well.  He never engaged in falderal or worldliness – never lost His focus of the cross.  He never said to look backwards but forward, living each day in the reality of His promised return as Judge and King.

God’s burden for the lost was born into a manger but the proclamation to the world is this, “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.  That is the message rejected by man – without it, there can be no joy, no peace, no reconciliation with God at Christmas or any other time. 

Gathering with family and friends and enjoying traditions is a good thing but if we believe that worldly celebrations, gift giving or ‘the most wonderful time of year’ is ordained by our holy God we will be rightfully disappointed in Him.

Unlike the world, the Savior Jesus invites,

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.  For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  (Matthew 11:28-29)

“There will be terrible times in the last days”, warned the Apostle Paul in II Timothy 3.  The call for believers to separate from the world is not to prevent fun or celebration but serves as an intrinsic warning that this world is temporal and any hope rooted therein is a poor and foolhardy investment.   

Depression, sadness, and disappointment is not crazy during Christmas but often true reflection of this dark world….perhaps a true alignment with the heart of Christ.  I pray to seek the Lord in greater measure and hear from Him through His word.  But I also pray for those who ‘celebrate’ but refuse to repent, the many who celebrate Christ’s birth but reject His mandate to us, “You must be born again.”

He is not in that manger.  But He promises,

“If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.”  (John 14:23)

This is the true celebration that the world cannot give and cannot take away. 

 

When God Puts You on Hold

When a service provider or agent puts us on hold, our flesh rises exponentially with each passing moment.  Of course, we can hang up, yell in the phone, and even write bad reviews online….“Bad customer service, was on hold for 10 minutes!”

But for followers of Jesus Christ, our lives, our hopes and expectations,  can be put on hold for days, months, even years.  “We belong to God” does not imply membership but ownership, we’ve been bought with a price.  God heard our cry for deliverance, for healing, for financial breakthrough, for a call to serve – for purpose and fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God – and yet oftentimes He puts us on hold.

Noted English evangelist Leonard Ravenhill speaks of God’s “University of Silence” in his book, ‘Sodom Had No Bible’.   Many spiritual giants endured years of ‘silence’, such as Joseph imprisoned for many years and Moses’ 40 years of shepherding.  Jesus Himself lived 30 years, seemingly silent, while observing religious hypocrisy and all kinds of human suffering.  Noted in Matthew, Jesus surely had divine wisdom and discernment at a young age. But even as God incarnate, Jesus maintained perfect obedience as a Servant – waiting for the Father’s perfect timing to reveal Him as Savior.

As servants ourselves, we may find our particular ministry with its passion and calling, come to a season’s end.  It is a tremendous loss as nothing compares to ‘co-laboring in the fields with the Father’ with the joy of God’s Spirit moving.  Yet, there are times when our assignment lies only on the sidelines, waiting for God’s perfect timing, His open door and call to service.

“Most of us hate to be under-rated.  We may not seek to head the parade, but – and this is our pitiable weakness – we must be in the parade.”!  (Leonard Ravenhill)

The ‘University of Silence’ separates us, not only from the world, but often from broad fellowship with believers.  God desires an intimacy that comes from separation – often a separation unto Him brought about by loss and suffering.  Why separation?  Why loss? Why suffering?  Why should our hopes and expectations be on hold?

How long should we wait at life’s juncture before God opens the door, reveals His will, or leads us to those “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”?   Obedience requires that we wait indefinitely, faith requires that we hope expectantly!

Conversely, we can create possibilities, try to ‘make things happen’ – but that is not a call of God.  That’s the ‘call of King Saul’ who lost the kingdom through his own willfulness.  Saul lost his kingship when he ‘appointed’ himself priest and later, void of all spiritual discernment, lost his life after consulting a witch.

When God has us ‘on hold’, when we’re stuck at some juncture, God’s word assures us of His sovereignty and purpose over our lives.  He also warns us though, of acting outside His will – it is the dependence upon Him and the surrender to Him that undergird a life pleasing to God.

It is actually an honor to be in God’s ‘University of Silence’.  When we are living right and yet He calls us out of the parade and away from all that seems fruitful and winning, He’s calling us to Himself.  Being obedient in the everyday ordinary and sitting at the feet of our Lord is not a demotion, it’s a preparation.

God may keep us “on hold” but will never hang up.  He is working in that silence, in that wilderness, even in an undeserved ‘prison’.  I pray, in these last days, to walk with obedient patience, and yet with living expectancy of God’s call into a new season.

Nectar and Beauty From Suffering

bleeding hearts 2

Bleeding Hearts are native to Siberia, a place of banishment and abandon

How the Lord brings beauty and life from places of desolation is a true mystery because His work is unseen.  Faith is believing in that work, before we see the fruit.  Our confidence during the battle pleases God because, in the spiritual realm, we are declaring victory solely based on God’s trustworthiness.

Whether our Lord allows debilitating illness, wrenching injury, or emotional anguish and despair the scriptures and the legacy of the saints before us declare that He never afflicts without purpose and sovereignty.  In every fiery furnace, His hand is on the thermostat.

The Bible promises fruits from hardship and suffering, “grief in all kinds of trials”  1 Peter 1:6-7.   ‘Undeserved suffering’, painful chastisement, and mournful grief can thrash the life of a believer but bring utter confusion to the one not girded in God’s word.

We have no power to erase the pain of betrayal, the anxiety and panic attacks from pummeling traumas, nor can we lift the weighty blanket of depression.  But, for the sheep of the Good Shepherd, there is always a life-giving vein that flows to raise and renew us.  Our lives will not be restored to what they were.  We may walk with a limp from the storm,  our head may be singed from the fire…but not without purpose and design.

Whether slow burning or flash fire, what the enemy seems to obliterate from our lives can truly well up an unseen view and yearning for God and heaven.

“I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed… I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes…How my heart yearns within me!”  Job 19:25-27

Misery is the fruit of worldly suffering…not so with our Maker!  Like a grueling chisel, heartbreak and loss can break and crush what we greatly value in this world.  If only our priceless will to choose remains, choose to trust God, He is still in control.      

Bleeding Hearts 1

Flourishing in shade, Bleeding Hearts are planted to brighten up dark areas

 

Unlike the world’s endless quest to pump up the flesh, our Lord uses brokenness for His work and glory.  Trusting our Father opens the door to victory, not the elimination of pain, but the promise of His life flowing through ours as a hopeful light to others.

This is the fragrance of Christ that the world needs.

humming bird on bleeding heart

“This Will NEVER End!”

said the devil.

For those most vulnerable to anxiety and depression, open-ended and ongoing calamities are most difficult.  Chronic illness, marital betrayal and mistrust, serious family discord, rebellion and dysfunctional behavior plow the heart and water roots of anxiety and depression.  If you are a follower of Christ, you have a powerful enemy  whose vested interest goes beyond emotional suffering.  The devil’s trophy comes when we no longer see God as trustworthy, all powerful, and all loving.

The circumstances under which we suffer are secondary to what we believe while  suffering.  As a child of Sovereign God, the devil’s assaults are measured and restricted (although it seems at times he goes full speed!)  Satan cannot increase the magnitude of the circumstance but he makes all effort to magnify it in our heart and mind.  Herein is the essence of the war for our faith.

War Propaganda

Oh Lord, hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked…who aim their words like deadly arrows.  (Psalm 64)

 

Like the airborne propaganda campaigns of WWI and WWII, the enemy strikes a massive assault to: convince us that destruction is imminent, encourage us to abandon our post, and even offer rewards to those who surrender. 

The campaign need only convince us: This will NEVER end!  This will NEVER change!

Yesterday new events erupted in my own longstanding, anxiety provoking circumstance. I sought encouragement from a mature sister and actually blurted out, “This will NEVER end!”.  Moments later I realized that I had repeated the lie of the enemy.

I am grateful that issues in my heart were exposed and saw lies fueling my anxiety.

While not called to be ‘happy-clappy’, we are called to ‘stand our ground’ and ‘stand firm’.  I opened my Bible and began to pray.  Alongside this, I searched for posts in WordPress with words like ‘faith’, ‘anxiety’, ‘God’ and, after some scrutiny, found real encouragement from brethren with similar battles of faith.

Alone with the Lord, He spoke to my heart.  Firstly,  “NEVER” is not a word for any circumstance in this temporary world.  Our lives are but a vapor and our eyes should be fixed toward ETERNITY, which shrinks and deflates any ‘never’ in this world.   Secondly, refreshing my heart with Biblical truths and the testimonies of brethren reminded me that God is the supernatural game changer, even when it looks like things will never change!  But more than any change in circumstance, my heart must rest in the assurance of His love, His faithfulness, and sovereignty.   God is in control.

Oh Lord, root us in this truth, that You don’t waste our afflictions as we trudge through this temporal world…but You use them like refining fire to change us….preparing us to live with You for eternity. 

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” Your love, O Lord, supported me.  when anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought joy to my soul.”  (Psalm 94:18-19)

 

The Timely Death of Believers

 

the Lord directs our steps

 

While writing A Ragamuffin In God’s Hall of Fame,  overviewing  the life of Rich Mullins, I  often came across “his untimely death”.  Yes, he died at the young age of 41.  Even younger at death was Keith Green, 28, whose godly music and message continue to glorify God.

Almost everyone in this fallen world can testify of an “untimely death”, as do I, recalling my brother’s death at age 38.  (Noted in this post) 

But ultimately for the believer, however, there is no “untimely death”, it is an “appointed death” (Hebrews 9:12).  The last steps of our life are, as all other steps,  are “ordered by God”.

Why is this so important?

  1.   As followers of the Lord, we must wrap ourselves with the truths of His word before the battle begins.  A perpetual focus of life in this world robs us of  the spiritual truths and fortitude we will need when death comes upon us or our loved ones. 
  2.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” and as such, we must have a living word in our hearts ready to shine into the grief and confusion of those who face death.

There is no hint whatsoever that God “allows” one of His followers to die, as though He were a mere witness to death;  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”  God is sovereign, not a bystander in our lives.  One can meditate upon the lives of godly servants in Scripture and find that, in spite of very real and ongoing death threats and attempts, they ‘were immortal until God’s work through them was complete’.  King David, the Apostle Paul and our Savior Jesus Himself are striking examples of men whose lives were sought by powerful foes yet they remained alive and victorious under God’s protection.  

After coming to saving faith in Christ, God’s purposes that we increasingly “conform to the image of God’s Son”.

“The believer’s life on earth is his only arena for change and fruitfulness…the nature of eternity is changeless.  Therefore, the time to become like Jesus, being conformed to His likeness, is during this earthly Christian experience of trial and faith.”

“You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes.  That’s the point of judgement.”    (Dr. Lovett)

Often the life of a fruitful and godly believer is so needed and cherished here and now that his death seems only senseless and tragic.  But the Alpha and Omega may see that believer at the pinnacle of his faith and walk with God.  The Lord alone can see the future backsliding, pitfalls and snares…His view of us is always eternal.

Only a Biblical view of death and heaven can prepare us for grief and heartbreak.   And only detaching ourselves from this world can release the truths of death and eternity into our hearts.  Can we affirm with Paul, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ?  Can we trust God that His timing and view of our eternity is always accurate, even perfect?

In II Kings 20, God directed an ailing King Hezekiah, “Get your house in order, you’re going to die…”  Yet, while claiming great faithfulness and devotion, Hezekiah actually revealed his attachment to his kingdom here, pleading with God for more time.  The additional 15 years that God granted brought forth the fruits of a spiritual downfall.  His pride burst forth, he lost his discernment, and during this time sired the most wicked heir, King Manasseh.

“When God tells us that it’s time for us to die, we must be willing to leave the earth immediately.  For God alone knows what is best for us.  So, when God tells us it is time to go, we should not want to stay on in this rotten world any longer.”  Zac Poonen

And yet, what of the deaths of unsaved loved ones?  Contemplating their end must serve to embolden us to proclaim the Gospel as though they stand on the precipice of eternity because that is where they are.  Like the thief on the cross alongside Jesus,  their last steps may land upon that ‘narrow road’ of salvation.  But as representatives of God in heaven, we must pray for boldness to speak the truth.

Like water through a funnel, we are swirling faster into the end days.  Many believers however, are lulled into complacency and comfort, having sought and gained satisfaction in this world.  I pray that we, together, will seek the full counsel of God on matters of life and matters of death and eternity.  Whether our last steps are ordered days or years from now, let us fill ourselves with enough truth to pour out to those who are dying without it.

“At every turn in your life, keep the end in view”  Thomas À Kempis