Ever Find Yourself in Patmos?

Genesis and Revelation are the critical bookends to God’s living word.  In Revelation,  the Apostle John receives from Jesus prophetic visions of apocalyptic events that continue to stun believers with a deeper fear and awe of God.

Little, however, is described about the godly vessel chosen to reveal these awesome truths.  As an elderly man of God, John shared with believers,

I, John, am your brother and your partner in suffering and in God’s Kingdom and in the patient endurance to which Jesus calls us. I was exiled to the island of Patmos for preaching the word of God and for my testimony about Jesus.  Rev 1:9

“Exiled” and “suffering” may not fully depict John’s life on Patmos but does, even vaguely, open our minds to his hardship.  It is commonly known that Patmos was a small barren island, treeless and stark, used by Rome as a site to banish exiles.  According to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, Patmos means “my killing“.  Greek scholar Alexander Cruden defines Patmos as “I am squeezed to pieces.”

This chosen beloved man of God personally walked with the Lord, powerfully expounded the life of Jesus Christ for the world to embrace, and established churches that impacted the world.  He witnessed the power of God through his life and through the lives of the other apostles.  However, while embracing his ministry and pursuing the kingdom of God, John is banished into a barren place of suffering….with God in full control.

There is only one beloved Apostle John.

However, many believers even today find themselves unexpectedly on Patmos.   The ‘Unexpected’ magnifies the pain…if one could plan, who wouldn’t pack provisions for a barren place?

It is true that God can strip your life at it’s very peak.  I know, for example, a sister who left a wonderful career for the sake of her spouse only to learn weeks later of his adulterous affair and secret life.  She was heading toward Patmos when shortly thereafter the ministry she loved, with whom she traveled and evangelized imploded by exposed corruption, scattering precious sheep in utter despair….At the same time, God set her in the position of caring for that unfaithful spouse during illness and injury while yet revealing other depths of betrayal.  Then she went nearly bald.  (ok, c’est moi)

When totally alone in despair, stripped of all that ‘made us’ who we are, when gone are the very things, even godly things, that brought pleasure, fulfillment,  and security….

You are here

alone in city

Patmos – Barron places threaten faith and foundation

Most assuredly the apostle John stood strong on Patmos, continuing to live the strong spiritual foundation that he set forth to the churches….urging them to live like Christ, standing strong in adversity,  separated from the things of this world,

“Do not love the world or anything in the world…The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”   I John 2:15-17

 

John knew that the purposes and plans of God are not at all deterred by circumstance, in fact the apostles knew that God worked their sufferings and adversities to promote the Gospel.  John was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day”.  Banishment from the places and people he loved did not interrupt his worship or intimacy with the Lord Jesus. Moreover, we have every reason to believe that John’s exile brought him into a deeper relationship with God, ultimately preparing him to receive the greatest revelation of Christ’s awesome return.

The barren place of Patmos gave birth to the fearsome final word of God, the merciful warning of coming judgement.  

I don’t know anyone like the apostle John but I do know brethren in a state of Patmos, a place of “my killing”….where life seems “…squeezed to pieces.”  Unexpected upheavals and unraveling, reversals and losses all shake the pillars of life and expose the only sure foundation found in Christ.

He is our Head and is in control.   If you are His follower, no one can take you to Patmos except by His will.  God is not finished with you, He has a plan and purpose in the places of Patmos…that could only come to fruition through that barren place.  

“Lord, walk us through the places of Patmos.  Let all that was lost fade away next to the reality of You.  Renew our minds through Your powerful living word.  I pray that we see purpose in the ‘barren places’ – let them be places of spiritual and supernatural life.  Plant in us a living hope that the promises of You, sovereign God, can never fail.”

I think there’s a song for us on Patmos….

 

Pushpins of Doubt in the Midst of God’s Power

purple pushpin

From a pushpin of doubt faith slowly seeps out….

In 2005, a missionary couple came to Times Square Church to testify and present the Lord’s great work within a restricted Islamic country. At that point I had probably heard about 1000 sermons from the TSC pulpit but few are as vividly memorable as the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. E. They were called to that country in 1994. While in the center of town one day, an insistent woman led Mrs. E out to a remote area. There Mrs. E eyed a large dilapidated warehouse. What importance could that have?

It was winter when she entered this foreboding building and with its broken windows and damaged walls it was just as cold inside as out. With the language barrier it was hard to understand why she was urged there until the local woman opened one of the storehouse doors.

This was that country’s ‘facility’ for mentally and physically disabled children where they slowly died daily of deprivation and abandonment. There were no bathrooms in this ‘facility’. Most of these children were unclad, laid upon bare wooden bed frames, at death’s door with infections, starvation, and emotional anguish.

The projected overhead photos were heartbreaking. Never before and never since have I witnessed such weeping break out at Times Square Church. Mrs. E continued the story. Although she made daily attempts to minister to these children, bringing food and praying for them, the futility overwhelmed her. Until the Lord moved once again on behalf of those abandoned and languishing children.

Around that same time, the pastors of TSC were preparing for a pastor’s conference in that country. Coincidentally, one pastor’s son met Mrs. E in the center of town one day and, through that ‘chance meeting’ the Lord’s purposes forged ahead. We didn’t hear about the ‘pastors conference’ but God moved the pastors of TSC to embrace and adopt that abandoned place of death.

I have never seen a transformation such as the one presented.

Buildings were gutted and rebuilt. Therapeutic hydraulic pools were installed, plumbing and cooking facilities came to life. They no longer needed the ‘guards’ who tossed moldy food to dying children. The E couple was able to add Christian workers to minister and heal; over time the Lord brought 76 brethren to love on these children, bringing many to a saving knowledge of God.

The overhead photos of true life and restoration brought another outbreak of tears!

Although I cried the tears of grief then utter joy, one thing troubled me like a pushpin in my faith. When Mr. E  first described their call to missionary work in August 1976 he said….

They were young and in love, engaged to be married, and ready to serve the Lord on the mission field. As part of a youth group, they had a brief stay in NY before flying out to various countries as the Lord had led. During that brief stay, Mr. E shared, his betrothed set out with another sister in the Lord to hand out tracts and minister in the area. They did not return that day. Instead, the police came to the Christian center to report that the girls were hospitalized. They had been abducted from the street, gang raped and tortured then dumped out of a van.

Of course, the girls’ parents urged them to return home, to recover and heal. But, as Mr. E continued, his fiancé left for the airport after her medical discharge. Sometime later they were married and worked together on the mission field – Pakistan, Sri Lanka, India and later in Central Asia where they stayed for many years.

As a crime victim counselor and later a parole officer for many years I saw the personal devastation of sex offenses. Some ‘rape survivors’ never fully recover. While I marveled at the Lord’s hand working through this couple, ‘a pushpin of doubt’ lingered and needled….”gang raped and tortured” on her way to serving God? Having been violated, traumatized, and dumped like refuge on the road, how could this young woman share the faithfulness of God just days later? Was He faithful?

Twelve years later I don’t have all the answers but perhaps gained some understanding on the sovereignty of God. It’s not possible to accept that God is ‘in charge’ of the wonderful ‘coincidences’ of the Christian walk – where impossible plans come to fruition –  but then reject His omnipotence over tragedies, violations, betrayals and sicknesses. The painful truth is that God uses suffering, not prosperity, to prepare and launch His vessels into the world.

I don’t think Mrs. E would object if I supposed that, without the horrifying attack set upon her, she would not have been the same broken and surrendered servant standing before Times Square Church. It must have been supernatural healing and restoration that empowered her to rise up from gross abuse to selfless service unto the Lord. Perhaps in that, the Lord proved Himself stronger than any force of wicked darkness.

The answers to ‘why’ in pain and suffering may remain still a mystery but grow more insignificant against the living and eternal fruits born through surrendered vessels.

And a pushpin pushed out, falling to the ground…..

 

“You threw me into the ocean depths, and I sank down to the heart of the sea. The mighty waters engulfed me; I was buried beneath Your wild and stormy waves…But You, O Lord, snatched me from the jaws of death!”  Jonah 2 excerpts

Can God Bless an Unhappy Marriage?

When I was a parole officer I had a certain partner for many years. He was a bit older and married for several years while I was seeking a mate. One day he said of marriage, “There are days that you really hate that person you married.” ‘Agh!’ I thought, ‘what kind of marriage does he have?’

That was probably 30 years ago.

Paul’s prophetic warning in II Timothy 3, “There will be terrible times in the last days” also depicts therein the state of marriage. While the world is bombarded with immorality and apostasy, Christian marriages are a prized target because our life and marriage should be a light that honors God. The shock, betrayal and anguish caused by discovered adultery, pornography and deception is doubled by the confusing questions, “Didn’t I marry a Christian?” “How did God allow this to happen?” “How could he/she do such things – where was the Holy Spirit?” and…

“What should I do? What would God have me do?” “Is God finished here?”

(If someone is in an abusive marriage there should be no question about leaving, only prayer for strength to leave. Nearly every large precinct has a ‘domestic abuse officer’ – call them. Believe me, many people find God in jail and so can your spouse.)

However, most marriages are not dying from abuse, they are either a) suffering deeply from the pummeling anguish of betrayal and/or b) slowly dying from erosion, drifting, and indifference. The questions however, remain the same.

Many Christians consider adultery to be the doctrinal ‘ticket out’ of a broken marriage. This may be the right choice if the offending spouse wants to leave. However, in many cases, the situation is complicated with remorse and some level of repentance making decisions deeply troubling. The ‘open door’ to flee marriage is an option, not a mandate, neither does it signify God’s specific will. Consider Paul and Silas captive in a harsh dungeon, Acts 16. After being humiliated, beaten and chained, the prison gates miraculously spring open! They were well able gain freedom through this ‘open door’ but their freedom would have foregone the higher will of God to save the jailer and his family. The jailer, destined for suicide, was instead saved and salvation brought to his whole family.

While no one should consider staying in an abusive or harmful manipulative marriage, there are many truths to consider when the turmoil of your relationship crushes you with disappointment, emotional pain, and loneliness.

1. God established marriage and He is for it. For those whose lives are in Christ, our Heavenly Father stands to defend His daughters and sons and will pay back those who afflict them. If the offender is a backslidden Christian, believe in God’s ominous chastisement – it is inevitable.
2. God hates divorce, as stated in Malachi 2:16, which does not mean it is always avoidable but woe to he or she that irreparably damages what God has established. Adulterers, abandoners, and abusers will be held accountable.
3. Satan loves divorce, it is highly valuable to destroying a home and family with lasting consequence on future generations. In divorce Satan can “steal, kill, and destroy” all at once. His schemes orchestrate opportunities for a spouse to fulfill the lusts of his/her heart. Or, like a barrage of termites, devilish thoughts target our hearts, eating away marital foundations, while embellishing every suspicion and inflaming every wound to build an accusatory case against our spouse.
4. God foresaw your marital unhappiness, even misery. Only the Holy Spirit can reach those depths of emotional pain and He awaits our cry. Committed into His hand, He will intervene, He will make His word alive with healing and He will weave our pain into the “all things” that “work together for good”.

Whether our relationship is blown apart or dies slowly the turning point will always be when one or both parties get alone with God and determine to hear from Him. No one can  hijack God’s plan for our life if we remain faithful. While the entire world fixates on personal ‘happiness’, ‘self-gratification’, and ‘self-fulfillment’ God is calling us into a separated walk with Him. “That which is highly esteemed by man is despicable in God’s eyes”. When the world, our friends, our family and even church members say “leave and move on with your life” the Lord may be saying “stay and stand in your faith”, that He may unfold His plans for our life and marriage.

Wise counsel is important and marital counseling may help but no intervention can compare with the true believer hearing from our Heavenly Father. The Lord alone responds to our hearts with promise – when He calls us to stay, He is staying with us, maintaining divine purpose in our life. ‘Divine purpose’ is nothing like worldly esteem or prestige…it is found in the inner suffering that leads to God’s glory and His eternal Kingdom. It is through suffering that we can be “conformed to the image of His Son” who suffered greatly and taught us to carry our cross and die to self will. Marital suffering hammers out the ‘self will’ with painful precision but more than that, it avails us to a deeper and more intimate walk with the Lord.

It is not easily said but God does bless the unhappy and difficult marriage when one or both therein are surrendered to Him. He stands by His sons and daughters who have been downcast and betrayed and upholds those who have been damaged by sinful and offensive decisions. But more importantly, God unveils the darkness in our midst and even in our own hearts and, in doing so, does the most critical work of sanctifying us.

I pray that, in this brief space, we can consider the complexity of marital discord for the believer. Marriage for some believers cannot be saved and they remain blameless. No one should remain in any relationship that is physically or emotionally abusive. However, most issues rooted in selfishness, carnal living, unfaithfulness to God and/or spouse, and neglect lead to increasing ‘love-less-ness’ and resentment. These are often the fruits of devilish whittling and needling, “the schemes of the devil”, targeting our own fleshly inclinations for our destruction.

We have authority in Christ to take a stand in our home and marriage and, in these end times, we dare not waste any more time lamenting of the past, ruminating over offenses, or feeding suspicion and accusations. If we’ve grown to ‘hate’ our spouse, don’t avoid prayer – take it to prayer, pour out honestly to God who already knows our inner battles and pain….

“Lord, I confess to you every dark and painful thought and inclination of my heart – come into my heart with the flashlight of your word and lead me to your living hope! Don’t let me be governed by feelings but lead me in the power of the Holy Spirit! Speak to my heart, speak to my husband/wife’s heart. Bring conviction where there is sin and rebellion. Incline our hearts toward Your will for our life and marriage. Grant me wisdom and discernment to hold fast to truth and dispel the lies of the devil and the deception of my own heart. Help me to trust You for the invisible work in my spouse and help me to be humble to see the darkness of my own heart. I pray for supernatural renewal. May we fix our eyes on You, Jesus, to honor you as we await your coming Kingdom.”

bowling pins aflame

Satan patiently prepares a household, inflaming our flesh for breakdown and divorce – STRIKE!

Commemorate Armenian Martyrs – Cry Out For Their Unborn

Armenian Martyrs Day is once again upon us, 4/24/17. Once again crowds will rightfully gather around city centers and government headquarters, continuing demands for complete acknowledgement and justice for the genocide perpetuated upon the Armenians. In 1915, wide scale systematic annihilation began as the Ottoman Turks sought to exterminate the Armenian people. Over 1.5 million Armenians were brutally murdered, some dying slow deaths of starvation and illness during death marches.

Yes, we must remember this great crime against humanity.

However, if we truly care for the Armenian people, their survival and salvation in this world, we would be remiss totally hypocritical to ignore the rampant plight of Armenia’s unborn. (Please see “Armenia – Dying Under Fruitless Religion” posted 4/7/17)

baby at 18 weeks

Every year nearly 25% of unborn Armenian babies are killed and this may not include the gender selective late term illegal abortions.

Before Armenian Martyrs Day, we’re calling an online All Night Prayer Meeting,  Friday April 21st, from 9pm to 5am Saturday morning. I urge all believers to pray for the whole night, part of the evening or even a few minutes. We cannot, under God’s eye, take a stand for those who were martyred while their current generation is under silent yet utter destruction.

Proposed Prayer Schedule – Friday 4/21/17 to Saturday 4/22/18
9pm to 10pm: A time of quieting our hearts before the Lord. Visit the Psalms and actually sing some in praises to God or choose any praise and worship songs toward God.

10pm to 11:30pm: Begin to pray for the Church in Armenia and all those who accept a place of spiritual authority. For many, the scriptures are a dead word, without life or power.

  • Pray for a great move of the Holy Spirit upon spiritual leaders in Armenia, that their hearts may be deeply convicted for the state of their flock. For the sake of Christ and those who are perishing, pray that God take away their false peace!
  • Pray that their hearts are greatly stirred and without rest until they cry out to God and hear the Lord’s direction to lead the men and women under their domain.
  • Pray that the eyes of every priest and deacon are open to the futility of rituals that have no grounding in the word of God and no power to save or heal.
  • I pray for a deep weeping and grief in the hearts of all church leaders – may the Lord mercifully oppress them with the weight and burden of these sins

  “The heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord…” (Proverbs 21:1) So even the heart of a priest, “For who is able to resist His will?” (Romans 9:19)

11:30pm to 1:30am: Pray for the women of Armenia. Many of these women are descendants of genocide survivors. Armenian women have lived through the tyranny of communism, have known deprivation from Islamic oppression and blockades. While abortion procedures may have been freely offered, contraception was never taught or available for many years. Many Armenian women have had over 10 abortions. Infertility is extremely high.

  • Cry out to God for pregnant women, pray that the Holy Spirit open their eyes to the developing baby within them. For those who are gladly expectant, I pray that God increase their joy.  I pray that God fan into flames any ember of faith so that these women can call upon the Lord with assurance.
  • I pray that women of faith, those who truly know the Lord, will rise up and seek God’s leadership in mentoring and counseling pregnant women among them. I pray for a God-given burden in their hearts to pray for and reach out to women in crisis.
  • Pray for women who have ‘made up their mind’ and especially those who are pressured and cornered by husbands and in-laws to have an abortion. May the Lord take their false peace and well up a controversy in their hearts.  May they hear the heartbeat within them.  May the Lord quell every fear.
  • Pray for women who have had abortions – pray that God would heal their hearts, that they can know full forgiveness and newness of life through the promises of God.
  • As it is now daytime in Armenia, pray that today is a day without abortions. Let every appointment be canceled, missed, and unattended.  Let today be a day that the Lord guards every womb and let the people take notice and realize supernatural intervention.

1:30am to 2:00am: BREAK, a time of physical refreshment and scriptural reading

2:00am to 3:00am:    Pray for Armenian men.  Armenian men often pressure and propel their wives to have abortions based on gender.  Rather than standing as the protector of the home, many of these men strongly push for death to their unborn daughters.

  • Pray earnestly that God heal their seared conscience, that the Holy Spirit raise up pangs of conviction in their soul.
  • Pray that the Lord magnify their sin before them so they may clearly see it. Let sonograms and pregnancy tests weigh heavy on their hearts as a true life that matters, a life created by God. 
  • Pray that the Lord give them sleepless nights, that the Holy Spirit draw them into repentance, that the cross of Christ be illuminated before them as the only hope to restore their heart and save them.

Pray for men, women and families that the event of pregnancy become a turning point towards God, that the Lord interrupt any dark plan and turn it around for life and salvation.

3:00am to 4:00am:  Pray for doctors and others in the medical field who perform abortions.

  • Pray that the Holy Spirit take away their false peace and replace it with deep inner turmoil at the thought of killing the unborn.
  • Let the 6th Commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Murder” resound in their hearts and minds
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit weigh upon them heavily with the grief and burden of Christ’s heart for life
  • Pray for doctors and medical personnel to come to true repentance, even for the thousands of lives they each may have terminated, and let the true forgiveness and peace of God reign in their hearts and souls

4:00am to 5:00am:  Take time to rest in the Lord, let us begin to thank Him for what He is already doing.  Let us take confidence in His supernatural work, accomplishing in a short time what man could never do in a lifetime.

“The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power to prevail”

James 5:16

 

 

 

Armenia – Dying Under Fruitless Religion

Armenians worldwide have common cultural and historical bonds, unifying them to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Although there were previous onslaughts prior to 1915, the scale of that annihilation marked the souls of subsequent generations seeking justice. I am with them. Notably, the 100th year commemoration, 2015, brought needed attention to the atrocities still denied by the Turkish government.

However, how can we as a people and moreover the established Armenian Apostolic Church, rightfully demand justice when we are neglecting the desecration of our people within? Nobody is killing more Armenians today than Armenians themselves.

The median number of abortions for women over 40 is eight, and some women have as many as 20 abortions in a lifetime.” (12/20/2011, lifesitenews.com) Even worse, with the availability of abortion pills, costing less than $1, women might remember medical abortions but many cannot remember how many times they have had drug induced abortions. Gender selection is the compelling, deciding factor in many of these abortions. So compelling and highly pressured, these women are opting for late term illegal abortions.

The Armenian government did respond to international pressure and warnings from United Nations (UNPF) as Armenia is facing a demographic crisis. Gender selection abortions became ‘outlawed’. However, legislating morality is one of man’s greatest futilities.

“Pregnancy in Armenia: Let’s Hope It’s Not a Girl” (Armenian Mirror Spectator, 1/14/17) exposes the plight of Armenian women and their unborn children, often succumbing to “strong pressure from husband or family to have a male child. Sometimes it is the husband who makes the decision for his wife, often resorting to psychological pressure.”

This is a sickening reality –  the husband, protector of the wife and home, compels his wife to kill their unborn child!  Yet God established marriage and His high standards liken it to His great love and sacrifice for us…

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy….” (Ephesians 5:25)

The only hope for Armenians and anyone else is in turning to the living God, being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ. Only the Lord can quicken our conscience to see clearly what we are doing and bring the due grief to lead us to repent.

According to the Armenian Census 2011, 94% percent of the population in Armenia claims (nominally) to be Christian while 92.7 % belong to the Armenian Apostolic Church.  A church has access to nearly 93% of a population that is imploding from abortions?   Many consider this establishment powerful** but are they at all powerful in God’s eyes?

If the Armenian priests saw a glimpse of God’s view and heart for the people, they would fall prostrate on the floor weeping not only for the people but for themselves. God holds religious authority to a fearful standard.

armenian priests

Blessing of Bread, Water, and Salt at Izmirlyan Medical Center

Which ‘apostles’ is the Armenian Apostolic Church modeling?  Ornate garments and fancy rituals, having not the slightest resemblance to Jesus nor His Apostles, cannot possibly bring about change whatsoever. In fact, during these hospital ‘blessings’ one can be sure that abortions are taking place!

If Armenians identify with Christ at all, it’s time to repent. It’s time to cry out to God for a new beginning, seeking the mind of Christ through the scriptures and surrendering our life and our will to our Savior.

“Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did” (I John 1:6)

Thank God, Jesus did not sequester Himself in grand buildings and pious robes, but came and lived amongst us, touching and changing hearts, calling those whose lives were bankrupt and shipwrecked. Although He is sovereign King,  Jesus rejected all accolades, position and honor of this world.

Etchmiadzin Cathedral

It’s time to break out of Etchmiadzin and reach the people for Christ

Not ornate in the least, the Son of God wept for the people, drawing them to Himself,

“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…” (Matt 11:28)

Armenia’s dire moral crisis will not resolved by a better government or financial assistance programs. Church rituals and incantations may be emotionally appeasing but are utterly powerless to bring about change in the heart of man. Even worse, the façade of religion gives hollow hope to women who are oppressed by this dark abortion culture.

I pray that a true Church rises up to be the Body of Christ, following Jesus and His Apostles’ teachings, preaching a Gospel that convicts of sin and brings healing.  Spiritual decay and darkness is killing Armenia.   Are there spiritual leaders who are willing to lay aside prestigious garments, roll up their sleeves, and open their hearts to the burden of Christ?

Yes, Armenians deserve justice for the grievous genocide of 1.5 million innocent lives, Armenians who were systematically annihilated by the Turkish government.  But can we neglect the not-so-secret slaughter going on in Armenia today amidst a pervasive yet fruitless religion?

genocide gathering

Outcry for Armenians cannot end here.  (photo: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian)

**I attended a presentation at the United Nations, 3/18/17, which focused on the subject of abortion and gender inequality in Armenia.  See The Burning Lamp, When Good Works End in Spiritual Ashes

This Should Encourage Us Greatly

Of the many things that I am not, a race runner would near the top. Out of total necessity I have, as a Parole Officer, run after absconders and now occasionally chase after city buses. However, more than once people have commented, “Have you ever seen yourself run? It’s so funny.”

Perhaps since I am no runner I can appreciate the difficulty in committing to an obstacle course, marathon, or triathlon. And, perhaps non-starters can imagine the deep despair upon a runner who is somehow disqualified or injured – unable to compete and finish the race. Likened to this, there are several scriptural references to “running the race”, our journey of faith through this world. Many are the Apostle Paul’s admonishments to run, “compete according to the rules” (II Timothy 2:5) to “finish the race” (Acts 20:24) not to “run in vain” (Galatians 2:2) but run for the “crown that lasts forever” (I Corinthians 9:24-25).

By far, the ‘triathlon’ of faith, hope, and love is the most difficult race any of us can run. While those training for a physical race hope to run in the peak of health, we who run this race of faith can only succeed in as far as we die to self.  We may be surprised by temptation and grieved at encounters of disappointment, tragedy, pain and even martyrdom. But the Lord assures us that victory is surely ours, He has run the race ahead of us and will be alongside of us the whole way.

Hebrews 12:1 declares that we are “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” and we are admonished to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” so that we may,

“…run with perseverance the race marked out for us”.

A runner must be confident of the race marked out before him, that the course is certainly mapped out,  that he, in no way,  runs blindly on an unmarked, uncharted, haphazard course.   Likewise, we must be secure that our spiritual race is “set”, “marked out”, and designed by a Sovereign God, a Heavenly Father who loves us. We must believe that God loves us as much as He loves Jesus, and with this trust proceed through difficult, at times confusing, and often painful times.   Why difficult, confusing and painful? It is the pathway of the cross.

difficult path.jpg

We don’t know what lies ahead but God does…He has it marked out to heaven. 

Tomorrow is known by God alone but the devil seeks to discourage us at every turn and harass us at every unknown corner…

“You will never make it!”
“That thing/person/circumstance will plague you the rest of your life!”
“You’ve failed too many times. You’re not even saved!”
“Look at what’s happening! Do you really believe that God loves you?”

Satan will ‘enlarge’ our perceived enemies, distort circumstances, and even misquote scripture to lead you into ‘quick sand’.  The devil’s lies have not changed neither has his treacherous aim to “steal, kill and destroy.” Moreover, the darkness grows thicker in these last days as man is given over to all kinds of debauchery and increasingly ‘Christians’ succumb and fall into apostasy. The path of our race can seem totally encumbered with heaviness, doubt, and fear…and loneliness.

Much anxiety comes from mapping out our own course, figuring out which way to go, even devising a contingency plan “just in case”. I pray we resist fleshly inclinations and set our minds upon…

The ‘cloud of witnesses’: Read and meditate upon the Biblical heroes who, in themselves were of no repute or strong standing but through faith made an eternal mark in God’s Kingdom. Consider the testimonies of many humble missionaries, pastors and martyrs who fulfilled their callings, finished their race, by living a supernatural life through the promises of God.

The living Word of God: We need to study more than ever and learn to meditate upon the truths to allow God’s Word to be pressed in and rooted in our hearts. Once rooted, I pray we call upon those truths to combat the lies of demons, the fears within us, and the seemingly unsurpassable obstacles laid upon our path. We must know this “two edged sword” in order to wield it and gain the victory.

The Holy Spirit: Jesus sends us the Counselor, the Spirit of truth and states that, “you know Him for He lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16&17) The indwelling Holy Spirit of God makes us Christ’s Body in this world, enabling God to work in us and through us as we obey His Word and surrender to His leadership.

Our race is marked out – every runner and contender should find great security in that. God is in full control of the course and every event encountered. Like the cloud of witnesses, we may run into grief and confusion. Like godly men and women from Genesis to present day, we may be slandered, wrongly punished, misunderstood and betrayed. But like our forefathers and brethren before us, we must commit to press on, delving deeper into God’s Word and declaring it inwardly and outwardly. To ‘carry our cross daily’ means to decidedly surrender to the Lord and trust His leadership through the race He has preordained for us…

“The steps of a righteous man are ordered by God.” (Psalm 37:23)

Weren’t the Apostles Heartbroken?

The first brutal execution found in the Gospel is the death of John the Baptist. Matthew, Mark, and Luke describe the circumstances of his death and how his body was laid to rest. Jesus Himself set out to a place of solitude. Later in Acts 6-8 the powerful testimony of Stephen and his convicting oration to religious leaders leads to their subsequent violent uprising against him. After stoning Stephen,

“Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him.” Acts 8:2

As the Body of Christ gained ground with leadership newly rooted through Holy Spirit authority, how would the disciples respond to the traumatic murder of Stephen? The Bible does not say ‘their faith was greatly shaken’, or that disciples took any leave to heal. In fact, two verses after burying Stephen, the persecuted believers “preached the word of God wherever they went.”

The disciples’ resilience seems personified in Acts 12, a chapter often cited and preached for Peter’s miraculous deliverance from prison. However verse 2 is rarely expounded upon, rarely found in meditations. “He (King Herod) had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” Partners before their call to Christ, these brothers became even closer as they were in Christ’s inner circle –  James and John were two of the three who witnessed great supernatural works of the Savior.

No mourning or burial mentioned here. In fact, the focus immediately turns to Peter in prison, “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” What happened to heartbreak, grief, even confusion after wanton violence? As the purposes of God’s Word go forth to shake the world, the sufferings and eventual deaths of the Apostles seem obscured and veiled. We as believers deeply feel heartache and loss in our lives…didn’t they?

I believe that, from their call out of worldly living into the life of Christ, the Apostles and disciples walked under supernatural leadership of the Holy Spirit. Endowed with the Great Commission, they had to rise above and work past every fiery trial and grief. They did so, perhaps in these ways…

1. Their walk with the Son of God established disciplines of prayer, faith, and perseverance. The critical inner breaking through Christ’s crucifixion perhaps changed any fleshly ambitions toward God’s Kingdom while the resurrection may have deeply changed their innate fearful finality of death.

2. Their expectations of life in this world were increasingly and totally adjusted – forever. Accomplishments, possessions, and other rooted attachments – including familial relationships – no longer gripped their heart. They “loved not their lives even unto death”. Their expectation to suffer prepared their hearts for calamity.

3. Their hearts were singularly devoted to the person of Christ. The Lord’s ordained mission upon their lives rooted them with a fixed focus on propelling the Gospel truth from Jerusalem to the outer parts of the world. Their sights were solely focused on eternity. With honesty they could declare, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Were they heartbroken?  The Apostles lived through personal tragedies, torture, and betrayals.  Yes, heartbroken and grieved but with ‘eyes fixed upon Jesus’.   And, we’re called to live like them.

Our lives increasingly transform in Christ as we turn from the world and fleshly living and renew our thinking through the Bible.  Victory over sin and worldly ambition is evidenced by testimonies of ‘profound transformations’ to the quiet rebirth of those who repent and believe. However, continual walk and growth in the Holy Spirit avails us to deeper strengths. Like the early disciples, godly missionaries like Elizabeth Elliott and Gladys Staines exemplified persevering faith as they continued serving God after their loved ones were brutally killed by those they went to serve. (Dr. Graham Staines and his wife were missionaries to lepers in India. He and his two young sons were burned alive in their car by radicals.)

the staines car

“It is Jesus who is the source of every consolation and support.  God gives us the strength to be able to carry our cross and to live in His will.  Our life and our work here on earth has to go on according to His holy will.”  Gladys Staines  (Asia News 1/20/09)

Many of us believers still grapple with the snare of worldly entanglements. Others, having fully seen the futility of this world, are battling for victory over fleshly inner sin. However, an intimate circle of believers in this world must arise, a remnant who have been inwardly broken and determined to forge ahead.  A remnant determined to honor God. .

I am not yet in that spiritual ‘inner circle’ of selflessness and resiliency. But I want to grow in that direction to become a viable vessel of God, able to fulfill His call and the ‘good works prepared’ for me. If believers, especially in ‘free countries’ begin to accept suffering in our walk with the Lord, our expectation to suffer will change our priorities, values and thinking.

In these end days, our victory depends on God as the source of counsel, healing and wisdom. To survive fiery trials and serve our King, and to keep us from falling, we must learn how to pray and study His word so that He may lead us through every heartache step by step. Only through the power of God’s word and the Holy Spirit can our minds be healed and renewed. Our short days on this earth must matter for His eternal Kingdom. Through Christ in us is this possible….

“Lord, lead us. Teach us to open our grief and confusion to You and trust you completely.  Speak to our hearts as You heal us and walk us through calamity, teaching us through Your word.   Show us how to be vessels for your Holy Spirit in this world. Build our character through suffering and a testimony through our trials so we will have it as a treasure more precious than gold to honor you. Thank you Lord.  In Jesus name, Amen.”