In God’s Fiery Classroom

If God is going to use you, you will find yourself in the classroom of isolation, confusion, and despair – there’s no way to escape that place.  Pastor David Wilkerson

While those are the words of Pastor Dave, (1931-2011)  they could easily been said by any godly person, from Genesis to today.  When the Lord loosens the protective hedge about us and allows – perhaps even orchestrates – crushing circumstances He does so with great purpose and eternal value.

As with any classroom, two factors matter greatly:

How prepared are we for this class?  When times are calm, prosperous, healthy, and harmonious – are we pressing in, preparing for eventual storms and tests of faith?

Secondly, in which direction are we facing in this classroom – towards the Great Teacher, fixing our eyes upon Jesus – or are we gazing out the window towards the world and its remedies and ways?

Pastor Dave always said, “Don’t waste your afflictions!”

I cringe with amazement as I remember all the sorrows, trials, deep waters, flaming fires and powerful afflictions. And usually when afflictions came, they came not just one at a time, but in bundles. Many times I thought, “There’s no way I can make it through this.”

Even the memories of afflictions are painful — memories of slander, chastenings of the Lord, ministry trials, personal buffetings, family problems, bodily pains and aches. Yet, as I recall those years of suffering, I can say with assurance, “God’s word is true! He brought me out of every affliction that came upon me. I praise him!”  (devotional article found  here  )

While the devil and carnal religion would lull us with false securities, God’s word warns us of “terrible times” in these last days.  Those clinging to His word will endure fiery trials and even anguish, knowing that ‘nobody threshing the wheat forever’ (Isaiah 28:28)

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Even while separated from the world and “praying towards Jerusalem”, Daniel’s enemies lined up at the door….

 

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but he was prepared for the fiery classrooms that followed.  (Daniel 6)

 

“Encourage us Father, as we study the profound examples of Your faithfulness through the lives ‘ordinary people’. Reveal more of Yourself and living truths in our classroom of affliction so that “when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold”.   And  Lord, if we falter or stumble  at times in this painful classroom, shield us against the devil’s snare of guilt and condemnation.  Amen.”  

 

Only God Can Stop the Bleeding

The testimony of the ‘woman with the issue of blood’ must be so significant to the Lord that it was included in three Gospels, Matthew 9:20, Mark 5:25, and Luke 8:43.  Familiar to most believers, the woman here suffered with bleeding for 12 years.  She had spent all she had on doctors to no avail and, understood within the Jewish Law, she also suffered isolation from the community, from family and/or spouse, and emotional trauma if not constant hopelessness.

In short, 12 years of bleeding no doubt sapped her strength, ruined her relationships, and depleted her resources.  For her, ‘joie de vivre’ was unreachable at any cost.

Perhaps God had His eye on her all along.  Perhaps twelve years would not seem long to her if she knew the wait would lead to a glorious personal encounter with God, an eternal place in His living word, and a source of encouragement for many generations to follow.

Are there women suffering like this today?  Are they isolated, depleted of resources and robbed of hope to live?   Yes, but more than women.  In these last days, there are deep afflictions in the souls of men, women and children that are surely bleeding the life from within.  The ‘terrible times of the last days’, liken to the ‘days of Noah’ and ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’ are days where man revels in lawlessness and sin which results in deep affliction to himself and those nearest.  

Whether afflicted through physical debilitation or emotional trauma, torments of anxiety, depression, guilt, hopelessness, and despair can absolutely leave us deplete of resources, isolated from many, and weakened in every way.   Many are living with a bleeding soul, unable to find true healing and deliverance.

What happened to the ‘hem of His garment’?  Is it now unreachable?  Isn’t He “the same, yesterday, today and forever”?

God is in no way a formula God.   While He does not change, His ways and interventions are never the same.  We will not find another burning bush and the hem of His garment is gone.

God still heals, instantaneously and incrementally.  But we are not 1st century believers, walking with God incarnate as He manifests His glory with powerful words and miracles.  Preachers are still passionately crying out, “Reach out! Touch the hem of His garment! Have faith and you will be healed!”

What they are not preaching is I Peter 1:6,

“….for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even thought refined by fire- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Our faith is not refined, nor does it foundationally grow, through instantaneous miracles.  Although we would much rather have miraculous healings and provisions, the Lord’s purpose for suffering in our lives in far greater.  Firstly, He is not preparing us to live well in this world but rather, to serve well in this world.  To truly serve our Master we must become more like Him; it is suffering that conforms us to His image.  But suffering does more than that.

Yes, our inner bleeding and brokenness may rob us of strength, our resources, and isolate us from those who cannot relate.  But in this state of depletion God moves in with more than the hem of His garment.  Waiting upon Him, shutting in with Him, and believing like the bleeding woman that we will receive, opens an awaited intimacy with our Lord.

The Bible never presents suffering as a surprise or dilemma to God.  For God’s people, trials and calamities are ‘appointed’.  No longer can we touch ‘the hem of His garment’ but He’s given us a greater gift, the Holy Spirit, our Counselor, Comforter, and Guide.

Why is this greater than touching His hem?  He is preparing us as His beloved Bride to dwell with Him forever.  It is pointedly said,

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…”

When God allows all options, remedies, and hopes to fail believe that He is sharpening our focus on Him alone.  Whatever it takes, shut in with the Lord and hear from Him through prayer and His word.  When this temporal world begins to dim and the  Holy Spirit pours into our hearts,  we will hear God’s call to us.  He will walk us through to healing, revealing Himself at every juncture. 

But infinitely greater  – He is preparing us to be with Him forever.

 

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

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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….

 

Soldier of the Cross

Soldier of the Cross is re-blogged from Diary of a Quadriplegic, written by Terri Nida.

Diary of a Quadriplegic

As expected, I’ve had another traumatic hospital experience that’s prompted me to write this blog post. I wish that I wrote my best blog posts during times when I’m on the upswing in my faith and filled with overwhelming hope and good news; but if I’ve learned anything over the last four years as a quadriplegic, the hardest times have been the most fruitful times in terms of my spiritual growth.

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Pushpins of Doubt in the Midst of God’s Power

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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

When God Strips and Shrinks Your Life

The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), starring Grant Williams

There is no need to describe how God can strip our lives of the very things that fulfill us, define us, and give our hearts joy. He can do it in harsh succession – uprooting and shaking the very foundations of our lives – our job, marriage, health and subsequent emotional stability. Those who have walked with the Lord for any length may, at first, rally great inward faith, “I lost my job but I know God has something better!” But the ‘better’ job or calling doesn’t come. Instead, other pillars of life begin to shake and crumble, stripping your sense of security, strength, and pleasure. Emotional damage begins to take root.

What should we believe and do when God strips and shrinks our lives?

1. Believe that, if your life is in His hand, if you’ve truly given your life to Jesus Christ, nothing that has occurred is random, nothing is outside of His personal view, nor is it outside of His personal will for your life. While God doesn’t owe us explanations, we must build and renew our thinking on the foundation that He is sovereign.

2. Meditate on the testimonies and truths in God’s word. Numerous godly men were stripped of their life’s strengths, familial standing, and provisions while at the ‘top of their game’. We often make quick and convenient connections in the lives of Biblical heroes – neglecting to meditate upon, for example, Joseph’s captivity as a slave, his years languishing in a dungeon. We believe spiritual exploits and victories but rarely consider the years of obscurity, loneliness, and ‘insignificance’. We are slow to imagine how Job prepared 10 funerals, clearing the rubble of his children’s home and cattle.

We read Revelation with awe, but what was John’s life like every day on the tiny barren island of Patmos? He had walked with the Son of God, witnessed miracles and partook in world evangelism. Overseeing the churches of Asia, John was a prominent elder, pouring into the foundations of Christian growth. Yet, aged and frail, he was exiled and stripped of familiar fellowship, position, and provisions – with untold sufferings – did his life shrink?

3. When life is shaken, don’t condemn yourself for bouts of depression, anxiety or panic attacks. We wouldn’t lecture a brother or sister suffering from cancer, neither should we lecture ourselves or others when struggling with emotional damage. Healing and deliverance can come instantaneously or can be upon a steady road, walking slowly alongside our Savior.  Resolve to DERAIL patterns of wrong thinking as the Lord brings revelation and renewal. Here is where emotional damage can lead to true spiritual growth.

4. Believe that the world sees suffering as misfortune, bad luck, victimization or bad karma but we, as believers can see suffering as separation unto God, allowed and/or brought about by God Himself.

5. Believe that we as Christians, may have consciously separated our thinking and values from those esteemed in the world but, in these last days, the Lord want to call out His remnant from world-like Christianity. The ‘happy clappy biblical coaching’ that masquerades as truth sets grooves of wrong thinking in our soul, building a perishable faith. God expressly calls us to ‘stand’ in these increasingly wicked last days. When God separates us for personal suffering it is refining fire but not futile fire. 

6. Believe and trust God for today and resist predicting what He will do tomorrow. God is absolutely not a formula God. What He specifically did for Moses, Paul, Ruth or the brother at church may not at all be His plans for us.

American Christianity rejects the truth that God can strip us and shrink us to prepare us for something so small, seemingly inconsequential, of no worldly value or importance. Rare is the sermon or even reference to verses such as Colossians 3:22, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything….with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord.” God is not at all condoning slavery – regardless of race or national origin. However, Jesus did not come to abolish social order or establish prosperity. He came to ‘save His people from their sins’, a freedom won at great cost. He calls us to obey and flourish in Him regardless of our temporal worldly position or social standing, setting our eyes on eternity where God’s order and rewards are forever.

God’s appointed place for us while in this world may seem to diminish and suffer ruin but great loss lays bare the great need to find contentment and sufficiency in our Savior. Perhaps we will not proclaim great spiritual exploits, evangelize in exotic lands, win over death row inmates, or plant churches. Perhaps we are caring for a mentally or physically infirm spouse, a disabled elderly parent, or showing kindness to neighbors in crisis. Perhaps we are in a solitary place, called to intimate fellowship with the Lord at length and in depth.

As these last days rapidly downward spiral, those in Christ surely want to make a mark on this generation and touch lives for eternity, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit living in us and through us.  Yet still, the Potter decidedly smashes our life at times, ruining it to remake it. I pray that during seasons of smallness and disappointment we resist the temptation to compare our lives against others or measure ourselves with worldly values.  Regardless of our circumstance, may the Lord be enlarged and lifted up.

“Lord, open our eyes to Your ways. In whatever You deem right to take from our temporal lives, I pray that we find our contentment,healing and encouragement in You. May we surrender our lives to Your sovereignty and fulfill Your unchanging exhortation to “stand firm in the faith” and “stand firm to the end.” Help us to “set our hearts on things above” and “set our minds on things above, not on earthly things”, being obedient to Your call upon us today.”

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.”