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.

View original post 660 more words

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

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.”

CRUSHED FOR GLORY

Two simple words within a New Testament verse, regardless of translation, are perplexing and even oppressive to many, including or especially me:  “pure joy”.

We are so admonished,

“Consider it pure joy my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.”  (James 1:2)

According to James, while waiting in a detox unit for your loved one, standing by a grave site, while holding an unsurmountable financial debt, when sitting in the oncology office, when threatened by eviction, persecution, and surprised by deception and betrayal…..Consider it pure joy.

This is a high bar in Christian living which I have yet to reach.   But an open heart before the Lord can receive understanding and discernment.  The Holy Spirit often teaches spiritual truths as they are mirrored through the physical realm of our world.   Enter the Navy SEALs….

navy seals on shore

Grueling training prepares for triumph and victory

Navy Seal Eric Greitens describes,
But “frontline” isn’t just a military term. You have a frontline in your life now. In fact, everyone has a place where they encounter fear, where they struggle, suffer and face hardship. We all have battles to fight. “As Navy SEALs, we understood the word “frontline” to mean the place where we met the enemy. The frontline was where battles were fought and fates decided. The frontline was a place of fear, struggle and suffering. It was also a place where victories were won, where friendships of a lifetime were forged in hardship. It was a place where we lived with a sense of purpose.

And it’s often in those battles that we are most alive: It’s on the frontlines of our lives that we earn wisdom, create joy, forge friendships, discover happiness, find love and do purposeful work. If you want to win any meaningful kind of victory, you’ll have to fight for it.     (“Your Own Front Line: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Building Resistance”, New York Observer, 3/3/15)

Without Scriptural quotes, Mr. Greitens’ article portrays great Biblical truths.  We are living in the frontlines of history, the end times, where battles have eternal significance.  “…be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus….Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.  No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs – he wants to please his Commanding Officer”.  (II Timothy 2:1-4)

We have ‘fears, struggles and suffering’ and Paul forewarns that we will in II Timothy 3…

“But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.”

The life of a believer, a follower of Jesus Christ, exists within two absolute mandates:  live as sharp as a serpent, yet gentle as a dove…live as obedient and humble sheep, yet fight as strong and militant soldiers.  The great challenge in all this is none of it comes natural.  We must immerse ourselves in the training of the Word, receive our instructions through fellowship with the Lord in prayer, and apply this training to our ‘frontline’.

Many of us are content to live as sheep, led and fed by our Good Shepherd and find it impossible to conceive of ‘pure joy’ in oppressive trials.  I believe the ‘pure joy’ is not in the fire itself but the sights through which we can see the end.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

With sights fixed on Jesus, we can see joy beyond the battlefield.

Like the courageous and admirable Navy SEALs, we are called to endure and persevere with great purpose.  Unlike the military though, the Lord seems to choose the weakest and most unlikely to succeed.  The unfailing strategy is this:  the battle is not ours but the Lord’s, we are merely a vessel through whom He gains the victory.

Navy SEALs are uniquely trained, they are the elite of armed forces.  Clothed with valor and fired up, they greatly deserve honor for service and sacrifice.  Commitment to grueling and demanding training yields them glory on the battlefield and, given rare glimpses, the world marvels at their victories.  How much can we glean from this ‘type and  shadow’ of God’s Kingdom?   

We are left on this earth to glorify Jesus Christ.  That is our mission on the frontlines and with it come the certainty of great reward, eternal reward.  This battleground is trod upon for thousands of years, with great victories won by spiritual giants – both the prominently known and honored as well as the obscure who secretly battle in the prayer closet.  Unlike the Navy SEALs, our training manual has not changed, is not updated, and remains a living power in itself.   Unlike any worldly military, our surrendered lives are sovereignly governed through every battle, trial, and grief – each is appointed and measured out with supernatural foresight and design. 

Almighty God does not change, He will be high and lifted up and glorified in this dark world.  As His surrendered and willing soldiers, we may be crushed in grueling training in preparation for this call.  In fact, there is no other way.

Crushed for His glory, there remains the high bar of faith, to “Consider it pure joy”.   A supernatural joy that cannot compare in the physical realm, it can only be birthed in the “renewed mind,” one that is “prepared for action”.  It requires thorough and ongoing study of our manual, the Holy Bible, fellowship with our God and valuable refreshment through fellowship with other believers.

As we battle on the frontlines of these last days,these ‘terrible times’  I pray we separate from worldly distractions and entanglements,  focus our sights on Him, on His glory, and somehow on this side of eternity, consider it pure joy.

THE POWER IN SORROW

In this world, particularly western societies, we have embraced a culture that defines and exalts ‘happiness’ and all its ‘expressions’.  Every media venue bombards viewers and listeners with idealistic scenarios of fulfillment, contentment and success – and all without God.  ‘Happiness’ is a highly marketable commodity in a dark and sinful world, proffered through acquiring possessions, using legal and illegal drugs, planning fun filled vacations and experiencing alternative life styles.

Why all these sensory distractions? Why the bombardment of pleasures and happiness, at any cost?  The devil will always present sensory pleasures as relief to man’s needs and pain, yet with underlying evil motives.  Firstly, the quest for pleasure and avoidance of all grief  blinds us to our sin, our mortality, and our separation from God.  Secondly,

Satan knows that that the Creator of the World is a ‘Man of sorrows’ and man’s anguish and grief may lead him to this Savior.  In emptiness and pain, man may find Christ, and in Him new life, fellowship and a door to the power and victory He holds.

What power?  What victory?

Heaviness, despair, and grief visit every believer, every follower of Jesus. We have a formidable enemy, a roaring lion, who seeks to rip us to shreds.  Many days seem that the devil has done this and more, trampling upon a heart already broken.  Only a true cry is needed however for wounded, even dying, sheep.  The Shepherd will come, He will bring healing salve and even more.  He will prepare us through the suffering to serve Him and His Body.

Right relationship with the Lord will deliver and heal and from this healing comes power, as He leads us with eternal purpose.   It is the way of our ‘Commander in Chief’, Jesus Christ, whose path of suffering, betrayal, sorrow and great burden brought the Kingdom of God into our hearts with great promise.   In His shadow, our sorrows are formidable points of power for us individually and collectively as the Body of Christ. The promises of God become fresh and alive.  A salve to open wounds, He is “close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Nearly every Psalm expounds the faithfulness of God to get us through darkness and with divine purpose,

“I will take refuge in Your wings until the disaster has passed.  I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills His purpose for me.”  (Ps 57:2)

What purpose?

The power in the blood of Christ flows through suffering.  Surrendered to Him, sorrow separates us from this pleasure driven world and aligns us with the purposes of God through the Holy Spirit.  The broken vessel, surrendered to the Lord, gets the infilling.  The infilling of God comes with both purpose and burden – and a call upon our hearts to respond.

Surrendered suffering opens our hearts to the burden of Christ for His Body and this lost world.

Sorrow tenderizes and enlarges our hearts for action, to “mourn with those who mourn”, and act for those who are suffering “as if you yourselves were suffering.”  It is a burden laid upon our heart and spirit by the Lord, leading us to fight, serve, and minister.  He may call us to ‘go’, to reach out in various ways, and give with sacrifice.  The Lord’s burden for His suffering Body may lead us to fast, call us into all night prayer, and join in with like prepared vessels.

THERE IS SUFFERING ON THE WHEEL BUT GREAT REWARD IN THE POTTER'S HAND.

THERE IS SUFFERING ON THE WHEEL BUT GREAT REWARD IN THE POTTER’S HAND.

The burden of the Lord is an honored gift. The sharing of His heart is separate and unmatchable to anything in this world.  The burden of God launches His Holy Spirit through the lives of surrendered men and women. 

Sorrow opens a door of fellowship, communion, with the Lord and with His Body.  It is a training ground from which we can, like Aaron and Hur for Moses, “hold up the hands” of our brethren in the battle.  There is no power in self appointment.  Only that which is commissioned by the Lord will have His promised presence and victory.

The Body of Christ is suffering greatly.  There are cries of anguish heard only by God.  We must avail ourselves as vessels to God, ready to be His ears, His hands, His salve, and the means of His provisions as He leads.  If you have been, or are currently enrolled, in the Holy Spirit School of Suffering you are being trained for compassion, being broken for greater strength to serve.  No calling here is insignificant and no calling is too high to reach.  We will be enabled and prepared through He who leads.

To receive the Lord’s burden and co-labor with Him in this world will magnify our joy at His return.    We will share the victory of His coming Kingdom and reign with Him for eternity.

Amen.