When God Lifts You Up

I wrote most, if not all, of the posts on this site from a season of intense trial and emotional pain.  The details of personal loss, deep betrayals, and painful unraveling remain vague as  my intent is never to expose people, especially those who are forgiven.  I hope, rather, to share this reality:  God allows, even orchestrates, painful crushing in our lives for the purpose of molding, maturing, and changing us for His service and glory, conforming us to the image of His Son.     The Lord may lead us into a confusing wilderness, strip away all personal foundations, and take away our health, ministry and possessions.  We may cry a million tears, be wrapped in anxiety and turmoil, and sojourn alone but our confidence must lie in the sovereignty of God and His utter control over every circumstance.  For quite sometime I gripped onto this truth:

“Grain for bread is crushed but no one threshes it forever.”

I did not die during those recent years although some emotional pain was so intense I feared brain damage or heart attack.  No counselor, friend or elder brought relief, only clinging to the Lord, shutting away with Him in prayer, searching and studying His word. 

Then, one day I took off my wig – (did I mention that my hair fell out?) and saw and felt…could it be…that, after two years of wearing wigs my hair was suddenly coming back?  With much trepidation, “Yes, I think so!”  While gradual inner healing and restoration came from the Lord, this was a personal touch from His hand – and the hair that grew back was better than what I lost!

But there was more.  This month, as a significant birthday approached, there was talk of a ‘party’.  I had not felt an inner place of ‘celebration’ for a long time and certainly did not care to celebrate just getting older.  Somehow, though, a ball started rolling and would not stop with my protests.  One night anxiety rebounded and woke me, and I cried to the Lord in prayer.  This scripture pressed upon my heart,

“So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor.”  (I Peter 5:6)

Was this party from the Lord?  I believed and accepted it,  peace came over me and I sought to honor Him.  I did not know the details of this ‘party’ but prepared a handout for my guests, most if not all of whom do not know the Lord, many are seniors…”Over the Hill” like me!Scan0062No one except the Lord knows how the evening touched me – real joy took root in my heart.   I had the rare opportunity of addressing all my relatives in one place…

my party speaking

“There’s no need to celebrate me, all I did was get a bit older!  It’s the Lord who deserves all the praise and celebration….” 

 

With the Armenian band and joy in my heart I felt truly festive!

And a fabulous cake as well!

my party close to cake

What Isaiah spoke of Jesus, “…it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer” can also pertain to Christ’s followers who are called to pick up their cross and follow Him.  Trials and tribulations on this journey are purposeful,  with eternal value.  We are His own.  We have every supernatural promise to believe that He will protect us, sustain us, speak to our hearts –  heal and restore.  And what’s more, at the right time, He will lift us up!

 

“This Will NEVER End!”

said the devil.

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

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

War Propaganda

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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