“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)

 

Anchoring Up Against Anxiety

I am perhaps one of the few conservative believers that does not broad stroke anxiety as a “sin”.  Anxiety is not synonymous with unbelief.  I have actually begun a book on this subject (which may or may not get finished!).  The crux of the issue – is anxiety a ‘punishable’ offense such as adultery or stealing?  Would a parent ever punish or chastise a child for worrying or having an anxiety attack?

The truth is, God almighty urges us not to worry or be anxious because, all knowing and completely sovereign, He has everything under control.  He urges us for our good, our inner peace and well being, not because He will punish us.  

Anxiety and worry may cause us to miss out on God’s best but the journey to His perfect peace can open up His word and deliver healing and victory on the way.  While therapeutic interventions can bring relief and understanding, only God’s word as He reveals and unveils it to our hearts can bring deliverance and spiritual healing.

“Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors”   Psalm 119:24

Anxiety, often trauma based, can become an emotional default and grow into free-floating distress.  But, unlike sin, God can use this condition to reveal spiritual truths and step by step lead us to higher ground.  The Lord calls us to grasp a hold of Him, ‘partner up’, and let Him walk us through this miry clay.  No matter how far the distance, step by step He will lead us to that solid ground, to those ‘green pastures and still waters’.  

Unhurried prayer and meditation upon scripture leads us…

“Your word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.”  (Psalm 119:105)

For the believer, an ’emotional default to anxiety’ in our thinking can occur when trauma or a series of crisis wounds our mind and soul and damages our faith.  The frailties of  our heart and the wiles of the enemy can rout everything into a fearful framework of anticipated harm, failure, deception, and betrayal.

I pray that, day by day – even hour by hour – incrementally -we can begin a process of re-anchoring.  As one injured and disabled may rehab slowly to walk, let our hearts and minds rehab daily toward living hope, confidence and courage.  I would not discourage anyone from helpful medical or therapeutic interventions.  But through prayer and God’s revealed living word, I pray that our thinking increasingly climbs up the chain onto the sure anchor….

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary.  (Hebrews 6:19)

and into the secure and glorious place of our Lord’s presence.

Only the Holy Spirit can dislodge our dark anxious thinking, anchored in the depths…and begin to ANCHOR UP our minds and hearts toward heaven where the Lord can heal us with His presence and truths.  There, “the truth will set us free”. 

Our Heavenly Father is not judging but inviting.  May the Lord speak to our hearts and uplift us closer to Him today.

 

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

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)

9/11: SHAKEN AND STIRRED TOWARD HEAVEN

God's Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

God’s Call: To Rebuild or Reset?

“…set your hearts on things above on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:1-2)

A crazy thought passed through my mind one evening years ago while on a beautiful Caribbean cruise with my whole family.  It was a moment in time with no hardship, no illness, no worries….marriages and families flowing together like the waves upon the sea.  I brushed away thoughts of heaven and thought, ‘how could it be better than this?’

“But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground…the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.” (Acts 27)

The surprise of tragedy, betrayal and loss serve to shake and crush such crazy thoughts. Grief and anguish can depress and embitter or divinely redirect our hearts and thinking heavenward, and with great gain.  Yet, enemy attacks, storms and shipwrecks are tools in the hand of Sovereign God, changing the course of men – as they reset their hearts, their minds and their final destination.

Why is it important – utterly crucial – to long for heaven?

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  (Matthew 6:21)

Love for, even friendship with, this world does not dilute our relationship with the Lord – it plants seeds of contempt toward Him.  “Friendship with the world is hatred toward God.” (James 4:4)  Loosening our grip on the things of this world…even our health, beauty, and possessions, often prepares us for a greater measure of the Lord Himself.

While a comfortable and benign temperature in the physical realm, lukewarm is a deadly state for those chosen by the Lord (Rev 3:16).  To spare us this ‘sickening’ condition, the Lord often stokes the embers in our life, creating a fire in which He will appear.  When He burns away the dross of worldliness and our grip upon the temporal, our eyes can better focus on heavenly realms.  Beloved Apostle John was a vessel of honor for God’s glory,

“I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit….” (Rev 1:9)

Separated from the world in a barren place of loneliness and suffering, John was given astounding revelations of Jesus Christ, the last days and the coming Kingdom of God.  We  marvel at theses scriptures yet lose sight of the man used by God to deliver them – frail and elderly, at least 90 years old, stripped away from every worldly comfort.  Crushed in a place of great deprivation and suffering, heaven was magnified before him.  John’s longing for his Savior’s return became a singular focus personified in the ending verses of Holy Scripture, “Come, Lord Jesus”.

Is this yearning within you and meToday, the Lord’s return seems very inconvenient, even disruptive to our plans; we would rather He return after a pending project, after an upcoming wedding, or following the big vacation.  However pious and upright, most Christians do not want the Lord to really interfere with their lives. For the sake of our eternal life and His honor, ‘fiery trials’ often set our agendas and lukewarm lives aflame.  Death, anguish, betrayal and loss rout out futile confidence in the things and people of this world.

A dreadful emptiness often overshadows unbelievers when foundations are suddenly shaken.  For the believer in Christ however, there is a living hope.  We may be knocked down, but not knocked out.  The Holy Spirit revives us to fight once again, each round testifying of God’s faithfulness.  It is the mauled sheep who cling to the Good Shepherd and with Him find healing, restoration, – green pastures, quiet waters, and paths of righteousness promised in Psalm 23.   From the “valley of the shadow of death” comes the renewed focus on eternity as we anticipate “the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

Jesus said,

“In My Father’s house are many rooms….I am going there to prepare a place for you”.    (John 14:2)

Whether translated as ‘rooms’, ‘dwelling places’, or ‘mansions’ the Lord promises His followers a prepared place in His Kingdom.   We cling to this belief in death, but does this anticipation order our priorities and reshape our thinking on earth?  Are we ‘storing our treasures in heaven’, towards the things of eternal value?

The Lord may use a fiery furnace to burn off stumbling blocks of sin and compromise, raising our temperature well above lukewarm.  Thrashing waves upon our sailing ship often change our focus and our course.  Yet, whether through daily seeking and renewal through God’s Word or through the pressing and shaking of trials, it is incumbent upon God’s people to divest from this ‘condemned’ world and align ourselves with the purposes of God. God is not calling us to put our hopes in this fallen world any more than we would invest in a foreclosed bank.

In the ‘last days’ let us join Abraham and other heroes of the faith as they set their hearts and minds,

“…looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God…. for a better country – a heavenly one.  Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”  (Hebrews 11)

And prepared a city for us.

“Come, Lord Jesus”

No Happy Birthday….

Paul with his family

Today is Paul’s birthday but he is not here.  Too soon after this photo was taken he died, having endured a cruel and fatal disease.  His life seemed perfect in every way.  Wife, parents, children too young to understand, siblings and friends were all crushed by God upon the death of my only brother and best friend.

I am so grateful for his life though.  He didn’t leave this world like a snuffed wick but with a legacy of faith and courage.  His testimony and encouraging words live on in the many hearts he touched through his letters….

“…although I may have cancer, there are MANY reasons to praise God.  I can start by thanking Him for the most wonderful parents…”

“I have complete faith in God to help me weather storms when they come.”

“There is no better source of comfort than you will find in Christ’s Word.”

“I have read several times that all of Heaven rejoices when a man’s soul is saved, and hell trembles…Submit to God, repent, and God will not forsake you.”

“I know full well that my life is in the Hands of the Lord.  He has the keys to the car, and I am going along for His ride…”

We don’t need a birth date to remember Paul.

I often think of the Lord’s birth, the greatest ever upon this earth, and yet He purposefully kept it obscure and unknown throughout the ages.  We marvel at Christ’s life, are humbled by His atoning death for our sins, and in reconciling with God, rejoice at the promise of eternal life in His Kingdom.

Some birthdays are celebrated, some stand as landmarks of lives already passed.  Today I remember my beautiful brother and celebrate his life in Christ, knowing that we will reunite in God’s Kingdom.  In John 11:25, Jesus said:

“I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”

No Happy Birthday….Happy Forevermore.