Nectar and Beauty From Suffering

bleeding hearts 2

Bleeding Hearts are native to Siberia, a place of banishment and abandon

How the Lord brings beauty and life from places of desolation is a true mystery because His work is unseen.  Faith is believing in that work, before we see the fruit.  Our confidence during the battle pleases God because, in the spiritual realm, we are declaring victory solely based on God’s trustworthiness.

Whether our Lord allows debilitating illness, wrenching injury, or emotional anguish and despair the scriptures and the legacy of the saints before us declare that He never afflicts without purpose and sovereignty.  In every fiery furnace, His hand is on the thermostat.

The Bible promises fruits from hardship and suffering, “grief in all kinds of trials”  1 Peter 1:6-7.   ‘Undeserved suffering’, painful chastisement, and mournful grief can thrash the life of a believer but bring utter confusion to the one not girded in God’s word.

We have no power to erase the pain of betrayal, the anxiety and panic attacks from pummeling traumas, nor can we lift the weighty blanket of depression.  But, for the sheep of the Good Shepherd, there is always a life-giving vein that flows to raise and renew us.  Our lives will not be restored to what they were.  We may walk with a limp from the storm,  our head may be singed from the fire…but not without purpose and design.

Whether slow burning or flash fire, what the enemy seems to obliterate from our lives can truly well up an unseen view and yearning for God and heaven.

“I know my Redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand upon the earth.  And after my skin has been destroyed… I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes…How my heart yearns within me!”  Job 19:25-27

Misery is the fruit of worldly suffering…not so with our Maker!  Like a grueling chisel, heartbreak and loss can break and crush what we greatly value in this world.  If only our priceless will to choose remains, choose to trust God, He is still in control.      

Bleeding Hearts 1

Flourishing in shade, Bleeding Hearts are planted to brighten up dark areas

 

Unlike the world’s endless quest to pump up the flesh, our Lord uses brokenness for His work and glory.  Trusting our Father opens the door to victory, not the elimination of pain, but the promise of His life flowing through ours as a hopeful light to others.

This is the fragrance of Christ that the world needs.

humming bird on bleeding heart

Living Waters Flow From Afflicted Servants!

The final discouragement to pound the afflicted or fallen believer is the lie that they are inadequate to serve God.   “God is finished with me” is the echoing cry that reaches our ears from the pit of hell.  Believe with me, the opposite is true!  

Whether battling torrents of trials and heartache or clawing out of a miry pit of sin, the decisive heart toward God, willing to believe and obey, opens every opportunity for spiritual victory.  In our weakest, even defeated condition, Sovereign God confounds the powers of hell and prevails over them.

Walking in victory, forging ahead for the Kingdom of God, is not at all contingent upon our physical abilities, mental capacities, finances, or social status.  In fact, those personal ‘strengths’ often prove to be subtle snares, leading us to depend upon our resources.  In whatever the Lord brings upon us, whatever He takes away, whatever He allows inflicted upon us…we must hold on to the truth that He is in charge of this temporary suffering. 

If we continue in faith, no matter how weak it seems, the Lord will use our tears to mold the clay for divine purposes.  In His hands, our suffering has great value!

In his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Afflictions”, Pastor David Wilkerson preaches,

“We want quick-and-easy deliverance.  But our afflictions serve no purpose whatsoever if we do not understand why God permits them.  The truth is that every affliction, trial, trouble, difficulty and disappointment in our life is allowed by the Lord.  And He has a specific purpose behind all of them.  Why?  it is because He is taking u somewhere–trying to accomplish something in us and through us!”  (printed sermon available online)

Whether we are chastised from sin or amidst a storm or wandering in a spiritual wilderness the devil will harass with the same lies, “God has abandoned you”, “You’ve sinned once too many times”, “You are useless and weak, your best days are over and done!”  Not so with God.

The word of God demonstrates the victory of God through fallen and weakened man over and over, too many times to list in post here!  Many of the testimonies of suffering, struggling, defeat and affliction are well known.  But not only must we open the Bible and find these refreshing truths but we must believe that God is ready to intervene in our lives as well. 

When our lives are trampled upon and damaged, the greatest challenge in healing and recovery is finding security once again in God’s love.  All the human effort and intellect may be unable to configure our suffering with ‘love’.  It may seem impossible to believe but there are times when we need only be willing to believe.

The willingness to believe opens the window of heaven.  When our world is rocked, the willingness to believe positions us before the word of God and awaits living waters to pour out upon us and revive us, even if it seems drop by drop.  Our healing comes through our willingness to drink. 

We need not be healed, happy, healthy or prosperous to be victorious servants of God.  In fact, the Lord seems to excel through broken vessels. 

“Though You have made me see troubles, many and bitter, You will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth You will again bring me up.”  Psalm 71:20

In these last days, we must decide to ‘face forward’.  Our Savior Jesus Christ won the victory over sin and we are forgiven all.  While in this world however, He does not promise to remove all suffering nor repair all damage.  Given to Him, He is uses all affliction with divine purpose for His Kingdom and glory.

 Let us not wait until we feel whole, totally healed, or even ‘happy’ to avail ourselves to God’s service.  Let us not ‘Waste Our Afflictions’ but present ourselves, in whatever state we’re in, as a living sacrifice unto God.  (Romans 12)  The ‘gifts’ He bestows upon us to serve and honor Him are not at all contingent on merit or ability!

I believe that our greatest healing and restoration comes when, even in our weak and broken conditions,  we position ourselves before God in prayer with a decided willingness to believe in His undying love.  The certainty of God’s love in our hearts opens our faith again, even stronger, and avails His living waters to flow into us and through us into the lives of others.  That is great and profound joy that overcomes the darkness.

 

“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)

 

The Timely Death of Believers

 

the Lord directs our steps

 

While writing A Ragamuffin In God’s Hall of Fame,  overviewing  the life of Rich Mullins, I  often came across “his untimely death”.  Yes, he died at the young age of 41.  Even younger at death was Keith Green, 28, whose godly music and message continue to glorify God.

Almost everyone in this fallen world can testify of an “untimely death”, as do I, recalling my brother’s death at age 38.  (Noted in this post) 

But ultimately for the believer, however, there is no “untimely death”, it is an “appointed death” (Hebrews 9:12).  The last steps of our life are, as all other steps,  are “ordered by God”.

Why is this so important?

  1.   As followers of the Lord, we must wrap ourselves with the truths of His word before the battle begins.  A perpetual focus of life in this world robs us of  the spiritual truths and fortitude we will need when death comes upon us or our loved ones. 
  2.  Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” and as such, we must have a living word in our hearts ready to shine into the grief and confusion of those who face death.

There is no hint whatsoever that God “allows” one of His followers to die, as though He were a mere witness to death;  “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful servants.”  God is sovereign, not a bystander in our lives.  One can meditate upon the lives of godly servants in Scripture and find that, in spite of very real and ongoing death threats and attempts, they ‘were immortal until God’s work through them was complete’.  King David, the Apostle Paul and our Savior Jesus Himself are striking examples of men whose lives were sought by powerful foes yet they remained alive and victorious under God’s protection.  

After coming to saving faith in Christ, God’s purposes that we increasingly “conform to the image of God’s Son”.

“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.”

“You and I will never be any closer to Christ, throughout eternity, than we are when He comes.  That’s the point of judgement.”    (Dr. Lovett)

Often the life of a fruitful and godly believer is so needed and cherished here and now that his death seems only senseless and tragic.  But the Alpha and Omega may see that believer at the pinnacle of his faith and walk with God.  The Lord alone can see the future backsliding, pitfalls and snares…His view of us is always eternal.

Only a Biblical view of death and heaven can prepare us for grief and heartbreak.   And only detaching ourselves from this world can release the truths of death and eternity into our hearts.  Can we affirm with Paul, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” ?  Can we trust God that His timing and view of our eternity is always accurate, even perfect?

In II Kings 20, God directed an ailing King Hezekiah, “Get your house in order, you’re going to die…”  Yet, while claiming great faithfulness and devotion, Hezekiah actually revealed his attachment to his kingdom here, pleading with God for more time.  The additional 15 years that God granted brought forth the fruits of a spiritual downfall.  His pride burst forth, he lost his discernment, and during this time sired the most wicked heir, King Manasseh.

“When God tells us that it’s time for us to die, we must be willing to leave the earth immediately.  For God alone knows what is best for us.  So, when God tells us it is time to go, we should not want to stay on in this rotten world any longer.”  Zac Poonen

And yet, what of the deaths of unsaved loved ones?  Contemplating their end must serve to embolden us to proclaim the Gospel as though they stand on the precipice of eternity because that is where they are.  Like the thief on the cross alongside Jesus,  their last steps may land upon that ‘narrow road’ of salvation.  But as representatives of God in heaven, we must pray for boldness to speak the truth.

Like water through a funnel, we are swirling faster into the end days.  Many believers however, are lulled into complacency and comfort, having sought and gained satisfaction in this world.  I pray that we, together, will seek the full counsel of God on matters of life and matters of death and eternity.  Whether our last steps are ordered days or years from now, let us fill ourselves with enough truth to pour out to those who are dying without it.

“At every turn in your life, keep the end in view”  Thomas À Kempis

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

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