The Presence of God

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
Psalm 139:7

 I love the way A.W. Tozer expounds on God’s Presence in The Pursuit of God. “God is here. Wherever we are, God is here. There is no place, there can be no place, where He is not. No point is nearer to God than any other point. No one is in mere distance any further from or any nearer to God than any other person.”

That is profound. It doesn’t matter whether I sense God’s presence, or how I feel, He is with me always!

We were created for relationship with God. He didn’t need us, he already had community in the “us” of the Trinity – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as Genesis 1:26 reveals:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So why were we created? What is our purpose? Jesus answered that question when asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” in Luke 10:27. “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

 I love God by spending time with Him, getting to know him through his Word and others, and spending time with Him in prayer and meditation. He also called me to love others. Just before Judas betrayed him, Jesus prayed for his followers, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” John 17:20-23

Jesus called the disciples to be united in purpose and love for one another, and, if we believe in him, he also included us in his prayer to be one through the message carried by his first disciples and through the generations. He has given us the very glory that he received from God, that we would be one with Him and his Father. United in oneness.

We were designed for community and fellowship – with God and with each other. In Genesis 2:18, the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Adam already had fellowship with God, but God said it was “not good”. Adam needed the fellowship of a common community at his level, created in the image of God.

Is there anything better than a friend to lift your spirits? To come along side you to encourage you when you’re down? To point you to the truth when you are being led astray?

“The Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – live as one God in three persons, without clamoring for attention and without competing for glory. God desires us to function in the same way. We are created in his image and are called to reflect the same kind of community that exists in the Trinity.” Dr. Bill Donahue, Ph.D.

The tradition of Thanksgiving brings us together with family and friends to celebrate our blessings, including our relationships. It’s also an excellent time to reflect on the ultimate blessing of relationship with God, our creator. Tozer relates God’s Presence in His creation to a painting. “As the primary colors are found in and necessary to the finished painting, such a truth is the divine immanence.” He goes on to explain, “God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part, there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of his face.”

I experience the blessing of being part of a community of believers committed to unity as we offer each other loving encouragement, exercising our unique talents and gifts, strengthening each other and the church. I practice being aware of God’s Presence, knowing he is here whether I sense it or not.

For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Matthew 18:20

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My husband just won the 2015 World Handball Championship in his division – men aged 65 and older. He was not favored to win, ranked somewhere in the middle of 22 Ed worlds editedparticipants from Canada, Ireland, Japan and the United States, but he walked away with the medal. And yes, that was the extent of his visible prize, a handball medal on a ribbon… But what struck me and generated such emotion over his victory is what it says about him.

Handball is much like Racquetball, without the racquet. It isn’t a mainstream sport, many have never heard of it and most have never seen it played. I understand the snickers when he heads off to compete from people wondering why he bothers – it’s only handball after all. I’ve rolled my eyes a few times… There are so many other things you should be doing. Why travel all the way to wherever to complete for a little medal at your age? What’s wrong with Hawaii?? But what it took to get there is the thing champions are made of.

Ed hasn’t always been a champion player. It wasn’t too difficult to find superior opponents, challenging and growing his skills when they met. There have been more defeats than I’m sure he ever wants to remember. He’s had humiliating trouncings at the hands of gloating victors, one painful episode of neck cramping that forced him off the court, and countless early eliminations. But he never quit. Ed has mental determination that overcomes his detractors. When he sets his mind to something, he may listen to detractors and mockers without taking offense, but he doesn’t them to dissuade him from his goal.

I assume that champion athletes are thoroughly disciplined with unwavering regiments and practice routines. Maybe so, but that’s not always Ed. His intentions are good, but he gets sidetracked with projects at home, and by work and family. He’s also a wee bit of a procrastinator, and in my expert opinion, unorganized. Nonetheless, though he may wander from his training regimen, eventually he always gets back on track, heading off to the gym after a literal meal of vitamins and minerals he believes necessary to compete at the level he strives to reach.

This world tournament was the most challenging of all tournaments I’ve witnessed. The matches were not well spaced, leaving him to play two singles matches and one doubles, all in the same day. To say the game’s workout is aerobic is an understatement. It’s played in an enclosed court that captures body heat. Sweat is unavoidable. There are often time-outs to change shirts, gloves or sweat bands, or to wipe the sweat from the floor or walls that’s causing the players to slip or the ball to slide. Three matches in one day is brutal. As Ed said when he say the schedule, “Do they know how old we are? I think they’re trying to kill us!” After making it through the three matches, he earned the privilege of playing the final match the following day.

Exhausted and drained, hope of reaching the goal provided fuel during the first game. He gained an early lead and wrestled to a 21-15 victory. The second game did not go as well. Perhaps his opponent got a second wind, unwilling to surrender his objective, or maybe Ed put too much into the first game. At any rate, he was defeated 6-21. The last thing either of them were looking for was another game of handball, but the split games forced a tie breaker.

Drained, fatigued and weary, I just don’t know what enables you to play another game at that point. That’s when your mind provides reasons to quit… excuses. “It’s only a game,” “I’m going to hurt myself…or die” Ed told me afterwards that he considered quitting about 30 times, but each time he thought of the reward and how close he was to it.

Both players exhausted the time-outs allowed competitors per game. Following each rally, they stalled, leaning against the wall, lungs heaving for oxygen, before slowly wandering back to their positions. At one point their deliberate regrouping took so long that the scorekeeper jokingly called the gap in play a “referee’s time out”. In the end the tie breaker deciding the game, match and tournament ended with just 4 points between Ed and his Irish opponent.   It left me pretty emotional, willing myself not to cry over a handball tournament! Welling with pride over his accomplishment, understanding what his victory meant to him, and overflowing with admiration for his internal fortitude, I was also so relieved it was over!

As I bask in the memory of that moment, I can’t help but relate it to spiritual matters. I visualize God cheering me on, pulling for me to make the right choices, to get back in there when I stumble, staying focused on the goal. I see him at the finish line, waiting to see my face as I realize my goal and receive my reward.

I want to develop spiritual strength and maturity. What will it take? Like Ed, I cannot be deterred by the opinions of others. I must do what my heart and soul tell me is pleasing to God. Being a Christian isn’t always popular, it’s seen as a crutch, or has a bad rap because of the unholy actions of high-profile, but misguided people who call themselves Christians. Some are so opposed to my faith that they will behead me given a chance.

I must keep a dedicated focus on the goal of a righteous relationship with God when I experience setbacks, whether they be my own failure to live up to His expectations, or disappointment by imperfect Christians who stumble. Ephesians 4:12-13 says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” I need to choose my teachers wisely, praying for discernment and always remembering that Jesus is my ultimate teacher and authority.

Ed was a gracious champion with huge respect for each competitor. I must grow in humility, gentleness, and kindness while putting off the pride and selfishness that is part of my human nature.

I need to be purposeful about my development. That means prioritizing my time and talents to align with God’s purposes and plans for me. Like Ed and his handball community, I need to be in community with others who share my goals, contribute to my growth and challenge me to mature spiritually. I also need special people in my life who encourage me on my journey. Without my encouragement and support, Ed would find it very difficult to dedicate the time and resources required to train for and win a World Handball tournament. I must cultivate that same community as I seek to develop spiritually.

I’m proud of Ed and inspired to win the race to which God has called me!

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Read the Instructions

A couple of days ago I woke up a little anxious, as if there was a decision or problem looming. I laid there a few minutes, allowing my brain to wake up and scan my memory. No problems came to mind. I got up, started the coffee and spent my usual time in prayer and study. I prayed about the way I was feeling and asked God to draw near. I can’t imagine living with that unsettled feeling day in and day out.IMG_4285

I’ve just begun reading J.P. Moreland’s book The God Question (2009). In the first chapters he explores the reason for the rise in anxiety and depression among baby boomers. He shares what psychologist Edmund Bourne, in a book on anxiety and depression coauthored by Lorna Garano, identifies “three causes for the epidemic: (1) the pace of modern life, (2) the loss of a sense of community and deep connectedness with others beyond the superficial, and (3) the emergence of moral relativism.”

Can we say Facebook, emails, fast food, Twitter, rush hour, cell phones, and Instagram???

I paused writing this blog to go to work. As I was driving I was pondering some of J.P. Moreland’s comments and what I’d written so far in response. I decided to listen to an encouraging daily devotion sent out by my church, which I’d received earlier by text (http://bit.ly/1V4YhGd). In it, Curt Harlow, our teaching pastor, spoke of the multitasking myth. He noted that scientists at Carnegie Mellon University ‘s Center of Cognitive Learning knew as early as 2001 that, “the area of your brain that decides where and when you focus gets overwhelmed and actually shrinks by half” when multitasking. A shrunken brain, I thought – that surely contributed to my vague anxiety earlier this week!

In The God Question, Moreland refers to Bourne and Garono’s findings regarding another contributor to the rise in anxiety and depression – “moral relativism”. They explain it this way:

There is no shared, consistent, socially-agreed-upon set of values and standards for people to live by…In the vacuum left, most of us attempt to fend for ourselves, and the resultant uncertainty about how to conduct our lives leaves ample room for anxiety. Faced with a barrage of inconsistent worldviews and standards presented by the media, we are left with the responsibility of having to create our own meaning and moral order. When we are unable to find that meaning, many of us are prone to fill the gap that’s left with various forms of escapism and addiction. We tend to live out of tune with ourselves and thus find ourselves anxious.

He goes on to talk about the new, politically correct type of tolerance that compounds the lack of a “socially-agreed-upon set of values and standards for people to live by.” Moreland reminds us that the classic principle of tolerance (which is no longer socially acceptable), is that if “we take another group’s views to be wrong and harmful, we will treat the (alleged) errant people with respect, will defend their right to promote their views, and will engage in respective, civil debate in attempting to persuade them and others to reject their viewpoint.” By comparison, under today’s contemporary tolerance, “we are not to say others’ views or behavior is wrong.” He goes on to point out that this is immoral because “it allows for genuine evil” because we are to be tolerant. Bourne and Garano call it cold and heartless: “If you think another is engaged in a lifestyle that is deeply immoral and flawed, the most loving thing to do is to help that person face and get out of that lifestyle. Even if you are wrong in your assessment, at least you cared enough to try to help. By contrast, contemporary tolerance creates indifferent people who don’t have the moral vision or courage to intervene in the lives of others and try to help.”

The book points to the growing neurosis in our times, which by definition is, “a functional disorder in which feelings of anxiety, obsessional thoughts, compulsive acts, and physical complaints without objective evidence of disease, in various degrees and patters, dominate the personality” (Dictionary.com).

Moreland explains that in absence of living daily for something bigger than us, such as God, we begin living for our own happiness.

Their findings make such sense when I consider the joy of knowing that all is well when I am living a purposeful life with a focus on eternity. How empty it must feel without a relationship with Jesus. After meeting with a friend for lunch and spending quality time celebrating our Lord, the earlier feelings had dissolved. We talked about God, how he is working in our lives, and how he is using cancer to ignite her faith and lead others to deeper faith. We shared lessons that he is teaching us through each other (and I’m looking forward to sharing a couple more with her). We discussed my earlier vague feeling of being out of sync and how such feelings are only feelings, not truth, because “he will never leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6b). I left our lunch refreshed and renewed, reminded of who and what I am living for.

In the devotion I received by text, Pastor Curt advises “it’s always better to focus.” He challenged us to “apply this knowledge to our relationship with God.” I am resolved to live for God, though I surely stumble at times. Prayer, quiet time reflecting, Bible study and similar activities help me focus on what is important, giving my life purpose and meaning. They also help me create boundaries to avoid an unhealthy pace. My family, friends and my church provide community and allow me to connect deeply with others. As a result of all this, I am a baby boomer who is avoiding neurosis and living instead with inner peace and joy.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. Isaiah 26:3

I can see how joy could be elusive without hope that there is a bigger purpose we are living for. Moreland notes that “the classic definition of happiness – a life well lived, a life of wisdom and virtue – has dropped out of the dictionary. People are obsessively concerned with feeling happy and, while pleasurable satisfaction is a good thing, it is not important enough to be the goal of life.”

I love The God Question’s Monopoly example. Suppose we’re playing with no rules – you can do whatever you want – so you load up your properties with hotels and houses. My turn comes along and I dump the board upside down. Another turn or two with my shenanigans and you’d realize “it didn’t really matter what you did with your turn, and here’s why. There is no goal, no purpose to the game we are playing. Our successive turns form a series of one meaningless event after another. Why? Because if the game as a whole has no purpose, the individual moves within the game are pointless… the very act of taking a turn become pointless.” On the other hand, “if the game was invented by someone who established its goal or purpose, players must know what the purpose is. Misinformation about the purpose could easily harm players if their efforts are directed at an end inconsistent with the game’s actual goal. Sincerity is not enough.”

Can you see how his illustration translated into a life without faith could spell hopelessness, and depression? You could be left with a pursuit of contemporary happiness. Moreland quotes Psychologist Phillip Cushman, who describes the empty self resulting from the abandonment of classic happiness (living for a greater purpose): “The empty self is filled up with consumer goods, calories, experiences, politicians, romantic partners, and empathetic therapists…[The empty self] experiences a significant absence of community, tradition, and shared meaning…a lack of personal conviction and worth, and it embodies the absences as a chronic, undifferentiated emotional hunger.”

God, creator of us and the entire universe, has a goal for us. Our “Monopoly” moves through life are either with purpose, moving us toward his goal, or not. He’s planted his purpose in our heart, waiting for us to respond. My conscience testifies to it. He’s created a rule book too – the Bible, an owner’s manual.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

Oh boy, there’s a lot to think about! If you find yourself relating in any way, just know you’re not alone. God loves you right where you are, but you don’t have to stay there – you can start living with purpose this very moment!

 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. Romans 10:9-10

But for now I am just amazed at how God reveals himself, how he answers prayer. I awoke unsettled and prayed that he would draw near. He led me to J.P. Moreland’s book, which helped me understand how easy it is to feel anxious when I lose focus. He further encouraged me through fellowship with a sister in Christ. Then he customized a daily devotion for me, which complimented the subject he inspired me to write about. As if that IMG_4294wasn’t enough, after listening to the devotion, I was driving along and thought, “I want to stop now and add my thoughts to the blog I started this morning, too bad there isn’t a library nearby.” You simply will not believe what the next street sign said!  The library wasn’t yet open yet, but just like God’s superior answers often exceed the petitions generated by our limited imaginations, he provided a beautiful view (pictured above) from a shady parking spot to apply the daily devotion’s challenge and finish this blog!

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Know Your Enemy – Better Yet, Your Almighty Ally!

Do you, like me, ever struggle with insecurities?  Does that little voice in your head whisper negative thoughts and tell you what an imposter you are?  Do you crucify yourself over little blunders, letting them beat you down? Well congratulations, you have gained the attention of the enemy!  He sets his sights on God’s beloved, trying to render us ineffective, wasting our lives convinced we are worthless.  His goals is to make our lives meaningless.

I often encourage someone who spends a lot of time living in the past, focused on what she coulda, woulda, shoulda done. She so misses what she used to be able to do, and is so frustrated with what she can no longer do, that she misses the abundance of opportunities surrounding her today. The ministry opportunities God uniquely equipped her with are wasting away as she wallows in negative self-absorption! The Devil just loves when he can distract us that way!

Do you, like me, ever struggle with insecurities?  Does that little voice in your head whisper negative thoughts and tell you what an imposter you are?  Do you crucify yourself over little blunders, letting them beat you down? Well congratulations, you too have gained the attention of the enemy!  He delights in occupying the minds of God’s beloved, trying to render us ineffective, causing us to waste our lives convinced we are worthless failures.  His goal is to make sure our lives don’t matter.

And when we err, Satan tries to make us too ashamed to pray, too full of guilt and regret. He hopes we’ll flounder, isolated in self-loathing, concealing rather than confessing our sin. He tries to make us feel hopeless, constrained and suppressed. But the truth is, in Christ we have God’s complete and unconditional grace.  All we need to is ask for it.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

At times of greatest despair, we need to do the exact opposite of what we feel like doing. We need to turn our hearts and minds to our God, confess our sin, receive his forgiveness and grace, allowing him to replace it with his righteousness.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

We fight daily a spiritual battle which Christ has already won. His is the victory! Through his death on the cross and resurrection, he conquered the forces of evil. He has provided us with the weapons with which to join him as victors – truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the word of God, prayer, and alertness:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. Ephesians 6:10-18

Satan loves to tempt us in hopes of leading us away from righteousness and into the sin that draws us away from God. In conflict with God’s will for our lives, the enemy then has us where he wants us.  Separation from our Almighty ally leaves us vulnerable. It weakens us and distracts us from God’s purposes and plans to use and prosper us. Be alert; recognize his schemes and don’t fall for them. When you find yourself off track, confess, repent, and move on.  Do not look back!  Know who it is that is accusing and condemning, then apply the weapons God has placed at your disposal and be the confident victor!

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God’s Hands and Feet

In my last blog, I related my little struggle to Jonah’s struggle to obey God’s call to go preach to the wicked people in Nineveh. Since that posting, my struggle has become tiny, (actually minuscule) and the ancient town of Nineveh has captured my attention. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that God led me to the Book of Jonah just before hearing a sermon from Acts 8 about the persecution of the church. Or that the sermon was followed by an interview with Johnnie Moore. I believe that’s how God sometimes gets my attention – like He’s repeating himself for emphasis. Bear with me as I briefly stumble through some history to share what He has put on my heart.

According to Wikipedia.org, the ancient town of Nineveh is now covered in part by the metropolitan area of Mosul. As Iraq’s second largest city, Mosul had an estimated population of 2,500,000 before half a million fled with the 2014 occupation by ISIS. It is the largest city controlled by the terrorists. Until 2014 it was also a historic center for the Christian church. Christianity there traces back to the period of the twelve Apostles of Jesus Christ. And, Mosul contained the tombs of several Old Testament prophets, including Jonah. I say “contained” because ISIS is destroying all such ties to Christianity as part of their quest to wipe all traces of it from the world.

Iraq’s 2000-year-old communities now lie in rubble. Ninety percent of its 1.5 million Christians have been eliminated. Everyone has an opinion regarding the role that the United States should have in the area. Some say it’s not our fight and we should just allow them to fight it out. Many assume the whole region is Islamic or that all Muslims feel as ISIS does. It’s easy to disconnect because of the distance between us.

I have to admit that I rarely watch the news. The often sensationalizing of the suffering of others and turning it into entertainment disturbs me. However, in the process I’ve buried my head in the sand. I’ve avoided following these developments not because I didn’t care about the innocent victims, but I’ve been hiding from the emotions the situation evokes, including fear. However, when I am living my faith with love, believing in truth and standing on God’s promises, I know the proper response is for me to be an effective participant in the solution. I heard Matthew West’s song, Do Something, yesterday. It accurately summarizes my thoughts over this last week:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven, I thought
“God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

If not us, then who
If not me and you
Right now, it’s time for us to do something
If not now, then when
Will we see an end
To all this pain
It’s not enough to do nothing
It’s time for us to do something

I’m so tired of talking
About how we are God’s hands and feet
But it’s easier to say than to be
Live like angels of apathy who tell ourselves
It’s alright, “somebody else will do something
Well, I don’t know about you
But I’m sick and tired of life with no desire
I don’t want a flame, I want a fire
I wanna be the one who stands up and says,
“I’m gonna do something”

Isn’t that the truth? Fear really has no place in my life, if my heart and soul and mind are focused on God and His purposes.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;     we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 35-39)

The ISIS issue is much more than a religious war between the people of the Middle East. The jacket of Johnnie Moore’s new book Defying ISIS (2015) asks “Has a Christian Holocaust begun?” and proceeds to answer that question…

“A Christian genocide at the hands of Islamic extremists is unfolding in the Middle East. Entire Christian populations have been eliminated, and the ultimate aim of ISIS is to eradicate the world of Christianity.

In many cities every single Christian has been “taken care of” – displaced, murdered, or forcibly converted. Just as the Nazis painted the Star of David on the homes of Jews, jihadists have painted the Christian symbol ن on the homes in indigenous Christian communities to identify them before destroying them. They have proclaimed they will not stop until Christianity is wiped off the earth from the land of its birth all the way to your own backyard. So what can be done to help those brave souls in the crossfire and protect a holy land?

With never-before-told stories of horror and of hope, Johnnie Moore unveils the threat of ISIS against worldwide Christianity, and what the world must do about it. Along the way, he introduces us to the courageous Christians who have stared down ISIS and lived to raise their crosses higher.”

During the interview with Johnnie last week, he shared a conversation he had with Sister Rose, a young nun from Mosul caring for the Christian refugees. He recounts the conversation in his book. “I lived in America. Americans are wonderful people. It’s shocking to me that they are so silent in the face of our genocide. Please help us. Raise your voice for us. Our children are dying. In American you care for your pets so well, can you care for your Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering?”

Johnnie writes, “It has always been a mystery to me why so many Christians in the West struggle to live for what so many Christians in persecuted countries are willing to die for.”

Wow. I don’t know what God has called me to do, but I am starting with prayer for the persecuted and innocent people suffering at the hands of evil. I am educating myself, beginning with this book. Maybe you will join me and we’ll all make a difference.

After the first horror of an ISIS beheading I thought the civilized world, including America, would react. With the second one I thought, that’s it, they’ve been preparing and now they’ll strike. My heart was preparing to be proud of my country, like the hero who intercedes when a bully is attacking the weak. But it didn’t happen, so I tuned it all out. It’s not good to stand by and watch such suffering at the hands of the wicked. My heart won’t let me ignore it any longer.

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (1998)

There is a spiritual battle taking place today, just as there was 2000 years ago.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.  (Acts 8:1-4)

God shed new light on my last blog relating to Jonah and Nineveh. I believe He used it to turn my eyes to the plight of the innocent – His children suffering persecution because of their faith, particularly in the Middle East. He tied it to His persecuted church, of which I am a member. I am committing to prayer for His mighty hand of protection and His power to be revealed.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:28-31

Note: Johnnie Moore suggests three organizations to support if you feel you want to do more:

  • The Cradle Fund (cradlefund.org) supports the rescue, restoration, and return of the Middle Eastern Christians and other ethno/religious people to a home where they can live and practice their faith free from fear
  • World Help (worldhelp.net) is focused on meeting people’s physical needs by providing humanitarian, medical, and educational assistance and ensuring access to clean water and people’s spiritual needs by providing Bibles and establishing churches in as many communities as possible.
  • The Institute for Global Engagement (globalengage.org) works toward a future in which people of all faiths and none have full freedom of conscience and equal citizenship, advancing the view that religious freedom – properly implemented – is integral to a flourishing society, and a stable state.
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Loving When I Don’t Want To

Jesus said we’re to love others, but every now and then someone in my life isn’t acting loveable – they’re demanding or ungrateful or not living up to my expectations in some way. I pray for patience and understanding, but sometimes I don’t do so well. What I’d like to do is avoid them altogether, reasoning that my attitude will then continue to honor God, unhampered by the offending personality. Jonah shared my dilemma.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai:  “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”  (Jonah 1:1-2)

The Book of Nahum describes some of Nineveh’s wickedness, including plotting against the Lord, worshiping multiple gods rather than the one true God, to carving images and casting idols in their temple, witchcraft, they were “full of lies,” plundering and never without victims, leaving piles of dead. Like not quite so difficult people in my life, Jonah wanted nothing to do with the people of Nineveh.

My response to the unlovable depends on who I’m living for. If my purpose is my personal happiness, then I too will go in the opposite direction of Nineveh! I’ll do my Bible Study, tithe, volunteer, dedicate myself at work and love my family and friends while avoiding contact with the “wicked.” But that’s not what God has purposed for me.

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)

If I have truly determined to love the Lord my God and to love others, that means everyone. When I fail to love those seemingly unlovable people God has placed in my life, like Jonah, I am disobeying God. And that always comes with consequences. For Jonah it meant a deadly storm overtaking the ship he was fleeing on. Thrown overboard, the storm threatened Jonah’s life until he surrendered his defiance to the will of God.

“When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you,  to your holy temple. (Jonah 2:7)

I may not have currents swirling around me, waves breaking over me with seaweed wrapped around my head as Jonah did, but my stubborn mindset is a choice to defy God and will always have consequences. My condition will deteriorate if I continue to ignore God’s command to love – He’ll get my attention sooner or later.

Have you noticed that we tend to enlist support when we think someone’s being a pain in the neck? We want others to share our opinions. Gossiping or asking for prayer in a way that shares our complaint against someone can’t be reversed. The opinions we’ve helped others form are lasting.

Reading Jonah’s experience helped me realize how I was disobeying God’s call to love someone he has put in my life. My nit picking and fault finding has been interfering with my joy. How can I experience all of God’s blessings when I am withholding an area of my heart from him? When I confessed the error of my ways and committed to love and honor, it was easy to do so. I find that relinquishing my stubborn attitude allows others to do the same.

Are your responses to someone sharper than they should be? Is there someone you need to forgive? Does someone get under your skin? Do you always anticipate the worst from them? Ask God to reveal any attitude that needs adjusting and commit to following His will in the relationship.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

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Spiritual Disciplines

My daughter had an opportunity to sleep in after a later than usual night out with some girlfriends. As an elementary school teacher with an active family, it was a rare opportunity. So when she felt a little hand in hers, she very reluctantly willed herself awake, opening her eyes to find her son smiling expectantly. “What’s up buddy?” she asked thinking there must be a problem.

10404906_10152559617693178_6058693835239133720_n (3)“Nothing,” her nine year old answered gently, “I just remembered that you said how happy it makes you to wake up seeing my smiling face.”

She confirmed it with a smile warmed by her heart. With that he quietly slipped under the covers to snuggle with sleepy mom.

That’s the way I imagine God wants me to start my days – putting my hand in His and stilling myself before him with adoration.

My grandson is not always the gentle snuggler type – he’s just too excited to tackle the thrills of life! We think he takes after his Uncle Joe, whom he adored. There was always adventure when visiting. Joe’s toys included a snowmobile, three white water kayaks, a motorcycle, a boat, a quad, oodles of fishing gear, hunting equipment and about 15 snowboards. IMG_1600 (2)But between his adventures and the miles between us, Joe often missed family gatherings and holidays.   When he received a cancer diagnosis that realigned his priorities, who and what was occupying his attention changed.

I have a friend who shares my love for organization. She has developed a detailed plan for life. It contains intervals for vacations, a timetable for paying off the house, for retiring, for post-retirement activities, and I suspect it contains a thorough budget. A week ago, however, the schedule was interrupted by something unanticipated – cancer.

The diagnosis forced a fresh perspective, one that we can easily lose sight of amid the ups and downs of life. It is proof that we don’t have as much control as we may think. And while the news is drawing her attention back to Jesus, it’s also prompting reflection. How did He get omitted from the timeline, and more importantly, how do I put Him back where he belongs?

Over the years I’ve found myself in that same position – realizing that to some degree I’d drifted away from my Savior. It’s never been a conscious decision, it’s just that life gets busy, or exciting, or comfortable, or whatever, and I became distracted. I had failed to develop, or I relaxed, the spiritual disciplines that keep me tethered to God.

There are many spiritual disciplines – those habits or practices that help us focus and develop a deeper relationship with Christ. Mine have changed during the different seasons of my life. There was a period when I was working full time and my home was full of children whose activities spread us thin, and my only discipline was church once a week when schedules allowed. I was not mature enough in my faith to set boundaries and establish the priorities to assure spiritual growth.

Sometimes it takes a crisis to shake us from a spiritual slumber, reminding us of our need for Christ. That has been the case for me. Those moments, when I suddenly became aware of my sin of busy distraction and disregard for Him, occasionally came with guilt for having wandered. But as I get to know Him better, I think God feels more like my daughter did waking to her dear child’s still, adoring face.

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent… In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:3-7, 10)

There are many habits or disciplines that help draw us to God. I love rising early to spend quiet time in prayer and reading my Bible or working through a Bible Study. Attending a weekly study with other women holds me accountable and allows me to discuss the Scriptures with the group and pray for each other. I look forward to weekly worship and supporting the church financially and through my participation. I hope to never miss a women’s retreat because it offers all of the above. The important thing is that we establish spiritual disciplines to keep us from going adrift. The effort will draw us close to Christ and make a difference for His kingdom!

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