The Heat of Trials

 Years ago, I did lunch with my six-year-old daughter who was enrolled in a day camp during her father’s summer custody. She sat at a long, metal table dominoed on each side with children wilted from the noon heat. Brightening as I approached, she smiled at me with eyes that longed for freedom. The heat index that Texas afternoon was 108 degrees.

“Mommy.” Her enormous blue eyes sparkled with tears. “I wish I could go with you right now and get out of this heat. I’m sooo hot.

I smoothed the damp hair back from her face and examined the freckles on her sun-scorched nose. Longing to grab up my baby and head for the air-conditioning, I was forced instead to console my own agony for her by offering up words of comfort, along with a drink of ice water I had brought along.

“Honey, it’s almost over. You get to come home in a few days. Just wait a little while longer.”

I continued to tell her about all the wonderful, cool things we would do together. She seriously digested my words along with her Lunchable. When it was time to head back to the playground, she hugged me as hard as she could and took a final, cold drink. I watched her trudge off, still hot and sticky from the heat, but filled with hope that this uncomfortable time would come to an end.

As I drove away, now with tears in my eyes, I thought of Jesus who sees us through our trials in much the same way. As we cry out to Him to rescue us from the fierce heat of trials and persecution, He comes to us with His reassuring presence, bringing us living waters to revive our parched spirits. He often chooses not to take us out, but to take us through the heat.

Remember the Old Testament story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who walked through the fiery flames with the Lord by their side? The king had sentenced them to death for refusing to fall down and worship him, thus casting them into a furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. The king’s wide-eyed incredulity witnessed four men walking around in the midst of the fire. When he called to the three Hebrew boys to come out, he was amazed that not only were they not burned, but there was not even the smell of smoke upon them.

fiery flames

When our spirits are hot and weary from the fiery flames of life, Jesus is waiting to bring comfort. Drink deeply of the icy, cool water of His Word. Allow the Comforter to whisper encouragement to your spirit to be patient a little while longer.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing;” (1 Peter 4:12-13a NASB).

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1Peter 5:10).

“And let the one who is thirsty, come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost” (Revelation 22:17b NASB).

Take heart, beloved, the end is in sight.

 

Ebola: Where is Protection?

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The dreaded disease has hit Dallas. Not just anywhere, either. The same Dallas hospital where my older daughter is interning in dietetics. What are the chances of that happening—going from Liberia to that very hospital? And what are the chances that it could keep spreading to other cities? How can we be protected?

We can all agree that everyone is very concerned. The news updates keep us constantly informed on the latest cases and where they are being treated. I imagine that we will be hearing about this disease and its spread for quite a while to come, but as I write this, there have been two confirmed domestic cases so far—and let’s pray that’s all. It is my fervent prayer that all those infected will get well.

The burning question, then, is how do we protect our own health and the health of our families? Since I am personally dealing with this issue, I want to share the strategy given to us in God’s Word.

Psalm 91 has been the 9-1-1 psalm since September 11th. Let’s look at what Ezra has to say about God’s protection..

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, My God in whom I trust” (1-2 NAS).

God has a place where we can live apart from danger, and we can trust Him to cover us with His hand of protection. This shelter is not made with human hands, but is found in a spiritual dimension. So why would you be interested in living there? Ezra continues:

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark (3-4 NAS).

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We don’t have to fear being caught in the enemy’s hidden trap or catching a fatal disease. Like a mother bird, God has a covering over us where He will keep us completely safe. His faithfulness to us will never waver, being drawn over us like a shield in battle that the enemy’s weapons cannot penetrate. How comforting to know that He faithfully protects us.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night or of the arrow that flies by day; of the pestilence that stalks in darkness, or of the destruction that lays waste at noon. A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. You will only look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked (5-8 NAS).

Notice how pestilence is compared to a stalker–one who lurks in the dark, ready to spring on its next victim. A virus is naked to the human eye and is cloaked in darkness, in that sense. Although people are taking every natural precaution to not catch this disease, our protection from God takes away that fear, helping us to continue on with our lives in the midst of natural danger.

Isn’t it reassuring to know how powerful God is? He completely protects His children 24/7. This word may be especially comforting to those who work at a hospital where Ebola patients are or who may live close to the apartments where those who became sick with Ebola reside. It is especially comforting to me, with my precious daughter working so closely in such an environment.

For you have made the Lord, my refuge, even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, nor will any plague come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways (9-11 NAS).

Looking for a protective hiding place? It is found in Jesus, the Son of God. It’s a spiritual dwelling that you enter from the foot of the Cross.  No admission charge–just come as you are. Wash your sins away in the Blood of the Lamb and enter into His Kingdom. That’s where we can all dwell safely in these perilous days and for eternity.christian-cross-sunset-28820686

 

Depression: Is There a Cure?

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August 11, 2014, will be a day that we will not easily forget. That is when Robin Williams took his life by asphyxiation. Such sad news about a much loved and admired actor and comedian shocked the country and the world. How could a man who brought so much laughter and joy to everyone have been so tormented?

The answer is reportedly that he had been suffering for years from deep depression, worsened by the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. His dwelling in a spiritually black place took him captive and threw away the key. If only he could have clung to the hope of being free someday, if only someone had spoken the right word at the right time, if only someone had made contact with him before that climatic moment…if only. Now all we have left is regret.

Depression is a common malady that has mantled mankind for millennia. The Bible, in fact, cites stories of several people who were plagued by it. How did these people overcome it? Let’s look at one man in particular.

To me, the man who stands out the most is Job. He lost his ten children, his cattle and flocks, most of his servants, and even his health. His friends accused him of having some hidden or unknown sin he had committed–or else why would God punish such a righteous man like that?

Depression tornado

But Job did not curse God—in fact, he blessed Him in the midst of his trials.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of The Lord” (Job 1:21 NAS).

Even his own wife argued against him as she passionately cried out, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!” (Job 3:8 NAS).

depression arguing

Could Job’s wife have been suggesting that Job deny God by taking his own life? Here is how he responded to her prompting on that point:

“You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” In all this, Job did not sin with his lips (Job 2:10 NAS).

As Job searched for answers from God about why he had to suffer and be punished for no apparent reason, he pushed aside the negativity from his wife and his friends. It paid off. God replied by questioning Job, zeroing in on how proud Job was of his carefully manicured righteousness. He felt that being righteous somehow exempted him from calamity, almost as if he were God’s “teacher’s pet.” I’m sure Job didn’t expect to be raked over the coals as God addressed him.

depression universe best

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you and you instruct me! Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.” (Job 38:3-4 NAS).

After four chapters of intense questioning that shamed Job speechless, God made His point. Job understood just how small he was in comparison and showed his humility by repenting of his rebellion.

“Hear now, and I will speak; I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees Thee; Therefore, I retract and I repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:4-6 NAS).

depression repentance

Initially, Job didn’t know that God had taken His hand of protection away for a short time to allow Satan to prove Job’s character. Satan had been permitted to do whatever he chose, short of taking Job’s life. As a result of Job’s spiritual tenacity, the test ended and God’s hedge of protection was once again tucked snugly around him and his family.

The story closes with a glorious symphony of love and restoration. Not only did God restore all of Job’s wealth, but He also increased it twice over. He had the comfort of the love of his friends and family restored, and God blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning. Sheep, camels, oxen, and female donkeys were multiplied back to him by the thousands.

And best of all, the Lord gave him ten more children—seven sons and three beautiful daughters. His life was extended for 140 more years, and he lived to see four generations of his grandchildren.

God went above and beyond to bless Job at the end of his trial. His days of black depression were replaced by sublime joy.

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So what is the remedy for depression? How do we work through it and not let it overwhelm us when we are living in those dark days that seem like they will never end?

Job’s belief in God is what strengthened him so he could persevere and come out on the other side. His strong faith was the gate to his supernatural encounter with the God he had always believed in. Seen or not, God had always been present in Job’s life through the good times and the bad.

What if…you met God?

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How?

Simple. Meeting God personally is available to everyone. He is found in the person of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who died on the cross for the sins of all mankind.

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:16 NAS).

And another verse says,

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9 NAS).

Job discovered that a personal relationship with God is the answer to all of life’s trials. Our faith doesn’t eliminate our trials, but the Lord will victoriously take us through them.

Count it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4 NAS).

depression dove

Lures: Biting the Bait

Be careful little mouth what you say….

The second in a series

 fish

Fishing is a sport I know practically nothing about. The only time I agreed to try it happened at a small lake in Oklahoma. The combination of the rancid smell of the live bait, the sharp metal hook pricking my fingers as I tried to attach the lure, and the hot stillness of the water gave me a scorching headache. I suppose I’m just not the type to sit in a rocking boat for hours on end, holding a fishing pole and enjoying it. At one point during that long day, however, the monotony broke.

As soon as the bobber bounced and the line tugged, I knew I had a catch. The one fish I did actually snare sent me into an emotional tailspin. Initially, it was exciting to know I had succeeded in tricking one to bite into the bait-covered hook. Slowly reeling in the line, I pulled it up into the boat where I watched it helplessly wiggle and squirm, trying with all its might to jerk free. The hook had sliced all the way through its mouth, like a catch on a string of pearls, making it impossible for the fish to escape.

Its eyes were wide with the kind of terror produced from impending death, as if it knew its coffin was to be a hot frying pan. How could I be the one responsible for the tragic fate of this innocent fish? I simply couldn’t remove the hook and became queasy over the thought. My short-lived victory was replaced by deep regret.

Do men try to snare one another with words the same way that they fish for seafood?

You bet they do. Some always have their fishing line in the water, their bait sparkling and attractive as it hides a deadly hook.

The most obvious example of this type of snare lies in the field of law. Some lawyers are schooled to be wolves in sheep’s clothing, trained to trick people into saying words that will snare them. That is how attorneys win cases—no matter if those tricks may result in the ruin of other people’s lives. I wonder if any of them ever have regrets later, much the same as mine over catching that innocent fish?

Interestingly, God’s Word addresses this very issue in Proverbs.

If you have been snared with the words of your mouth,

Have been caught with the words of your mouth,

Do this then, my son, and deliver yourself;

Since you have come into the hand of your neighbor,

Go, humble yourself, and importune your neighbor.

Give no sleep to your eyes,

Nor slumber to your eyelids;

Deliver yourself like a gazelle from the hunter’s hand

And like a bird from the hand of the fowler Proverbs 6:2-5 NAS.

Here Proverbs gives us godly advice about what to do if our words have caught us in a snare. Perhaps the issue involves a promise not kept, the telling of a lie, or idle gossip. Although it is not easy, the only way out is to face the other person with humility and seek forgiveness. That is how to walk in freedom.

Even though we may get accidentally hooked by a tempting lure and say something we shouldn’t, isn’t is good to know that God can help deliver us? As we swim through life’s ocean speaking a sea of words, let’s guard what we say by being shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves Matthew 10:16 NAS.

A soothing tongue is a tree of life Psalms 15:4 NAS.

Don’t bite the bait.

fish black n white

Lures: Biting the Bait

Duck Dynasty

Be careful little ears what you hear…

The first in a series

Have you ever watched an episode of Duck Dynasty? This reality show is about a Louisiana family that produces superior-sounding duck calls. An interview recently aired where one of the family showcased their handmade products, touting the best one named Duck Commander. They claim to have the most authentic-sounding calls of any other manufacturer, boasting that ducks are fooled into believing that they are hearing another live duck. This sound of trickery then lures the poor, unsuspecting birds into a death trap.

Dead Ducks

So what is the exact meaning of the word lure? Merriam-Webster defines it as:

1. An appealing or attractive quality, and 2. A device used for attracting   and catching animals, birds, or especially fish.

A duck call deals solely with the sense of hearing. Perhaps ducks can be fooled, but can the enemy also trick people in the same way?

A good example flies off the pages of ancient literature through the story of the hero Odysseus in The Odyssey. One of his adventures as he sailed home took him by the island where the Sirens dwelled. All sailors knew that their sweet, hypnotic singing was like a fishhook that slowly reeled in its doomed prey. Many wrecked ships attested to this fatal end, and not one of them escaped alive. In order to sail by and not be caught in this deadly trap, Odysseus first used earplugs to deafen his sailors. Next, he instructed them to tie him to the mast as they sailed by, giving strict orders that they not unlash him, no matter how much he pleaded. He wanted to be the first man to hear the luring songs without also losing his life.

Odysseus beat the evil Sirens at their game with the help of his loyal crew. But on another front, can people beat Satan against his luring games? Unlike The Odyssey, these deadly temptations are not fiction.

Satan has an arsenal of “sirens” that call out to everyone, tempting them with sweet sounds that are hard to resist as they lead to spiritual and sometimes physical death. What are they? In  part one of this series, we will specifically target music.

heavy metal music

Before God expelled him from Heaven, Lucifer was the leader of the angelic choir who created beautiful music of praise and worship to God. So is it any wonder that through gifted musicians he now creates and leads satanic music on the earth—music that glorifies him–the devil– with lyrics of death, destruction, and despair? This music certainly causes separation from God. At best, it may influence people to fill their minds and hearts with evil ideas that can negatively impact  their lives. At worst, we read and hear about so many young people who are influenced to commit murder and suicide because of specific lyrics, which lure them to commit these horrific crimes.

heavy metal 2

If Satan is trying to lure you with his lies wrapped up in music such as  heavy metal or rock, can you escape? Or do you believe–as do so many young people and teens– that you are immune to becoming hooked? Do you listen because it is the cool thing to do? Do you fear rejection if you don’t go along with everyone else?

Whether you are simply flirting or have already bitten the bait, there is good news. God has provided a way of escape from all of Satan’s sweet-sounding lures. Like Odysseus, we do not have the power to resist such strong temptation without help—but our help is from the Lord God.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (I Cor. 10:13).

The bottom line is that God will help you as you guard your ears from evil. Here is a clip of some of my favorite music by Chris Tomlin– to free you from the enemy, uplift and draw you closer to God– called Our God (Live). 

God bless you!

A Mantle of Kindness

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Childhood memories are precious relics that I guard on dusty shelves in the deep recesses of my heart. When I have time to visit this library, I pull out books written by the lives of my grandmothers. As I turn the pages, their work-worn hands come into focus and tell the story of kind deeds.

The oldest woman in our family was my great-grandmother, Martha. When I was very young, my mother would often take me to our family’s Kentucky farm to visit. Great-Grandma was a small, round lady who let her hands, not her tongue, do her talking. In the kitchen her hands were like a conductor, waving around bread dough, mixing cornmeal batter, turning chicken in sizzling oil, and swirling gooey frosting on moist cakes. Never upset by anything out of the daily routine, she was accustomed to hearing her husband call out to a passerby or two.

Have you eaten dinner? Well come on in and join us—tie up your horse here–Marthie’s setting dinner on the table!

When the missionaries arrived, Grandma’s hands supplied them bedding and linens she had sewn with her skillful fingers. Every quilt and pillowcase was embroidered with love as she sat by the fire of an evening, peacefully rocking in her favorite chair. She and Shelby even sacrificed their own bed to those missionaries for months on end, putting their own comfort last–and they did it with humility and joy. Everyone who knew her hailed her as a saint, and rightly so.

The end of her life had a stunning conclusion when she came to herself, after having suffered a stroke at the age of 89. She sat straight up in bed after weeks of semi-consciousness, reaching out her arms to the unseen and pleaded,

I want my crown. Give me my crown!  

Then she fell back onto her pillows, asleep in the arms of Jesus.

Martha’s gracious spirit was next passed down to her daughter, Ethel, whose kindness welcomed strangers to her table and never turned away anyone hungry. Ethel was just like her parents regarding hospitality. My grandparents’ home, often nicknamed the Johnson Hotel, was permanently welcome to family and friends traveling through Cincinnati. In spite of the hard times of the 1930’s, there was always plenty of food on the table and warm beds for guests.

During the Depression, her compassion would lead her to take pork sandwiches and a cups of coffee to jobless men, hungry and discouraged, who knocked at her door. The look of desperate gratitude from their eyes into her sympathizing ones was their sole exchange. Even stray animals seemed to sense that scratching at her door would bring them a meat bone or a pan of milk.

Her last act on this earth was to minister kindness to others. Feeling sorry for a lone neighbor across the road, she decided to bake him a cake and personally deliver it. It was on the walk back home that her heart gave out, and she died a few days later in a hospital.

I remember traveling to that red brick hospital for that final visit. Her face shone with a heavenly glow as her spirit was ready to fly away. I can still see her hands reach out to touch the face of my mother as she bent over the hospital bed. A touch of love passed on that mantle of kindness.

Although these two women now live only in memory, their linens, tablecloths and quilts they made years ago have been passed on to me. Holding them is like taking hold of their hands again. Even now as I sleep under the quilt that my grandmother finished for me just before her death, I feel wrapped in that mantle of kindness passed down through the generations.

She stretches out her hands to the distaff, and her hands grasp the spindle. She extends her hand to the poor. And she stretches out her hands to the needy. (Proverbs 31:19-20) NAS

 

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Torn

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Have you ever thought about the many ways in which we can feel torn?

We can be torn between two opinions or about making a difficult decision. A relationship can be torn apart by destructive circumstances. Sometimes we can feel as though our lives have been torn apart and shredded..

During this Easter season, I am drawn to the trial of Jesus in front of the Jewish Council and the High Priest, Caiaphas. The Pharisees had been endeavoring to trap Jesus by His words to prove that He was an impostor, so that they would have legal reason to put Him to death. They had paid off Judas to betray Him and had subsequently arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane. Now Jesus stood before them, on trial for the truth of His deity. Caiaphas questioned him point blank.

“I adjure you by the living God that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.”  (Matthew 26:63, NAS)

I can feel the emotions rocketing to dizzying heights. The confession, implied yet left unsaid until this very moment, was chosen by God to be thrust like a two-edged sword into the heart of these law-keepers.

Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you shall see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, AND COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”  (Matthew 26:64, NAS)

At this point Caiaphas, overcome with distress, tore his robes as he roared, He has blasphemed! and the Council responded, He is deserving of death!  (Matthew 26:65-66, NAS)

It appears that the High Priest reacted passionately to preserve the Law of Moses and protect Judaism from false teachers, intending to silence Jesus and terminate this new movement that was daily winning over thousands of converts. But could Caiaphas have felt that his position was threatened and that this young teacher might replace him as High Priest? Could raw jealousy and fear have been the blinders that prevented Caiaphas and the council members from seeing the truth–that their Messiah had indeed arrived on Earth?

I feel that God answered Caiaphas when Jesus breathed His final breath on the cross, after having committed His Spirit into God’s hands. At that moment, there was a passionate response from God as …the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…(Matthew 27:51, NAS).

The most amazing fact about that curtain’s width, measuring about the thickness of a man’s hand, is that it was an impossibility to be ripped apart. What adds to the amazement is that an invisible hand ripped it from top to bottom, not just from bottom to top. This is a miracle that only God Himself could perform.

The High Priest tore his robe as a protest that Jesus not be allowed to enter in as Messiah, but God Himself overruled Caiaphas. God had the last word in the conversation by tearing down the temple veil. He made it possible for all men to enter into a personal relationship with God through the blood sacrifice of His perfect Lamb, Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses was fulfilled to the letter, giving birth to the era of salvation through grace, which continues to this day.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men. (Titus 2:11, NAS)

Is there something torn in your life? Bring it and enter in. Everyone is invited to come into the Holy of Holies to receive salvation and healing from God’s hand.  What better time than today?

 

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A Hidden Infection

Today was a hard day, beginning with a second root canal on my front tooth. Only an unplanned dental emergency brought the hidden infection to light, which prevented a future dental tsunami.

It all began with my discovery of the nutritious benefits of raw foods. An entire aisle of raw nutrition at the organic grocery came into focus, and the granola bars almost leapt off the shelf and into my arms. Although I noticed that these treats were rather tough to bite into, I indulged for several delicious days in a row. I suppose it was on the fourth day that I happened to bite into a particularly stubborn bar, and my tooth loosened with the stress.

That is how I wound up in the endodentist’s chair this morning. A small but very old infection had been lurking inside the original root canal, undetected. Had it continued a while longer, the pain, diseased tooth, and the cost to fix it would have been far worse. Such a blessing in disguise!

This experience got me thinking. Is there infection in our spirits that can be lurking there, undetected? How can we know for sure? After all, the Word tells us that we are all sinners, which indicates darkness present on the inside. Romans 3:23 confirms it:

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” (NAS)

When we have an accident that causes pain in our souls, do we acknowledge it or just ignore it? Admitting that we have done something wrong is hard to do, because we all feel justified in our own eyes. Pride keeps us in the darkness, but humility brings us into the light.

The question, then, is left at each person’s door. What will you do with the sin in your life?

Left undetected, sin festers and grows, making the spirit sick. As soon as we realize it’s there, we can go to the One who made a way for us to find forgiveness and a fresh start. John 1:9 explains it clearly:

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse of all unrighteousness.”(NAS)

I’m so thankful for that rocky-hard granola bar. I’m even more thankful for the bumps in life that make me search my soul. To be saved and set free from sin is what matters the most.