Tag Archive | Suffering

Facing the Challenges of Today’s Cancel Culture

I was getting ready to leave this morning when a phone call suddenly changed my plans. My medical appointment was cancelled and rescheduled because the doctor was not available today.

As I began to shift my plans for the day, a term I’ve heard frequently in recent months came to mind. Cancel culture. What exactly is cancel culture?

I was surprised to find a definition on my Merriam-Webster Dictionary app. It defines cancel culture as “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” The entry adds “This practice of ‘canceling’ or mass shaming often occurs on social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook.

As Christians and political conservatives, our beliefs and convictions based on Scripture are no longer considered acceptable. In a culture that values the right to abortion and LGBTQ rights, Biblical beliefs are considered offensive and harmful. As Christians, our convictions based on Scripture are being censored as distasteful and even dangerous by the social media platforms that many of us use regularly.

While we may not yet be directly experiencing cancel culture personally, now is the time to determine how we will respond when it is applied to all who hold onto Biblical beliefs and convictions. If the social media giants have their way, we will quickly see mass canceling of all those whose beliefs do not line up with what is politically correct.

Canceling of Christian and politically conservative leaders from the popular social media platforms is already well underway, and unless there is a major change in our culture soon no Christian who stands by their Scriptural convictions will be exempt.

Our pastor has been preaching a series on the book of 1 Peter, which he calls “Following After Christ In a Non-Christian World.” The sad truth is that we are living in a post-Christian culture that no longer professes the values of Christianity. A Christian worldview is now considered offensive by the most vocal people in our nation – and in many other nations as well. When we use Scripture as our standard of genuine truth, we will find ourselves shamed and ostracized.

Let’s look at what Scripture says about this issue.

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” 1 Peter‬ ‭3:13-17‬ ‭ESV‬‬

  1. Be zealous for what is good. To be zealous for what is good is to have a focused desire, with passion and commitment to doing the will of God, which is always good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2). This isn’t a guarantee we will be spared from suffering, but rather a promise that we will be not be harmed eternally if we are called to suffer for righteousness’ sake.
  2. We must choose to always honor Christ, by giving Him the respect and obedience that He deserves. He is holy, and He calls us to lives of holiness.
  3. We need to be prepared to make a defense for the hope that is in us. The Greek word for “make a defense” is “apologia.” This is where we get the English word “apologetics,” which refers to the defense of the Christian faith. In other words, we need to know what we believe and how to explain to others why we believe it.
  4. When we have the opportunity to explain to others what we believe and why we believe it, to give a reason for the hope that is within us, we are to do so with gentleness. Gentleness is better translated meekness, an English word that is often misunderstood as weakness. Biblical meekness is not weakness. Biblical meekness has been defined as the patient and hopeful endurance of undesirable circumstances,” from an inner desire to please God. It is strength under God’s control.
  5. We are also to share the reason for the hope within us, with a good conscience and without shrinking back in fear of rejection, always honoring the Lord and His Word.
  6. Finally, this passage speaks of being willing to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will. Our decision to do good regardless of the consequences, to discern and then make a commitment to do the will of God as revealed in His Word may result in suffering.
  7. There is one more truth that will determine how we live in this cancel culture. It comes from 1 Corinthians 15:14 ESV, “Let all that you do be done with love.” Dwight L. Moody said, “The world does not understand theology or dogma, but it understands love and sympathy.” Love alone has the power to break through the hardened heart with truth.

Are you currently facing the challenges of cancel culture? If so, determine to stand strong as you hold firmly to all that you believe.

Or, if you face this challenge in the future, are you making a commitment to truth as found in God’s Word. Are you ready to stand firm in your faith, to be brave and strong as you take advantage of opportunities to share truths from God’s Word?

Regardless of which situation you currently find yourself in, cancel culture is a challenge all Christians need to be prepared to face. Be alert. Hold firmly to the truths of Scripture, even in the midst of ridicule and shaming. And no matter what you face, remember that all you do is to be done in love.

God’s Script for Our Lives

“If we were to script our own lives, it’s doubtful we’d include times of struggle and heartache, times where nothing makes sense. I’m sure they felt the same. And yet for them, those times that felt most out-of-control were when God showed up the most and taught them who He was. He helped them understand that freedom has nothing to do with the state of our circumstances and everything to do with the state of our hearts.”

As I read an email from a recent Proverbs 31 Online Bible Study, these words from Stacy Lowe stood out to me. If I had been the one to script my own life, it would be completely different that the script God had planned for me. Yet as I look back over the last fifty years of walking with God, I can see that His script for my life has taught me who He is. It has helped me to understand that true freedom has nothing to do with my circumstances and everything to do with the state of my heart.

When I first came to Christ, I was teaching kindergarten, a job I really enjoyed. I had my life all planned out, but the first change of my plans was turning in a resignation notice to my school and leaving Maryland for Oklahoma City, where I went through a one-year Bible college. While there, I met my husband Mitch and we began ministering together at a nursing home. It wasn’t long before Mitch and I realized that the Lord was putting us together for more than this monthly time of ministry. At the end of our year at the Bible college, Mitch and I were married.

Recently, Mitch and I celebrated our forty-seventh anniversary, so it’s clear that the Lord really put us together. But the path He has had us walk definitely wasn’t the one we would have chosen. It’s included an auto accident that took the life of our young daughter Teresa and left me with twenty-seven fractures. The doctor who treated me told my husband that he didn’t expect me to be able to walk, but God gave me many years of walking without an assistive device. I now use a walker most of the time, with a wheelchair for any trips that involve more than ten minutes of walking. This wasn’t our plan, but God was with us each step of the way.

If I were to write the script of my own life, it would not have included the loss of our daughter Teresa or my own injuries from the accident that took her life. At that time, I felt my life was out of control. But in truth, it was a time when God was at work in my life and when I grew in my knowledge of His goodness and faithfulness.

The next event in my life that I definitely would not have included was the loss of our second child by miscarriage. After losing our firstborn Teresa only a couple years earlier, I felt numb when a trip to the hospital confirmed that Mitch and I were losing our second child, this one that we had no time with on this earth. No, this would not have been a part of my chosen script for my life.

Then, the most life-changing happening we’re ever experienced as a family began in 1984, when our son David was born. By this time we had another little girl, Amy, who was the joy of our lives. So we were excited about the birth of our son. But that joyful expectation didn’t last very long. When David was three months old, he was diagnosed with massive infantile spasms, a seizure disorder that basically stopped his mental development.

For thirty-four years, David was the center of our schedule since he was completely dependent upon others for every aspect of his care. We had a loving team of home care nurses and a very special assistant that did much to lighten our load as the parents of a medically fragile and mentally disabled son. In addition to seizures, David had a paralyzed diaphragm, fragile bones that resulted in many fractures, and a long list of other medical diagnoses.

The Lord took David to his heavenly home in November 2018. Though his home going was softened by a clear word from the Lord to me that He was taking David home, followed by an amazing peace that sustained us during our heart breaking loss of David, it was the most difficult thing we have faced in our forty-seven years of marriage. Yes, I accepted that David was now in heaven and we will see him again, yet my script for David’s life would have been very different than the script I would have written. Healing would have come in the first months of his life, as the elders of our church came to the hospital to pray for David’s healing, not thirty-four years later in heaven.

I don’t know the struggles and challenges your life as a Christian has included. They may seem insignificant in comparison to what our family has faced, but I’m sure there have been times of heart break and pain which definitely didn’t seem insignificant at the time. The script God has written for your life likely included events and circumstances you would not have included if you were writing the script for your life. Yet, as we walk the path God has planned for us, our hearts are shaped by His presence so that we are continually becoming a clearer reflection of the image of His Son.

As Stacy Lowe wrote in her email for a Proverbs 31 Ministries online Bible study, those times that felt most out-of-control were when God showed up the most and taught us who He was. As we walk the path of life God has laid before us, we learn that true freedom is a result of God’s work in and through our circumstances to mold our hearts to look more like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As Stacy Lowe said, “Freedom has nothing to do with the state of our circumstances and everything to do with the state of our hearts.”

Freedom is the result of our heart surrender to God’s script for our lives, trusting that His plan for us is good because the One who wrote it is good. Even when we don’t understand our circumstances, we can always trust the One who rules over them, believing He will use them for our good and for His glory!

Realizing the Brevity of Life

During the month of July, I have been reading through the books of Psalms and Proverbs, and this morning’s reading included Psalm 90. I’ve been using the New Living Translation to get a fresh view of these Scriptures that I’ve read hundreds of times in the around fifty years that I’ve been a Christian.

Psalm 90 is the oldest of the Psalms. It was written by Moses, in the form of a prayer, and entitled From Everlasting to Everlasting. The first verses focus on the eternal nature of our God.

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” Psalm‬ ‭90:1-2‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Moses starts with a reminder that no matter what circumstances we face, we have a safe dwelling place in the Lord. The New Living Translation calls it a home. In Him we have shelter and protection from danger or distress. The Creator of the earth and heavens calls us to come to Him and be secure.

The next verses are Moses prayer of lament over the brevity of life and the judgment of sins. This section ends with a reminder that our “secret sins” are not a secret to God.

“You spread out our sins before you— our secret sins—and you see them all. We live our lives beneath your wrath, ending our years with a groan.” Psalm 90:8-9 NLT

‭‭Then we come to the two verses that jumped out at me as I was reading them this morning.

“Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away… Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.” Psalm‬ ‭90:10, 12‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Seventy years are given to us!” These are the words that seemed to jump off the page as I was reading this morning. And before I looked forward, the words “teach us to number our days” came to mind. I was surprised to see that this truth was only two verses ahead. Because of the brevity of life, and the fact that I turned seventy-two in February, the thought came that I am “living on borrowed time.” The time when I will “fly away” to be in the presence of the Lord could be any time.

Remembering how fragile our life on earth is a good reminder to appreciate the years and months and even the days I still have to complete the purposes of God for my life. I need to value every moment and live wisely and with purpose. Time is short, so I need to live with a sense of urgency, seeking God’s wisdom for each day’s tasks.

At age seventy-two, I’m well aware of the brevity of life. As I read these verses, 2 Corinthians 4:16 came to mind. It begins with a reminder not to lose heart when our outer self, our physical bodies, begin wasting away. In my own life, over the last year I’ve seen the cartilage in my knees waste away so that my knees are now basically bone on bone. How do we not lose heart in this situation? The key is remembering this life is not all there is.

Living with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia, and an endless list of other infirmities, as many of you who read my blog do, is living with watching your bodies slowly waste away. But the good news is that’s not where the Apostle Paul ended this verse. He added the encouragement that our inner self is being renewed day by day.

If you are a Christian, one who has been forgiven and who has accepted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, your inner self is renewed as you spend time in God’s life-giving presence. Colossians 3:10 (ESV) says we “have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” Through prayer and reading the Bible, God’s written Word, your inner self, the part of you that was made for eternity, is being renewed daily by the Holy Spirit.

No matter how many years you have left on this earth, they are a brief moment compared to eternity. Don’t despair when you see your outer self wasting away. Instead, turn your focus on renewing your inner self and on doing the things that will count for eternity.

Look for Christ and You Will Find Him!

When the month of July rolled around, I turned the page on the Pathways calendar in my bedroom, but didn’t pay much attention to the message on this month’s page. This calendar has had encouraging quotes by Christian writers, so today I decided to check out this month’s message. Here is what I found.

“Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else.” – C. S. Lewis

As I read these words, the cry of my heart was to look for Christ in all the difficulties we have walked through for the last few months. Where is Christ in the midst of all the uncertainties of this world-wide pandemic? Where is Christ during this time when our Christian freedoms are being threatened? Where is Christ in the financial difficulties that we face as a result of shutting down our economy? Where is Christ in the midst of the civil unrest in our nation? Where is Christ in this chaos that has become a part of our daily lives?

As I contemplated these questions, one answer came to mind. Christ is in His people. If you are a believer in Christ, the Spirit of Christ, also known as the Holy Spirit, lives within you.

You may feel alone in this situation. But if your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), the truth is you are never completely alone. Through His Spirit, we are strengthened and empowered to be His hands and feet to those around us. We are encircled by His love – yes, Paul told us in Ephesians that we KNOW the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.

  • For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3:14-19

The Spirit of Christ is also available to direct our path, to tell us where to go and where not to go.

  • And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” Acts 16:6-7 ESV

And if we find ourselves in a situation we can find no way out of, He is able to deliver us.

  • What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance,” Philippians 1:18-19

And finally, if we feel lonely during this season on “social distancing” we can be confident that Jesus Christ doesn’t practice social distancing. He is always as close as our breath. And the writer of Hebrews promises that He will never leave or forsake us.

  • Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'”Hebrews‬ ‭13:5-6‬ ‭

So the next time you look for Christ, take a look at your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been meeting across a Zoom screen during this season when we haven’t been able to gather in person. And take a look in your mirror. We are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus during this difficult time, as the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, works through us to touch others. How are you doing that in the place where Jesus currently has you? And how have others been Christ for you during this difficult season?

I want to close with a short prayer that I heard this morning, from Pastor Chris Shook of Church of the Woodlands in the Houston area. I’ve been watching her encouraging morning devotions, and her prayer this morning fits perfectly with this post.

“Lord, fill me up with You, so I can pour Your presence out on others.” Amen!

Hidden Treasures in the Darkness

As I was praying about today’s post, one phrase came to mind. “Look for the hidden treasures.” This actually comes from a verse in Isaiah 45. But before I get to that chapter, let’s look at a little background.

In Isaiah chapters 44 and 45, God is speaking of a future Gentile ruler, King Cyrus of Persia – around 150 years before Cyrus began to rule.

When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’ he will certainly do as I say. He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’; he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’” Isaiah‬ ‭44:28‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled around B.C. 559 when Cyrus became King of Persia and asked for volunteers from the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and restore the Temple. 2 Chronicles ends with these words:

“This is what King Cyrus of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. He has appointed me to build him a Temple at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Any of you who are his people may go there for this task. And may the Lord your God be with you!’” 2 Chronicles 36:23 NLT

This is the background for Isaiah 45:3, where Jehovah says to King Cyrus, “And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness— secret riches. I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.

As we continue to go through this dark season of the pandemic, financial turmoil and unrest, I believe our season of darkness has hidden treasures ready for us to find. God is still in control, and He is working in the darkness to reveal “secret riches” for His people. Let’s look for God’s hidden treasures in this dark season. And let’s not forget the last part of Isaiah 45:3. God will show each of us His treasures in the darkness so that we may know that He is the Lord, the One who calls us by name.

Walking in Faith During Seasons of Uncertainty

I was reading an article this week, written by Jay Lowder, an evangelist who has spoken several times in our church. The subject of his article was overcoming fear so that we can walk in faith during this uncertain time. He wrote:

“The past few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic have been a time of fear for many, even me. I’m a full-time evangelist whose work has come to a halt, and I have a daughter with an incurable disease that is highly susceptible to illness. Even as a person of faith, it’s hard not to have fear about these things which are completely out of my control.”

It’s easy to see that the circumstances we are living through are beyond our control. The good news is they are not beyond God’s control. We may not understand all of God’s purposes in this season, but we can choose to walk in faith in the God who wasn’t surprised by this pandemic.

In her book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore wrote, “Faith is not believing in my own unshakable belief. Faith is believing an unshakable God when everything in me trembles and quakes.

To walk in faith during seasons when everything in us is trembling and quaking requires something or someone unshakable that we can hold onto. Faith isn’t positive thinking. It is rooted in knowing and trusting the One who cannot be shaken. Faith is believing that God will do what He has promised to do and then acting on that belief.

Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker speaker and writer during the late 19th century, said of walking in faith,

“Sight is not faith, and hearing is not faith, neither is feeling faith; but believing when we neither see, hear, nor feel is faith; and everywhere the Bible tells us our salvation is to be by faith. Therefore we must believe before we feel, and often against our feelings, if we would honor faith... Faith, like sight is nothing apart from God. You might as well shut your eyes and look inside, and see whether you have sight as to look inside to discover whether you have faith.

In her book, The God of All Comfort, Hannah Whitall Smith said the biggest obstacle to walking in faith is a life filled with supposes.

As we move forward in this season of uncertainty, let’s remember that the Lord Himself is our strong tower. Let’s make this cry of David our prayer when we feel our faith being shaken.

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” Psalm 61:1-3

Those who trust in the Lord are as unshakeable, as unmovable as mighty Mount Zion!” Psalms‬ ‭125:1‬ ‭The Passion Translation

Instead of living in the supposes, let’s run to our place of safety and rest. Let’s run to the Lord, our dwelling place. When we do, we will be held up by His everlasting arms.

“The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. ” Deuteronomy‬ ‭33:27a‬‬‬

Jesus Is With Us in the Storm

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” Mark‬ ‭4:35-41‬ ‭ESV‬‬

On Tuesday, a Facebook group I’m in began a new study entitled “Jesus Calms the Storm,” based on the above Scripture. It’s a familiar story to those of us who have been Christians for very long, and when passages from the Bible are well-known it’s easy to just skim over the verses. But this morning, I saw these verses in a different way – from the viewpoint of the ones who were there with Jesus, His disciples.

After a busy day of ministry, it was around sundown and they were physically weary. So when Jesus said, “Let us go across to the other side,” they were ready to follow. They weren’t anxious about the trip, it was just one of many they had taken across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was still with them and they were at peace.

A pleasant trip on the Sea of Galilee

This was a routine trip, a short eight miles across to the other side. Mark 5:1 tells us they were headed to the country of the Gerasenes, and there were other boats in sight. Among the disciples were several men who had fished these waters for many years, before they left their nets and responded to Jesus’ call to follow Him. They were skilled at handling the boat, so when Jesus said He wanted to lie down and rest awhile, they weren’t concerned.

Unfortunately, this didn’t turn out to be the routine trip the disciples were expecting. Storms were not unusual on this area. The Sea of Galilee is 680 feet below sea level, and is surrounded by hills. When the winds from the Mediterranean come across the hills, the air is cool and dry. When this air comes in contact with the warm, moist air around the sea, it causes large temperature changes and strong winds dropping to the sea. The disciples were familiar with this, but what they saw this evening was frightening even to these experienced fishermen.

Suddenly, they found themselves in a very dangerous situation, when the high winds and huge waves began breaking over the boat one after another. The boat was quickly filling with water, and the experienced fishermen aboard knew they were in a life-threatening situation.

A storm at sea

So where was Jesus in the midst of this? He was in the stern of the boat, asleep on a cushion. But His nap didn’t last very long. The frightened disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus awoke from his sleep and rebuked the wind, speaking to it “Peace, be still.” And just that quick the storm was over and the water was calm.

Didn’t Jesus care about these men who were handpicked by Him and closest to Him? Weren’t they obeying Jesus who told them to “go over to the other side”? Why, then, were they going through such a turbulent time?

How sad the disciples must have felt when Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” After this experience, they were amazed and said, “Who is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

No one is exempt from the storms of life. Remember, the boat Jesus and the disciples were on wasn’t the only one around. Mark told us that other boats were around them, so the men on these boats who may have been unbeliever’s also faced the storm. The Gospel does not tell us anymore about them, but they faced the frightening situation without Jesus. When we go through storms, we have an advantage over those who do not know the Lord. We are never alone in the storm; the One Who has power over the wind and the sea is with us.

Peter, one of the disciples who went through this storm with Jesus, later wrote of us experiencing storms in life that cause us great grief. When they come, he encouraged us to rejoice, because trials test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold. As we go through the storms, we can know we are being guarded by God’s power as we place our faith in Him.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter‬ ‭1:3-7‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Another thing we know is that the disciples had a promise that they were going across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. When we face a storm in our lives, one thing that I’ve found helpful is spending time in God’s Word, asking Him to give me a promise to hold onto.

In a recent article, Pastor Greg Laurie compared the Coronavirus pandemic we have been going through this year to one of the powerful storms on the Sea of Galilee.

“This terrible COVID-19 pandemic is like a massive storm. We are afraid and worried about our futures.

“Although we might feel forsaken, we are not. I am comforted by this beautiful story, as it reminds me that I can trust God in the storms of my life. Jesus watches us in our storms.”

The Mark account of Jesus calming the sea ends with the disciples asking each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him.” As we trust Jesus during the storms we face, the storm may not stop immediately. God is sovereign, and His will will prevail. But we can be assured that we will come out of our storms with more understanding of the greatness of our God.

Never Alone: Help for the Brokenhearted

Psalm 34 is one of my favorite Psalms, from it’s opening verses that encourage us to “bless the Lord at all times,” to its reminder in verse 8 to ”taste and see that the Lord is good” this is one Psalm I go back to frequently when I am needing to shift my focus off of my sometimes overwhelming circumstances and on to my God who rules over everything that touches my life.

Since last November, when we lost our son David, verse 18, today’s I Am Not Alone verse, has also become a favorite. Because suddenly, I knew what it was to walk around daily with a broken heart.

God has never promised His people that we won’t experience a broken heart. Life is full of circumstances that cause us to feel like our hearts are being crushed to the point that the thought of facing another day seems beyond our ability. The death of a loved one, a miscarriage ending a long-awaited pregnancy, a devastating diagnosis such as cancer, broken bodies, dreams and relationships – all those and many other things can result in a broken heart that makes it difficult for us to keep going.

So where is God in the midst of circumstances that break our heart? What does He do to help us through such times? I am currently reading a recently published book by Elisabeth Elliot, a book based on one the her final teaching series before dementia took her memories and finally her life, entitled “Suffering Is Never For Nothing.” In a chapter called “Acceptance,” she spoke of the need for accepting the painful circumstances God allows to touch our lives and moving forward.

Elisabeth Elliot said, even in circumstances that crush our hearts, “We’re not adrift in chaos. We’re held in the everlasting arms. And therefore, and this makes a difference, we can be at peace and we can accept. We can say yes, Lord, I’ll take it.”

And she goes on to say, acceptance is possible because suffering is never for nothing. God is at work in our lives during times of suffering. We may have many questions, whys that He does not answer. But there is one thing we can be confident God will do during those times when life leaves us brokenhearted. He gives us Himself, His sustaining presence that gives us peace that passes understanding.

As I read these words spoken by one who was well acquainted with grief, I was comforted. Because even now, nine months after the loss of our precious son, I had to acknowledge that was exactly what God did in the days following that devastating loss. I cried out to Him for help, and His presence sustained me through the tears.

On this Thankful Thursday, I don’t know what you are currently walking through. You may be facing a situation that has you feeling crushed and unable to move on. Or you may simply be feeling stretched emotionally by the daily challenges of life. But in every situation we face in this life, if we cry out to Him God answers by giving us Himself. When we walk through difficult seasons, we can be assured that the Lord will never leave or forsake us, that He will walk at our side and sustain us by His presence. And that’s a good reason to give Him thanks!

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God’s Presence in Pain and Suffering

I received a free excerpt from Kelly Minter’s newest Lifeway Bible Study, Finding God Faithful, in my email on Tuesday, opening and reading it soon after I returned home from an appointment with a new orthopedic surgeon that morning. It looks like a great study on the life of Joseph, one I’d love to do sometime soon, but that’s not why I’m sharing it here. I wanted to share the following quote that began the enclosed excerpt from the study – which as soon as I read it “jumped off the page” as if if were on a neon sign.

“We can get through just about any pain or suffering if we know the Lord is in it with us. But when we feel forsaken or abandoned, our pain becomes unbearable. In a most trying circumstance, the psalmist expressed what the Lord’s presence meant to him with the imagery, ‘Even when I go through the darkest valley, I fear no danger, for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me’ (Ps. 23:4, emphasis mine).”

This last nine weeks have been very difficult physically for me. But they have also been some of the most encouraging in recent years as God’s presence has been amazingly near. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:16, this situation I have been walking through since the last week of May has been a reminder not to lose heart, for even though my outer self – my physical body – is wasting away, my inner self – my soul and spirit – is being renewed day by day. And why is that? God’s presence in these trying circumstances has been the one constant.

At least a couple times a week, I’ve heard a clear message from the Lord concerning how I was to walk through this difficult season. As I read the above quote early this afternoon, my eyes were opened to the fact that each message I’ve heard from the Lord had one central theme: His presence is what you and I need to make it through this and every season of suffering.

Never once has He given me a word that had to do with my symptoms or what I was to do about them. When I left for today’s appointment, none of my questions about what treatment was best in this situation had been answered. Each time, God’s message centered on His presence being the answer I was needing to make it through this difficult season victoriously. Each time I prayed and sensed a word from the Lord, it focused on Him.

There was the word that He was taking me on a detour from my planned route to my destination, but the message I heard emphasized His control over the detour and His purpose in it. Then the Lord reminded me through Deuteronomy 31:8 that He would go before me and be with me, He would not leave me or forsake me. I was not to give place to fear or discouragement. Instead, I was to fix my eyes on the Lord and not on my circumstances.

I was reminded of His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). I was encouraged by the truth that His steadfast love and faithfulness go before me (Psalms 94:14). God brought to my mind the truth that I needed be still before the Lord so I could hear His still, small voice (1 Kings 19:12). And as I read the familiar verses at the end of Matthew 2811, three simple words stood out to me, “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28).

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s give thanks to God for His sustaining and strengthening presence that enables us to make it through the tough seasons in our lives. No matter what we are currently facing, the Lord’s presence is what we’re needing above all else.

Refined – Not Defined – By Trials

Last Thursday, I shared an important lesson God reminded me of as I was reading the book I Still Believe, an autobiography written by Contemporary Christian singer and song writer Jeremy Camp. Before I put this book aside, I wanted to share another truth that I learned while reading this book. It has to do with the purpose of trials in our lives.

“The Word of God never promises that we won’t go through trials. Actually, it’s pretty much a sure thing that we will go through them. In fact, James exhorts us to ‘consider it pure joy, my brethren, whenever you face trials of many kinds.’ We aren’t guaranteed a perfect life. We’re going to struggle and endure hardships.”

But that’s not the end of the message. Jeremy continues:

“And yet God does promise that in our trials, He will stand right next to us and be there every moment. He will be faithful to lead us and guide us, to breathe life into us and heal our hearts.”

But honestly, the statement that touched the deepest place in my heart from this book was the following one. Frankly, it opened my eyes to a truth I hadn’t seen before, the difference between being refined by our trials and being defined by the difficult circumstances God allows to touch our lives. One is a part of the plan of God in allowing suffering in our lives on this earth, the other was never meant to be.

“What I have walked through has refined me. It hasn’t defined me – this is not who I am, ‘the guy whose wife passed away and who has a powerful testimony because if that’- but it has refined me and deepened my dependence on the Rock of my salvation.”

As many of you know, we lost our thirty-four year old special needs son David last November. And after his death, one of my biggest struggles was feeling like I’d lost a major part of who I was. Suddenly, I was no longer the mother of a child with special needs. For thirty-four years, my life (and my husband’s as well) had centered around meeting David’s extensive medical needs. When that was no longer my responsibility, I felt lost.

Until I read the above quote, I really didn’t understand I had been allowing the suffering in my life to define me, to determine how I saw myself. Trials that don’t just come for a short time and then go away can do that if we aren’t careful. But I was not primarily the mother of a child with special needs. My identity is found in Christ and my relationship with Him.

Yes, trials are a part of life on this earth. Yes, they refine us, changing us from within. But, no, the difficult circumstances we walk through are not meant to define who we are. Unfortunately, when trials drag on and on and on, they have the potential of doing just that. What we are walking through becomes so much a part of who we are that it can become how we see outselves, our identity.

Ladies who are reading this on our GLG page, remember your chronic illnesses do not define who you are. You are a child of God, an heir of God and joint heir with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), who happens to have one or more chronic illness. If you are reading this on my personal blog, perhaps your prolonged trial is of a different kind, but the same lesson applies. Life on this earth and trials go together but the suffering we go through does not determine who we are.

On this Teach Me Tuesday, let’s remember our trials do refine us, but they don’t define us. We are God’s beloved children who will one day be whole, when we see Him face-to-face. Allow your trials to remind you of this truth, and look forward to that day when we will leave behind these broken bodies and live in the future God has promised us, when “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation‬ ‭21:4‬ ‭ESV‬)‬