Sunday Message at House of Prayer Church (2017)
Children always offer a fresh perspective, and it can be especially interesting when hearing their perspective of YOU. I’ve heard many descriptions of myself from my children. A couple of my favorites are that I’ve been aged at 100 years old on a kindergarten Mother’s Day questionnaire and I’m supposedly famous, since my picture is on both Facebook and my website.
Some descriptions I never want to forget. Some I’d prefer to forget, but should own up to and learn from. Others just make me laugh. Take this description of me, for example:
“You are a woman of war, Mom!”
Me: (?????) Umm . . .huh?
“You are just so strong.”
Had I been in workout gear pumping some serious iron, moving something large like the refrigerator, or coming in from a long run then maybe I could see the correlation. I was doing nothing of the sort. It just so happened that I was able to . . . drink cranberry juice. Yes, that is quite the feat and I’m proud to accept my strong warrior title for it!
I had a good laugh. At the same time, it revealed a longing within me for that description to be true. I want to fight for something meaningful. As a Christian, I want to fight for God’s kingdom. When Paul calls us “more than conquerors” in Romans 8:37, I yearn for this to be lived out in me.
I admit, my personality is a bit on the aggressive side and this probably lends to me being drawn to the dramatic warfare elements within Scripture. I love the psalms of David which speak of the destruction of his enemies, of course knowing that it applies now to our spiritual enemies (see Ephesians 6:12). When I read that Christ has given us authority to trample upon serpents and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy (Luke 10:19 ) and that we shall “trample the great lion and the serpent” (Psalm 91:13), I have to contain myself from stomping around the floor in symbolic declaration. Maybe I’ve read too many Frank Peretti novels?
In all seriousness, the spiritual enemy is very real and 1 Peter 5:8 warns that our “adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.” On the other hand, the righteous are equipped not so that we should simply flee to safety, for God has also declared us to be “as bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1). The church is meant to have a roar as well.
As exciting as this sounds, in actuality, the majority of our practical warfare is far less dramatic. While our warfare should be within prayer, if many of us are completely honest, it can be a battle simply to pray at all – especially unceasingly, as Paul encourages in 1 Thessalonians 5:17. Though we may war against powers and principalities, our captives must often be our own thoughts (2 Corinthians 10:5). The most important war we’ll wage will be against our own temptations (Galatians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:11, and Romans 7:23) and, ultimately, our fight will be the “good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). I may have imaginings of leading a cavalry charge against the enemy, but I must remind myself of this: the little things DO matter. As Jesus claimed, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much” (Luke 16:10) and “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things” (Matthew 25:21).
Therefore, I will set my battle to do ALL things – both great and small – as unto the Lord and for His glory (Colossians 3:23, Ephesians 6:7, and 1 Corinthians 10:31). May my “strong woman of war” title carry far beyond a cranberry juice feat! As dear as my daughter’s description of me is, I long so much more to hear these words:
“Well done, good and faithful servant!”
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Last Wednesday my husband was attending a morning Bible study when it was interrupted by an urgent prayer request. A member of a local church had a connection to missionaries in the Middle East. Two separate messages were given. The following are portions of these messages:“ISIS has taken over the town . . . systematically going house to house to all the Christians and asking the children to denounce Jesus . . . so far not one child has. And so far all have consequently been killed. But not the parents.” “We lost the city . . . they are beheading children systematically . . . within 10 minutes of where our team is working. Thousands more fled last night . . . Our team is unmoved and will stay.”
Where can I begin . . .
Chapter 11 of Hebrews pays honor to those who lived their lives by faith. The list is long and it brings to remembrance those who dared to declare the word of the Lord, who stepped out in whole-hearted obedience, those who experienced miraculous deliverances, God-glorifying victories and more . . . then there were others.
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them” (Hebrews 11:35-38).
I sense an urgent nudging to wake up. The nudge is for the American church. My ears are burning with the latest message from one of our nation’s largest churches. Supposedly Christianity isn’t really about Christ after all. It has become about us, because we need to know that “God only wants us to be happy.” When did we limit our perspective to this world? When did we reduce His riches to earthen handiworks? Many have taken His promises and used them as reasons for promiscuity, desiring ever more of this world and calling it His favor. Much of our Christianity is about gaining the world, when the world should not be worthy of us.
Oh, America, what god have you worshipped? Could it be that our god has too often been ourselves? Let’s quickly wake up! I will worship the One who sweat drops of blood in a garden, preparing to plant His very life and make the Way for fruits of a righteous church. No more can we afford to belittle His grace with licentiousness.
While we as His bride should have had our eyes uplifted and our voices raised in unison with that of Revelations 22:17 – “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” – we now find a very different visitor at our doorstep. The threats are already here. What kind of church has our enemy come to see?
Before John the Baptist’s beheading, he sent a question to Jesus: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Within Jesus’ reply was this declaration, that “blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” He then addressed the crowd concerning John, “What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in king’s palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you'” (see Matthew 11).
Like John, I do not want to be a reed swayed by the winds of persecution. Like John, I want to be worthy of carrying the message of Christ, acting as His ambassador (2 Corinthians 5:20) and preparing the way for His second coming. And only by His grace, I will not fall away on account of Him. Lord, help us all! What will the world see if – or when – that day of trial comes upon us?
Church, let’s wake up to see the worldly entanglements all around us. We have been too preoccupied with the pleasures of this life that we forget we are only sojourners. May we finally see this world for what it is – passing away (1 John 2:17 and 1 Corinthians 7:31) and remember where our true citizenship lies (Philippians 3:20). Our real prize is not of this world and cannot be taken from us. Only then can we face trials and be about His work with not only boldness, but with great joy. It is this joy that will be our strength (Nehemiah 8:10).
In doing this we may finally honor Christ. We will honor those who risked their lives forwarding the message of our salvation. We will honor the martyrs of our own generation, those who join their father in the faith, Abraham, who looked “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God . . . They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth . . . Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (Hebrews 11:10,16).
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Life is full of challenges. I’ve faced many, and I wish I could testify that I stood up to each one with full confidence, free of any doubt, discouragement, or self-pity. There’s always next time, right? As it says in 1 Corinthians 3:18, we are changed “from glory to glory” into the same image of the glory of the Lord. With each new challenge comes new revelation – IF your heart is open to it!
When I first began teaching in the children’s ministry over a decade ago, one of our favorite songs had a verse which paraphrased 2 Corinthians 4:8-9, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” I sang it with an off-pitch yet triumphant voice, though I didn’t know fully how much that verse would mean to me until a few years of experience. Twelve years as a Christian and I have not been immune to trials: health battles, financial pressures, miscarriage, marital struggles, personal offenses, and the various disappointments we all face. These all have the potential to serve as dark clouds amidst my memories. They are not. As my mind scans through my life, some of these events are my most cherished.
Romans 8:28 tells us that “all things work out to the good of them that love God.” I’m not saying that these struggles were all the will of God; I’m saying that the will of God is to make beauty of the ashes (Isaiah 61:3). I’ve been pressed, not crushed. The real beauty is that each time I find myself pressed, I come through with more of my “self” repealed and more of Him revealed. I need not fear abandoning my own false securities, because He does not abandon me. He never leaves us, nor does He forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). When I admit that my own strength is not enough, then I can join the praises of the psalmists, declaring “the Lord is my strength.”
How could I know Him as Healer if I never had to trust Him for healing? Would my life be any richer had there been no opportunity for Him to provide? If I only faced things I could accomplish myself, would that encourage me to face something greater than myself? Had I never felt alone, would I ever discover that His presence is enough and loose myself from the fear of rejection? I would not know His unconditional love had I always managed to meet others’ conditions. Let me promise you, there is a freedom in coming to the end of yourself – so long as you come to Him.
This last Sunday I heard again the story of Exodus, though one detail came to light which I’d passed over until now. So many times I’ve heard the story set up: a Red Sea on one side and an Egyptian army on the other. Imagine the pressure! Then God parts the Red Sea and leads them safely upon dry land . . . This is true, in part. However, had the Red Sea opening been their only aid, they would likely have been overcome. The army behind may not have only pressed them, it would have crushed them. What kept the Egyptians from attacking from behind? “The angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20).
I’m slowly learning to direct my attention away from the “enemy” and instead to Him who stands between me and the enemy. Countless times, God has called out to us to not be afraid nor discouraged. This is nearly always coupled with one promise: that He is with us. “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged . . . the Lord will be with you'” (2 Chronicles 20:17). “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). “Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you” (1 Chronicles 28:20). “I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid” (Psalm 118:6).
This is a truth I thought I’d learned many trials ago. Yet, it was not long ago that I found myself asking Him, “where are You?” I should have known better! Nonetheless, His reply to me was not harsh. Instead, His word to me was even greater: “I am not only with you, I am within you.” Praise God, I will overcome all trials from glory to glory! After all, He is “Christ IN me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
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Let me cut to the chase. Faith is never blind. However, I hear those two words together enough, or similar expressions, that one would think them inseparable. “Well, I don’t know what will happen,” someone will say, “so I better just go on blind faith.” The basis for this statement is likely from 2 Corinthians 5:7 which states that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”
Certainly we all experience circumstances in which we “do not see.” Being a children’s book author, I find it only appropriate to quote Dr. Seuss when addressing this dilemma. He so eloquently expresses what we all at times face in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!
“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?
And IF you go in, should you turn left or right . . .
Or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?”
These are the circumstances in which we are blinded by our limited understanding, or our limited ability. We do not know whether to turn left or right. Thus, when left and right are darkened to our vision, faith looks upward to the God who calls Himself the Light of the World (John 8:12).
“Blind” may be a perfect descriptor regarding our natural vision or understanding within the circumstances. However, faith is never blind. Contrary to modern views, faith is not without reason. We may not understand our circumstances, yet we should base our beliefs on an understanding of God. As it states in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
This instruction was for the sake of those questioning the Christian faith. However, it is equally important that we are prepared to give an answer for the sake of ourselves. If I am believing for healing, yet know nothing of God’s capabilities, nothing about God’s character, nothing about His prophetic promises, nor of the healing ministry of Jesus, along with no personal experience to base my faith upon, then I should not be commended for my leap of faith.
I often face situations where I have to reprocess each reason for the faith I have: why I believe there’s a God, why I believe the Bible is true, what I know the Bible says concerning the situation, and what God has proven to me personally at that point. Even Abraham, the “father of faith” had reasons (rationale) for believing. As Francis Schaeffer points out, “he had much propositional revelation from God, he had seen God, God had fulfilled promises to him. In short, God’s words were in the context of Abraham’s strong reason for knowing that God both existed and was totally trustworthy.”1
In other words, God does not expect us to believe just anything. He expects us to seek Him so that we may know Him. Romans 10:17 states that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Thus, if ever you find yourself in a situation “where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked,” . . . do not step blindly out into the street. Let the word of God be a lamp for your feet.
1. Schaeffer, Francis A. The Complete Works of Francis A Schaeffer. A Christian WorldView: A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture. Vol. 1. 2nd ed. Westchester: Crossway Books, 1982. p. 15.
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One of the nightly routines before our daughters’ bedtime is to read from their children’s Bible. At one point, it struck me that our Bible version neglected to include anything that occurred after the gospels. So off I marched to retrieve my own Bible.
I thumbed through the pages and was satisfied to land within the book of Acts. “Let me introduce you to Paul the Apostle!” I dramatized. My girls snuggled in on either side, laying their feathery blonde heads on my shoulders. (Now, let me interrupt this story with an important detail: the ages of my children were around five and two at the time. Yes, parents, you know what is about to happen!) I began our Bible story at the road to Damascus with as much zeal as Paul (named Saul before his conversion) himself possessed:
“Acts Chapter 9, ‘Then Saul, still breathing threats . . .’ ”
(I felt a tap-tap on my arm.)
“Mommy, what is a threat?”
“Then Saul, still breathing threats . . .”
(A less gentle tap-tap.)
“But how do you breathe a threat?”
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord . . .”
“What’s muwdew (murder)?”
“What’s a siple (disciple)?”
(Questions fired from both sides now. Resolve. Move forward.)
“. . . suddenly a light shone around him from heaven . . .”
(Tap. Smack! Ouch.)
“Mommy . . . what was the light . . . the light . . . what did the light look like?”
(Attempt answer. Close Bible. Rub temple. Deep breath.)
Nearly every night was the same. In the end, I felt as though I had taught a master’s course. Surely, my children could not possibly think of another question! Some weeks passed and Paul the Apostle seemed to have settled nicely into the foundations of their knowledge base. I felt confident that my children had an impressive grasp on Paul’s ministry for their ages. Then one day, my eldest daughter turned to me and asked perhaps the most important question of all, “Mommy, was Paul an apostle or an opossum?”
Let me interrupt once again to identify one of the practical reasons we place pictures in children’s Bibles. Was Paul an opossum? The question was shocking and adorable all at once. I love to write down these little quotes from my children. Years later, this one always brings a smile to my face. This time, however, as I thought about my daughter’s question, epiphany hit. I no longer viewed this question as simply a humorous example of a child’s misunderstanding. I had missed a deeper lesson within this question, one in which I am the student and my daughter the teacher . . . childlike faith.
Childlike faith is often interpreted to mean that we should believe just about anything. I will never suggest that true faith is not grounded in understanding. In the case of my daughter, though she misunderstood a particular detail about the person of Paul, she demonstrated greater understanding of the nature of God than most adults do. The message within the book of Acts is never meant to teach what humans can accomplish. Rather, the truth and revelation this book offers is what God will accomplish through humans. To my daughter, it didn’t matter whether Paul was a human apostle or whether he was an opossum, her God was mighty to do anything through whomever He chose.
Be it an opossum, or a donkey as with Balaam (see Numbers 22:28), or a whale with Jonah, God can use them to accomplish His will. My daughter didn’t seem to mind the impossibilities, inadequacies, or weaknesses. I have talked to many people who have a desire and a vision to do great things. The common problem is that their vision falls short when they make themselves the main character. I am well acquainted with the “I don’t think I can do that” mentality. From the outside this may be mistaken for humility, but let’s not be deceived. Humility is something very different.
I am reminded of the story in Exodus 3 when Moses received his calling. Actually, I want to direct our attention to the moments before this reception, because Moses wasn’t exactly up for the challenge at first. God revealed his purpose to Moses, saying, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Ex 3:10). And Moses responds, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex 3:11), and “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Ex 4:10).
Humble responses? After all, Moses seemed to understand his own human inadequacies. Yet, God tries to refocus Moses’ mentality. Something was out of alignment. “The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say’” (Ex 4:11-12). God did not congratulate Moses on his humility. Instead, the passage later states that the Lord’s anger burned against him. Moses was locked in an “I” mentality, focusing only on the “I can’t, I am not good enough.” All the while, God was trying to tell Moses that it was not really about him in the first place.
Scripture could not be more decisive on this point. 1 Corinthians 1:27 states, “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Acts 4:13 reveals that “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” There are many more, but it may be most appropriate to conclude with words from our very own “Opossum” Paul, who wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9-11: “But He [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me . . . For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
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