Monday, April 18, 2016

The Last Days

       In an ever-changing culture, it’s easy for us as believers to be swayed by the tide of the times. Recent legislation and the reaction of an overwhelming majority of the public may make us feel like we’re living in an age of unprecedented wickedness. We may even, at times, wonder whether standing up for Truth is even worth it. While it’s true that nothing like this present debauchery has been seen in the America of our lifetime, that doesn’t mean that nothing like it has ever been seen on the face of the earth before.
       I don’t know about you, but, for me, that brings comfort. As we look around and wonder just how bad things will become, we are in good company. The psalmist cries out:
“O Lord, how long shall the wicked,
    how long shall the wicked exult?
They pour out their arrogant words;
    all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
    and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive.” (Psalm 93:3-7)

From the time of the Fall, wickedness has prevailed, in one degree or another, over the face of the earth. God found so much evil in the hearts and actions of man back in Noah’s day that he purposed to destroy all of humanity: “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:5-8). Except for that “But Noah,” all of creation would have been blotted out.
       Which brings up another point that we must remember: even when man was given over to abominable acts of wickedness, God was merciful. He looked down on Noah with favor. Noah wasn’t perfect. But he found favor in God’s eyes and, for the sake of one righteous family, God spared the human race and the created order.
       And, through Noah and his family, God made a promise with all of humanity: never would He flood the whole earth again (Genesis 8 and 9). God later gave His people the Law so that they would know the clear parameters in which they should live their lives. Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, there were times of dedicated obedience and the resulting flourishing, followed repeatedly by periods of wickedness and eventual punishment. This cycle can be seen particularly clearly in the book of Judges. But, throughout even the darkest of times, there was always a Remnant of individuals who kept their faith in God and the coming Messiah, who staked all their hope in a redemption that had yet to come, and God counted their faith as righteousness.
       Even after Christ came and conquered sin, death, and Satan, human wickedness did not cease to exist. That day is coming—and we yearn for it. But we are living in the here and now on earth, between the already and the not yet: Christ has already come and made our justification a reality and begun our sanctification, but He has not yet come in His full glory to judge the quick and the dead. Until we reach heaven, we will not enjoy an existence that has not been marred by sin.
       That reality puts the lie to those who would claim that things on earth should be progressing towards perfection, both those inside and outside of the Church. Lawlessness will increase in the last days, as we are told in 2 Timothy 3. And, while things will continually get worse until the very last day (when Christ returns), we are already living in the last days. And what we face now is not necessarily any worse than what Christians have faced throughout the past two millennia. The Christians of the early Church faced everything from economic pressure to brutal persecution for clinging to the Gospel and living lives counter to their culture. The Roman society in which they lived, suffered, and died was not fundamentally any better than the society in which we now live. Yes, wickedness will continue to escalate until the end of time, but there will be periods of righteousness and flourishing. That reality is borne out in history. Christianity eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Even after the Empire fell, Christianity continued to spread. Those who opposed Catholicism in the latter Middle Ages faced persecution, but out of that resistance was born the Protestant Reformation. When England persecuted the Puritans and others who desired a less ceremonial form of worship, they made their way to the New World and worshiped God freely here.
       I suppose what I’m trying to get at is the fact that persecution has been and always will be a reality of a Christian’s life. This is not to say that every Christian will face the same degree of persecution, but it does mean that all Christians are subject to persecution and suffering. The world has never liked the Gospel, and it never will. But periods of persecution have not lasted, and will not last, forever. History shows us periods of intense persecution of the church by the world, but it also shows us periods of widespread conversion and acceptance of the Gospel, at least on a social or religious-freedom level.
       Trials come and go, and they serve a great purpose in advancing the Gospel, testing our faith, and increasing our desire for Christ. But their presence or their absence should never be our focus. Our focus should be God and the furthering of His glory through the Gospel. Our prayer should be that we may be able to say with the apostle Paul, “for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). We don’t know what is coming next for America—a crumbling from within that repeats the fate of the Roman Empire, an external invasion that wipes us from the face of the earth, or a widespread revival that restores us to our former greatness—but that’s okay. It’s more than okay—it’s glorious. It is a reminder of God’s sovereignty over everything and our own insignificance. It’s not about us—it’s about Him, and He chooses to save us, redeem us, and use us anyway. We are prideful when we assume that we know what’s coming, or that we know what would be best. His ways are not our ways, and I, for one, am glad. Any time I try to do something in my own strength, I fail miserably. But when I trust in the Lord and allow Him to work, I am blown away by the results.
       Ultimately, the world is on a trajectory that will send it into increased darkness until Christ returns and we are ushered into the reality of the new heaven and the new earth. But we have no way of knowing when that reality will appear—in ten years, in one hundred, in one thousand. When we focus on trying to pin down the future, we miss out on the purpose that God has for us now. He has us on this earth to increase His glory and further His kingdom, and that is where our hearts and minds should be.

       While looking around at the blatant sinfulness of our generation could cause us to throw up our hands in despair before promptly burying our heads in the sand, it shouldn’t. We belong to a God Who is much bigger than the culture, and Who has proven this time and time again throughout history. We know that He works mightily through even the darkest of times. We know that He has a plan for His Remnant, every day until His return. Regardless of what happens next, we know the end of the story—we known Who wins. When He wins? Well, that’s up to Him, isn’t it? 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Restoration

Here's a short story I wrote a while back.  Enjoy! :)

            There was a knock at the door.  The soft rapping sounded louder than gunfire in the small room.  I looked at Ladd, and my anxiety was mirrored on his face.
            With a slight sigh, I arose from the battered armchair and crossed the floor to the entryway.  Turning back to Ladd for a split second, I detected the slight inclination of his head.  I opened the door.
            The man who stood in the hallway was at least a head taller than me, even taller than Ladd.  His face was obscured by a grimy, brimmed cap that sat atop unruly dark hair.  He smelled like a brewery.
            “What do you want here?” Ladd’s voice came from behind me.  His tone was the harsh one I’d witnessed him adopt many a time out of fear.  His hand hovered protectively over my bony shoulder.
            “Vance sent me,” the stranger replied in an even tone.
            I felt, rather than saw, Ladd relax behind me. “Is that so?  Password?”
            “Imunitas,” he whispered.
            Ladd pulled me gently back as the man entered the room, closing the door behind him.  I bolted the door while Ladd offered our guest the chair I had been occupying.  I chose a rocker and sat down, looking from one man to the other with interest.
            “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here,” the stranger said in a deep, cultured voice totally incongruent with his appearance.
            Ladd merely looked at him in silence.
            The stranger continued. “My name is Truitt.  I have some papers that must reach the right hands by noon tomorrow.”
            “What kind of papers?” I asked after a momentary pause.
            “Papers that will not only help our cause, but secure it.  Once they are read...well, justice will resume at last.”
            Ladd leaned forward just slightly in his seat, the only indication that he was as curious as I was. “What sort of papers?
            Truitt appeared to consider for a moment. “The papers contain proof.  They prove that Arturo has taken power he had no right to take.”
            “But will such evidence be believed?  Is it not too little, too late?” Ladd’s tone belied the same weariness I felt.
            “This evidence will be believed.  It may, perhaps, be too late, but I do not think so,” Truitt said.
            Minutes of silence ticked by, and I remembered my manners.  I went to the fireplace, where the coffee sat warming in its pot.  With care, I poured a mug for my brother and one for our guest.
            “Thank you,” Truitt said, looking at me curiously.
            “Lina,” I supplied, retreating from his gaze to my seat in the corner.
            “Why has Vance sent you to us?” Ladd asked.
            I could detect the hint of a smile in Truitt’s voice. “A fair question.  There are many who favor our cause in this city, and some of them live in more luxurious surroundings.  But Vance gave me strict instructions to come here.  I cannot go into the city unaccompanied.”
            “I’m to be your bodyguard, I suppose,” Ladd muttered.
            “Not quite,” Truitt answered, fixing his gaze on me again. “Vance wishes your sister to accompany me.”
            I was glad I hadn’t poured myself any coffee, for I would probably be choking on mine as Ladd was now choking on his.
            “Lina?  Why?” my brother somehow managed to sputter.
            Truitt smiled at that, a rather peculiar smile, as though he were enjoying some private joke. “My cover will be strengthened by the presence of a lovely young lady.”
            “Yes, a likely pair: a lovely young lady and a vagabond.” Ladd snorted.
            “Come tomorrow, I will not be a vagabond.”
            “Who are you?” I wondered aloud.
            “The same as you, and your brother.  An individual concerned for the rights of the many.” Truitt stood.
            Ladd followed suit. “You will take my room.  I will sleep in here.” He led our visitor down the narrow hallway to the only bedroom the apartment held. “You may borrow my clothes, if any of them fit.” Ladd’s tone was not particularly gracious, but I was sure the innate kindness of these gestures was not lost on Truitt.
            Ladd soon returned to help me clear up and stoke the fire. “I don’t like this,” he muttered, kneeling over the dying embers with the poker.
            “We have to trust Vance.  If he is behind this, then we know that it will be worth the risk.”
            Ladd did not reply as he moved the bureau in front of the door.  I helped him spread blankets over the worn-out sofa and snuff all the remaining candles save one. “Be careful, Lina,” he said softly.
            I nodded and made my way to the small study which was my room.  As I slipped into the rickety cot, I thought about Truitt.  Who was he, really?  For a moment, I was reminded of the bedtime stories Mother used to tell me and Ladd.  The stories of the King’s mysteriously missing heir.  Could Truitt...?  Certainly not.  If there were a missing heir, surely he would have come forward sooner.  General Arturo had been in power since I was a child.  And I was grown now, nearly twenty.
            I could not recall falling asleep, but as I sat up and stretched in the post-dawn glow, I realized I must have.  I arose quietly and put on an everyday dress, stockings, and short boots.  My hair I braided and twirled around my head, pinning it in place.
            Hurrying down the hall to start breakfast, I saw that Ladd had beaten me to it.  He stood by the fire, occasionally stirring a pot of hot cereal.
            “Good morning,” I said as I crossed over to the rickety table.
            “Good morning.”
            I began to set the table for three, something I hadn’t done in the three years we’d lived here. “You know, I was thinking last night.  About the stories Mother used to tell us.  Do you remember?  About the lost heir to the throne.”
            “Yes?” Ladd said sharply.
            “Well, I just thought, wouldn’t it be crazy if Truitt was the lost heir?”
            “Truitt?”
            “Yes.  Crazy to think about, isn’t it?  Anyway, I realized how silly I was being.  If there really was a lost heir, he would have come forward a long time ago.  I mean, it’s been sixteen—no, seventeen years since Arturo took power.”
            “Seventeen years,” Ladd repeated.
            “Good morning,” Truitt greeted us as he entered the room.  He looked nothing like he had the night before.  His hair and beard were neatly trimmed.  He wore one of Ladd’s grey collared shirts and a pair of his black pants, which were only slightly too short.  Overall, the transformation was quite striking.  Truitt was very handsome.
            Feeling heat starting to creep into my cheeks, I dug some silverware out of the bureau as I mumbled a “Good morning” in his general direction.
            “Morning,” Ladd said. “Porridge is ready.”
            I sat in the seat farthest from the fire, as I was quite warm enough already. Ladd served us each a healthy portion before sitting down himself.
            “You clean up nicely,” Ladd said after a few moments of eating in silence.
            “Thank you.  I had to, or no one would believe Lina and I were engaged.”
            “What?” I asked.
            “I forgot to mention that part to you, I guess.  The papers I have need to go to the Hall of Records.  One of the best covers for getting in there is being a couple applying for a marriage license.” Truitt smiled at me.
            “I suppose that makes sense,” I answered.
            “How long should this charade of yours take?  I expect Lina to be back by lunchtime,” Ladd said, exchanging a look with Truitt.
            At length, Truitt said, “She will be.  Don’t worry.  Although it will be tempting to run away with her, I promise not to.”  He winked at me.
            “Good,” Ladd said.
            “Oh, Lina.  I meant to ask.  Do you have a purse?  One that would be large enough to hold these inconspicuously?” Truitt asked, holding up an oilskin packet which, I assumed, held the papers upon which the entire rebellion hinged.
            “I believe so, but it won’t match your outfit,” I answered.
            Truitt laughed. “That’s too bad.  I suppose you’ll have to carry it, then.”
            “I’ll go and get it.” I stood, placing my napkin on the table, glad for an excuse to escape.
            Digging through the old armoire in my room, I found a brown leather handbag.  It had been my mother’s.  When I opened it, I saw the brooch she had given me on my twelfth birthday.  It was made of porcelain, with a pale blue silhouette on it. “Something old, something blue,” I murmured, pinning it to my dress.  Grabbing a shawl from the peg by the door, I rejoined the others.  I had the strange feeling that I had interrupted a serious conversation.
            “All ready to go, then?” Truitt asked.  I nodded, and he handed me the packet. “Whatever you do, don’t lose this.”
            Ladd stepped forward. “Be careful, Lina,” he said, pulling me into a fierce embrace.
            “I will.” I hugged him back.
            With one last wave over my shoulder at Ladd, I followed Truitt into the hallway, down the stairs, and out the back door of the building.  We walked together down the narrow street, turning when we reached the main road.
            Within half an hour, we found ourselves on the front steps of the Hall of Records.  The building was large and stately, and the profiles of all fifty-one monarchs of Valeria stood out in sharp relief along the edge of the roof.
            “Here we are,” Truitt said.  I looked at him as he stared up at the impressive building, and for the first time I detected hints of anxiety—the tautness of his features, the fidgeting of his hands, the tapping of his right foot. “Well, we’d better get on with it.  Follow my lead, Lina.”
            He grabbed my hand and led us up the front steps at a leisurely pace.  Once we entered, we joined the back of a long line that snaked around the sides of the gargantuan hall.  Our destination was a wood-paneled desk where a woman sat, directing each person into one of several corridors.
            “We need to get to the middle corridor,” Truitt whispered.
            “Aren’t we supposed to wait?”
            He pulled a watch from his pocket and glanced at it. “We don’t have time.” He wove his way through the cluster of people around us, pulling me behind him.  We hugged the wall, shuffling along.  Several people gave us dirty looks for cutting in line.  But, for the most part, when people saw we were a young couple and Truitt flashed them an apologetic smile, they smiled back indulgently and nodded slightly, sometimes even moving away from the wall to give us plenty of room.
            When we came upon the desk, Truitt bent over and I followed suit.  Within seconds, we were walking down the middle corridor. “Truitt?” I said as he dropped my hand and began to stride with renewed purpose down the hallway.
            “Hm?”
            “The marriage license bureau is to the right.”
            “The marriage license was only our cover,” he replied.  He shot a glance over his shoulder. “Although we can pay a visit there after we’ve finished here, if you’d like.”
            I concentrated on matching his long strides.  We passed door after door on each side of the corridor, but Truitt did not stop until we reached the last door on the right. “Here we are.”
            “This is the Council Room.  This is where General Arturo’s appointed governors meet.  And they’re in session today,” I whispered.
            “Exactly.  They’re just the ones who need to see the papers.”
            “This is dangerous, Truitt.  I don’t think this is a good idea.”
            Truitt had already opened the door in front of him.  I held my breath, but the only thing behind the door was a flight of stairs.
            At the top of the stairs, we were met with another door.  Truitt threw this one open just as unceremoniously as the first, dragging me behind him.
            Ten men and women sat around an oblong mahogany table in the middle of a large, airy conference room.  As the door swung shut behind us, ten sets of eyes fixed on us. “What is the meaning of this?” asked the man who sat at the head of the table.
            “My name is Truitt.  And I have something that you need to see.” His voice rang out, loud, clear, and full of authority.
            “We are in the middle of a meeting here,” the man said. “Perhaps, if you—”
            “I have papers that prove the existence of the rightful heir to the throne,” Truitt continued.
            “That’s quite impossible, young man.  I—”
            “What’s more, the long-lost heir is in this very room.”
            “I knew it,” I whispered.
            Truitt spoke again. “These papers provide undeniable evidence that the heir to the throne was born nineteen years ago, and that the heir did not die as an infant.” He looked at me.
            Taking my cue, I reached into the bag and pulled out the packet.  Placing it in his outstretched hand, I said, “Here you are, your majesty.”
            Truitt shot me an amused smile. “I have here the birth certificate of Catalina Natalia Dreyton, Crown Princess of Valeria.”
            “Princess?” I echoed, along with several of the governors.
            “That’s impossible.  King Eliott’s only child was a son,” said the man at the head of the table.
            “King Eliott did have a son.  He died of a fever when he was only a few weeks old.  But that was not his only child.  His wife died giving birth to their daughter shortly before King Eliott fell in battle.
            “General Arturo was among the few to know of the birth.  He destroyed all proof of the child’s existence, and had her left for dead outside the city wall.  But, fortunately for Catalina, a family was generous enough to take her in.
            “They knew almost from the beginning who she was, but they refused to reveal her identity for fear of endangering her without any proof that she was the heiress to the throne.  So Catalina grew up inside the capital, completely oblivious to her true identity.  We have searched for years for concrete proof of Catalina’s claim to the throne, but to no avail.
            “Until we connected with a former palace servant, the midwife who had been present at Catalina’s birth.  She held onto the birth certificate all this time, presuming the child dead long ago.  When we told her that the princess was alive and well, she was more than willing to give this to us.  General Arturo has no right to any power.  The Valerian royal line has not ended!”
            All of us had remained silent during Truitt’s tale, spellbound.  Now, one of the governors cleared her throat. “You said that the princess is here, in this room?”
            “Yes,” Truitt said, and I felt the collective intake of breath as each of us anticipated his words. “May I present Catalina Natalia Dreyton, Crown Princess of Valeria?” He gestured at me, smiling broadly.
            “Wait—what?” I said, shaking my head in disbelief.
            “Most of us know her as Lina,” Truitt added.  He bowed. “Your majesty.”
            A few of the governors inclined their heads, but most of them remained upright. “Even if this birth certificate is authentic,” the man at the head of the table sneered, “this proves nothing other than the fact that King Eliott’s wife gave birth to a baby girl.  If she is alive, there is no way of proving that this girl is she.  And if she is dead, there is no way of proving that General Arturo ordered her removed.”
            “Oh, how silly of me.  I’ve neglected to mention some things.  First off, this certificate bears the royal seal—it is authentic.  Secondly, I have here the letter sent by Arturo to the now-ill Lieutenant Gregory, ordering the disposal of the young princess.  Men try to avoid taking guilty secrets to the grave.” He placed the documents on the table, and the governors began to examine them.
            During the interlude, Truitt stepped back and began opening the windows.  I supposed it was rather warm.  I still didn’t know what to think.  How could I be a princess?  I’d grown up in a crowded little house on the outskirts of the capital, and for the past few years I’d lived in even humbler surroundings.  Surely there must be some mistake.
            “I am willing to admit that this...evidence, as you call it...is quite impressive.  But we still have no proof that this young lady is who you say she is,” one of the older governors said.  Several uttered their assent to his words.
            “Lina, dear, you look a little warm.  Perhaps you should take off your shawl,” Truitt said, one of his eyebrows raised.
            Puzzled, I began to untie the shawl.  My brooch clattered to the floor. “Forgive me,” I mumbled, disconcerted by the number of eyes upon me.  I knelt to pick up the brooch.  Part of it had chipped on the hardwood floor.  A dull, glowing red color showed through.
            “Well, what have we here?” Truitt asked, taking the brooch from my hand.  He held it up to the light.  After a moment’s inspection, he struck the table with the brooch.  The remainder of the porcelain finish began to crumble. “This wouldn’t be the long-lost royal crest now, would it?  You have her birth certificate, proof that Arturo conspired to end her life, not to mention the fact that she is here, in front of you, bearing the royal crest.  Crown Princess Catalina lives, and she is ready to take her rightful place on the throne.”
            “This is all very well and good,” a stern-looking female governor said, “but I still do not think there is sufficient evidence.”
            “Do you not?  Then perhaps we should see what the people think.” Truitt turned around.  Our eyes followed his gaze.  All of the windows he had opened let on the great hall below, not outside as I had supposed.  They had heard.
            “Long live Queen Catalina!” One man cried out.
            “Long live Queen Catalina!” Others joined the cry, until it became deafening.
            I turned to Truitt, quite bewildered. “It’s true, Lina.  You’re the princess.  You’re who we’ve been looking after all along.” He spoke softly, gently, much unlike the way he had spoken to the governors.
            “I—I don’t know what to say,” I replied, my mind reeling.
            “You don’t have to.  There are people who will tell you what to say now.”
            “I won’t know what to wear, either.” I looked down at my shabby dress.
            “No problem.  There are people for that, too.  That way, all you’ll have to do is run the kingdom.” Truitt grinned.
            “I won’t know what decisions to make.  Are there people for that, too?”
            “No.  There are advisors—heaps of them—but they can’t make the decisions for you,” Truitt admitted.
            “Well, I suppose I’ll have to learn to make decisions for myself,” I said.  After a moment, I added, “But it will help if you’re by my side.”
            “I’d be honored, your majesty,” Truitt said with a little bow. “As for the suggestion I made earlier…”
            “I’ll take it into consideration and get back to you.”
             “Fair enough.”
            “I do hope to be a fair queen,” I said thoughtfully.

            “You already are,” Truitt said, taking my hand and kissing it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The fear of man can have such a strong grip. It can cause us to overlook the sins of others, or to give in to sin ourselves. It can cause us to say the things we shouldn't, or to neglect to share the things we should.

I will be the first to admit that the fear of man (or people-pleasing, or worrying-about-the-opinions-of-others, or seeing-how-many-likes-I-can-get-on-Facebook, or whatever you want to call it) is a struggle for me. I have battled it off and on in different seasons of my life, but lately I feel it's had an incredible stranglehold on my life.

All of this seemed to culminate today. I shared the Gospel with someone, and they were not at all receptive. In fact, they were insulted that I would try to "push" my "religion" on them. And it's not that I was necessarily surprised by the reaction. I mean, I didn't think I was so great and so persuasive that this person would instantly kneel and repent because of what I said. I know that God calls sinners to Himself, that we as His children are His ambassadors, messengers of hope. Our task is to share the Truth as He leads us. We're incapable of saving ourselves, much less anyone else.

But I was afraid that, in sharing the Gospel, I might have damaged this relationship irreparably. So, although I witnessed to this individual after deep prayer and contemplation out of the leading of the Holy Spirit, I felt quite shaken. I began to wonder whether it would not have been better to hold off on the Gospel and just have given some vague, noncommittal, feel-good answers. After all, I didn't want this person to be mad or offended or--really--to think any less of me.

Later this evening, with a discouraged heart and tear-stained eyes, I opened my Bible, half-hoping to find some sort of encouragement. I consulted the concordance for the word "bold" and was directed to 2 Corinthians 3:12. As I read the following words, I actually, audibly, gasped. There, screaming up at me from the page, were the exact words I needed to hear:

"Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." - 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6

O, Hannah of little faith! How could you for one moment doubt the sovereignty, the goodness of your God? How could you question the guidance of the Holy Spirit? How could you regret the boldness with which you shared the Gospel of Christ?

For what I shared was not of or from myself. The Gospel is far greater than me or anyone else. It is Truth, and the Enemy opposes it. Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers. It is only Christ who can remove the veils from unrepentant hearts.

And Christ is the only way to the Father. The Lord is the only one who satisfies, and fulfilling His command by sharing His Truth with boldness, winsomeness, and boldness is far more important than winning the opinion of any person.

As I read through those verses again, the peace of God filled my heart. He gave me the boldness to share His Word, and the courage not to back down.

I should not worry about offending others. The Truth is not what we in our flesh want to hear. Unless Christ opens our eyes and ears, the Truth will offend us.

But that's not for me to worry about. I should concern myself with living my life in obedience and submission to God, and not to other people's opinions of me.

Now, does that mean I am "cured" of the fear of man? Of course not. In fact, as I write this, the Enemy is whispering doubts in my ear about whether anyone will read it, or like it, or care. But God's grace is so much bigger than my preoccupation with what other people think. My worth, my value, my identity are not found in other people but in Christ. Only in Christ can I escape the bondage of what other people's perceptions of me. For "...where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."

Friday, June 5, 2015

a note of encouragement to weary saints

It hurts so much to care.  And it takes such courage to face each day.  Because, if you have the love and light of God in your life, you’re going to come to care a little more each day.  If the Holy Spirit dwells within you, you are becoming more like Christ with every passing moment.  Not because of what you do, but because of what He already did, and what He is doing.
What folly is it, then, to assume that any day will be easy—let alone every?  Did you think the Enemy would let you saunter through life, shining with the light of Christ, unassailed?  Did you think you would never stumble, never get hurt, never be mentally and emotionally abused?  Have you not read His Word?  He promises that, in this world, we’ll have tribulation.  There’s no maybe about it.
But the promise doesn’t end there.  Jesus also says, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  He is already victorious over every obstacle, every sin, every bit of suffering we’ll ever face.  The outline of every evil word spoken against us fades into illegibility in the overwhelming power of His presence.
Yes, we fail, and often we deserve those evil words, but—by Christ’s finished work on the cross—we are freed from our failures.  When God looks at His children, He doesn’t see their failures or their flaws.  Nor does he see their “decency” or “good” intentions.  When God looks at His sons and daughters, He sees the righteousness of CHRIST.
If this doesn’t give you the courage, the strength, the grace to face each day, then nothing will.  If you allow this truth to wash over you, to bathe your mind and heart each day, then you’ll be excited to get out of bed each morning.  God is always doing great things in the world at large and in our individual, seemingly insignificant, lives.  May we have the clarity of vision to observe them, and rejoice!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

"I am of small account": Lessons from the Book of Job

     Recently, in my personal devotions, I have finished reading the book of Job.  It was quite a long and daunting journey.  There were many times along the way when I would pause, not sure of exactly what I was reading or if I could continue.  Job is, by all accounts, a righteous man, yet God allows Satan to enter into his life and destroy everything Job has, excepting his life (Job 1:1, 12).  Job laments his loss, his birth, and so on.  His three "friends" have quite a bit to say about Job's circumstances and his reaction to them.  As I read the first few chapters, I readily admit that I was feeling a bit lost.  Who said that, again?  Is that true, or is that just his opinion?  Is Job truly justified in his complaints?
     But, by the end of the book--and obviously through God's grace and the revelation of the Holy Spirit--I began to understand some of the broader themes of the book.  I don't know exactly what a leviathan is (even though it sounds to me suspiciously like a water-dragon), but by God's grace I do know a few ways in which my attitude towards him was faulty, and some ways those faulty attitudes should change.  When God comes in at the end, he rebukes Job and his friends for their presumptuousness in clinging to their own righteousness and their own ideas about Him.  He reminds them of His greatness and their insignificance, and Job repents.  After Job's repentance, God restores everything he once had and then some.
     So I thought I'd take the time to write down, for my sake as well as yours, some of the lessons that the Lord was gracious enough to teach me as I read the book.  One verse that stuck out to me from the beginning was 27:6: "'I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go; my heart does not reproach me for any of my days.'"  Now, it's true that Job was a righteous man.  He obeyed God's commands, and the first verse of the first chapter of the book declares his blamelessness.  Yet Job was not perfect; he was a human being, and therefore a sinner.  
     Should he be clinging so tightly to his own righteousness?  I felt convicted in reading this verse because, so many times, I find myself clinging to my own "righteousness," which, of course, is not righteousness at all, but filthy rags.  I think so many times, "Good job, Hannah.  You didn't do this or say that." Or, "You did do this, this, and that for that person who was mean to you.  God would be so proud."  This is an attitude that is not only prideful, but also fatal.  I can't save myself.  At all.  None of us can save ourselves.  We are completely dependent upon God's grace in the form of the finished work of Christ for that, and for everything. 
     And those sinful feelings of self-righteousness will not even last.  Too many times, a day of patting myself on the back for my "righteousness" is followed by a day of despair at my sinfulness.  I mess up, big-time, and scold myself.  But instead of turning to Christ and declaring my dependence on him, all too often I make a mental list of things I need to do a better job of.  "I just have to try harder," I tell myself.  "I need to read my Bible, pray for x number of minutes, complete acts of service for those around me, and then I'll feel better about myself because I'll be better, and then I'll make God proud of me again."  Again, a completely fatal and hopeless attitude.
     Trusting in myself will get me nowhere.  I can't save myself even on my "best" days.  I am wholly dependent on the Lord for every aspect of my physical and spiritual life.  We all are.  There is not one of us who can save himself.  That's why God sent Christ, to do that which we cannot do: save us.  Cleanse us from our iniquity.  Make us righteous.  As Isaiah 53:6 says, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."  And, in reading Job, the truth of my need for Christ was driven home for me yet again.
     Towards the end of the book of Job, Elihu comes along.  He's younger than Job and his three friends, so he has hesitated in speaking until he feels that they have said all they have to say, and yet still have not said what needs to be said.  Elihu rebukes Job for defending himself.  He asks him, "'If you are righteous, what do you give to him?  Or what does he receive from your hand?'" (Job 35:7).  In other words, Elihu is pointing out that God doesn't need Job, and that Job cannot have any righteousness that amounts to anything aside from God.  Elihu ends his speech by proclaiming the overwhelming might and majesty of God: "'The Almighty--we cannot find him; he is great in power; justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.  Therefore men fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit'" (Job 37: 23,24).
     And now, God comes in and answers Job "out of a whirlwind."  He starts out by asking Job, "'Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?'" (Job 38:2).  Job has been defending his own righteousness and questioning God, which are two things which he has no right to do.  God asks Job a long series of questions that illustrate His own power and might and Job's helplessness and insignificance.  In other words, God is putting Job in his place by asking things such as, "'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?'" (Job 38:4).
     Now, on first glance, we might see this as a bit harsh.  I mean, Job's lost his family, his possessions, his health; he's been ragged on by his friends, not to mention accused of doing something horrible to bring all this grief upon himself.  And, the truth is, we'd probably have the same reaction--or worse--in Job's situation.  But God isn't coming to rub all this in Job's face, or to mock him, or to punish him, even.  God is coming to Job in His grace.  Job needs to be reminded of God's greatness and his own insignificance, and so God comes to do exactly that.  Job is one of God's children, and God disciplines those whom he loves.  Job needed correction, and God brought that correction because He loved Job.
     And God knew that I needed correction, and He brought that correction because He loves me.  Those who have placed their faith in God through dependence on the finished work of Christ are God's children.  God loves His children so much that He will not let us continue down a path that leads us far from Him.  He will call us back, time and time again.  He will leave the fold of 99 to rescue the one who has gone astray.  He is a loving, gracious God Who knows what is best for us.
     Our only task is to admit our dependence on Him.  After God has answered Job, putting him in his place, Job does the only thing he can do: he repents.  He says, "'I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted....Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know....I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes'" (Job 42:1-6).  May that be our reaction when we have sinned by relying on ourselves.  May we repent, declaring our own ignorance and insufficiency and proclaiming God's might.
     But the story doesn't end with Job's repentance.  God also rebukes Job's friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, declaring His anger against them for not speaking what is right, as his servant Job has.  He orders them to offer a sacrifice and tells Job to pray for them.  The Lord accepts Job's prayer, and He restores Job's fortunes, giving him twice what he had before. (Job 42:7-17)
     The overall picture I now have when I think of Job involves God's righteousness, holiness, majesty, power, and grace, and our own insignificance and helplessness.  But that picture doesn't fill me with despair; no, it fills me with hope.  I have placed my faith in the only true God, a God who loves His children and draws them ever-closer to Himself.  May we all repent of our feelings of self-righteousness and of despair and declare God's greatness.  May we say, along with Job, "'I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.'"