Holding Fast to God While the World Breaks Down

Holding Fast to God When the World is Breaking Apart

While I write this, in my peaceful writing space, in my cozy house, all around the world, people’s lives are unraveling. I’m thinking about our sister in Christ, Kayla Mueller, and her family, today. Kayla was on a humanitarian mission with Doctors Without Borders, when she was abducted by Isis in Syria in 2013.  Her death is still shrouded in confusion, but we know, from firsthand witnesses, that during her last months of captivity and torture, she was repeatedly raped by the terrorist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who committed suicide over the weekend while fleeing from U.S. forces. The mission to capture him was named after Kayla, in honor of the courage she demonstrated during her eighteen months of captivity.

Through many means, death will claim loved ones, leaving shattered people in its wake. Terrorists will rage. Murderers will kill. The destructive power of death will touch lives in other ways too. Divorce papers will be served, termination notices delivered, and eviction notices posted. Dreams and hopes will perish today while some watch their loved ones leave a courtroom in shackles and others watch their homes swept away by natural disaster.

In this world, it shall always be this way until Christ’s return. Once death planted its flag in the Garden of Eden, destruction and decay became our norm until God banishes evil to eternal damnation. Just like you, I’ve faced losses and crushing blows where it seems that wickedness is kicking righteousness to the curb. By faith, I know that may be temporarily true but never ever eternally true. Nevertheless, my soul and emotions need to be reminded that although Jesus died a brutal death, he rose victorious and triumphant over death, hell and the grave.

The first chapter of Habakkuk resonates with me whenever I feel as if horrible things are happening around the world and to people I know, and God doesn’t intervene.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help” But you do not listen! ‘Violence is everywhere,’ I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery: Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight. The law has become paralyzed and there is no justice in the courts. The wicked far outnumber the righteous, so that justice has become perverted” Habakkuk 1:2-4 (NLT).

“Should you be silent while the wicked swallow up people more righteous than they? Are we only fish to be caught and killed?” Habakkuk 1:13-14 (NLT).

In the same way Isis once roamed all over Syria, the Babylonians terrorized the Jews of Habakkuk’s time. We don’t need to look far to imagine what Habakkuk might have been feeling to write such complaints to God. Worldwide, many inner cities are brutalized by gangs and justice and political systems are too often under the control of the wicked. The prophet struggled to understand God’s apparent silence in the face of his country being overrun by godless barbarians.

So, what should be my posture and attitude be when wickedness seems to be winning? Let me turn back to Kayla Mueller’s life for a beautiful example of Christ-like behavior in the face of the worst of evils and to suggest some things for us to think about.

  • Obeying God fervently will put you in the enemy’s line of fire. Kayla was traveling in war-torn areas, bringing comfort and healing to victims of violence. If we choose to obey God in every way, we must expect resistance and trust him for courage to face it and keep going. He sometimes leads his children into dangerous situations.
  • The measure of our character will be revealed through pain. At the bottom of this post are two stories that share the details of Kayla’s imprisonment but also tell us about her remarkable fortitude and compassion for others despite her own pain. Witnesses, held captive with her in various locations, testify to her kindness and concern for their well-being. In fact, at one point, 25-year-old Kayla chose not to escape with two younger girls as she told them that without her, they stood a much better chance of eluding recapture.

I am deeply moved by this young girl’s example when I consider my behavior during dark times. Too often I can trend towards a self-centered response to my trials and become oblivious to others in pain around me.

  • God will not always rescue us from disasters, dangers, heartbreaks and problems but he will deliver us through them.

Witnesses report that Kayla refused to deny her Christian faith to the end. Although she pretended sympathy towards the Muslim faith with a couple captors, those who lived in the prison cells with her said she never denied Christ. In a letter to her parents she said,

 

“I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else.+ by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall…I have been shown in darkness, light + have learned that even in prison, one can be free. I am grateful.”

 

The apostle, Paul, also knew the secret of being free in prison. He suffered numerous beatings, was shipwrecked three times and imprisoned repeatedly, yet he never stopped sharing the gospel news. He said, “For me to live is Christ, for me to die is gain” Philippians 1:21 (NLT). God sent earthquakes to remove his shackles and open prison doors, plucked him out of the ocean and neutralized a snake’s venom to keep Paul’s ministry going. In the end, though, the time came when God did not perform any rescue and the apostle died violently, like Kayla and so many other believers.

 

Things will come apart in this life. If I seek help from anything before God, I won’t be able to function powerfully, as Kayla and Paul did. Holding fast to God’s word and the truth about his character will keep me steadfast and others-focused when all around me might be shaking and breaking. I need to go deeper with him now and remember his reply to Habakkuk, so that when the next storm comes, my foundations will be strong enough to keep me standing.

 

“Look at the proud! They trust in themselves and their lives are crooked. But the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” Habakkuk 2:4 (NLT).

 

https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/israel/2019/october/baghdadi-operation-named-after-christian-woman-who-refused-to-give-up-faith-before-being-killed-by-isis

https://abcnews.go.com/International/kayla-mueller-captivity-courage-selflessness-defended-christian-faith/story?id=41626763

 

 

 

Choosing Joy In the Midst of Disappointment

Some years ago, my husband, Ken, and I almost lost everything we owned due to some unethical and dishonest business practices of a corporation he worked for at the time. Faced with the potential loss of our home and business, I wandered in a spiritual desert for a few months, where I learned much about myself and God and his Word.

During another challenging season, many years ago, God called Ken and I to step away from everything we knew and most things we allowed to define who we were at that time. We left our home of twelve years, (it was a parsonage), with no place to live and both stepped down from our ministry positions with no other jobs lined up.  This desert season lasted a couple of years as it took me some time to understand that God wanted to teach and instruct me and draw him closer to himself.

The third dry season that comes to my mind occurred even before the other two when Ken took his first ministry position. Released from the rigors of seminary life and a job I tolerated but didn’t love, I eagerly looked forward to our new season. I felt certain God would now open doors for a teaching position for me, the job I dreamed of and prepared for my whole life up to that point. God opened no teaching doors and instead positioned me as a floral designer in a small shop in our town. I didn’t dislike the job at all, and I enjoyed my new role as a pastor’s wife, but the Desert of Disappointment haunted my soul for four long years, as I pined away, every day, for a teaching position. At that time, I lacked any understanding that God was up to something, and I needed to submit to it. I’m so glad I started to get a clue in the next two deserts.

When I read the end of Habakkuk 3, I am reminded of those seasons, and one of the main ideas God wanted me to grab hold of.

“Even though the fig trees have not blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!”  Habakkuk 3:17-18 (NLT).

This. This is the type of attitude God wanted to develop in me. Even if my plans fail, I lose what I have and my dreams don’t come to pass, will I still take joy in God and my salvation? That’s one of the primary questions God will ask of any believer in the Desert of Disappointment. So, what’s your “even though…” situation?

The pastor may say, “Even though my church hasn’t grown the way I thought it would by now, and my salary isn’t what I hoped for.”

The single person might yearn, “Even though I’ve dreamed of being married for so long, but I’m not even dating anyone yet.”

The parent could say, “Even though my child is rebelling against God and walking with the world.”

The worker sighs, “Even though I can’t find a job and bills are piling up.”

The divorcee whispers, “Even though my spouse left me for another.”

How do you fill in this blank?  Even though_______________________________________

yet will I rejoice in the Lord!  There’s a lot that needs to happen in the average human heart between the front and back ends of that sentence.

Matthew Henry describes this purifying and revealing of the condition of our hearts in his commentary on this passage.

“Destroy the vines and the fig-trees, and you make all the mirth of a carnal heart to cease. But those who, when full, enjoyed God in all, when emptied and poor, can enjoy all in God. They can sit down upon the heap of the ruins of their creature-comforts, and even then, praise the Lord, as the God of their salvation, the salvation of the soul, and rejoice in him as such, in their greatest distresses. Joy in the Lord is especially seasonable when we meet with losses and crosses in the world. Even when provisions are cut off, to make it appear that man lives not by bread alone, we may be supplied by the graces and comforts of God’s Spirit. Then we shall be strong for spiritual warfare and work, and with enlargement of heart may run the way of his commandments and outrun our troubles. And we shall be successful in spiritual undertakings.”

My deserts always revealed the true condition of my heart. Oh, dear brothers and sisters, we will continue to experience “losses and crosses,” until Jesus takes us home or catches us up with him in the air. Will we choose to be strengthened and matured by these things, better equipped to fight on our Lord’s front lines or shall we wander around, as I did, sorrowful and hopeless in our wilderness?

Disappointment is a valid emotion that we should experience and move past not an address where we set up housekeeping. When I daily lay down my discouraging situations and ongoing trials at Jesus’ feet in his throne room, I must be so careful not to pick them back up lug them with me all day. They are too heavy, and I will walk bent over instead of leaping around with “hind’s feet on high places” (Habakkuk 3:19). Instead, I need to open my eyes to the doors that God opens, the blessings he’s providing and the new direction in which he’s leading.

 

Decluttering Our Hearts and Spaces

Yesterday, I said good-bye to four large boxes of Santa Claus figurines, which I’d collected over 30 years. God nudged me about them last Christmas as I struggled again with where and how to display all of them. I used to find joy in placing them around our home. The past three years I noticed a distinct lack of joy and a mechanical approach to putting them out.

All summer I struggled with those Santa’s. Their twinkling little eyes stared back at me every time I turned the light on in the storeroom and I wavered a bit, but I knew my season with them was over. Please don’t misunderstand, there’s nothing wrong with hunting for and collecting special items then displaying them. I simply had too much of a good thing.

I appreciate all that Marie Kondo and others did to awaken people about decluttering their lives, in this last decade or so, but God has been dealing with me about this for many years. This isn’t the first collection I’ve given away.

In different ways, God keeps teaching me the same lesson about living uncluttered, peacefully. I am to manage well the homes, yards, cars and possessions he allows me to own but they should never hinder me from achieving God’s purposes for me because they use up too much of my resources. My current season of life doesn’t allow for dozens of hours for Christmas decorating without robbing time from other things with higher eternal priority.

Every day, in small ways, we must make the choices for the best over the good. Honestly, I felt joy about all my Santa’s one last time, when I dropped them off at the mission thrift store. The delighted looks on the faces of the volunteers, used to sorting through a lot of donated junk, made me grin.

Too much of anything of this world, no matter how good or valuable, can sidetrack us away from higher callings and obeying God. Modern civilization didn’t invent this problem. Fallen human nature did. Even in ancient times, God’s people messed up their priorities and valued temporal things more than the eternal. This is what happened to the people of Judah, to whom the prophet Haggai prophesied.

Haggai holds the unique distinction, among all the minor prophets, of being the only one Israelites listened to enough to change their ways. The prophet wrote the book shortly after the people of Judah returned home from their humbling, sixty some years in Babylonian captivity. God commanded them, before they even arrived home, to rebuild his temple. The people obeyed for awhile but then became caught up in their own pursuits and abandoned the project, according to Ezra 4:24. Sixteen years passed, and Haggai delivered this message from God.

 “Then the Lord sent this message through the prophet Haggai: “Why are you living in luxurious houses while my house lies in ruins? This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Look at what’s happening to you! You have planted much but harvest little. You eat but are not satisfied. You drink but are still thirsty. You put on clothes but cannot keep warm. Your wages disappear as though you were putting them in pockets filled with holes!” Haggai 1:3-6

Can you make out the picture of these people? In a short time, they restored themselves to beautiful homes and surroundings but apparently did not enjoy their lives. Why? I believe the Lord became angry with their stewardship and disrespect for his priorities and so removed his blessing from their crops and incomes. The people of Judah loved their homes and stuff too much and ignored God’s direction to rebuild his temple first.

God’s agenda hasn’t changed. The temple in Judah was to function in the center of a society that God created to be a light to the rest of the ancient world. In the same way, he will always prioritize our primary 21st century mission, to bring souls to the saving knowledge of Jesus and teach them to be disciples, over anything else. We are designed to be world changers. Can we use beautiful church facilities, lovely homes, cottages and even Christmas decorations to accomplish that mission? Yes! Of course! We are to be ambassadors of God, in every way, in this darkened world, and that includes representing his love of beauty in all things.

Beauty is diminished though, in the presence of clutter, whether it’s in the physical realm or in our hearts and minds. Whether it’s too many Santa’s or too many activities, I’ve learned that de-cluttering my life is an ongoing process for me. I used to live amidst too much stuff, with a too-full schedule, trying to maintain too many hobbies and relationships. My ability to hear from God, obey him and to live peacefully, yet powerfully, became elusive. Here’s some suggestions I followed that helped me to change:

My “Why”

Read the following scripture then ask God where he wants you to start. Without a biblical, Christ-centered “Why,” decluttering anything is just a nasty chore, not a life change.  1 Corinthians 14: 33 and 40, Ecclesiastes 3:6, Matthew 6:19, Mark 4:19, Matthew 19:22, Matthew 6:21, 1 John 2:15, Matthew 6:33, 2 Corinthians 5:9, Philippians 1:21, Colossians 1:10

My “Where”

  • Start with whatever God impresses on your heart. Whether it’s home, job, relationships or schedule, begin with only one area. Don’t try to change everything at once. You’ll simply create more stress.
  • . If you have a spouse and/or child, you need to share your thoughts before you start canceling dinner dates and giving away Santa’s. Share the above scriptures with them and talk about your desire to live a more balanced, available-to-God existence.

My “How”

There are so many wonderful books and podcasts available to help you declutter everything from your mind to your kitchen cabinets. Look on my Facebook page,” The Pastor’s Feisty Wife,” for some helpful book recommendations. There is no need for you to feel overwhelmed by the how, if you take things step by step, day by day. It takes time for us to set unhealthy life patterns and time to undo them. This post is merely a kick start to get you moving in a right direction.

Whoever is following behind you, whether it’s a church, a family, a group of friends or co-workers, you are intentionally or unintentionally teaching by example. What is your life communicating about priorities, peaceful living and God’s kingdom values? If people imitate your everyday life, what will that look like?  I know I need more of Jesus radiating in my choices, speech and behavior, and a lot less of me. His supremely focused, obedient and sacrificial life inspires me to allow him to change me.