Defying the Storms

“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone wo hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the wind blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” – Jesus (Sermon on the Mount – Matthew 7:24-27)

DISCLAIMER: I want to state right off the bat that this will not be a post about how disasters like the recent one punish wicked people and leave good people standing. There are cases where someone survives against all odds, but that only proves that God is merciful. In fact, it is only by the grace of God that we haven’t all been wiped out by now. “ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) and “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

As some of you know, we have a time-share in Sanibel Island, Florida, and have been going there for many years. We attend an outstanding church there with deeply committed people. When I think of Sanibel, I think of that church, with its original tiny chapel over 100 years old, where the die-hard traditionalists meet early Sunday morning for a brief service and communion. I think of their second sanctuary, now the fellowship hall, where Bible studies and special events like the missions breakfast are held, and the large sanctuary that was lovingly built and dedicated a few years ago to accommodate the swelling congregation. (My life verse and signature are somewhere in the walls, along with many others.) This is where we’d go for glorious worship and preaching on Sunday mornings – “contemporary” (with a band) at 9:00, “traditional” (with a choir) at 11:00. I think of the beautifully landscaped courtyard with its palm trees, flowers, and waterfalls, where the flock would gather in the sunshine for coffee and fellowship between services and where every February missionaries would stand at their booths, giving out literature and describing what the Lord is doing in their corner of the world.

When my friends first started sharing with me the news reports about the approaching tropical storm, becoming a hurricane, our condo entered my mind briefly, but my thoughts and prayers centered around my beloved church and the people who make up the Church – the Body of Christ – on Sanibel Island. And while we all prayed the hurricane would turn away and go out to the Gulf and dissipate, we knew that prayers like these don’t always get answered the way we want them to.

Friday I was sent these “before and after” pictures of the lighthouse on our beautiful island …

These photos are not evidence that God is powerless or uncaring, but rather, proof that we live in a fallen world.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. – Romans 8:22

Later that same day I received this picture of our beloved church …

After seeing the pictures of the lighthouse, I couldn’t believe the church building was still standing. The flowers and palm fronds are gone, the courtyard a mass of mud, but the church is still standing. Even the crosses on the roof remain intact, under an expansive blue sky, like the unshakeable promises of God, pointing heavenward.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking the building is fine and that there won’t be massive water damage (as in “mold everywhere”) by the time any repair teams get there. The causeway connecting Sanibel to the mainland is destroyed, so it may be a year or more before the island can be reached other than by boat. Once trucks can finally cross, there will no doubt be a need for renovations of virtually everything.

No, it it’s not the building that inspires me. This photo to me is a picture of the resiliency of the people of Sanibel Community Church, and the Body of Christ (the universal Church) in general. Jesus said those who hear His words and obey them will be LIKE a wise man who built his house on the rock, and the house stood firm in the storms. The strength I see is not of the building, but of the spirits of God’s people, even as they are battered and worn when “life happens.”

Disasters bring out the best and the worst in humanity. I expect in the coming days we will see varying reactions to the devastation. My friends who evacuated before the hurricane are already eager to get back to the area, not just so they can start rebuilding their lives, but to see how they can help the Church help the community. Other congregations in the area – those on the mainland whose buildings are still usable – have immediately reached out to SCC, offering their facilities for meetings (SCC is meeting for worship in one of them tonight.) and to help the displaced church staff find housing. While local authorities have to deal with looters, and social media trolls argue politics from a safe distance, Christ-followers are giving of themselves, reflecting the overcoming love of God. They are the ones whose lives are built on the Rock – on Jesus.

(By the way, did you know the name “Ian” means “God is gracious”?)

Prayer: Father, we look at this fallen world, with nature groaning as in the pains of childbirth, and we can feel our lostness. Considering our collective sin, we know it is only by Your mercy that You haven’t destroyed us all. As we cling to our comforts and our “stuff,” give us divine perspective. Give us right priorities – to use things and love people, not the other way around. And whatever tomorrow brings, help us to rest secure in knowing that our eternity is in Your hands, through Your Son Jesus, amen.

Will You Pray with Me?

Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. – Hebrews 13:3

My friend Mandy, the “Blue Collar Theologian,” posted recently about the Church in the West and our need for awareness and courage. She said, among other things, “It is heavy on my heart how often the persecuted church is missing in our prayers.”

Where I live, in middle class America, suffering for the gospel is not an everyday occurrence for most believers. It’s easy to limit our prayers to the health of our children, “traveling mercies” for loved ones on the road, and for Sunday’s service to go well. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with praying these things. I happen to believe there’s nothing too big or too small to talk to the Lord about. If it’s important to us, it’s important to Him.

But in reading Scripture, I see a need for us to stand with some people very close to the Lord’s heart: the suffering Church. I’ve been trying to include this group (largely invisible to people like me) in my daily prayers. Ministries like Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs have given me a great deal of guidance in how to pray. It occurred to me to post my prayer in the hope that my readers will join me in praying for these special people.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we lift up those who are suffering for their faith in You. We pray for those who are being discriminated against because of their faith, who are denied benefits or protection because their faith makes them second-class citizens. Bless them for their stand and remind them they are being identified with You, which is ultimately counted as a great honor.

We pray for those who have lost their jobs because of their stand for You. Teach them to look to You for their needs to be met and let them see Your provision for them daily and give You glory. We pray that in Your perfect timing You would provide new jobs for them that are much better than the ones they lost – better pay, better hours, and better conditions. May they do the work You have gifted them to do with excellence and great satisfaction. May these workers be an answer to prayer for their employers as much as their job has been answered prayer for them, and may everyone involved glorify You.

We pray for those who have lost homes and possessions for Your sake. Thank You for Your promise that they will receive a hundredfold in this life. Show them Your provision, and give them a hundredfold joy, as they see that You have not forgotten them and never will.

We pray for those who have lost loved ones because of the gospel, especially the widows and orphans of pastors. Wrap Your arms around them through Your Church and remind them that their loved ones are with You and that they will see them again.

We pray for those who have been rejected by their families because of their faith. Dry their tears and remind them that You will never reject them. Give them the grace to forgive and pray for their families and give them the joy of seeing those prayers answered when family members come to faith.

We pray for believers who are being interrogated. Give them courage and the peace of Your presence. Give them the right words to speak and the boldness to speak them. May their testimonies impact their interrogators, as Stephen’s words impacted Saul/Paul.

We pray for believers who are imprisoned, in actual prisons or in their homes. May those who are in solitary confinement sense Your presence in various ways every day. Let them hear Your voice whisper comforting words to them. Let them catch glimpses of angels in their cell or room. For those who feel they have lost their ministry, remind them of the powerful ministry of prayer. Lead them in their prayers and give them enough news of the answers to keep them encouraged and praying, knowing they are doing a powerful work for Your Kingdom and haven’t been forgotten.

We pray for believers who are locked up together. Make their fellowship sweet as they share their testimonies, pray for one another, and study Your Word. If they don’t have access to written Scriptures, help them remember verses and passages to share with one another. Let them teach one another songs of praise and sing them together. Let them feel Your unmistakable presence and know they have not been forgotten.

We pray for believers who are in prison with unbelievers. If those unbelievers want to hurt them, surround them with Your angelic warriors, so that they can’t be touched, and may this be a sign to all concerned that You are the true and living God, and You take care of Your own. Give those believers the privilege of praying for and witnessing to their cellmates and give them the joy of seeing them come to faith in You. Show them they haven’t been forgotten.

For those prisoners who don’t have enough to eat, expand their meager rations into a feast that is more nourishing, more strengthening, more filling, more satisfying, and even better tasting. For those who are shivering in the cold, wrap them in invisible blankets that warm them down to their toes; if they are in sweltering heat, send them cool breezes, so that they will know they haven’t been forgotten.

Finally, for those making the ultimate sacrifice today, who are sentenced to death for their faith, give them the peace that surpasses understanding and a joyful excitement in knowing they will soon be in Your presence. Give them the grace to forgive anyone who has persecuted, betrayed, abandoned, or forgotten them and to pray for their enemies. As they face eternity, give them the unique delight of seeing the look of astonishment in the eyes of their executioners, as they leave this world with smiles on their faces and Your praise on their lips. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Running on Empty

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Neither of us recognized the first hint that the power was out. Marty was trying to change a ceiling lightbulb over our entrance, using a long-handled gadget created for just such challenges. But since the fixture was twirling along with the bulb, and the bulb still wouldn’t light, he decided to deal with it later, after doing some other chores outside.

Later, while trying to send a message via Messenger, I saw that we had no internet connection. Checking our “black box,” I finally realized the power was off.

Ever “seeking divine perspective,” I had several things occur to me.

First, I was being sent a non-negotiable message to get off the internet! I usually try to start my day with prayer, and usually I get sidetracked with messages, texts, and emails, spending a good portion of the morning telling myself, “Just one more thing…” (Yep, the old ADD problem.)

Secondly, I was seeing some principles at work that, when applied spiritually, may have explained the blue funk I’d been in the night before, when all I’d wanted to do was go to bed and cry.

So, what lessons did I glean?

1. The source of a spiritual and emotional “power outage” may not necessarily be anything we have done, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real, or that we can do nothing about it.

It was very windy yesterday morning, and since we live in the woods, the source of the frequent power outages is usually a downed tree hitting the power lines. As with other outages, the source this time wasn’t anything we had done wrong. The dead tree that had been left standing too long was not on our property, and only the property owner had any control over taking it down preemptively. Since getting a tree removed costs money, most homeowners opt to wait until it falls down and then let the power company remove it “free of charge.”

Applying that concept to emotional power outages, it may be that someone has treated us badly, or that a calamity has hit beyond our control, or that our physical bodies are fighting off an illness. We can’t control everything around us. Still, we need prepare ourselves for such events, so we can be ready to respond to them.

Having arrived the night before, it was easy for me to be distracted from the morning prayer time with all the “other stuff” that had to be done, such as unpacking and straightening up the mess from the night before, when I had arrived and dumped everything. I was being short-sighted and not preparing myself for those times when “life happens.”

2, When we’re not plugged into the Power Source, it may not be evident to us at first that anything is wrong.  Since we have a well, and our water supply depends on a pump, when the power goes out, we also lose our source of water. But for a while there’s always some available, until the built-up pressure runs out. Yesterday, being blissfully ignorant, I’d used all the available water before realizing the power was off. Then, once the realization hit, I found there wasn’t a drop coming from any of the faucets.

As for my emotional state, three days ago I had driven for nine hours, spending at least two or three of those hours in prayer. The day before yesterday I was probably “coasting” on the surge of spiritual energy from my extended “retreat” in the car. Then, as evening came on, so did the darkness in my unreplenished soul.

When we don’t check our gas gauge, we tend to go merrily on our way for a time, “running on fumes.” Then suddenly, the car stops, and reality hits – we have zero fuel.

In the spiritual realm, after “coasting,” our emotions hit a proverbial “brick wall,” and we’re left stunned and helpless, victims to whatever negative thoughts begin plaguing our minds, and with little or no mental energy to resist them.

3. The solution to a power outage is communication with the Power Source.

When I called the power company yesterday, I was not chastised or lectured, but cheerfully assured that they would get right on it. And in a few hours, power was restored.

When I came to Jesus, drained, confessing my neglect, and looking to Him for strength to get through the rest of the day, He welcomed me with open arms. He always does. And He holds me as long as necessary, even as my childish nature continues to squirm to get back to the world and its distractions.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a minute believe that my emotions control my life. When I am not “feeling” the truth, I thank the Lord (out loud) that my emotions don’t get to define me. Still, I have seen that He often uses my emotions to get my attention and signal me that something is wrong. The day before yesterday was that kind of day.

4. It is crucial to pray for one another. When someone is not plugged into the Power Source, the trouble with not recognizing the symptoms right away is that by the time the depressed feeling set in, that person often doesn’t have the emotional strength or mental clarity to pray. This is one reason the Bible tells us to pray for one another (James 5:16) and not to neglect the assembling of ourselves (Hebrews 10:25). We need one another!

Yes, God is our Power Source, but He works through His people. Do not try to walk out the Christian faith on your own! If you do, you may find yourself running on empty with no help in sight.

Prayer: Jesus, You are the Vine, and we are the branches. Without you we can do nothing. Forgive us for the times we have disconnected from You. Thank You for showing us when we are straying, and for drawing us back to You – and back to one another. In Your name we pray. Amen.

My Surprise Fan Club … not. :/ (This Ever Happen to You?)

Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. – Psalm 12:2

Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet. – Proverbs 29:5

It started this morning when I got an email notification with a comment from my fellow blogger Manu on my latest post. It was a kind comment, and I wanted to answer it. But when I clicked on “View This Comment,” it connected me to the post and comments following … which did not include Manu’s. I asked Word Press about it and was directed to a link where I could mark her comments “Not Spam.” (Not sure how they got marked “spam” in the first place, especially not this comment, which was brand new.)

I went to the link provided, and sure enough, there was Manu’s comment …

… along with over a hundred others I hadn’t seen!

> What the —!? <

I recognized a few of the people commenting and wondered, as I had with Manu, how in the world they got spammed. I un-spammed them immediately.

There were also dozens of comments from bloggers I didn’t know, most of them months old. I was delighted to get them and at the same time horrified that I had never responded to them. No wonder they hadn’t come back!

The comments were very uplifting, saying things like:

“Good info. Lucky me I found your blog by chance (stumbleupon). I have saved as a favorite for later!”

“Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe this site needs a great deal more attention. Iíll probably be returning to read more, thanks for the information!”

“I’d like to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this site. I really hope to view the same high-grade content by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own website now.”

“This is the right web site for anyone who hopes to find out about this topic. You know a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally would want toÖHaHa). You definitely put a fresh spin on a subject which has been written about for ages. Excellent stuff, just excellent!”

“Good blog you have got here.. It’s difficult to find good quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate individuals like you! Take care!!”

“Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you, However I am having problems with your RSS. I don’t understand why I can’t join it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the answer can you kindly respond? Thanx!!”

Has anyone noticed what these comments all have in common, and what’s wrong with them (other than the fact that I’m not a “dude”)?

If you said, “They’re all generic,” BINGO! You probably caught on a little faster than I did. For a few minutes I thought I had some fans I hadn’t even known about. But as I noticed identical comments given on different posts and the fact that some of the words didn’t really fit the topic (There’s only so much that can be explained by “Maybe English isn’t their first language…”), I realized these were all commercial bloggers fishing for more followers or computer-generated comments from fake bloggers.

There are three ways scammers and con artists approach their victims: by (1) appealing to their vanity (“Help me – you’re my hero!”), (2) eliciting their compassion (“You’re my last hope. If you don’t help me, I won’t survive!”), and/or (3) taking advantage of their greed (“I’m a Nigerian prince, and if you help me during this temporary setback, you will be richly rewarded as soon as I get access to my fortune again.”).

I’ve always laughed at these scams, and yet I almost fell for a blogger’s version of #1!

So, I went from the momentary thrill of adulation to the annoyance of being approached by some faceless, generic flatterers – the kind of people the Bible clearly warns us about.

(If I want my intelligence insulted, I’ll turn on the news.)

So, now what? I remind myself that there’s only one opinion that matters, and He has called me to write, which I will do as He directs, according to the gift He has given me. Whether my following is ten people or ten thousand is irrelevant. God knows what He’s doing, I trust Him, and that’s enough for me.

Prayer: Lord, You have warned us against people who flatter. And Your Spirit in us helps us realize when words are insincere. Save us from the vanity of vanity and help us to seek only what You would have us do, in Jesus’ name, amen.

Ignorance is NOT Bliss! Part 3: Slaves of Satan

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” – [Jesus] (Luke 10:19)

It happened nearly thirty years ago, so I don’t remember the exact date or even the month. Kelly and I were playing on the floor in the den. Kelly was around 14-18 months old at the time.

Everything was calm and peaceful, until suddenly Kelly started screaming. I couldn’t tell if it was from fear or pain – or both. Wide-eyed and shaking, she pointed toward the top shelf of the bookcases in the corner of the room. I strained to see what she was pointing to but saw nothing out of the ordinary. And yet, the panicked screaming intensified.

“What’s wrong, sweetie?” I asked, bewildered, knowing full well she couldn’t talk yet, other than “Mama,” Dada,” and “bot-bot,” but she wasn’t saying any of those words, just shrieking. Now she was now lying on her side, jerking. It looked as if something invisible was kicking her in the stomach. Whatever was happening wasn’t natural. Whatever it was, something was attacking my baby!

The Mama Bear in me rose up, and I spoke loudly and clearly, with all the authority I could muster:

In the name of Jesus, STOP! Get away from her! Get out of this house!” (Or words to that effect)

Kelly stopped jerking, and I held her and rocked her on my lap In a few minutes, she had caught her breath and stopped crying. I pondered what had just happened.

When I told my prayer partner, also named Kelly, about it the next day, her response was immediate.

“Well, I know what that was. What I want to know is, how did it get in your house?!

She knew that shortly after we had first moved into our home, I had claimed the house for the Lord, going room to room, rebuking any unholy spirits and telling them to get out. I had spoken a blessing over each space, including the basement, attic, and hallways. Kelly (friend) had done the same with her house, but also “anointing” the doorposts and property lines with oil.

This incident brought back a dream Kelly (friend) had had years before, which was very relevant. In the dream she was out with her toddler Jessica and encountered a woman who was a known witch. This woman got in her face and started speaking curses. Kelly responded by looking her in the eye and rebuking her in the name of Jesus. The witch, speechless and visibly frustrated, turned to Jessica and kicked her in the stomach.

The meaning of that dream was crystal clear to both of us. We knew to take authority over the enemy (See the Scripture verse above.), but when our children were too little to fight the battle themselves, we needed to do it. From the night of that dream forward, Kelly and I routinely covered our children with prayer.

Shortly after the incident in front of the fireplace, I was back in the den with Kelly (child), and our daughter Joanna, came in to get something. One of us remarked on the cluttered condition of the bookshelves, and I said something akin to, “One of these days I’m going to have to do some major straightening up in here.”

Joanna, who was a teenager at the time, began pulling everything off the shelves. Before I could say, “Wait! What are you doing?! STOP!” she had made a huge pile of “stuff” on the floor in the middle of the room. Dust was flying.

“Now you have to do it,” she said casually.

I was horrified, but deep down I knew Joanna was right. This was the only way it was going to get done. To her credit, she stayed and helped me, and three or four hours later, the room was clean, and everything was either back on the shelves, thrown out, or in boxes for the Salvation Army.

Among the things we found that we’d forgotten about was a coin from India with a hole in the middle and a ribbon tied through it. It had been given to us when we hosted a couple of exchange students for dinner. The guests had come bearing gifts, and one of them, a Hindu young man, had given us this trinket he said would give us “good luck.” I had thought, How cute. The next day I had stuck it up on the top shelf in the corner of the den, where I hadn’t given it another thought. Remembering the incident with Kelly, that day I threw the thing out. I have Jesus, I don’t need “luck,” especially not the Hindu variety.

As my last two posts stated, we can be slaves to sin and fear through ignorance of God’s Word. We can also be slaves to the devil through ignorance, giving him more power over us than he rightfully has. Many Christians are like the man languishing in the jail cell day after day, not realizing the door is unlocked.

If we belong to Jesus, Satan has already lost us. But if we don’t know Scripture that teaches us our position in Christ, we can still unknowingly give the enemy permission to attack our joy, steal our peace, weaken our faith, and damage our witness – never mind what he can do to our children! Too many Christians these days are letting the enemy run their lives.

For more on spiritual warfare and our authority in Christ (Hint: It was not given to only the apostles!) here’s a piece I posted three years ago:

You’re in the Army Now.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for sacrificing Yourself so our sins could be paid for and we could be Yours forever. Thank You for giving us everything we need for the battle against the enemy of our souls – the armor of God, the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit, Your Word. Help us to study Scripture diligently. Give us insight for fighting the good fight for Your Kingdom. In Your name, and by the power of Your blood, amen.

Ignorance is NOT Bliss! Part 2: Slaves to Fear

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15

Last week I wrote about my experience with an eating disorder. The factors at play were all variations of sin – a lack of faith in my Creator, a warped self-image (ingratitude toward my Creator), misplaced priorities, and fear of the opinions of others.

In short, I was a slave to sin, and this slavery was rooted in ignorance of God’s Word.

Scripture tells us we are all “by nature objects of wrath,” (Ephesians 2:3c) held captive by the spiritual chains of our sin nature. But Jesus said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)

(God wants us free.)

Our enemy, on the other hand, wants to keep us in chains and is (literally) hell bent on keeping us enslaved to sin through ignorance of that Truth.

After twelve years, I was finally set free by knowing and availing myself of God’s promises to me.

Besides slavery to sin, there’s another kind of slavery that keeps us in bondage through ignorance, and it has been rampant during the past couple of years:

Slavery to fear.

In the beginning of 2020, a virus entered our world which radically changed civilization. Viruses, of course, have always been around, some more serious than others. But because this one was deadly to some, and because of some intense publicity, it became a source of sheer terror to many. And there were those who were all too willing to take advantage of the fear and ignorance of others to exert their power over the masses. As lockdowns forced people to remain in their homes, news networks terrorized viewers 24/7 with selective statistics, video footage of chaos and death in hospitals, and forecasts of gruesome scenarios. (Our local news even had an artist’s rendition of the virus which it showed regularly, complete with scary music playing in the background!)

Later statistics showed that more harm was being done by the lockdowns themselves – alcoholism, drug addictions, suicides, domestic abuse, speech and learning delays in children, bankruptcy, homelessness, and mental and emotional problems in virtually every age group.

Whichever side of the debates one was on, the common denominator was FEAR. Fear of becoming sick and dying, or fear of tyranny taking over the country – or both.

During this subtle (or not-so-subtle) attack from the enemy of our souls, believers in Jesus looked to the Lord for the truth that would set us free from the fear that was paralyzing the rest of the world.

Can that Truth set you free? That depends. The truth is good news for some, bad news for others. But knowing it at least gives you a choice. In this case, ignorance is fatal.

The one grass-roots fact that was rarely pointed out was that we are all going to die.

Causes of death are numerous, not just viruses. (A leading cause today is “UCOD” – unknown cause of death. But we won’t go there today …)

Ironically, fear itself can be the cause of death, either directly through the effects of stress on the body, or indirectly, in the ways we try to make the fear go away by “self-medicating.” But the fact remains, sooner or later, we will all die.

Will we die today? Probably not. But we might.

Will we die of a deadly virus? Probably not. But we might.

(Will the world end today? Probably not. But it might.)

The question isn’t, will we die? We know the answer. Will the world end? According to the Bible, yes. The real question is, what happens after that? And meanwhile, will we be slaves to fear and the unhealthy activities we resort to in that fear? Or will we be prepared?

Scripture tells us, “… perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (I John 4:18b) Fear of punishment probably stems from our awareness, whether or not we admit it, that we ” … all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) And if God in His righteousness punishes sinners, what will become of us?

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

If we are not prepared for our death, or the end of this world, we should be afraid! And Satan would love for us to spend the rest of our lives as his ignorant, sinful, terrified slaves, and then spend eternity as he will – in hell.

But Jesus – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – came to show us how to be prepared, to break those chains, and set us free to live the lives He created us for.

First, Jesus paid for our sins by dying in our place. If you confess your sin to God, He will forgive you and help you live a righteous life. (I John 1:9) You will no longer be a slave to sin.

But our liberation didn’t stop there. Jesus rose from the dead, freeing us from the fear of death! He tells His followers, “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19b) If you place your faith in Jesus, that promise is yours!

If you’ve been living in slavery to sin or to the fear of death – or both – you can shake off those chains and be free today to live the full and wonderful life God created you for!

Prayer: Lord, You have said that Your people are destroyed for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6). Thank You for making the Truth available to us through Your Word. Help us to hide it in our hearts, that we can be free from sin and the fear of death. And give us boldness to share the Truth and make others free, as well, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

P.S. If you would like to discuss any of this with me outside the comments section, you can email me at If you don’t have a Bible and would like one, I would be happy to send you one.

Ignorance is NOT Bliss! Part 1: Slaves to Sin

To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

John 8: 31-36

When I was doing my student teaching at a high school in Michigan, the senior literature class was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the classic novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe that raised awareness of the horrors of slavery in 19th century America.

One day these AP students were sitting in their circle discussing the book with their teacher. I was sitting next to my mentor. When his eyes were elsewhere, I passed a note to the student next to me.

“At exactly 1:10, get up and leave the room. Meet me in the hall. Pass it on. – Mrs. A.”

The student gave me a quizzical look and passed it to the next person. At first each student looked confused and glanced at me, but seeing my subtle smile, obediently passed the note along.

At precisely 1:10, as the student next to the teacher – the only one who hadn’t read the note yet – was saying something, the rest of the students gathered their books, got up, and followed me out of the class.

Of course, the moment we were in the hallway, everyone wanted to know what was going on. This was fun, but what was I getting at? (They had known me long enough and heard enough of my stories to know that everything I did had a point.)

When the class regrouped, my surprised mentor and I had a good discussion with the students about the fact that slaves were forbidden to learn how to read, and the reasons for depriving them of an education. The kids had just experienced an example of what might have happened if slaves all over a plantation were able to have clandestine communications with one another, since slaves usually outnumbered their masters.

Slavery thrives on ignorance.

Time and again in the Bible we are admonished to read and hear God’s Word. Our spiritual lives, and often our physical lives, depend on knowing the truth. But what did Jesus mean by “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”?

The dialogue in John 8 makes it clear. If we sin, we are slaves to sin, and while the Jews took offense at the very idea that they were slaves, today we can see examples all around us – and maybe in ourselves – that sin enslaves. As Paul lamented in Romans 7, we do things we don’t want to do, and we can’t do what we really want to do.

For about twelve years I was a slave to an eating disorder. Paul’s lament fit me perfectly – I was always doing what I didn’t want to do, and I felt like “wretch,” indeed.

If you have ever struggled with an eating disorder, you know that the issue isn’t food, it’s self-worth and control. People who starve themselves frequently feel out of control, and they look at dieting as one thing they can control in their lives. People frustrated by dieting failures turn to vomiting or laxatives to purge themselves of their overindulgence and try to regain control. But in both instances these people end up more out of control than ever – slaves to their appetites and warped self-image.

At the time I was struggling with all of this, I was also leading a youth group. Ironically, I spent a lot of time and attention telling the teens how much God loves them, how precious they are to Him, and how He is gracious and forgiving when we mess up. And yet there was a disconnect when it came to my life, my actions, my view of myself. Yes, we’re saved by grace, but I have to do better. Yes, God forgives, but I have to “fix” what I’ve messed up so God will accept me.

I know, crazy. But that was the lie. Oddly, my self-condemnation was really a form of arrogance. I was placing standards on my life that I wasn’t putting on anyone else, standards that even God didn’t hold me to.

I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”PERIOD.

The turning point in my journey to normalcy was when I decided – as an act of my will – to take God at His Word and believe it, whether I felt it or not. In other words, if I had confessed my sin, I was forgiven, even if I still felt guilty. I didn’t have to wait until all the guilt feelings faded away to believe that I was forgiven. And I no longer found myself trying to eat the guilt feelings away, a form of “self-medication” which had only plunged me into deeper guilt.

This choosing Truth over feelings was huge for me, and it was the beginning of my deliverance.

God’s Truth is what sets us free. But Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching.” In other words, to be free, we need to know what that Truth is!

Do you want to be free? Read the Bible! You’ll find directions for a life of faith and promises you can choose to believe, not because of any emotion, but because God said so.

And God doesn’t lie.

Prayer: Father, thank You for giving us the truth of Your Word. Help to confess our sins the moment we’re aware of them and stand on Your promise that we are forgiven and free. In the name of Your Son, the Word made flesh, Amen.

Warning – Do They Pass the Test?

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. I John 4:1-3

People have a lot of words for Christians today, not all of them complimentary. When I hear various messages coming from the pulpit and over the internet, a word that comes to mind is “confused.” Many believe we’re in the “End Times,” and that certainly appears to be a possibility. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. But if you profess to be a follower of Jesus Christ, you’d better be ready to back up that opinion with some Scripture – in context, please.

People claiming to be experts state their positions with such authority it’s easy to believe they know what they’re talking about. But truth isn’t a tone of voice.

Others make their declarations as though God Himself were talking through them; they begin with, “Thus says the Lord …” and continue with a first-person prediction of what God is going to do in the coming days. For all I can tell, the speaker is utterly convinced that what (s)he is saying is a direct message from God.

But should we be convinced?

Fellow Blogger Bruce Cooper recently posted an important reminder of the importance of “testing the spirits,” as the apostle John admonished in his letter to the churches.

As Bruce explains, the test consists of simply asking this question:

“‘ Will you confess that Jesus the Christ has come in the flesh and is from God?’
And given a choice, if the spirit is not representing God, the spirit will not confess this reality. There will be silence or some form of non-acknowledgement.”

When I first heard of this “test,” I wasn’t sure how to use it, but I had an opportunity to do so years ago during my songwriting phase, as I was about to leave on an extended trip.

First on the itinerary was the wedding of a friend, where I was to sing an original song I had written for the bride and groom. I was staying with friends and some of their family members, whom I didn’t know. Next, I was to fly to Nashville to spend about a week pitching my songs to people in the music business, singing at a “songwriters’ night” in a bar (!), and touching base with some relatives.

The night before I was to leave, I was almost asleep when a voice in my head said very clearly,


Suddenly my plans seemed to turn to chaos, as I wondered what sort of calamity awaited me if I ignored it and went anyway. – Car accident? Plane crash? or …!?

But remembering this test, I whispered into the darkness, “Will you confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh and is from God?”

Part of me wondered if the response would be, Yes, of course. Then what?! How would I know the voice wasn’t my imagination?

As it turned out, the question was moot. My imagination didn’t kick in, and the response was dead silence.

I smiled and thought, Ha! I thought not and went to sleep.

I could see the Lord working in every step of that trip. At the first stop I had an extended “God conversation” with my friends and their relatives who were hosting me. I found my “second wind” after the long drive and launched into telling stories of what the Lord had been doing, while my friends, who had amused smiles on their faces, chimed in occasionally, and their relatives nodded and smiled. When the relatives left the room, my friends burst out laughing and hugged me. I learned that my assumptions about the family had been incorrect. The relatives weren’t saved, and in my ignorance, I had witnessed to them in a way my friends never could have done. The “witnessees” had been too polite to interrupt me and tell me we weren’t on the same page.

The wedding next day was a blessing to be a part of, and the song was well received. (The bride and groom had refused to hear it ahead of time. They trusted me and wanted to be surprised.)

When the wedding festivities were over and I was on my way to Nashville, I sensed the Lord’s presence in conversations (and prayers) with fellow passengers on the plane, and later my taxi driver and the people I met in the music industry. I even got to witness through one of my songs to the people in a bar. I don’t know everything the Lord was doing, but I had the distinct feeling I was scattering seeds.

Maybe the voice in my head telling me not to go was coming from my imagination, but if not – if it was a messenger of the enemy – I could see many things he might have been trying to prevent from happening. If I had believed those words, I would have either missed a great trip or spent the whole time in fear, instead of experiencing the thrill of resting in Jesus and being carried along according to His plan.

Prayer: Father, You know this world is full of lies and liars, and the best intentioned of Your children need guidance. Thank You so much for inspiring John to write a way to test the spirits that would serve believers down through the centuries. Help us to avail ourselves of Your truth and avoid deadly assumptions, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Friends I Didn’t Know I Had

It’s been a busy summer, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with the blogging world. I’ve been distracted in all kinds of good ways, including a wild sail yesterday on choppy waters and gusty winds – such fun! Somewhere in the conversation something reminded me of this post, and when I looked it up, I realized it has been over 4 years since it was first published. Since most of my followers have not been reading my blog for four years, I decided to repost what someone at WordPress (?) dubbed “classic.” Enjoy, and I will reconnect with y’all next week.

“… so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”     Romans 12:5

“Come with Me,” Jesus said. “There are some people I want you to meet.”

Heaven is an indescribably wonderful place, and the best part of being here is seeing Jesus all the time! It still boggles my mind that He knows the names of every one of the millions of people here, as well as every detail about their lives and personalities. He is always introducing me to people He knows I will enjoy, and the fellowship never gets old; in fact, it gets sweeter with each passing day.

This particular day He was inviting me to gather with a group of souls to hear “God stories” and enjoy the fellowship of a brand new circle of friends.  I didn’t know why He wanted me to meet this particular group of saints, but knowing He had His reasons aroused my curiosity, and I knew I was in for a treat, one way or another.

As I stood in the archway, watching this bunch interact, it was hard to tell why they were together. I tried to guess what they all had in common. Some seemed older and more experienced; others seemed childlike. Some were quiet and thoughtful, others gregarious, some more serious, others with a hair-trigger laugh. But as I looked carefully at their eyes, there was something there that I had learned to recognize. Even the childlike ones had that certain wisdom that was a by-product of past suffering. That look revealed lessons learned, as well as the ability find a reason to be grateful to God for every experience, whether pleasant or otherwise.

Suddenly one of them spotted me. His face lit up, and he exclaimed, “She’s here!” They all let out a cheer, as though this were some kind of reunion. I was confused. I had never seen these people before in my life, and yet they were welcoming me like a long-lost friend.

As usual, each of them had a story to tell, and their stories were almost as varied as their personalities. The common thread seemed to be health problems in their earthly life, but they ranged from injuries in auto accidents, to hemophilia, to cancer. I was still mystified. OK, so they’ve all had health problems, but who hasn’t? Why is this particular group of people together, and why did Jesus invite me to join them?

Jesus did know how much I have always loved “God stories,” and these folks had some great ones. Healing came miraculously at times, but most of the time it came providentially, such as when a car crash occurred right across from the hospital that had just received new blood supplies. The child who had battled cancer at such a tender age had seen the prayers of her church answered as her treatments succeeded beyond expectation, and she had even lost her fear of needles. She later went on to be a compassionate nurse, spending all her vacation days taking medical mission trips. One of these people had even left a belief system that disallowed blood transfusions two days before he needed one during surgery, and his life was extended by over twenty years because of it. It was during this extension of his life that he came to know Christ as his savior and led most of his family to faith.

I was enthralled with their stories, and still curious why they were so eager to tell them to me. Suddenly I was aware that Jesus was standing in the doorway again, radiating that smile that always fills me with deepest joy.

“Have you figured out why you’re here?” He asked. I gave him a sheepish grin and shrugged. “They wanted to thank you,” He said. I looked at all their smiling faces, and it began to sink in.


“OK, you’re all set,” the nurse’s chipper voice broke into my daydream. She carefully removed the tape from my arm, slipped the needle out, and lifted my arm over my head. “Drink extra fluids this afternoon, no strenuous exercise, and don’t lift anything more than two pounds,” she added, wrapping a red bandage around my elbow. She helped me to my feet, making sure I wasn’t dizzy, before inviting me to have some juice or water and something to eat.

I took her up on the extra sustenance, but I passed on the stickers that I used to wear proudly after every blood donation, the ones that say, “Be nice to me. I gave blood today.” I didn’t need anyone to be extra nice to me. I was happy just thinking of friends I had yet to meet, and all the God stories I had to look forward to.

Prayer: Dear Jesus, thank You for saving us through the shedding of Your blood. You gave everything for us, and now You have told us to give our lives to one another. Thank You for Your promise that no gift is forgotten. We look forward to seeing the fruits of our giving, if not here, in the hereafter. In Your precious name, Amen.

Lesson from a Child’s Dreams

How beautiful on the mountains
     are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
     who bring good tidings,
     who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion,
     “Your God reigns!” – Isaiah 52:7 NIV

One morning when our first-born, Joanna, was little, she woke up crying. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me about two dreams she’d had.

The first was about a man who was going to die. “He said he was willing to die, as long as the children would get to live.” I knew right away that this dream was about Jesus, who willingly gave up His life to give life to us.

As I was still processing what my small child had said, considering the depth of her understanding at such a tender age, she cheered up and went on.

“Then I dreamed I had beautiful new purple slippers.”

At the time I was taking a class at church in biblical dream interpretation, so my mind was processing the details. Slippers – footwear. “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news … who proclaim salvation … ” Missionaries … Evangelists …

I hadn’t spoken these thoughts out loud, but just then Joanna grew thoughtful and said, “Mommy, all I really want to do is be a missionary.”


As if to give one more confirmation, the children’s Sunday school class that morning was learning about “Having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” (Ephesians 6: 15)

Yes, I thought, she will have beautiful feet – in the purple slippers – the color of royalty. And I doubt she realized she was tying the two together when she said she wanted to be a missionary – an ambassador of the King of kings. Out of the mouths of little children … 

Since then, Joanna has been on just one mission trip, with a youth group that included a young man named Sean, who later became her husband. Sean served as an Army chaplain for several years and has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, while Joanna stayed home, “holding down the fort.” She is now a busy mother of three, who are being raised “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) For now, this is her “mission field,” and of her three little converts, she has at least one child with an impressive grasp of spiritual things and a constant hunger for more of God.

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you are called to be a missionary.

This may or may not involve traveling to the remotest parts of the world; our mission field is all around us. Many, many people still don’t know about the saving work of Christ, even with all our high-tech methods of communication. In fact, the more means of communication, the more numerous conflicting and confusing messages are. If you know Jesus, you are called to make Him known to others. Your mission field will be as unique as you are. Your experiences, your testimony, your perspective, your gifts, your contacts, your personality, your lifestyle, even your weaknesses and struggles will all be used to reach those people in your life that only you can reach. The message is the same, but the ways of telling it are as vast and varied as the people God has saved – and wants to save.

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ, let me be the first (or second, or twentieth, or hundredth) to tell you the Good News.

God, the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe – loves you! He created you to be unique, and He has a unique place for you in His kingdom.

But first, some bad news. Even though I don’t know you personally, I know that you “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” I can tell you that confidently, because we all have. (Romans 3:23) Since God is perfect and His kingdom is perfect, in order to be part of His kingdom we have to be perfect, too. Otherwise, as soon as we get there, it’s not perfect anymore! But since we are all sinners, the only way to be made clean and whole again is to have our sins wiped out – eliminated.


The only way for that to happen is for someone to pay the price. And “the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23a) But that verse goes on to say, “the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23b) We will either pay the price for our sins with our own death – eternal death – or we can place our faith in Jesus and the price He paid when He allowed Himself to be crucified for us. His life was so pure, so holy, so selfless, that His death was enough to pay for the sins of all of us. And because His power is greater than death, He was raised to life afterwards!

When so much of the world is living in darkness, fear, grief, pain and despair, with no hope for anything better, this is Good News!

So, what do we do with this Good News? First, we take hold of it ourselves. We confess to God that we are sinners with no way to save ourselves. We ask Him to forgive us, save us through the death of His Son Jesus, and help us to become what He created us to be.

As soon as you’ve done this, meaning it with all your heart, then comes the fun part – watching what He’ll do with your life! We each have different callings, but one assignment we all have in common – tell others! Whether that means putting on your beautiful purple slippers or your indestructible combat boots, the world is waiting to hear and receive what you have. Jesus is the Man who died so the children – all of us – could live. Pass it on!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, how can we ever thank You enough for paying the penalty for our sins? Our eternal destiny is forever changed. We not only thank and praise you for it, but we also yield ourselves to You. Send us where You want us to go. Let us encounter those You want us to encounter, and speak the words You give us to speak, in Your name. Amen.