Finding Peace in the Storms

A dark line of clouds in the distance, unusual calm outside, sudden darkness and roaring winds all alert me to what I experienced so often growing up – a possible tornado approaching.  Growing up in Alabama, part of “tornado alley”, I have a strong sense of knowing when a tornado is coming. Thankfully, I know what to do. In our schools we would have tornado drills in the hallways, and at home I knew when to run to the basement for safety. We always took the warnings seriously. Because I was prepared in knowing what to do, even though my heart pounded with some fear, I had peace.

Often we experience storms in life, some small and some with tornado force winds that bring a path of destruction. If we are not prepared we will not know what to do when they come. And they will come at some point. Our minds will become confused, our hearts will be stricken with fear and we will panic if we are not prepared.

When a sudden storm came on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples panicked in fear:

“But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water. Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”   Mark 4:37-40

When storms come into our lives, we often do all we can to survive, then we panic, like the disciples, waiting for God to respond. Perhaps, we too become frustrated at God and ask Him, “Don’t you care?” Before we get to that point, though, there are ways to prepare for the coming storms in life so we can have peace instead of fear.

  1. Know God and read His word daily. Memorize Bible verses about His character so you can remember these when you become fearful. Keep your mind focused on God daily trusting in Him.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.”  Isaiah 26:3

Know that God is good:

“Give thanks to the Lord for he is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalm 136:1

Know that God loves you and rejoices over you:

“For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.” Zephaniah 3:17

Know that God is in control:

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” Psalm 46:10

  1. Make prayer to God a daily habit. Spend time talking with God and listening to Him also. Thank Him for His blessings, rejoice in His love and goodness and ask Him for your needs. Make it a habit to give him your cares and concerns.

If we haven’t been talking to God daily and rejoicing in Him at all times then we will not know His peace in difficult times. Paul wrote these words while experiencing the storm of being in prison for his faith:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”   Philippians 4:4-6

King David often prayed to God. He gave his fears to God then rested knowing God would take care of the storms in his life.

 “Answer me when I call to you, O God…Free me from my troubles. Have mercy on me and hear my prayer… The LORD will answer when I call to him…In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.” Psalm 4:1,3,8

So are you prepared for storms? Are you in one now? Go to God in prayer and read His word daily. He DOES care. He hears and will answer. Ask Him to replace your fears with His peace. Jesus told his disciples these comforting words:

 “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled; do not be afraid.” John 14:27

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Are You Fearless for God?

Many Christians have lost everything fleeing there homes instead of giving up their faith in Jesus. They live in “tent cities” with no where to go.

 

This week, on October 31, among the “noise” of Halloween, some people celebrated the fearless act of a godly man who just couldn’t remain silent about the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther had studied God’s Word and came to see that forgiveness and salvation, our righteousness “is by a gift of God, namely by faith.” He believed, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).

This belief was not accepted by the religious people and the culture of his day. But with great courage and boldness, in 1517 Martin fearlessly nailed his 95 Theses proclaiming these truths on the door of Whittenberg Castle church. He was summoned to a trial by the Holy Roman Emperor to recant his beliefs but passionately proclaimed, “I cannot and will not recant…here I stand, I can do no other.”

Martin Luther is only one of thousands, millions, since the resurrection of Jesus Christ who have fearlessly, passionately and courageously proclaimed their faith in Jesus and God’s Word, and would not “recant” even if it meant death. These believers just couldn’t remain silent. Through torture, imprisonment, accusations, loss of homes and family – these are the persecuted who desire to obey God instead of follow the world.

In the early church, great persecution came to the followers of Jesus who wouldn’t stay silent about the One who had forgiven and loved them. It was assumed that this would be a part of their lives, as Paul wrote:

“Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life, in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  2 Timothy 3:12 

 Every believer in Jesus, who abides with Him, loves God’s Word, and boldly shares its truth with others will be persecuted in some way. Around the world we have seen Christians beheaded and crucified, refugees forced to leave their homes, countries and families and others who have stayed in those countries to share the love of Christ with their enemies. These are all part of the body of Christ. They feel alone and left behind by the rest of the world – even by other believers who have more of the world’s goods and more freedom. Most of them only ask for prayers or Christian materials so that they can continue to share the goods news of Jesus with others. They have truly given their whole lives to Jesus and live with a passion to tell others about their God who saved them from their sins and has given them hope. They must continue the work. They remain fearless.

I count it a privilege to be a volunteer voice for my persecuted brothers and sisters around the world through the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs. Although I may not be able to visit them and personally cry with them in prison, I can pray for them and share their stories with others. Through Voice of the Martyrs and other ministries, I can support them and their families financially sending clothing, food and Bibles.

God commands us as followers of Jesus to not forget our family who are persecuted:

“Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies.”     Hebrews 13:3

This Sunday, November 6, is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. How will you remember them? Will you tell others their stories? Will you share them with your Bible study or church? I strongly encourage you to go to http://persecution.com and sign up for their newsletter, adopt a front-line worker to pray for, be a voice for the voiceless – remember those in prison for their faith in Jesus. And if you want someone to be a voice at your church or community group contact me. I would love to share their stories.

Many Christians meet secretly to read the Bible

Many Christians meet secretly to read the Bible.

The Missing Fruit of Thankfulness

thanksgiving table

Like most families, during this season of Thanksgiving our family would make lists of things we were thankful for in our lives. As we sat at the table we shared our lists which included family, jobs, friends, food and housing, happy events, God’s love for us, His provision and His salvation. It is always good to spend this time giving thanks for all the gracious benefits and comforts God has given to us in our lives.

But often we are missing one of the fruits of thankfulness on our lists.  We don’t add the difficult things to our list of thanks. Wouldn’t that be strange to thank God for the difficulties and hardships in our lives? Who does that? Yet, when we only thank God for the good in our lives and not the difficult things we miss out on having a true thankful heart.  We miss out on acknowledging the character of God – He is good, loving, kind, patient and totally in control no matter the circumstance.

Paul, a follower of Jesus, who had been beaten, imprisoned, stoned and suffered for his belief in Jesus wrote,

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”                          1 Thessalonians 5:18

always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Ephesians 5:20

Even Daniel, a servant of God, who when he heard that a law had been passed to persecute those who prayed to and worshipped God instead of King Darius, responded with thanks to God:

“But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room…He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God.” Daniel 6:10

Grateful people are those who can be thankful in all circumstances. I have met very few who can do that. And most of those were believers overseas living in difficult conditions with little freedoms and great persecution. Yet, they were glad to praise and thank God in all their circumstances.

It seems unthinkable to be thankful for the difficulties and sufferings in our lives. But it is during those times that we can come to know first-hand the kindness, mercy, love, goodness and sovereignty of God. Then, by faith in God’s character, we can be thankful knowing there is a bigger picture and purpose in our small world of pain and hurt.  As I desire to abide with Christ and be more like Him, He will produce the fruit of thankfulness in my life. He desires for me to be thankful for everything.

Are you going through a difficult time? Perhaps you are suffering and hurting. You can be thankful that there is a loving, merciful, wise, all knowing God who sees your pain, cares for you and has a plan.  It takes faith to thank God during those times. He will give you that faith if you ask.

This Thanksgiving, when I make that list I will be thankful for all that I have and don’t have, for the good and also the challenges and difficulties in my life. What will you include on your list?  I desire to say as David said,

“I will praise the Lord at all times. I will constantly speak His praises.” Psalm 34:1

Strength to Hang On

Another ice storm came our way this week.  The pine trees and bushes were filled with ice. The branches of bare trees glimmered with ice hanging from its shoots.  Bent over, the branches looked like they were hanging on for “dear life”.  Literally, since many large branches had already snapped from trees and fallen to the ground. The weight of the ice was too much.

Many times in my life I seem to be hanging on “for dear life”.  Life can be full of difficulties, weights that seem to make us want to “snap”.  And not just in my own life.  Many people around us need the strength to bear the weights in their lives – deaths of family and friends, loss of jobs and homes, financial burdens and physical struggles due to illness or cancer.

In difficult times it is crucial to know that what you’re holding on to is strong, firm, will hold you and not let you go.  I can hold on to reputation, things, people, and wealth.  But these will not be the strength I need for the weights from the storms in life. In those times, there has been One who has the only strength to hold on to me while I also hold on to Him.

Jesus said “Abide in me…for apart from me you can do nothing.”  We cannot handle the storms without Him.  That is why He commanded us to abide.  Nothing is too difficult for Jesus.  Paul, who had suffered much said, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might.”  Ephesians 6:10. I can actually be content, resting in what I have and don’t have in the storms of life for as the writer of Hebrews said, “be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5.

Jesus will never leave me as I am holding on, abiding in Him and clinging to him for dear life. When I experience “storms”, losses and burdens in my life and need strength, He is there by my side.  I don’t have to snap!  I may be bent over but the sun will come out and I’ll bounce back.

I desire to abide with Jesus daily because I may not be able to predict the ice storms that will come in my life.  As I hold on to His strength, trusting in His words I can hold on to Him as He holds onto me. If you are holding on for dear life right now, are you holding on to the One who cares and has the strength to bear the weights in your life?  He won’t let you snap as you hold on.

“Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually!” Psalm 105:4

“The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me,and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.”  Psalm 28:7

Shelter from the Stormy Blast

Another year has ended and a new one has just begun. It’s interesting to me that the New Year on our Gregorian calendar starts in the beginning of winter.  It would seem that it should start in the spring when life begins anew and winter has past.  Perhaps starting a new year in the dead of winter when life seems slower and the celebration of Christmas has past is good.  It puts me in a more reflective mood.  It is this time of year when I can think about the past and the future during the dark days of winter.

Like the harsh winter, many people have gone through long dark times this past year.  I know several who have lost loved ones, suffered financial hardship, born months of physical pain, and have walked in despair with no hope for the future.

God’s people experienced the same things through some dark days.  But Isaiah, the prophet encouraged them.  He reminded them that God was still with them and had not left them.  He said, “…for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”  Isaiah 52:12

Issac Watts, the great hymn writer, paraphrasing Psalm 90, encourages us as we ponder the past and the future.  He wrote these words from the hymn, O God our Help in Ages Past:

“O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, be Thou our guide while life shall last and our eternal home.” (Verses 1 and 5)

Like winter, life can be full of “stormy blasts”.  God is our shelter during those times that may seem to never end. He has been our help in the past and as a new year comes with new challenges, God is our hope.  No person or thing can bring us the hope that God brings.  He alone is our hope.

Like the branches clinging to the vine in the winter storms, we can hold on to Him and know His love, peace, kindness and goodness.  God goes before us in the new year and as Isaiah would say, He “will be your rear guard” – He “has our back”.  He is still God in control of our world no matter what has happened this past year or what will happen in this new year.

I’m holding on to God this year to be my “guide while life shall last” and “my eternal home”.  I look forward to a new year bearing the fruit He produces in my life.  Is He your only hope?  As you trust in God, remember He “has your back”.

 

Full of Joy

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  My fiance, Lowe and I were sitting in a dimly lit room somewhere in Beijing, China.  Riding buses, taxis and walking without saying a word, our Chinese friends led us all over the city to this apartment so we couldn’t retrace our steps.  Other Chinese quietly entered the room of the small house church one by one. We sat in chairs along the wall to hear his testimony.  The elderly man who was originally from the city where we lived in northeast China wanted to meet us.  He stood and began speaking in Chinese.  Listening intently, we heard him begin to tell of his trust in Jesus, how after coming to Christ he actually died of a fatal sickness.  How three days later, Jesus appeared and brought him back to life. How so many people came to Christ from his testimony.  How Jesus appeared to him one morning preparing him to be thrown in prison for his faith.  Decades of surviving in a dark prison telling others about God.  And then being set free from prison but continuing his ministry under watchful eyes.  I felt like I was reliving the book of Acts.

And what was the most unbelievable? The stories, his faith, his strength, the hundreds who came to Christ?  No. His JOY!  Unexplainable joy spilling over every word and sentence.  The smile on his face.  Saying “Praise God!” after almost every sentence.  How could this man be so full of joy after all he had been through in his life – the suffering and persecution for being a Christian and sharing his faith?

This is the joy that only comes through Jesus.  The fruit He produces in the life of a believer who clings to Him. The result of walking with Him so closely that no circumstances, fear, persecution or trial can take it away.

The psalmist says it clearly– “In your presence is fullness of joy.” Psalm 16:11.

He begins by asking God to preserve him (Psalm 16:1-2), “… for in you I take refuge…you are my Lord; I have no good apart from you”. He is in desperate need of God’s closeness.  When we are facing pain, trials, hardship, persecution and fear we need security.  God is our security. He loves us, forgives us, comforts us, cares for us, and knows all about us.  Through knowing Him I experience that unexplainable joy that the world and it’s goods can’t give and don’t understand.  Nothing can take that away.  No circumstance, person or even prison.

Happiness depends on what happens to me.  Joy depends on what happens within me.  Or really who lives in me – Jesus.

I look back on that time in China and think of that dear brother who joyfully suffered so much. His testimony reminds me that no matter what comes my way, God is big enough to handle it as I walk with him.  His closeness is my joy.   “…He is the source of strength and joy.”  1 Chronicles 16:27

Are you facing trials, fears, disappointments, loneliness, persecution, or hardship? Go to the One who can take it all and give you joy in return.   “…the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  Nehemiah 8:10