I recently watched a mini-series study on Christian persecution in the Middle East. Can I tell you how humbling that was?!? Most of you have seen, or at least heard of the torture and deaths these Christians—our brothers and sisters—face. I can tell you the news does not do it justice. When ISIS invades those cities and takes over, they mark each home and business of a Christian with an ‘N’ (in Arabic) for ‘Nazarene’- the word used to describe Christian in the Quran. They are targeted as people to be avoided and basically shunned. ISIS gives the Christians a couple of options—pay an excess tax, deny their faith, give them their daughters/wives for the slave ring, be killed, or leave (desert everything they have and have ever known). They choose to leave—with nothing but the clothes on their backs— on foot. Can you even imagine? As if that’s not bad enough, they are often kidnapped on their trek out of town and tortured for days or weeks before being set free (if they aren’t killed). Once they arrive in ‘friendly’ areas, they are forced to live in tent cities, abandoned warehouses/homes (often with leaky roofs, no doors/windows) with multiple other families.

The amazing story isn’t simply their persecution and living conditions, it is their faith and trust in God. They live in chaos; they have every reason to hate their lives and be angry with God, yet they are grateful for all of it. They look at it as an honor to suffer with/for Christ. (1 Peter 4:14-16) They continue (actually are driven even harder) to preach the gospel to anyone they encounter. They meet together to study. They have brought ISIS members to Christ!

Besides the obvious statement that we Americans do not truly understand persecution for our faith; but we truly don’t take joy in our sufferings as they do. (James 1:2-4, 1 Peter 1:6) I can pray that if I am ever tested in terms as my brothers and sisters overseas are, that I will stand. But if I can’t stand during my discomforts and disruptions I have now, how will I stand in complete destruction? I don’t find joy in my sufferings during traffic, or when someone wastes my time, or when anything doesn’t go the way I mentally planned—do I really think I have a chance at finding joy when my life is threatened, when I can’t even stand to be inconvenienced?

We will suffer—maybe not torture and death for our faith—but still, of some sort. (Matthew 5:10, Luke 14:27, John 16:33, 1 Corinthians 4:8-10, Philippians 1:29, 2 Timothy 3:12…) The enemy comes to steal our joy; he causes the suffering. Jesus came to give us a better life. (John 10:10) Will we choose to allow our suffering to rule us, or will we allow Jesus to rule us?

Romans 5:3-5: More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

…Sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules…giving us the right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)

God’s grace, the death of Jesus Christ, saves us from our eternal suffering. Isn’t it enough for us to rejoice that whatever suffering we experience here, is nothing compared to the glory of God waiting for us there? (Romans 8:18)

Here I am...

Have you ever played Marco Polo?  My children love to play it while we are at the pool every year (even the teenagers!).  It is a simple game in which one person closes their eyes -the seeker- while everyone else scatters.  After the seeker waits a set period of time he/she begins looking for everyone else while keeping his/her eyes closed.  Every so often the seeker can call out, "Marco."  At that time everyone else must respond, "Polo."  There are no rules as to how loud you have to respond, only that you DO respond.  The game continues until the seeker locates someone, and that person becomes the new seeker.  Admittedly this has lead to some funny family stories when the seeker, in their self-induced blindness, mistakenly grabs other people at the pool that aren't playing.

Sometimes I wonder if God ever feels like He is playing a game of Marco Polo.  Now, I know He isn't blindfolded, that He sees all of us, (after all El Roi, the name that Hagar gave God, means "the God who sees me") and we can't exactly hide from Him.  (Genesis 16:13, Jeremiah 23:24)  I wonder though, how many of us whisper, "Here I am" as quietly as possible when we hear Him call us for fear that He will require more of us than we are willing to give.

The Bible has several stories of individuals that stepped up and responded, "Here I am," when they heard His voice.  Abraham in Genesis 22 when God called upon him to sacrifice his only son, the son God had promised to give him for years; the son that God had declared would carry His blessing to the world.  Abraham didn't questions, didn't whisper his response.  He didn't hide.  Instead he listened to God's voice, did as he was directed, and as a result we have all been blessed as a result.

Jacob was a man who stole his brother's birthright and blessing.  He was forced to leave his home for fear of his brother's retaliation.  And yet, God still saw him.  God watched as he served another for many years after being tricked into marrying a woman he didn't love.  He served faithfully and honestly and as a result, God called to him....and Jacob answered, "Here I am." (Genesis 31:11)  God used Jacob to father a nation that would be set apart for Him. 

Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses had been sheltered from the horrible life that most Jews had been forced to lead.  When he discovered his heritage, he jumped to defend one of his own and ended up murdering an Egyptian soldier.  His people turned their back on him and Moses fled in fear.  Years later, God called this speech impaired outsider to return to Egypt, confront the pharaoh, and demand the release of His people.  Moses response?  "Here I am."  Not only were the Israelites freed, but they were led to the promised land.

A young boy who had been greatly desired by his mother was raised to serve in the temple, his name was Samuel.  During his training he heard a strange voice call his name in the night.  After he repeatedly went to his master, Eli, upon being summoned only to be told he had not been summoned it dawned upon Eli what was happening:  God was calling to Samuel.  Once the call was recognized, Samuel replied, "Here I am," and went on to turn the nation back to the one, true God.  (Samuel 4)

I could go on and on with examples from the Bible, but I want to assure you that God's call didn't stop at Revelation 22:21.  He still calls out to us today - each of us.  Your task may not have a world wide effect, but remember that none of those I have shared with you knew the result of their acceptance when they accepted His call.  Neither will we.  What we do know is that God's plan is best.  (Psalm 147:5, Proverbs 19:24, and of course Jeremiah 29:11)  And if we believe that, then we shouldn't be the ones hiding and whispering, "Polo," when He calls.  Instead we should be standing up and loudly proclaiming, "Here I am!" 

What are the things that are keeping you from answering, "here I am," when you hear God calling you?  Share them in the comments and Stacie and I will pray for God's strength for each and every one of you.

Are We There Yet?

Are we there yet? How much longer until we get there?
If you’ve ever taken a road trip with kids (or even when you were a kid) - then you’ve heard (said) these questions before. A much anticipated trip seems to take forever to get to our destination. The necessary pit stops we take drag the journey out longer and wear our patience thin. Long trips are exhausting, aggravating and too often dreaded. We don’t typically enjoy the journey or appreciate all that surrounds us on the trip. We want to just get there already so the ‘fun’ can begin. And when we finally do get there- we’re too tired to care.

It’s pretty much the same way in our travels with Jesus. We don’t want to take rest stops to stretch our legs, or refuel ourselves (even if that means we get a cup of coffee to stay alert). We don’t even want to keep trudging along… we want to just get there. We don’t recognize the beauty that surrounds us on our trip. And we certainly don’t appreciate any delay or difficulty that may arise on the way.
Think about it—how often do you just wish you’d had it all figured out so you could be the Christian God wants you to be? You’re tired of faltering, tired of the road blocks, tired of almost but not quite? Do we ever stop to think that maybe the journey is what it’s all about? We’re strongest in Christ when we’re weakest in ourselves.

I get so frustrated with myself when I keep messing up. How many times will it take until I get this Christian-thing right? How many times do I have to repeat a bible verse to tame my tongue? How many verses do I have to hang around the house for them to sink in? How long do I have to read in the mornings before I am able to be around people? “How much longer until I get there?” It never seems to end. After repeating my ‘mouth’ verse (which, by the way is Ephesians 4:29), and a cuss word flies, I sink. After spending over an hour in His Word and feeling pretty good about myself, I snap at the first person who irritates to me, I cower.  But shouldn’t we be enjoying these moments? Not the cussing or the impatience— but the fact that we acknowledge our errors? There was a time I could cuss someone out and tell them how irritated they made me without any remorse. Gone are those days (for the most part anyway).
And that’s part of the journey. (Jeremiah 29:11)How boring would life be if, when we accepted Christ as our Savior, things were perfect from then on? What would we learn? How would we grow? How could we teach others if we have nothing to compare it to? How would we trust God and have faith everything would be okay if, it all was already okay? God wants a relationship with us. And to have that relationship, He has to be the One we want. If He made our lives perfect, would we continue to feel like we need Him? Would we ever take the time for a pit stop, stretch our legs and refuel? (Matthew 11:28)

We will have an eternity to spend with Him in His Kingdom. (Ecclesiastes 3:11, John 3:16, 1 John 5:13) But until we get there, enjoy the ride!