Overcoming Evil

It has happened again.

A senseless killing of innocent people. In a church while worshiping, no less.

Where is the God who these folks were praying to?

Does He hear?

Does He care?

These questions flooded my mind yesterday as I heard the news of the tragic shooting in the little town in Texas. A small, unincorporated community where everyone knows each other. The LAST place one would expect such a tragic occurrence.

Just like the place I live.

We know most all our neighbors and wave when they drive by.

I sat in a place of worship yesterday morning, just as those people in Texas did. So did our children and grandchildren in their various locations, surrounded by friends and family.

Christians gather regularly around the world to worship, pray, and learn from Biblical teaching and fellowship.

So did those people in Texas.

I can’t help but think “Why?”

God tells us in Jeremiah 17: 9-10

“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things,
    and desperately wicked.
    Who really knows how bad it is?
10 But I, the Lord, search all hearts
    and examine secret motives.
I give all people their due rewards,
    according to what their actions deserve.”

There is evil in the hearts of some individuals. We don’t understand it. But these verses assure me that God knows, and that He will avenge the ones responsible.

But what about the innocent victims? Those hurting family and friends of those killed and wounded? Why did God allow this?

In Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis addresses this very question. In his chapter The Rival Conceptions of God Lewis writes the following –

“Of course, that raises a very big question. If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling ‘whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?’

“My argument against God,” Lewis says, “was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?”

This is why God became flesh – in the form of man – Jesus – to redeem this cruel, broken world. Jesus is the hope of the world.

This realization does not change the very real suffering of those people in Texas. It does not change the very real hurt and loss of individuals throughout the world suffering from human trafficking, abuse, neglect, or cruelty.

It does give hope for the future. God wants to bring each person into the Light of His love, grace and restoration.

Denying the existence of God because one sees the real and terrible suffering of this life does nothing to alleviate, diminish, or explain that suffering.

Our grandsons dress up as “super heroes” ready to vanquish the evil in their back yard. Don’t we wish it was that simple? Jesus has promised to be with us through all the battles we face.

Right before Jesus was beaten and crucified He told his disciples the following – John 16:33 –

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”

Jesus wants to give us hope and peace in the midst of the suffering of this world.

We must pray – and hold on to hope.

 

 

 

 

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Arise, SHINE!

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Isaiah 60:1-3

Have you ever had something happen to you that seems unique? You feel like you are the very first person to experience it.

Then you share it with someone and they say “Oh, yes. I had that happen to me last week.”  – and they go on to describe JUST what you thought was a first.

Sometimes I feel God does that with me concerning spiritual truth. I will read something in Scripture and sense an illumination of understanding.

Wow! I new revelation for me! Then…

  • I am in a service and the preacher teaches on that very Scripture
  • I turn on the radio and someone shares my very insight
  • At Bible study a speaker shares in the video (which was made at least year or two previous) the very new, freshinsight I just had this week

So, I can either dismiss my excitement over “my fresh revelation” OR I can realize that

God may be trying to get my attention!

I think it is prudent to do the latter. In my over 60 years of being a Christian, God has faithfully used various means to lead me into Truth.

The fact that we Christians are the LIGHT OF THE WORLD and that we must LET OUR LIGHT SHINE  is the Truth that God is impressing me with every where I turn.

Tuesday night at our home group, God spoke to us through Janice that it is dark all around us, but we have the Light of the world.

Now, what does that mean? I know this message is not just for me, (although I sense I am certainly being held accountable) since I am hearing it in church, on the radio, at the Community Women’s Bible Study, our Home Group, and in my personal time with God.

I must respond.

I must let the Light of Jesus shine in all my interactions with others, starting at home. Then I must let my Light shine wherever I go – every day, every place I go.

I also know that my small Light is greatly multiplied in its effect when it is joined with other Lights. We saw this clearly illustrated at the lighthouses we recently visited on the Outer Banks. There was one light, but many lenses that reflected and multiplied the amount of light so that the effect could be viewed for many miles. That greater light had saved many lives over the years!

When we Christians arise and let our Light shine together – the effect will be so much greater!

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
    and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
    and his glory will be seen upon you.
And nations shall come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your rising.

Let us arise, and shine the Light together!

How Great is the Darkness?

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We woke this morning to the horrifying news of another shooting. I was planning on writing today about the darkness that seems to be permeating our world. Now it seems even more urgent.

What is happening?

I heard a message at church Wednesday from Joe Ewing, a pastor and Bible teacher from Scotland. His words stirred me and have been ringing in my mind and heart ever since.

“Don’t despair as the world around us gets darker and darker. We as Christians have the Light of the World!  The light shines brightest when it is dark. Let your light shine, Church!”

Instead of wringing my hands, and lamenting the sad state of our world (which indeed is very bad) I need to let my light shine.

What does this mean?

Pastor Ewing shared from Isaiah 60:1-5 which says –

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
    and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
    and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
    and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
    and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

 The context of this passage is a very dark time in Israel. The prophet Isaiah wants Israel to know that their hope is in God.

But where is God in the midst of the darkness?

The Light is Jesus, our hope of salvation. Jesus is the Light the world needs. Jesus told us to let our light shine in darkness. Jesus taught us to

  • love instead of hate
  • forgive instead of retaliate
  • give instead of take
  • share instead of selfishness

Paul says the following at a time he has been beaten and thrown in prison. It was a dark time. II Corinthians 4:5-7

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

I don’t understand the darkness, but I do know the Light. In this time of darkness, I MUST let my light shine. I will keep my eyes on Jesus. Jesus is the Light, the hope of the world.

The darker this world gets, the brighter the LIGHT will shine.

Arise, let our Light shine!

 

Feeling Overwhelmed

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” the devastation is overwhelming!”

How do we process catastrophic events when we feel helpless to understand the suffering, much less do something about it?

I felt that way after the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001 – 16 years ago today.  I felt that way last month when the severe storms hit Texas. Now Florida is being flooded and facing high wind damage. This storm is not over, as it travels north and west, so the wide-ranging effects are still pending.

What should my response be as Christian, as a person who feels deeply for those who have suffered and those who are suffering right now?

Have you ever thought – What can I DO ?- feeling for those who are suffering is not enough!

Jesus had been teaching and healing people who were following him. There was a huge crowd and it was getting time to address a real need – the physical hunger of the people.

John recalls it this way – John 6:5 –

5 When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

I think this story has a powerful message for me when I am faced with an overwhelming need.

First, Jesus recognized that the people were hungry, and He didn’t send them away. In Matthew’s account of this same story – one of the disciples suggests sending the multitude away to get food for themselves.

  • I must recognize what the need is  – not “send them away”.

Secondly, Jesus looked around for what was available right there at that time. A boy had 5 loaves and 2 fish. Bless his mother for packing his lunch! Bless that boy for not eating it ahead of time! Jesus took what was available.

  • I must use what I have available to meet a need. I should not respond like Philip did and bemoan the fact that “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”   I must not think that my contribution is too small to make a difference.

Thirdly, Jesus prayed and gave thanks for those two small fish and those 5 loaves of bread.  God multiplied. God was in charge of the results!

  • I must be faithful to offer what I can. I should be thankful with what I have to share no matter how small it is.  God is faithful to accomplish His will, even multiplying a small offering if He wills.

I am praying for all those suffering around us. I am asking God to show me what I have available to share. I am thanking God for all He is doing and will do in this time of devastating loss.

 

Sure Footing

 

Mt. Precipice overlooking the Sea of Galilee

“Just put your foot on the next staple, then move your hands down and lower yourself to the staple below. Keep doing that until you are at the bottom.”

“just” –  does that word cause you to pause?

It should. One person’s “just” may be a significant challenge for someone else. As in “just tell him “no” – when you want your child to stop doing something that may be dangerous. Depending on the child, that may or may not be a simple solution.

Something that challenges me down to the very fiber of my being, may be “just climbing down a cliff” to someone else.

While in Israel, the main quality of the topography that Phil and I noticed were the rocks. (This is besides everything being very dry unless it is irrigated.) Rocks were everywhere. In the ancient sites and ruins we visited, the buildings were constructed of rocks and are therefore still visible. This makes perfect sense because rocks are in such abundance and people throughout history use what is available to construct dwellings.

After seeing rocks everywhere, it should have come as no surprise that our group would be asked to descend a rock formation.

Yet, Elaine and I WERE surprised!

We had hiked up a steep slope through brown grass that was sprinkled with flowers, startling in their beauty because everything around was so brown. The end of our climb was a spectacular panoramic view. This mountain was called Mt. Precipice.

I looked up the word precipice  – it means – a very steep rock face or cliff, typically a tall one. The name was so appropriate and should have been a clue of what was to come.

After our guide James pointed out the significance of the surrounding landscape and what Jesus would have seen during his time, we saw where we would be hiking next, even where we would be spending the night. (FAR in the distance!)

James then said, “We are just going to descend this cliff. It is a bit tricky, but we will help each other.”

The path James led us to was straight down!

You can see from the photo that I am not exaggerating. We were told that morning  before we left that there were some “rocky bits” and “one strenuous part.” We had been on rocky bits the whole trail. I should have know that when James said “strenuous” it really would be. There were large iron staples embedded in the rock face to hold on to and step on as one climbed down.

I watched as the others started descending first. I was so proud of Elaine! What a trooper! She went down from hand/foot hold to hand/foot hold, step by step.

As I watched Elaine descend, I knew I could as well. She went before me, making sure each of her steps was on sure footing.

Elaine’s example gave me courage and encouragement to make the descent myself. My biggest concern was making sure my foot was securely on a staple before I put my weight on it and went down to the next staple. I wasn’t sure I could see the next staple.

Phil went before me and when I needed it, he guided my foot to the next staple. Once I felt the staple under my foot – sure footing – I was fine.

Needless to say, we all made it down in one piece.

I have thought since then that this is a picture of our walk with God and how important the Body of Christ is. In life we come to those times where we are on a precipice, we are not sure where to go, or how to face what we see ahead. It may seem that there is NO WAY forward. Yet if we look around, God often provides someone who is going through something similar – right before us – and that person can support and guide us along the way.

Seeing Elaine descend successfully, then having Phil guide my feet, prevented me from being paralyzed by fear or being left behind on the mountain.

In Psalm 37:23-24 it says –

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
    of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

In Psalm 40, David encourages me –

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
    out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord
    and put their trust in him.

We can encourage one another as we walk with God, encourage each other to keep out feet on the Rock, our sure footing.

Be an Ambassador

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My daughter Hannah and I had the privilege of staying two nights in the home of the Ambassador of the Republic of Haiti in 2006 when we were visiting Washington, DC.

We had a lovely visit and even went to a celebration of Nigeria’s Independence Day at the Nigerian Embassy with our host and hostess. I saw the most beautiful dresses there that I have ever seen!

How did we happen to have this amazing opportunity?

Well, the story starts in 1956 when I was 5 years old.

I grew up in an old farmhouse that evolved into a house in a neighborhood four blocks from Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois. My parents housed students from Wheaton College to help pay their mortgage.

One of those students was a brilliant young man, Raymond Joseph, from Haiti. He was studying at the college and would always greet us in the mornings and evenings in French as he passed by us to his room upstairs. He had the most beautiful smile and was always interested in what my brothers and I were doing.

Raymond Joseph went on to study at the University of Chicago and later worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and worked as a leader in the Haitian opposition movement of then dictator, Francois Duvalier.

You can imagine my surprise when I got a telephone call 55 years later from Raymond Joseph!

He was calling from Washington, DC where he was living and serving as Ambassador to the United States from Haiti. Raymond had been in touch with my mother and she had given him my phone number. We talked for a long time catching up and reminiscing.

He said that if we ever came to Washington, DC we were welcome to stay with him.

Don’t ever say that to the Woodys – we will come!!!

We had the most delightful visit. Ambassador Joseph had his limo pick us up and drop us off for a tour of the Haitian Embassy. We talked at length about the issues facing his homeland and his efforts to work for progress and real change for his people. His love for Haiti and his people was evident in his home, his office, and all he shared with us.

The definition of ambassador is – an accredited diplomat sent by a country as its official representative to a foreign county.

Raymond Joseph was an excellent ambassador. He represented Haiti well from 2005 to 2010.

The recent appointments of ambassadors for our new administration has prompted the above memories and also started me thinking of our role as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.

II Corinthians 5:20-21 says –

20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin,  so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

What a beautiful message of reconciliation!

We, God’s children, should be representing our Heavenly Father in such a way as to make others who aren’t Christians desire to become part of God’s kingdom.

Are we being good ambassadors?

Do our children, grandchildren, friends, co-workers, anyone we come in contact with – do they see a Jesus in us who loves them so much He died for them?

  • Do others see grace or condemnation?
  • Do they see joy or sadness?
  • Do they see faith or fear?

God is making His appeal through us!

May we be faithful ambassadors of the kingdom of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Let the Fire Go Out

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I heard a truck in the driveway and the first thing I did was glance at the wood stove.

Was there wood in the stove or had I let the fire go out?

As is often the case, I had been caught up in my book-making and I had forgotten to tend the fire. So, before Phil came in I quickly added wood and was sheepishly grinning when he entered the den.

After 41 years, Phil is accustomed to those sheepish grins. 🙂

Yes, I am easily distracted, yet when I am working on art, time literally slips away. I am totally immersed in the creative process and I need reminders to fulfill my other responsibilities.

We do this spiritually as well. We can get so caught up in “doing” for God that we forget to “tend the fire.”

What does it mean to “tend the fire” spiritually?

It means that we are re-stocking our lives with fuel from the Source, in other words making sure that we are receiving fresh spiritual food from God’s Word. I have been a Christian for almost 60 years, yet I can’t survive on old teaching from my past – as good as it was.

Anyone who heats with wood will tell you – old wood burns up fast!

I need to allow Holy Spirit to speak to me with fresh insight for the current issues I face today. As I read the Bible, the Living Word, it feeds the flames of the spiritual fire within me. This past weekend I attended a women’s conference at our church. Katherine Wright shared from her heart some things that the Lord had been teaching her recently through very tragic circumstances.

“We have created for ourselves an illusion of safety,” Katherine said. “My recent study of Scripture has made me realize that this was NOT Paul’s or the early Christians view of suffering.”

In I Peter 1:6-9, Peter encourages Christians that their suffering has a purpose –

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I must be faithful to feed the spiritual fire within me through reading God’s Word, hearing Biblical teaching, and listening to the Holy Spirit within me. Katherine’s words clarified for me the truth that suffering is part of life, yes, a NORMAL CHRISTIAN life.

Feeding on the Word of God will keep my fire burning!