Monday, April 30, 2012

Hall of Faith-er: Merciful statistics....

     There are times when  I simply can't get away from something.  It may be something annoying, like a fly buzzing around my head. At the other end of the spectrum, it may be orange-cranberry-walnut pound cake which surely must be one of the best inventions ever known to man!  If we are fortunate enough to have this doughy ambrosia in our kitchen, no matter where I am in the house, I can "hear" it calling my name and I can't seem to resist.
     Occasionally, the "something" that greets me at every turn is abstract - an idea or even just a word.
     Right now, the word "mercy" seems to pop up everywhere I go.
      In chapter 2 of James, the word "mercy" is prominent, as in "Judgement will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgement."  This was a bit shocking to me, I have to admit,  in that  James was telling people in his own congregation that  they would  not receive a lot of  mercy (judgement will be merciless) when they stand before their God.  Why? I mean, they are in church. In Jerusalem.  And they have faith in God.
    But they lack mercy.
    Can a chronic lack of mercy really be that serious?
     Fortunately  there is a flip side to the mercy thing and  tonight I ran across a rather startling  example in  Russell Stendal's book, Rescue the Captors.  I heard Mr. Stendal speak at a conference  a year and a half ago and I was impressed with his quiet, steadfast testimony.  But I had never read his book before, which tells how he was held captive by Guerrilla soldiers in Columbia for a number of months.
    I actually still haven't read  that story, honestly,  because I'm afraid I skipped  to the back of the book (I know, I know!! You aren't supposed to do that!) and started reading some articles in the appendix simply because the titles intrigued me.  And when I got to the third article, lo and behold, I found the word "mercy."  Again!!  And the article wasn't even on the book of James...
MAF picture
   Essentially, Russell explained that in 8 years of constant flying over dangerous jungle terrain, he never had an accident, not even a minor one.  This goes way beyond statistics for safety in single-engine flying like his and it wasn't because he never made mistakes.  He had seen better pilots than himself make a single  mistake and crash,  while he made minor mistakes but never lost it (even making the rather major  mistake of flying with a 250 pound pig who escaped its bonds shortly after takeoff... not good... But that's another story...)  He said he  has even seen missionary pilots who were not only more skilled than he was but who were  also better Christians and yet they crashed in the jungles while he didn't.
    Over the years, this began to bother him and he wrestled with the question of  why?  Why was he beating the odds?  Why was he spared the trauma of crashing, even when he made stupid mistakes, while others weren't?  One day as he was praying about this and spreading it all out before the Lord, he received an answer.  He was  reminded of a time 8 years earlier, when a friend of his had become dangerously injured. At that time Russell and his friend were out in the middle of nowhere and the only  pilot there who could fly Russell's friend to a hospital refused to do so  - until they came up with payment in advance. It took them a day to get the money and during this time, his friend  nearly died.
   Russell said that at that point in time, he told the Lord that if He would  make it possible for him to get his own plane, he would never turn down a legitimate need because of finances.  As he recalled this promise, the Lord reminded Russell that he had kept that promise for 8 years, showing mercy to others in need who could not pay for his services. In that quiet time, Russell said he heard the still, small voice of God saying that because Russell had shown mercy, He had shown mercy to Russell.
  When I read that, I was sort of stunned but I don't know why I should have been. I mean Jesus Himself said, "Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy."  Matthew 5:7.  But somehow, the verse in James coupled with  Russell's story, and the verse in the beatitudes really brought it home to me:  God loves and also honors mercy. Just as He says He will.
    Bottom line:  while God is not a gumball machine or Santa Claus, apparently He's really, really serious about loving, giving and requiring mercy.
    Which reminds me once again that  I should be serious about it too...
    The problem is that mercy doesn't come naturally to me.  Especially when I think of extending it to someone who  has hurt me or to someone  who, in my book, just plain doesn't deserve it.  But then, I guess that's what mercy is, by definition - giving good to someone who doesn't qualify for it.
  At any rate, slooowllly, hopefully, I'm learning from Hall of Faith-ers like Russell and like James, that mercy is simply not about the other person;  it's about God.
     Seriously hoping that what fills His heart will begin to habitually overflow into mine and through me, into the lives of others.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Hall of Faith-er.... # 3 Liquidating a livelihood...

    Many years ago I read a little book called, Turtle on a Fence Post.     The author, Allan Emery, is not well-known and his book has been out of print for many years- it was never a best-seller.
    But  I would think he has a good shot at being a Hall of Faith-er.
    One of the things that he did stands out in my mind and has for decades.
    But first, a little background.
    I guess it could be said that Allan was born into privilege and prestige.  Certainly his family owned a wool business that had generated a very good income for generations.  But his parents also taught him that everything they owned was simply a tool to be used for God.  When he turned sixteen and they presented him with a sleek new sailboat, a family tradition, his father surprised him by saying quietly, "I know you will use this to draw the boys in your Sunday School class to the Lord."  And he did.

    When his father  heard about a prominent man who had been found intoxicated, he sent Allan to look after the man and quietly bring him to their house.  Allan wasn't very happy with this assignment but he and his brother did it.  When they got the man to their house, Allan found his mom had put fresh sheets and her best hand-sewn linen bedspread on the guest room bed, just for this man.     He asked his mom why she did that, knowing that when the man woke up, he would probably be sick.  Her answer was  that she knew the gentleman would feel bad about what had happened when he awakened and she wanted him to know, first thing,  that he was their honored guest. She also used this opportunity to teach Allan that  if you belong to the Lord, you always give your best for Him. It was a lesson he carried with him throughout his adult life.
    By the time Allan became an adult, he had a solid walk with the Lord and like his father before him, he was known for integrity.  The family business continued to do well.    However, as the years passed, Allan realized that in time, the new synthetic materials would run his wool company into the ground. So, in middle age, he had a decision to make: should he continue to run the business for as long as it was making any type of profit? Or should he liquidate while it was still at it's peak?
   This may sound like a simple question but for him it was a scary one. All he knew was the family wool business; it was all he had ever done.
   As he asked God for wisdom about this, however, he came to the place where he felt that God was turning the question right  back on him, saying:  Allan, if you were a company shareholder who didn't understand how the market was gradually changing, what would you want the company to do?     The answer was to liquidate while the stockholders could still get top dollar for their investment.
   So that's what Allan did:  he dissolved a business while it was financially profitable and when he had no future prospects.
   It was a faith move and one that was not immediately honored.  What I mean by that is this:  sometimes we step out in faith, do something hard or risky, and we think that God will quickly step in, pat us on the back and give us something better.  But he doesn't always do that right off the bat and I think this is one reason Allan's book resonated with me so much when I was in my twenties.
   When I was growing up, most of the Christian books I read were along the lines of:  we believed, we acted, and God blessed.  When I got into my college years and young adult years, I found other books, such as Turtle on a Fence Post, that gave a different picture of walking with God and I'm glad that I did.  When I was about 24, I broke off a relationship with  a young man whom I had dated for four years. He was a wonderful person but he wasn't a Christian.  I was really just starting to grow in faith and I seriously thought that by ending this relationship, God would bring a new person, a Christian, into my life ASAP; in other words, He would reward me for my sacrifice :) (Sounds silly, now, I know!)   When that didn't happen and six months later, I still hadn't even had a date, I got depressed.  I thought something had gone wrong - the magic formula hadn't worked!  And that's when Allan's book began to speak to my heart in ways that I can't even begin to describe here.
     I can say that during this time of testing in Allan's own life, he  meditated on the story of Elijah, the prophet, who was led by God to a brook and fed miraculously by birds.  And then, for some inexplicable reason, God just allowed the brook in Elijah's hiding place to dry up!  During a three year dry season!!  For no reason (that Elijah could see)!  (I Kings 17:7-9).  Allan felt that he could identify with the prophet and later on, he would refer to this difficult time in his life as his "dried-up brook" period.    And even later still, when he wrote his book, he would include his own paraphrase of Galatians 2:20 in the text, a quote that I have written in the front of most of my Bibles over the years:  "For one who is crucified with Christ, hanging on a cross, there is no comfortable future - no career plan.  There is the freedom of being with Christ, sharing His cross, and the joy of facing an eternity with Him."  I've always loved that quote even though in my own personal life, I haven't always had the courage to act on it.
   Eventually, however,  Allan's time of testing came to an end.  He had a  friend who wanted to start a new business - one  that would provide hospitals with custodial services, clean linens, etc. This man  thought that Allan would be great as a personnel manager in his new company.  Allen was pretty convinced that the man was wrong so he turned down the offer - he couldn't see himself working in dirty linens and managing a bunch of people.  Still, he agreed to meet with this man and several others in order to pray specifically about this job offer.  When the prayer time finished, Allan burst into tears and told the men he knew God wanted him to accept the job.  God had convicted Allan of pride, hence the tears. But He also gave Allan a deep sense of peace - he knew he was headed into the  the center of his Father's will, even though he never dreamed his Father's will would include dirty laundry! (When I prayed for God's will in a marriage partner, I made the same mistake - never thinking that marriage meant years and years of doing dirty laundry.. ha!)
     The bottom line is that Allan took the job and found his months of training were difficult.   When he first offered the job, his friend told Allan upfront that the only way to learn the job was from the ground up. This meant that Allan's first weeks would be spent  filling the positions that he would later supervise, which meant that his first job would involve pushing a broom and a mop through the halls of a hospital, surrounded by doctors and highly trained medical staff.  To say he would be low man on the totem pole would be an understatement.
    He found that sometimes even emptying the trash requires faith.  God, are You sure this is what You want me to be doing?    After a few weeks of this, he got to move up the ladder! He graduated  to collecting, washing and ironing dirty bed linens.  What a promotion....  As you can imagine,  God taught him some valuable lessons during this training period, one of which was to never look down on a person and/or treat them rudely simply because of the job they did. Before this, he had unknowingly accepted the worldly wisdom which says rank deserves its privileges.
     There are many other things in his little book that resonated with me; none of them that dramatic.  But still, changing careers in mid-stream, liquidating the only career he'd ever known, a source of family pride, and then sitting quietly with no prospects in middle age  - simply because God had led him to do all that - to me, that would put Allan in the Hall of Faith-ers.
    "... and without faith, it is impossible to please Him..."  Hebrews 11:6

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hall of Faith-er # 2 "Um... Not Any More..."


     I had another blog planned for today but things changed...:)
     Yesterday I took my memory verses and my camera outside and sat in the swing, working on Hebrews 11 and trying to capture our resident mamma bird feeding her babies in our carport, where she has chosen to nest her young.  I'm not good with a camera and when I finally captured the mom feeding the little bird-niks, as my husband calls them, I was so excited that after she flew away, I forgot to turn off the camera.  So that little clip ends with the camera angling from the nest to the fence and then to the ground where you can see part of my memory verse cards, my slacks and my shoes. (Could be worse... I've accidentally taken pictures of the inside of my purse before...Not kidding.)

    I posted the video clip on FB of the little birds getting their yummy worm but, truth be told I was slightly embarrassed by the fact that the clip ended with a lopsided view of a verse from Hebrews 11 about Rahab the harlot...  I thought, "Clearly, I need to get a life... Sitting in a swing, meditating on Scripture and filming birds... Does this not shout RETIREMENT or what???"  Honestly, I thought I could have at least been reading an exciting new novel or something.  Maybe filming the occasional drug bust in the neighborhood... Something, anything, with a little more pizzaz to it!!!
    Then last night I finally got around to listening to a radio interview that my husband heard and recommended to me, um, back in February.  It is the testimony of Dr. Margaret Nikol and as I listened to it, I searched the internet trying to find her written testimony (because she has a bit of an accent) and then I ended up adding  notes to the written testimony  as I listened to the radio program, trying to get her whole story down as best I could.
    By the time the radio program was finished, I knew she and her whole family belonged in the Hall of Faith. I was floored by the things she said.   She was born in Bulgaria and lived under communism until she was about 37 years old. But that's not even where her story begins...
   Before she was ever conceived, her parents decided to move to Bulgaria to preach the Gospel and continued to do so under a rigid, atheistic government. And I guess that's a pretty strong heritage - people who, like Moses' parents, were not afraid of the government's edict and like Moses himself, pressed on as seeing Him who is unseen. (Hebrews 11:23-27)
   After they settled in Bulgaria,  her mom started praying for a child.  For seven years, she prayed.  Not just for a child but for one who was musically gifted.  Margaret was the answer to that prayer; as a child, she developed a passion for music, especially the piano and the violin.
   Being  a child, however, she couldn't help but wonder why her mom had not prayed for a beautiful kid!! :)   When she finally asked her mom, this was the answer she got:   "Beauty comes from the heart and as long as Jesus lives in your heart, you will be beautiful!"  What a sweet answer!

   It wasn't until Margaret was older, however,  that she finally figured out  why her mom had prayed for a musical child:) Under the communists, a church could have only one pastor so her father had to preach, lead the singing, and work with the youth - he had to do it all. And he couldn't carry a note in a bucket.  She said his singing was absolutely awful!  So one day she asked her mom if her dad's terrible singing had anything to do with her praying earnestly for a musically gifted child.  Her mom said, "Yes!  Jesus has to listen to that every Sunday!  We needed someone who could lead singing.." I love that!
  After Margaret was born, her mother began to pray for a son who would grow up to be a pastor.  Honestly, I can't believe her mom had the courage to do this. Me, I've always prayed my son would be protected from harm.  To pray for a preacher son in Bulgaria back then, however,  was to pray for a son who would be tortured and possibly killed for his faith.
    Her mom and dad knew this from first hand experience as they had both spent time in prison and knew what torture meant. In fact, Margaret's  dad ended every church service with this prayer, "Lord, help us to be faithful to you, even if it means death this week."   Yet her mother prayed earnestly for a son to carry on the faith and God granted that wish.  She had a second child, he did grow up to preach, and like both his parents, he would eventually be martyred for his faith, the last Christian to be executed in Bulgaria before the Iron Curtain fell in fact.
    As children, Margaret and her brother had  to memorize three Bible verses a day.  The parents gave them their verses in the morning and they were expected to recite them in the evening.  This turned out to be crucial because one week, the communists came through their town and confiscated all Bibles.  The next Sunday, her father stood in the pulpit and said, "This is a sad day for us because all our Bibles are gone. But we will press on because we still have the Holy Spirit."
    At that point, an older lady stood up and said she had managed to save her Bible.  When the communists came to their home, they were threatening this woman's husband and while this was going on, she hid, not herself, but  her Bible.  Somehow she and the Bible were spared and that Sunday she pulled out the only copy of the Scriptures in the entire church. Then she  tore out the pages one by one so that everyone could have at least one page.   Margaret got a page in Genesis and she held onto it for the next thirty years or so, reading over and over again God's promise to Abraham, believing that He who had worked so effectively in Abraham's life would also work in hers.
    As an adult, Margaret became a classical violinist but she also incurred the wrath of the authorities because she didn't hide her belief in God. She was arrested and tortured but because of her significant talent they let her go. However, they promised her that if she didn't renounce Jesus soon, they would break all her fingers and end her musical career forever.
     As she put it, God had other plans and people were able to smuggle her out of the country before the communists could carry out their threat.
    After she left Bulgaria, she ended up in California. One day, a neighbor told Margaret that she'd like to give her a gift.  Margaret asked if it would be possible for her to have a Bible and the woman replied, "Of course!  This is America!"  She took Margaret to  a Christian book store and when Margaret saw all the Bibles there, her knees almost gave way from the shock of it.  She was pretty much in tears; after having had only one page for all of her adult life, she could finally have the whole book!
    She wanted so badly to get a Bible to her brother, who was still in Bulgaria but it wasn't possible, she couldn't find a way to do it.   So she prayed that even though she wasn't much and only knew music, that someday God would enable her to take Bibles to her country.
   After the iron curtain fell, there were still many people who couldn't get a copy of the Bible and so she started an international ministry which distributes Bibles to Eastern Europe.
   Towards the end of her testimony, she said that she has suffered many heartaches.  Both her parents were killed when she was a teenager.  Then her brother was killed many years later. And then she lost her husband to cancer.  But the biggest heartbreak she has ever experienced was when she took a load of Bibles into Bulgaria, about a thousand of them.  And the people stood in line for a long time to get a copy.  And then, when the last Bible was handed out, the person next in line burst into tears, sobbing and asking if they didn't have  just one more, saying that she had prayed and prayed for years for a Bible.
    Then Margaret added that for 30 years she has lived in the United States and over those years, she has heard many wonderful prayers at Thanksgiving. But she has never heard an American  thanking God for the Bible in public prayer.
     After I heard Dr. Nikol's testimony, I thought long and hard about how I had been slightly embarrassed at accidentally videotaping my memory verses this morning, wondering what people might think of my tame life...
     Um... not any more.
     This is where I got my information about Dr. Nikol:
     A radio program called Grace Cafe did an hour long interview with her around Thanksgiving.
     I found a written account of her testimony at Manna Express Online.
     And she has a website where you can order her testimony and her recordings of her concerts:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Adding to the list...

     Still thinking about the Bible's Hall of Faith, Hebrews 11.
     This is the thing: I don't think the book is closed on that chapter.

      I think when the final trump sounds and we are with the Lord, that chapter will be unveiled and the list of Hall of Faith-ers is going to be loooooonnnnnnnggggg, much longer than it was when it was originally penned. And not everyone on  the list is going to be a Moses or an Abraham.
     For example, I think about Sarah, Abraham's wife.  Her walk of faith took a little jog down a side path at one point in time. And I'm pretty sure she was the one who laughed out loud (not a good time to LOL outside of FB) at something God  said.  And then denied that she had laughed in the first place.  (I used to hate it when my students would do that in the classroom.  What's so funny? If it's that funny, share it with the class....  To which the child would usually respond with, "I didn't say anything...")
    So besides sending her husband to um... sleep with another woman and, um, laughing at something God said, both things that probably didn't get her on  the roll call of Hebrews 11, why is
Sarah listed alongside faith-ers like Abraham, Noah, and Moses?  The writer of Hebrews says that  (apparently in spite of her mistakes) she considered Him faithful who had promised.  Which means that basically, she had to hang onto the bassinet, the bottles and diapers (no yard sale..) until she was about, oh, ... ninety or so...
    In other words, the Hall of Faith-ers weren't perfect and, by the same token,  they didn't all have to give up a kingship (pharaoh-ship??)  in order to make the list.  They didn't all shut the mouths of lions (or get sawn in two... ugh!!).  Their common denominator is simply that they took God at His word and acted, however imperfectly, on what He had said.
    So, for a bit, I'd like to write about people I think might be in the Hall of Faith someday.  Some I've read about, others I've heard about.  Some I may have personally known.
     The first person I'd like to highlight is probably dying, even as I write.  He started his career as an aggressive young lawyer, made it to the White House staff and then ended up in a minimum security federal prison.  His name is Chuck Colson and he was caught up in the Watergate scandal during President Nixon's time in office.  By his own admission, Mr. Colson was guilty of breaking the law, of betraying public trust.  He went from being a powerful, influential Washington insider to a jailbird.
     During his fall from grace, he met Someone who had been executed as a common criminal and that Someone, Jesus Christ, changed his life.  Even before he went to prison, Mr. Colson began to study the Bible and to follow His new master.  And even though Bible reading is not popular in prison, he persevered with his new faith while  he served his sentence.  When he had paid his debt and was ready to leave the prison, he said he would be back to visit but I think the other inmates thought, "Yeah... that's what they all say..."  But Colson truly was a changed man. He had gone from being an opportunistic, hard hitting, Machiavellian politician to a man of God, i.e. a man of his word.
    He did come back. Over and over again. To establish a thriving prison ministry that had a high success rate of reintegrating inmates back into society, this time with a will to live for God.  But he did more than that.  He reached out to the children of prisoners by establishing the Angel Tree Program.  But he did more than that. Through his books and his radio program, he helped Americans see on a daily basis, how we were slipping further and further away as a society from what our founding fathers intended.
    From living in  the rarefied air of the presidency to slumming in prison to a minister of outcastes, he had an interesting life, a life of faith, and a life that God used.
     Which makes me think:  know anyone who has taken a huge fall from a public pedestal lately?  That doesn't preclude the person from becoming a Hall of Faith -er.  As a pastor of mine used to say, "The expression 'a bird with a broken wing will never soar as high again' is really  a bunch of bunk in God's economy."  Then Dr. Vaught's voice would rise as he would exclaim, "My friend! If God is the One who restores that broken wing, you can soar higher than you ever did before!  Because He makes us stronger than ever  in the broken places of our lives... if we will only let Him!"
    I think Mr. Colson would say, "Amen and amen!"

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


     When I first started teaching school, my rule sheet was fairly simple.  I think it went something like this:  everyone will respect the teacher and other classmates and cooperate in order to create an environment conducive to learning.
     The second year, my rule sheet included tidbits like, "Anyone throwing spitwads (and berries when in season) will automatically be sent to the principal's office."  Simply put, you can learn a lot about what kids are doing (and are not doing) by what the teacher's rule sheet prohibits, admonishes and encourages.
    We've been studying the book of James at our church, using the Beth Moore workbook and DVD series.  As we've worked through it, I have had a tendency to look at James' admonishments to his congregation in Jerusalem through the eyes of a school marm.  In other words, I think I can kind of tell what his audience was doing by what he repeatedly told them not to do.
    As Beth pointed out to us, the people in James' assembly were Messianic Jews, people who knew the Torah well and who had  followed the Ten Commandments plus  all of their lives.   They believed in Jesus as the Jewish Messiah and as the way to God the Father.  (You believe that God is one; you do well.  The demons also believe and shudder..)  So, perhaps in their minds, they had it all - the best of both worlds.
    James sees them differently however; he sees them as major lawbreakers, people who are messing up big-time and seriously standing in the need of mercy.
    He starts off on "safe ground" - didn't the same one who said don't commit adultery also tell  us not to commit murder?
    Well, yeah...I'm sure they would agree with James' argument.   I mean he's apparently not writing to a bunch of ax murderers, so they're cool with that point. Absolutely!  God gave us both commandments!  And we're keeping them! Preach on!
    But he doesn't stop there.  He goes on to ask:  well, what if you keep the whole law for a long time and then suddenly you trip up, you stumble in one point?  Doesn't that one mess-up make you a law breaker?
   Maybe his congregation is still tracking with him, still nodding their heads and thinking (perhaps a bit uneasily) that they are  on safe ground. Yet not too  sure where the pastor is going with all this.
   Where James was going with his "case" against them was to Matthew 22:37-39, two commandments that, if they are kept, will fulfill the entire law. Love God with all your heart, soul and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.
   And that's where they were messing up.  They weren't loving the poor, the ragged, the dirty, the hungry  in the same way that they themselves would want to be loved.  They would, in a heartbeat, play up to the rich and the influential and probably for good reason - the rich had the power to throw them into jail. So naturally when a powerful person came into their assembly, they would offer that person the best.  And then, just to sound good, they would piously bless the poor people by saying, "Go in peace! Be warmed and be filled!"
   James doesn't like this. He's asking them, "How can they be warm if you don't give them clothes? How can they be filled if you don't give them food?"
   This, of course, is tough and I would imagine that James' audience is  wishing he would go back to the sins of adultery and murder...  And I'm right there with them.
   "But Lord!  My neighbor looks so ... so rough! And You should have seen the looks we got when I was standing on the corner, talking to her about her last police bust...  Oh.. You did see that?  Well, then, [imagine pouty face here] You know how embarrassing that is. And I mean I know she's trying to go straight but the truth is, she's in a bind because she's made a lot of mistakes in the past and [whiny voice here] just because she's making good choices now, well, I don't see why I should give up  my chocolate money in order to  buy eggs for her..."
    Unfortunately, James wasn't finished... Not only does he clearly label favoritism and neglect of the poor as  serious transgressions, he also hits hard on sins of the mouth. (I'm assuming gossip; hot-tempered, injudicious comments; bragging; flattery; lying and such would probably fill the bill here.).
    At this point, I'm thinking his church is probably secretly appointing a pulpit search committee and that his days as pastor are numbered.
    But the guy doesn't even  seem to care!  He goes right on, telling  them that if they have selfish ambition or bitter jealousy, envy, etc - they are not tracking with God at all!  In fact, he tells them that their wisdom is the exact opposite of God's.  While theirs is earthly, natural, and even demonic, God's is pure, peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering and without hypocrisy. And he finally ends up accusing them of the very thing they were so sure they were innocent of - he calls them adulterers!  Oh My Gosh!!!  He's telling  them that they are playing footsie with the world while  keeping the outwardly showier (and easier) mandates of God's law and that this isn't going to cut it!
    And in all of that, one word stands out to me like a lifeline  and I would guess to his first audience as well: mercy.  God's wisdom is full of mercy...  God's heart is full of mercy...
   Thank You, Jesus.
    By now, I don't know about James' listeners, but I know I am a law breaker of the first water, standing in dire need of mercy.  And as one who both desperately needs and  abundantly receives His mercy daily, I should be the first to offer some mercy of my own to my down-and-out  neighbor, whom I am to love in the same way that I would want others to love me.
   Okay Beth, James, and Jesus!  I think I got it.
   Mouth shut, heart set to unselfish love, and mercy radar pegging out...
   Today, I will try, by the grace of God, to imitate my Abba who has kept His mouth shut in regard to my many failings, loved me beyond measure and showered me with mercy... And today is going to be, I think, a a great day!

Faith - don't arrange your life without it.

            Sometimes my mind just glitches...
            Sometimes it happens in church...
            Like the preacher or teacher can say something and that makes me think of something else (in the Bible... usually) and before I know it, I'm on a rabbit trail, hunting down verses that are taking me basically down I-95 when the speaker is on I-30, so to speak. Like they can be in the New Testament and suddenly, I'm trying (unobtrusively) to find something in the Old Testament.  And somehow it's all connected in my mind in the same way that my grandma's green beans, mashed potatoes, pork chops and gravy were all blended together on her plate.  (Maybe not a good analogy because I found that disgusting, actually...:)

           So this past Sunday, the pastor was in Nehemiah (which is a book I really like) and I found myself flipping to Hebrews Hall of Faith, chapter 11.  I didn't plan to go there and I can't tell you right now what sent my mind spinning in that direction and it's probably just as well that I can't.  Then, somehow I added to the mix what I had been learning from James 2 and voila, I had a spiritual version of my granny's pork chops, mashed potatoes, beans, and gravy: Nehemiah, Hebrews, James and some other things thrown in there as well.

          As I skimmed through Hebrews 11, I saw these phrases:
          "... He is a rewarder of those who seek Him..."
          "... and he went out, not knowing where he was going..."
          "... But as it is, they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one."
          "Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God..."
          "... for he endured as seeing Him who is unseen..."
Wow.  I could almost see these people pressing forward with Jesus standing at the end of their journey. For a few minutes there, I could see myself running to Him and I knew it would be joyful beyond words to see Him!  As I sat there in church, my heart just welled up and I thought, "I love Him! And I know He loves me!"

         Then I thought about a passage in James 2:
          "You see that faith was working with his [Abraham's] works and as a result of the works, faith was perfected."
           And suddenly I was confused.  When I first started meditating on that verse, I read it several times and thought, Ummm.... too many "w" words in the sentence; doesn't make sense.   Faith was working with his works?  What does that mean?
           To me, "works" was the envelope that I had to fill out when I was a kid in Sunday School class.  You put your love offering (i.e., a quarter) in the envelope and licked it.  (I didn't like the glue).  And then you wrote your name on the outside of it. (The blank was always too small for my awkward  cursive).  And then you checked off squares that applied to you.  They seldom applied to me.

  •            Brought Bible to church.   (Um... couldn't find it this morning...)
  •            Read Bible this week.     (Um... if I read it, then I would be able to find it...)
  •            Staying for church.   (Um... like I have a choice???)
  •            Etc....

           I never did well on that part of Sunday School.   Now when I got to the grace part, that was cool!  Saved by faith!  I got that and still am thankful for that truth lo these many years later!

           But I digress...back to church last Sunday....
           I'm sitting in the pew with the verse in James simmering in the back of my mind while looking at Hebrews 11 and listening to a sermon on Nehemiah.
           And something clicked, oddly enough:)  I realized that Hebrews 11 doesn't say: Moses, by faith, read the Tanakh 15 minutes every day and put his quarter every week in an envelope marked with boxes. (All good things but not listed in Hebrews 11).
         Instead,  the people in Hebrews 11 understood that God had a plan which involved them.  They also understood that He is a great rewarder of those who believe He exists and also seek Him.  So even though they couldn't see Him or even see any reward at all at the outset,  by faith they rearranged their lives in small ways and large ways in order to do what God wanted.  From our point of view, some came out well in their faith walk here on earth.  (Noah and his family were saved from the flood.)  Others didn't come out so well.  (Abel got murdered by his brother...Definitely a bummer...).    But they all believed God and then set their course accordingly.
        Or as James would put it, their faith was working with their works and as a result of the works, their faith was perfected.
       Or as he also likes to put it, they had a living faith, a faith that is  so strong that, even though they may have struggled with it, in the final analysis, they had to act on it to some degree.

The splendor of Pharaoh
Moses as a shepherd
      Or as Katie Davis put it, in her book, Kisses from Katie:  she followed God into the impossible, did the little that she could, and then He performed miracles.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Back to the Future...

    My day got off to a great start this morning.
    Actually, I think the day started last night, not to put too fine a point on it.  I picked up a book about 1l p.m., one that has been less-than-riveting before and yet somehow, this time I really got into the story.  It's about how Open Doors unofficially delivered (smuggled) 1 million Bibles to China  in 1980/81.  It was a mammoth undertaking that they put together in about the same time it took me to produce our son - just  9 months or so.   The people involved in this were  Chinese Christians inside the country, who obviously took a huge risk.  And Chinese expatriates who lived  in Hong Kong plus a few Open Doors missionaries/coordinators from the Western world.  And how hard would that have been to put together???
    I mean:  one ... million.. Bibles?  Delivered clandestinely by sea???    Through the coordination of Western and Asian nationals?  I mean, truly, East had to meet West on that one and anyone who has worked cross-culturally knows that it's never easy to get anything done in a multi-cultural group.
    Except for God...  I guess I should add that, shouldn't I??
    Definitely, the whole project was impressive.
    But I wasn't thinking about the logistics of the  project as I fell asleep.
    Instead, I was thinking about how desperate the Chinese were to first of all, ask for such a huge amount of Bibles and second of all,  to risk their lives to pick them up at an assigned drop point (a remote beach),  store them, and then carry  them across China, handing them out along the way.
    They had to convince foreigners to bring these Bibles to them and then they had to get the books into the hands of the right people, hoping that along the way they would not be caught and imprisoned.  But knowing that some of them probably would be. (Which they were).
    I went to sleep thinking about that and  woke up thinking about that.
    As part of the Beth Moore James Workbook study, I just finished memorizing a portion of the book. (We are encouraged to memorize all 5 chapters but I'm pretty sure that ain't gonna happen... I would like for it to  happen but have my doubts...  Um, notwithstanding what James has to say about the topic of doubting...:)   At any rate, I had reached a milestone of sorts and so as I got out of bed, I began to go over the memory passages one more time, to make sure I had them down.  And then, I had someone else check me as I said them - just a few glitches.. not too bad.  And then I practiced them some more as I backed over a curb on the library parking lot... (Well, I thought it was safe to rehearse them on a parking lot for Pete's sake!  At any rate, it  was mostly  empty! I promise! And I didn't hit anybody...)
   At any rate, I  found my heart singing as I went through the morning (even in spite of the curb thing which was a bit embarrassing), meditating on words that are a lot more than just words.  (In college, we had to memorize poetry for lit class and it was a good mental exercise.  But  it didn't make the heart sing and there really is a difference.)
   And then it suddenly hit me why the Chinese risked their lives, risked everything,  to get Bibles for themselves and for about a million others over 30 decades ago.
    The human heart needs a song and God is the One who gives it.
     Even under the most adverse circumstances.
     Which leads  back to James, God's word to the oppressed, the tempted, the tried, and the persevering...
    James, a bond-servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad, greetings. Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Ten on the Tenth... Advice from Botswana...

     I missed Ten on the Tenth so here are ten things I've learned from Mma Ramotswe, the Number 1 Lady Detective of Botswana.  (She has to be the number 1 lady detective because she is the only lady detective in all of Botswana. Also she is the reason I missed Ten on the Tenth yesterday -  because I was busy working hard (see point # 7 below), trying to analyze her case studies...)

1. Inside every bully, there is a frightened and unhappy person.  When you have to confront a bully, it is best to first show that you aren't intimidated and then address the rest of your remarks to the  person inside and not to the one on the outside.

2. Pointed shoes are pretty but no one has feet shaped like that. It's best to be realistic about traditionally shaped feet (and bodies) and even patriotic (in Botswana) to preserve the old ways, which include well-fed females.  This is probably the main reason I love Mma Ramotswe!!

3.  If your assistant ignores your advice about buying pointed shoes (see point # 2 above), it is best just to comment on how pretty the shoes are and ignore the way your assistant hobbles around until she can no longer walk.

4. If shoes that hurt your feet (see points 2 and 3 above) also give you happiness when you look at them (even if for only 1 day) then you didn't make a bad deal in the final analysis. Everyone needs a day of happiness now and then.

5. When people come to the agency and ask the detective to find out if their spouse is cheating on them, they already know.  They just need someone to confirm it so they can accept it.

6.  When the detective finishes their investigation into the case of unfaithful spouses (see point number 5 above), they have an obligation to tell the client the truth. But their main obligation is to the children, if any,  who may be affected by the investigation. The adults can handle things but children should not be made to suffer because their nose looks like the mailman's and not like their legal father's.  So the client must get some of the truth but maybe not all of it.  (When the child grows up and has finished college, he can figure out where his nose came from...)

7.  There are no problems that a cup of Bush Tea and the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency cannot solve.  And if a detective sits at her desk for a couple of hours without reading or writing anything, she is not wasting time.  Thinking is the most critical part of being a detective and it is hard work, requiring not 1 but several cups of Bush Tea.

8.  Trumpeters do not make good husbands. Mechanics do.  :)

9.  One more day without rain simply means the rainy season, which is literally the difference between life and death in Botswana, is one day closer, that is all.

10.  Women who "graduate" from the Botswana Secretarial School with 42% and who wear short skirts may get the best jobs right after graduation. However, women like the secretary of The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mma Makutsi, with her 97% at the Botswana Secretarial School, her long skirts, and her huge glasses will eventually be the envy of the short-skirted 42 percenters who have disgraced themselves in heaven only knows what way under the desk with their bosses and who  will someday not be able to face themselves in the mirror...:)

11.  Ummm... math was never my forte...  At any rate, if you want to experience the Full Cupboard of Life,  and enjoy a pleasant afternoon In The Company of Cheerful Ladies, then get a cup of Red Bush Tea* (thanks, Susan!) and settle in for a visit with Mma Ramotswe, and Mma Makutsi at The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Monday, April 9, 2012

You are not alone...

    This morning I got to take my niece to school which is  a bright spot in my week, even though it comes early in the morning and I'm normally allergic to mornings. On this particular Monday, I was somewhat "hung over" from the past two days, which were stressful  to say the least.  But still, my heart was  lifted by Charity's droll  insight into the drama of teen life. Plus, it was a gorgeous morning, as if to say the tension of the weekend, like its rain, is gone now and things are looking up. Which, indeed, they are.
      Still, being encouraged and being rescued from slow-wittedness are not one and the same thing:)   My brain, to say the least, was still sluggish after our somewhat traumatic weekend.
      Being slow-witted, I noticed things I normally don't as I made the drive home, like my brain was in unfamiliar territory and trying to decipher any and all clues...  Right off the bat I noticed a sign that didn't say exactly what it meant. I'm sure I have driven past it a hundred times but this morning I noticed that it had the word Jesus   on the top line in big letters. And then, underneath it were the words, "Thou shalt not steal!!!" And underneath that was a  verse reference from the book of Exodus.
     I'm pretty sure they meant that Jesus doesn't want us to steal... And I'm guessing their store got robbed recently (it's in a high crime area with lots of barred windows and doors).  But what I saw, in my somewhat stupefied post-stress state was this:  Jesus... Thou shalt not steal!!!  
    And not being the sharpest crayon in the box this morning, I thought, "That doesn't look right..." And still it took a while to figure out that  a little punctuation would help out a whole lot, that if the sign said, "Thou shalt not steal!"  and then had "-Jesus" underneath, it would change the entire meaning.
    Shortly after noticing the sign,  I looked up only to find   Smokey the Bear - somewhat faded but still recognizable -  pointing his finger straight at me and saying, "Only you can prevent forest fires!!"
   Well, Smokey's billboard is situated in a dilapidated commercial district with a few bars, a few hole-in-the-wall businesses, and a factory or two.  Um... no forests that I could see.  So I found my mental processor churning out random phrases such as, "Smokey needs a face lift... and a new address...  Whoever put that billboard there is, um, pretty clueless..."  Like putting a sign in the heart of New York city with a picture of the Surgeon General (if we still have one) pointing a finger at all and sundry saying, "Warning!!  The Surgeon General has determined that fried chicken, fried Twinkies, grits, an' bis-kits-smothered-in- gravy are bad fer your health!! Only you kin prevent heart disease!!"
    And then I thought about how I freaked out the night before and burst into tears after my husband called  at 7:30 to tell me he was lost, had no clue where he was, and needed help. He was exhausted, stressed, and in a place that seemed to be all freeway, super highways, access roads, multiple  exits and people who are so untalkative (to a Su-than-uh) that they seemed downright unfriendly.  (Nobody here says please or thank-you or gives you the   time of day!!! They don't help you with anything!!! If I ever get back home, I'll never come back to this place again, no matter what my company says!!!)
    It was a case of  South meets North and would have been funny to me, had not icy fingers clutched my heart at the words, "I am lost.... I need your help..."    How could I help him?  He was three hours away by plane.  The most I could do was pull up map quest and I'm not good with street maps and directions. Plus it would take time and I could literally hear the exhaustion in his voice.  I knew he was beyond tired and I was beyond scared.
   All I can say is that God watched out for him.  As we talked, I realized he had turned onto the parking lot of a Marriott Hotel in Connecticut.  That was not good because he was supposed to be in New York but at the same time, his NY hotel was near the Connecticut border - I remembered that from looking at the map with him the day before - so he wasn't as far off track as it seemed.  But the main thing was that since he was booked into a Marriott, I felt sure the Connecticut staff would bend over backwards to help him.
   He hadn't gone in to ask directions at that point (not because he's a man:)  but because he had stopped at other places already and no one had been helpful so he had pretty much given up on that option.  I convinced him to try one more time and this time, it worked.  He got what he needed and was able to make it to the hotel in NY.
   This world, frankly, gives a lot of mixed-up, sometimes idiotic signals.  Like Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires when there are no forests in sight.  Or multiple exits when you only need one and everyone around you  is driving like they are on the Indiana speedway bearing down on the finish line, oblivious to the people around them.
   Really, it seems to me that we are bombarded with unclear, sometimes humorous, occasionally  worthless, and sometimes downright scary misdirections    everywhere we turn in this life.  Like we are in a maze, thinking we have it all together and then suddenly, stress hits and nothing makes sense, nothing is helpful.
   Except Jesus.
   You will never convince me that He didn't somehow guide my husband to that Marriott in Connecticut and then to the hotel in New York.  You will never convince me that when I fell to my knees after his first phone call,  tears running down my face, begging for His help, that He didn't hear me.
    You will never convince me that when I sent out frantic messages on FB asking friends to pray, that He didn't hear their heart-felt prayers as well. (And what encouragement it gave me to receive messages back, assuring me that they were praying right along with me and that God had a purpose in even this!)
    Truly, above all the garbled messages the world throws at us, day-in and day-out, He stands alone, guiding, helping, leading.   When everything seems so chaotic and the tears flow and the mind is struggling to process info, He cuts to the heart of the matter and gets us where we need to be, whether that is a physical place like New York (or even Heaven) or whether it is a spiritual/emotional place such as repentance or faith, He speaks truth. He speaks plainly. He speaks lovingly.
   And you will never convince me that my husband was both lost and alone last night.
   I know he wasn't.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why on earth???

     I'm glad Christ came to earth, but if I were Him, I think I would have stayed in Heaven.
     I've been looking forward to Easter so much this week and have been talking to the neighbors (no, they haven't started running at the sight of me... yet.) about what Christ has meant and continues to mean to us.  (Even to the neighbor who sits on an  upturned bucket, pulling crab grass out of his yard; the one who calls the Code People on the rest of us....Even to him, I talked about Christ and wished him a blessed Easter. I was such a good girl that I practically strained myself patting myself on the back after that virtuous verbal exchange... It was especially commendable because the Lord knows I don't like that guy...)
    And I've even  tried to go on faith about some things these past few days. Last weekend someone  apparently was going through the neighborhood, stealing stuff from cars and actually kicking in someone's front door about midnight while they were sleeping. The alarm was sounded last Sat. night about 9:30 p.m. as two young men drove up and down the main street in our neighborhood trying to catch the miscreant who had just been seen going through one of their vehicles.
   Nice....  But I didn't panic. I was a good girl and patted myself on the back for being calm.
   But.. seriously... if I were Christ, I would have skipped the 33 year opportunity to go slumming on planet earth where people kick in doors and others get steamed and go hunting for them, vigilante style. While still others (that would be me) are extra careful to keep their doors locked 24/7.
   Seriously...  I would have stayed in Heaven.
   A few days before the thief alert was sounded out here, we found out that my husband's transition at work was suddenly on a fast track and that he had to A) take a computer course on the net and pass it before going for a week long certification process. Which meant that  B) after passing the course,  he would be sent to NY to certify on the 8th of this  month. (Yep! Tomorrow).  My husband doesn't like to travel, has never been to NY and normally, when he does training schools, he just has to drive to Memphis.
   Suddenly he's looking at hours on the computer in addition to regular work days. Followed by  five days of  intensive trainng in NY where he'll have to rent a car and drive from the airport (in one suburb) to the hotel (in another suburb) and then to the school (in yet another suburb).   All this put our family into hyperdrive and even as I write, my poor husband is still bent over the computer, trying to finish up the test at the end of the computer course so he can get up in the morning to catch a plane he doesn't want to catch.
   And my feet hurt.
   And suddenly, I'm no longer faith-filled but wondering why people have to start kicking in doors when, after two years of no training schools, my husband is suddenly about to go on the mother of all schools (as far as we are concerned).   All this week I've been pretty upbeat, reminding myself that this change in jobs at work is an answer to prayer and therefore, this school is part of that answer.  But now, I have a twitch under my right eye (not to put too fine a point on it) and I'm pretty sure that is not exactly a sign of great faith... If I were Peter right now, I'd sink like a rock.
   And my feet hurt... Have I mentioned that already?
   And I'm pretty sure that if  I were Christ, I would not have come to earth for 33 years, to pound rocky terrain in sandaled feet,  break bread with criminals and their victims - oh, and also reach out to the snooty ones who looked down on said criminals and victims.  The first time someone challenged me, I probably would have folded like an accordion  because I want people to like me.  And there were a lot of people who didn't like Christ, apparently.  And then when it looked like things were getting out of hand - i.e., dangerous!!! -  I would have moved into the sturdiest house I could find and  installed the first century equivalent of a home detection system asap.  And had I known that I was going to be spit upon, insulted, beaten and then crucified, I for sure would not have come to the earth to live. I can't stand pain. (And did I mention that my feet hurt?)
   If I were God and I did come to earth, I probably would have wiped out my enemies in a spectacular way - in other words, they would have been toast - and after that, I would have settled in a palace, even though that wouldn't hold a candle to heaven. And I would have rightfully enjoyed the adulation of those I had just saved from the "bad guys" (the ones who are still smoking because they are toast...) Before kicking the dust of this place off my royal sandals and heading back to Heaven.
   Honestly, if I were Christ, and I felt like I had to come to earth,  I sure wouldn't have come to that particular time period in history. I mean, they didn't have electricity! Germ-X!  McDonald's! Air conditioning! Bottled water vending machines!  Or even the gas chamber, which, as bad as it is, is a whole lot better than hanging on a cross.
   I mean, life back then  was so... so... primitive. And cruel!   And when compared to Heaven.. ??? Well, you've got to be kidding me.  Leave Heaven??? Uh uh!  I cried when I had to leave the beach at Mobile, Alabama.  And I'm talking just a few years ago, when I was fifty-something...
   And so I just have to ask, God, what were you thinking????  
   I was thinking of you and everyone else  who has hurting feet, twitching eyes, and a complaining spirit.
   And  of your neighbor who sits on the upturned bucket, pulling crab grass with pliers, and turning  in the rest of you to the code people.
   And of the guys who had stuff stolen from their cars and who were bent on revenge.
   And of the guys who did the stealing and the door-kicking.
   And of  your husband who works so hard.
   And of all the people he'll meet in New York.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Through the lens of faith...

     I once read a book about Lebanon and I'm afraid the only thing I remember from it is this  story:  Lebanon experienced civil war for two decades and over time, the beautiful country was nearly destroyed by rockets, missiles, grenades, sniper attacks, etc.  Buildings in Beirut that were partially damaged were quickly taken over and made into strongholds for different militias, complete with barricades and barbed wire.  To say the people were in danger is an understatement.
    Whereas we in Arkansas have tornado warning systems, they had rocket alerts and when the sirens sounded, the Lebanese people knew to run for their lives and stay in shelters until the all-clear was given.  But still, it was never really safe.
    In fact, it was such a dangerous place that a parrot in a local bar learned to  imitate the whistling sound of an incoming bomb as well as the explosion that followed!  The bird had heard this sound so much that he could imitate it perfectly!
   The author of this story said that the Lebanese people played "mind games" in order to survive the hostilities.  For example, if the all-clear sounded in Beirut and then thirty minutes later, a pedestrian was killed by a stray bullet, the people would talk about this incident, trying to rationalize why this person died the way he did.  To explain this tragedy, they would say things like, "Everyone knows that you don't go out on the streets until an hour after the all-clear signal has been given!! That is why this person was killed... he went out on the street too soon. He should have waited...."
   In reality, there is no magic formula to protect pedestrians in a war zone. Warning systems help but they can't be 100% effective.
   Why am I writing about this?
    Today, a ministry website posted pictures of Haiti after the devastating earthquake of 2010.  They showed several pictures of ruined buildings, people sifting through the rubble, and also  -which was very interesting to me - Haitian people praising God with uplifted hands and heartfelt devotion on their faces, even as they stood in the middle of what looked like a war zone.
    The images were a powerful testimony to what the Haitian people suffered and still suffer as they slowly rebuild.  But they were an equally powerful testimony to the words of Romans 8:35-39

     Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
   we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

   One picture showed the remnants of what had clearly been a beautiful cathedral. And beside the picture, someone had commented, "It must not have been a true church of God because God wouldn't destroy his own church unless it went astray."
       Ummmm... with all the hundreds of thousands of churches on the planet, I'm pretty sure that a fair number  of them, human nature being what it is,  are not "true" and, yet, as far as I know, there hasn't been a wholesale collapse of  structures housing "untrue" congregations.
        I thought about the story of the man born blind in John 9:1-3, where the disciples asked Jesus why the man was afflicted in such a way - was it because his parents sinned?  The answer was "no..."  The man's blindness was not a judgment for sin,  far from it.  Instead, his affliction would be  used to display God's glory and mercy.

   I thought about Jim Elliot, who, along with 4 other young men, died in Ecuador in 1956 trying to take the Gospel to a remote and violent Indian tribe. He is remembered for his martyrdom as well as  for his saying: he is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep in order to gain that which he cannot lose.  Jim and the other young men believed this and proved it both in life and in death.
   Maybe less known however, is this fact: when Jim first went to Ecuador, he and another man built a church base at Shandia.  Just as they were finishing this backbreaking work in the heart of the jungle, the area experienced a devastating flood and all of their work was washed away.  Jim's comment was that he had heard the voice of God in the sound of many waters.
   Did that mean his ministry was dishonoring to God, that the congregation he was building was "untrue" to the Gospel and that's why God allowed this atypical flood to wash away their new church building?
    I don't think so.  (Fifty years after the event, it came out "accidentally" that the Indians who killed the 5 missionaries had seen a lot of people wearing white up  in the sky and had also heard strange music.  Sounds like the five men received a warm welcome Home to me. Not what you would expect for ministers who were "untrue".)
    The truth is, life can be scary.  I wish it weren't so but the Bible doesn't pull any punches when it says we will have tribulation here on earth and when it speaks in terms of spiritual warfare. Faithful followers of God live in a war zone.  And honestly, if we  stationed parrots amid every humble, God-honoring congregation, the birds would be squawking "in-coming!!!" so fast it would make our heads spin!
     God doesn't promise that "good" churches and "good" people will be exempt from natural disasters and afflictions  while "bad" ones will be decimated here on earth.  But He does promise that He will never leave us and that the things we suffer here will seem "momentary" and "light" once we get to Heaven.  (II Corinthians 4:17-18)
    Honestly, when I get scared, I sometimes wish I could find a magic formula - if I go to this church x number of times a week (or do this particular Bible study course or give to this ministry or feed the poor), then  I won't suffer like so-and-so. But I just don't see that in the Bible. Instead, I see that He is faithful, that He is merciful, that He is always with His children and that He is able to guard what we've entrusted to Him until the day when we meet the Lord Jesus face to face.
    And when I look through the lens of faith, I see that is enough...