Have you ever thought of the verb "steward" in the context of pain, suffering, and sorrow? Bill Johnson, Senior Pastor at Bethel Church in Redding, California, taught me about this concept. In a recent sermon he preached after the death of his beloved wife, Beni, Bill spoke about the mystery of life and death and how it impacts our relationship with God. He made it clear that we cannot reevaluate what God is like because of loss.
Mark 10:15 quotes Jesus: "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Jesus affirmed child-like faith to His disciples. Bill explains living with mystery in relationship to childlikeness. "The inability to live with mystery is your resistance to childlikeness. It is childlikeness that gives us access to dimensions and realms of the Kingdom that you can't get any other way. Childlike faith trusts no matter what."
Pain and loss, Bill says, presents us with an opportunity. "We only have one opportunity to steward a moment of pain." This word steward really caught my attention. The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the verb steward with the following words: manage, supervise, direct, handle, oversee, tend. I believe Bill is suggesting that we redeem our pain by directing it into a time of worship. He explains that the best way to mourn is through hope. Those of us who know Jesus understand that with Him there is always hope. He is the Redeemer! Let's look at Romans 5:2b-5. "And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirt, who has been given to us."
God gave us His first and best gift—His Son, Jesus, as a sacrifice so that we could have everlasting life with Him. This poured out love is never ending. The best way for us to connect with His love is through worship. Worship expressed in difficulties and sorrow and during times of inexpressible pain is what puts us into His Presence. Bill says, "Answers don't fix the problem; Presence does." True worship presents the Lord with an offering that costs us something.
Didn't Jesus model this for us? His pain and suffering on the Cross were unimaginable! He experienced separation from God and yet He trusted Him. His last words were, "Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit." (Luke 23:46) Jesus knew that His Father is always good and would use the seed of His death for a great harvest. We must follow HIs example by stewarding our moments of pain when they present themselves to us. We must embrace childlike faith and trust the Lord to redeem our pain. Remember, in heaven we will not be able to worship in pain. Bill says this "privilege" only comes on earth. He continues: "Worship is expressing joy in loss and celebration in pain. I must honor Him as the Healer that I know He is even when I do not see it. He does not owe me an explanation. I must give Him an offering that costs me."
Job 13:15 begins, "Though He slay me, yet I will hope in Him..." We have a reason to embrace hope, as Bill explains. "Every loss and disappointment can become a seed that brings increase. God uses our crisis's to help us grow. Jesus takes our pain and loss and gives them to God. He will plant them and will be glorified by the blessing." Bill prayed a prayer for all of us: "May you be blessed with courage to lean into mystery and experience who He is as an unfailing, unchanging Father who is always good!" Amen!
Those who were in the twin towers on 9/11/2001 and lived through it were forever changed. Such is the case for Leslie Haskin, who put her experience into words in her book Between Heaven and Ground Zero. The horror she endured left her with PTSD. Making her way down 36 floors amidst collapsed walls and stairs, shell-shocked people, and dead bodies imprinted her mind with confusion, pain, and fear.
Here is some of what Leslie wrote about her life after 9/11: "I rode an elevator 36 floors and got off in the middle of a lunatic's delusion of justice. The terrorist attacks of September 11 shattered my life and left me with nothing to rebuild...I had flashbacks that caused me to react. They felt as real as being there all over again. I could smell the building. I could hear the bells. I was drawn to roadkill...I was anxious all the time and afraid of my own backyard, convinced that the Taliban was hiding inside my shed...My future was hopeless...I had panic attacks when left alone and anxiety attacks when too many people were around. Sleep was impossible without sleeping pills, which only worked for a few hours." (Pages 122 - 123)
Leslie felt the tug of God on her heart as she went through her healing journey. Psalm 13 became significant to her. It starts with questions: "How long wilt Thou forget me, O Lord? Forever? How long wilt Thou hide Thy face from me? (Verse 1 - KJV) The Psalm ends with an acknowledgment of God's faithfulness. "But I have trusted in Thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord because He hath dealt bountifully with me." (Verses 5-6 - KJV) As she healed, the Lord began to speak to Leslie about forgiveness. On one of her morning walks she heard it. "This morning, through the open heart of a CD, there is an insistent yet gentle call. 'Forgiveness is absolute.'"
God's timing is perfect. He knows what we are capable of and when we can do what He desires. Leslie records what happened on her walk: "For the first time, I cried with my whole heart and soul—with abandon—like there was no one else in the world but me, and Islam. I fell to the ground and my knees scraped against gravel. Tears poured down my face. I was weak and divided and I remembered… Everything that I couldn't forget. I remembered what they did. I remembered all that they did—the massacre, the horror, and all the intent. Then...I let go. You see, I knew in my heart that there was no turning back. Because when it is time to leave a place, it is impossible to stay. I was moving on. Forgiveness is not conditional. 'And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.'" (Pages 142 - 144)
Leslie calls the chapter on forgiveness "Light of the World - Into the Heart of Islam." She begins by re-writing a note found in the clothing of a dead child at Ravens Bruck Concentration Camp. Here is what it said: "O Lord, Remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all of the suffering they have inflicted upon us: Instead, remember the fruits we have borne because of this suffering, our fellowship, our loyalty to one another, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart that has grown from this trouble. When our persecutors come to be judged by you, let all of these fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness."
This brings me to tears. I am sure that our Savior, Jesus Christ, must have a seat of honor for this person in Heaven. What maturity! What insight! What compassion! What love! Whoever this person is, they truly understood what the Lord did for them on the Cross. We should think in a similar way!
A significant date on the Hebrew calendar is Tammuz 17 (July 16 on our calendar for 2022). On this date, Moses returned from his visit with God bringing the Ten Commandments on a set of tablets. He was horrified to find that the Israelites were sinning by worshiping the golden calf they made while he was on Mount Sinai. They were sacrificing to their hand-made idol and "indulging in revelry." (Exodus 32:6) Scripture tells us that the anger of Moses "burned, and he threw the tablets out of his hands, breaking them to pieces at the foot of the mountain." (Exodus 32:19)
When the Israelites were ready to enter the Promised Land, they sent 12 leaders (one from each tribe) to investigate the land of Canaan. They spent much of the month of Tammuz, the fourth month, in this Promised Land forming opinions that they would report to the rest of the tribes. The spies returned on the 9th of Av, the fifth month. All but two of the twelve gave a bad report and led the rest of the camp into making a bad decision, a decision based on fear, that would keep an entire generation out of the Promised Land.
The three-week period between Tammuz 17 and Av 9 is now one that is named "The Dire Straits." Looking back in history, we see that this period of time has repeatedly been a tumultuous one where evil agendas prospered. The name for this three-week period came from Lamentations 1:3. "Judah has gone into captivity; under affliction and hard servitude. She dwells among the nations; She finds no rest. All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits." (NKJ) In Hebrew it is "Bein Hametzarim" and can be translated "narrow straights." The Jewish people mark this day with a fast and remember that it was also the date when the walls of Jerusalem were breached by the Romans in 69 AD.
Over the years, the three weeks in The Dire Straits have been a time of crisis and destruction. The enemy of our souls has this time frame marked on his calendar so that year after year he attempts to destroy the Jews, the Church, and all Believers in Yeshua. The enemy wants to destroy our spiritual temples and our walk with God. How should we deal with the next three weeks? First, we should take the advice that Peter gives us in 1 Peter 5:8-9. "Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith..." Next, we must remember the tumultuous seasons of the past and prepare for the battle. Hosea warns the children of Israel: "My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." (Hosea 3:6)
Chuck Pierce, leader of Glory of Zion in Texas, calls Tammuz the "filmstrip" month. He encourages us to look back at each frame of the "strip" to review our progression of life and stop to make adjustments so that we stay on the Lord's path. The Israelites failed because they did not remember the ways in which God had cared for them time and time again as they traveled through the wilderness. They did not recall the faithfulness of God in keeping HIs promises.
Satan's demons will be working overtime during this month as they attempt to entice us into building idols instead of directing our eyes and hearts toward our Lord. We should use the next three weeks to repent of our sins and destroy any legal right the kingdom of darkness has because of it. Also, we must not build any idols. John Wesley calls an idol "anything or anyone that we love more than God." Then, we must "guard our hearts, for everything we do flows through it." (Proverbs 4:23) Finally, let's make this time one of extravagant worship to the Lord. He is worthy of all our praise and honor and worship.
It was like a prophetic sign from God. My husband and I went to the beach to relax, look at the ocean and sky, and read our books. At my recommendation, Jac brought one of my favorite ones: Waterspouts of Glory, written by Wade Taylor. Wade explains his choice of title on the back cover of the book. "If He (God) finds within us even the slightest aspiration to truly know Him, He will demonstrate a singular interest in us. This personal attention which we receive from the Lord is comparable to a waterspout which is formed by a wind pattern that whips rain into a funnel of water, then directs it toward a singular point of destination. While the rain showers upon all, a waterspout aims a deluge upon one, thus, 'all thy waves and thy billows are gone over me.'"
We no sooner situated ourselves on the beach than an enormous, dark cloud came overhead. From the top of the cloud both of us discerned what looked like a white trail of exhaust coming from an airplane. Only this condensation trail was descending toward the ocean. As it hit the warm surface, a fountain of water rose. The column of cloud-filled wind continued to spin and delight us with its waterspout on the ocean. It was the first time either one of us had seen such a sight. We learned afterward that the conditions were perfect for a waterspout from the cloud. They require high humidity and warm water temperatures. This is what we had.
The Scripture that Wade quotes from the King James Bible comes from Psalm 42:7. "Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers swept over me." (NIV) How fitting that the Lord would display what Jac was reading about in his book! We had a personal demonstration of being caught up with Him in the whirl of His Kingdom glory. The column of cloud had a pinpoint destination in the ocean. This is what God does when He decides to choose us. 2 Chronicles 16:9 talks about something similar. "For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him." When He finds that person who is totally committed to Him no matter their circumstances, He catches them up with Him.
Sometimes the experience of God's love comes to us in the most difficult situations. He requires us to trust in Him beyond our understanding. Psalm 25:14 reminds us that "The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him; and He will show them His covenant." The meaning of the word "fear" here is a deep reverence and trust. According to Wade, "The Lord is looking for a people who will allow the Word to become active within their life circumstances to transform them. These must submit their lives unconditionally to the Lord and invite Him to come within to accomplish His purposes."
The bottom line is that the Lord chooses those who choose Him. He desires to be first in our lives and wants to see that we have the highest level of commitment to Him. Here is how Wade Taylor puts it: "The Lord knows our heart intention and the potential that is within us, and He responds accordingly." We must ask ourselves: "Is it our desire to be caught up in the waterspout of His glory?" The Lord is looking for those who have childlike faith and trust in Him. He is looking for a people who find no greater joy or purpose in life than to go deeper with Him. Let deep call unto deep.
In early 1776 Thomas Paine brought the idea of independence from Great Britain to the forefront of the colonists in America through his document called "Common Sense." Its two main points were independence from England and creation of a democratic republic. By July 2, our Founding Fathers decided to declare that independence and on July 4, 1776, America was born. The Declaration of Independence declared that a separation from England was justified to secure our "God-given rights." Later, John Adams said, "The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity."
Indeed, Christianity had a profound influence on our Founding Fathers. Many of them recognized that for democracy to be successful the nation's people would have to be educated in the morals and values of Christianity and that the Bible would be the text from which they should learn these. Because of this, many schools were established to teach the principles of the Bible and to encourage faith in God in the country's young people.
The American landscape is full of churches that were planted to worship God and help grow up generations of individuals with strong faith. I believe that without a powerful base of citizens with a strong faith in God America would have failed. It was the faith of the generations that came before us that helped them endure hardships and gave them the willingness to sacrifice for a better tomorrow.
Attacking the faith of the Christian community has been, and continues to be, a strategy of the evil one. It is amazing that we have been able to prevail. Some might take exception with this idea, but I believe that it is the faith of the Christian community that will save the nation of the United States from destruction. There is a remnant of Believers that has taken a stand to defy the attacks of evil. There will continue to be challenges to our Christian activities in the future, but our stand on the foundation of righteousness and justice will be the key to our success.
How should a Christian mark Independence Day this year? May I suggest that we bind together in prayer. Let us repent for the sins of our nation. We must ask God to forgive us for not putting Him first and following His ways. We must acknowledge that we have turned away from the Lord's commandments and justified the sin in our lives. Those who serve our country in government or military need our prayers for protection and blessing. They also need to understand the truth, for it is the truth that will set them free. (John 8:32) For those who are deceived, we must pray for them to be awakened and that salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ would be theirs. It is imperative that we call on the mercies of God to shield and protect the Church in this hour and that she would be strong in shining God's light and love brightly. Expressing our thanksgiving is a must! Let us ask God to awaken and revive our nation so that we will be leaders in proclaiming the goodness of God to the world. We should remember God's promises to us through His Word, especially the one that tells us He will never leave or forsake us. (Hebrews 13:5, Deuteronomy 31:8) Here is what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians: "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." (Verse 6)
Joan E. Mathias