Who Prayed For Paul?

The headlines ran red. If there were a secret first century parchment bearing news, prayers and encouragement, circulating the dispersed believers, surely it read, “ Steven, our beloved brother in the faith, perished at the hands of Saul and the religious leaders. He breathed his last yet full of the Spirit and testifying to the goodness of Jesus.”

Maybe, John picked up that parchment or maybe he wrote it, heart aching. What a loss for the early church! No doubt Christians across the known world knelt in their homes and small gatherings, praying fervently for Steven’s family, the progress of the Gospel, their own safety and Christ’s soon return. But who prayed for Saul?

The early church knew who was responsible for much of their terror, and God asked them to do the unbelievable. After Jesus appeared to Saul on the road to Damascus, He approached one of His own, a man named Ananias, and told him to go to Saul and lay his hands on him: “ ‘Lord,’ Ananias answered, ‘I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.’ ” (Acts 9:13, 14)

I wonder about that as our own headlines run red. Every single day we learn of more Christians, more People of the Cross, losing their lives for the name of Jesus. And, I kneel. I kneel by my bed and pray with tears streaming down my face. My emotions boil, a hot alloy of anger, fear, compassion and longing for justice. I lift up the Coptic Christians, those in Syria, Pastor Saeed Abedini, the orphans, the widows and those fighting for freedom.

But who prays for ISIS? Who prays for the Muslim Brotherhood? Who prays for Boko Haram and Vladimir Putin? Who prays for Al Queda?

Last Sunday, I served on prayer team at my church. Five of us huddled in the church office praying for the service and everything the Spirit laid on our hearts. We prayed for the church worldwide, but in that hour, none of us prayed for the persecutors. I have to confess, that even on my own time, I am reticent to pray for them. It’s not that I haven’t thought of it; it’s just that I don’t want to.

But in the biblical account, God didn’t let prayer warriors off the hook. In Acts 9:15-17, He replied to Ananias, “ ‘Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ ”

If Ananias had refused God, if he had found praying for the murderer of his Christian brothers just too hard, what would have become of Saul? Who would have become Paul? Who would have written the majority of the New Testament? Who would have written Romans, the consummate doctrine of salvation by grace through faith?

God may have asked Ananias to do the unbelievable, but God proved that He will do the impossible. The bulk of our sacred New Testament was penned by the very man who once slaughtered People of the Cross.

Might God dramatically change the trajectory of history if Christians today pray for the persecutors? Can you imagine, for a split second, the magnificent manifestation of God’s glory if those perpetuating evil turned their hearts toward Jesus?

Do you think we should be praying for terrorists? What should we pray?

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When Faith Isn’t Enough

flag-813543-mAt 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned (2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

An Exquisite Melding of History, Imagination and Insight

Life is never linear and subplots are rarely graphed at convenient intervals. Our companions do not play merely supporting roles. No, there are layers and varying degrees of angles in our timelines. Often our loved ones take on the starring role in our stories.

That might have been Morris Sullivan’s perspective. A Life Apart, the excellent new novel by L.Y. Marlow, begins as his story—a young soldier aboard the USS Oklahoma, safely nestled in Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, and ends in a tangle of characters and circumstances with no true north.

In 1941, Morris’s life was moderately complicated. His marriage to Agnes, his high school girlfriend, was insecure. Confused about his lagging love and devotion to her and their baby daughter, Emma, Morris was content to focus exclusively on his work. There he felt safe, affirmed and life was predictable.

Then, all hell broke lose on December 7, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. That event was the catalyst for change in Morris’s personal life too. It’s always the same with life-changing disasters. Nothing returns to “normal”.

In, A Life Apart, the reader empathizes with Morris as the rudder of his life is wrenched from his hands and course is set toward the unimaginable. Here enter the other characters who complicate, and in some ways consume the rest of Morris’s life.

Few authors can weave five strong personalities together so well that, by the end of the book, it’s difficult to decipher who was the central protagonist. Even fewer can harness those characters, explore, follow and endear them to the reader over the course of 45 years.
L.Y. Marlow has done just that and done it superbly.

Marlow leads the reader right past several foreseeable endings. Brazenly, she layers racial conflict upon infidelity, war upon self-sacrifice and redemption, cancer upon recovery, mental illness upon academic success, deception upon brutal honesty and finally, Marlow weaves an ending of peaceful conclusion, if not “happily ever after”. As I closed the book, I felt a gentle sigh of resignation and acceptance escape my lips.

I would read this book again 100 times over, and I’ve already book marked Marlow’s other works on my Kindle. If you like excellent writing, imaginative, historical fiction and prose that inspire and inform a life-well-lived, you must read A Life Apart.

Book Review, Widow of Gettysburg

“I was reading that book.” The lady in the chair next to me at the nail salon peered over my shoulder. “I haven’t finished yet, though. It was really sad and hard to read.”

I bantered with her briefly, telling her I’d just barely cracked the book’s spine. Then with a polite smile, tucked my nose back into the pages of, Widow of Gettysburg. Mentally I pleaded, “Don’t talk to me!” I came less for the foot massage and more for the uninterrupted hour to transform myself into Liberty Holloway.

Widow of Gettysburg is a beautifully done historical fiction novel reviving the all-but-forgotten legacies of the valiant women behind the lines during the Civil War. Liberty Holloway, a fresh bride, was widowed before the story opens. Now, bravely, she muddles through the arduous tasks of maintaining her farm and converting it into an inn.

In the first act, the steps toward conflict are subtle. Liberty has irritating conversations with her mother-in-law.  When she attempts to lay aside her mourning clothes, she receives cold-shoulders from overly-pious community women. A mysterious but attractive stranger shares a meal and disappears. A swelling, lonely, restlessness tone underlies the narrative.

Jocelyn Green is superb at developing conflict, steeping the reader like a well-used tea bag, in the emotions of each character. By the end of the first act, all of the primary characters have been introduced, and the reader can empathize with each one even as they are at odds with each other.

Act II, “The Heavens Collide”, in every sense of the word. Looming rumors of the battles drawing close to Gettysburg are suddenly proved violently true. In the span of seconds, Holloway Farm is seized to serve as a field hospital for Confederate wounded. Though her husband fought and died for the Union’s cause, Liberty finds herself compelled by her faith and compassion to nurse the wounded men spilling over her property.

Here I experienced what my companion at the nail salon had expressed. This book is hard to read. Green holds nothing back in describing bloody, do-or-die amputations. She doesn’t shy away from depicting ravaged bodies strewn across battle fields, or piles of life-less limbs, the blood seeping into kitchen floors, creeks and rivers tainted with corpses or barn doors converted to operating tables.

Neither does Green take sides when revealing the motives behind both the Union and Confederacy’s causes. Fearlessly, she reminds the readers that there was corruption as well as innocence on both sides of the lines. She shows the vulnerability of women as well as their courage and tenacity to rise above their fears and weaknesses.

Woven into the very real conflict of war, Green deploys the requisite romantic conflict. But even that is complicated by the undercurrent of racism, the very fuel that stoked the fire of the Civil War.

Book 2 in the, “Heroines Behind the Lines” series is exquisite. Nothing Green begins is left undone. At the same time, there is no pretentious “happily ever after”, as there never is in real life and certainly didn’t exist in the aftermath of the Civil War.

This book is well researched; an incredibly useful tool for studying American history. Also, the theme of faith is well developed making the book practical for Christian book clubs and deeper discussion.

Book Review, Wedded to War

Wedded to War, attains to all standards of excellence for an historical fiction novel. Far beyond whetting my appetite, author, Jocelyn Green, left me practically drooling for the sequel. With very few embellishments she relates an already fascinating story.

Charlotte Waverly is the fictional imprint of Georgeanna Woolsey, a nurse serving with the Sanitary Commission, the precursor of the Red Cross, during the Civil War. Her story is the opposite of the overdone “rags to riches” tale, and this is what makes the story so compelling. Against all tradition, expectations and social mores, this brave young woman left her aristocratic heritage and dug her hands deeply into soil of America’s battlefields. With filth and blood clinging to the hem of her skirts, she nursed, cleaned, fed and comforted the wounded and dying soldiers of the Union army.

The truths of suffering, courage and dogged determination are enough to craft a rich story. The truths of honor and right triumphing over prejudice and hate is enough to strengthen our hearts. The truth of history and a longing to learn from past mistakes is enough to deepen our resolve to know such stories as that of Georgeanna Woolsey. The knowledge of generations of women who served their way toward equal rights and equal opportunities, is enough to make us thrill as we read the tales of the valiant women who volunteered in the Sanitary Commission. As we read, our hearts quicken with patriotism and pride.

Wedded to War, would be excellent if it were merely a precise retelling of Georgeanna’s adventures as a Civil War nurse. But, couple that with Green’s rich descriptions, a few additional elements of romance and historically accurate, fictional characters to deepen the overall scope of the book, it becomes an unparalleled read.

On a more technical note, Wedded to War, is appropriately paced. Every chapter leaves the reader piqued but satisfied, as if pleasantly full from an exquisite meal, but hungry for dessert.  Green’s descriptions are vivid and complex but not tedious. All of the characters are fully developed. I felt like Mary Poppins, popping in and out of a sidewalk painting so that I could live realistically within the story as if it were happening this very moment.

Maybe this book had a little more to offer me than it might to every reader. As the spouse of a military officer, Green’s portrayal of heroic men and women and their actions in the midst of war, gave me great insight into my husband’s calling, and subsequently my own. Through this book, I was encouraged to honor my husband more than ever, to be incredibly grateful for all that he has done and is willing to do for me, for this country, for freedom.

This is history that must not be forgotten. And I can think of no better way to remember it and to pay tribute to those who paved the roads to the freedom we enjoy today as a country, as women, as individuals, than to read books such as this one.

Do Something… or die

I grew up with the understanding that evangelism is important – people need to know that Jesus is not only the assurance of eternal life, but that He makes this life worth living. In the throes of my eating disorder, I was absolutely ready and willing to kill myself, check out, be done with it all. If not for Jesus, who gave me an underlying assurance of hope and peace, I would have died. If starving had not stopped my heart, I would have done it intentionally.

It wasn’t so much that Christians are always saying, “suicide is a sin,” I mean once I’m dead, what do I care? But it was something about this Jesus, something about His companionship in my pain, that made me want to try life one more day, one more day at a time.

Then I married a soldier. My personal soldier isn’t very vulnerable, and it’s been rare when he let me in his private fears. I did notice a heightened sense of mortality and sobering responsibility when he was deployed and in command. He felt the burden of not only his soldiers’ lives but their eternity. He places a great burden on the Army chaplains to do their job boldly and with an acute awareness of the personalities and needs of their audience.

His most recent assignment has been at Arlington Cemetery. Again, a place and situation where he is daily faced with death and often looks into faces of people who clearly have no hope. What then? Can we allow the very men and women who are willing to die for our freedoms – can we allow them to enter the battlefield without having done everything possible to offer them the assurance of salvation through Jesus Christ?

I am an avid reader of Table Talk Magazine. As a subscriber, I was recently made aware of an opportunity to arm our military chaplains with unique resources to share the gospel during deployments and in garrison. Given the recent assaults  on religious freedom in the military, fully arming chaplains with useful resources is both helpful to their efforts and encouraging to them personally.

Here is an opportunity, presented by Ligonier Ministries through their chaplain support program, to care for the souls of soldiers. It’s time we did more than verbally espouse our support for the military, fasten yellow magnets to our cars, or shake a soldier’s hand at church. Care more. Do more. Do something!

GIVE HERE. 

FREEBIE!

 I’ve been reading a book called Sun Stand Still, by Steven Furtick. We’ve done two other book reviews on this blog, so this one will end with a giveaway as well.

The book’s premise is that many Christians are afraid to pray big prayers like Joshua’s prayer in Joshua 10.  Moses’s successor had a lot to live up to. As he chased the Amorites over hill, God pounded them with large stones from heaven. The Israelites had already won the victory when Joshua spoke God, “Make the sun stand still!”

Do you ever feel like you’re asking too much of God? He has already done so much for you. Do you really have a right to ask for one thing more? Joshua believed he did. “God, even though your enemies are already on the run, crush them for your glory. Do a miracle so big, that in your name this battle will go down in history!”

Do you ever pray under your breath? Are there some big requests that you’re too timid to share? Do you finish all your request with caveats and loop holes just in case God doesn’t answer the right way or fast enough? 

“At that time Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord gave the Amorites over to the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel…” (Josh. 10:12) IN THE PRESENCE OF ISRAEL. If God didn’t stop the sun in its tracks Joshua was going to look pretty foolish. How much confidence do you have in your God? How much confidence do you have in your knowledge of His will and the sound of His voice?

It’s a symptom of the Christian Atheist. I’ve often realized, with remorse, that I trust God with my eternity, but I don’t trust him for my today. For me that can mean I don’t believe he can get me through a family dinner, or a missed workout or a piece of birthday cake. But of course, I believe Jesus redeemed me for heaven. See the discrepancy?

I have a relationship hurdle in my life right now. I’m at odds with someone really close to me. It’s a relationship that I can’t just let go. I’ve prayed, a million ways, a million times and frankly, I don’t see a whole lot of improvement. Sometimes I’m not afraid to pray big, I just feel too worn out to pray. Kind of, “God you know what I’m thinking, but I’ve said it so many times that…” My attitude is a pessimistic, if God hasn’t answered yet, maybe I should just give up. 
I do have to admit though, that I feel closer to Father than ever before. I see more of my sin. I hear from the Holy Spirit more often than ever before. Many times it is reproof. But His voice is so sweet. Even when what He has to say stings, I am so thrilled that God speaks to me! I wonder if without heartaches, would I have cried out to God the way that I am now?
It’s funny, because what began as disbelief and resignation about God’s interference in this situation, has increased my belief in God in other areas of my life and come full circle to increase my belief in His willingness and ability to make this relationship worthy of His glory.
Ps. 119:71-72 says, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.”

So here’s the deal: You need to leave a comment on this post. You have one week. In your comment tell me about your own Sun Stand Still prayer; or you can share your personal struggle with Christian Atheism. On Nov. 2, we will draw a winner from the commentors and they will receive a copy of either Sun Stand Still or Christian Atheist – winner’s choice.