Hero of the Faith

In my lifetime, I have had more than a handful of heroes. I am very grateful. My dad and my husband are obvious ones. An amazing son and two great daughters. A few more include some great Christian school teachers, administrators, and professors. But, today I want to single out Ravi Zacharias, undoubtedly the foremost Christian Apologist of modern and postmodern times. This great hero of faith passed away on May 19, 2020 after a brief battle with cancer.

In my life’s trajectory, I was long ago privileged to be a Christian high school student who understood the importance of Apologetics. With excellent Christian high school preparation, I was able to navigate college and career and family life with a solid biblical worldview. I gained an ability to defend my Christian faith. As a Christian school teacher and administrator, I deeply respected the Bible teachers who embraced the urgency of Christian Apologetics and who worked diligently to well train their students to be apologists.

In recent years, one outstanding Bible teacher with whom I had the privilege to work also became a close friend. Karen was genuinely a gift to her senior high school students. Her ability to train them was fueled by the Holy Spirit and developed under the influence of Ravi Zacharias. I encountered one of Karen’s students a few months ago who heralded Karen for the excellent preparation she received that enabled her to engage in intellectual debate with her college professors and navigate through a culture of peers with philosophies and faith issues splashed all over the spectrum. With faith still intact, I must add.

Ravi’s God-given vision in ministry (RZIM) was, and still is, to help believers to think and thinkers to believe. Thinking and believing – also the reality in my friend Karen’s ministry to young people. I am doubly blessed. Thankful for the godly influence of Ravi Zacharias paired with the dedicated heart of Karen to teach Truth and how to skillfully think about Truth.

Not coincidentally, in the livestream memorial service for Ravi Zacharias on Friday, May 29, 2020, part of Psalm 37 was read by Ravi’s daughter Sarah Davis. This scripture was the inspiration of my blog that I started 5 years ago (that you are reading now). Psalm 37 provided comfort and truth to me at a time when I walked through institutional spiritual warfare never before experienced in my lifetime. The voice of Ravi Zacharias reminded me to expect battles to be intense, and to remember the Battle Winner, Jesus Christ. Not as if waving a magic wand, but based upon faith strengthened through an intellectually sound apologetic. Thinking and believing.

Psalm 37:1-6 says, “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit you way to the Lord; trust in him and He will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun…” Even when the battle is intense, the Battle Winner is the trustworthy Lord.

Ravi’s daughter Naomi spoke about the blessing of her loving father. She testified that the most outstanding thing about her dad was that he loved her and saw her. Really saw her. Like Christ does. In a world where becoming invisible is on the uprise, Ravi, like Jesus, really saw people. He looked. He saw. He made people visible, cherished, valued, loved.

As God often does, in one moment He connects life events into a tapestry so that you can see His capable hands orchestrating a purposeful whole. During Ravi’s memorial service, God connected many things for me. Psalm 37. The music of Matt Redman and Shane & Shane. The message of Pastor Louie Giglio (Passion City Church, Atlanta, GA). The comments of Ravi’s brother Ramesh, showing me that the influence that one believer can have in one family is phenomenal. And the influence of a hero is a gift that continues giving long after his or her passing.

All these memorial reflections made me rehearse and be grateful for the spiritual heroes God has placed in my life. Those who helped me to think and to believe. Thank you Ravi Zacharias for helping believers to think and thinkers to believe. You are an enduring hero of the faith!

A Certain Kind of Joy

Photo Credit: Kim Clayton Lance

There is a certain kind of joy that can occur when we endure an impossibly hard season. Be it a pandemic, a terminal diagnosis, a death, shattered bones, infertility, betrayal by a spouse or friend or colleague, loss of employment, or persecution because of our faith, we can still experience the unique! Joy. If we know Jesus as Lord, in particular.

I’m not talking about happiness. This joy is more about confidence. It is more about hope being fixed on what is unseen, what is coming, what is promised. It is more about security in eternal terms. No way will we be happy about what we are enduring in the now. But we can be happy that God is lovingly showing us whether or not our faith is genuine. Fire turned up on high. Dross burned off. Hindrances vaporized. What’s left? Strong faith.

There is JOY IN THE SHOWING. I Peter 1:6-7 (NASB) says, “In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” This proof reveals lives miraculously transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. This evidence lets us know where truth faith is bubbling up.

There is JOY IN THE SEEING. God already knows the status of our faith. Weak or strong, marginal or steadfast. He already knows. The testing happens so that we can know it ourselves or that others can see the real live picture of Christ’s character in us. God sometimes uses the disastrous to thread perseverance through our lives. To make us dependent on Him. To make meaningful our wrestling. To prevent us from abandoning hope. To make us like Him.

Too, I have noticed that in Christ, one kind of suffering prepares us for the next season of suffering. When I replay God’s faithfulness and provision in the former seasons of my life, even if waiting on Him seemed endless (and it always does), I know His strength for the next season is accessible. This is a repeated revelation for me but, in one faith experiment I learned that I had a self-sufficiency problem. This was when I broke my upper right arm (after a trip and fall in CW). And yes, I am right-handed. I clearly saw the dross God wanted to remove. The testing of my faith was not wasted on that painful healing process! God exposed my dependence on myself and it definitely needed to be taken down a few notches.

There is JOY IN THE KNOWING. Settle assurance. I can make sense of my pain when my faith is being purified by my suffering. God allows it and God uses it. Like childbirth, I can even call pain productive. But, only if the process forces me to focus on the age to come instead of the temporal “sparks flying upward” (Job 5:7) life here on planet earth. I must see the unseen to be weaned away from obsession with the earthly. My heart must be lifted to unseen glories. Kate Warren defines joy this way: “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be all right, and the determined choice to praise God in all things.” Unseen glories. Still learning this lesson…

Romans 5:3-5 (NASB) says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God have been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

In this, there is a certain kind of joy.

The Great Initiator

My musings are usually triggered by books I’ve been reading (or walks I’ve been taking while flowers are in beautiful bloom). In the last few days, I put my favorite historical novels aside to read Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. As a former math teacher, I am intrigued by directionality as an underlying theme in the universe (except when it comes to my driving acumen). I still see the number line posted above the chalk board in all my classes. I’m always interested in the sequence of things…

Somewhat crimped by Zoom meetings, my church community is still alive and mostly well. Staying at home as the pandemic marches on, I’ve had time to think about what I’ve been missing, especially in church. But, maybe some other things too. Horton’s insights have helped me decipher the negative and positive directionality of my faith.

Although the answers should seem obvious, Horton’s questions challenged my thinking: Do I measure everything by God’s holiness or by my happiness? Did Jesus come to improve my life on earth or did He come to usher me into a new creation? Do I default to WWJD instead of meditating on “what Jesus has done?” My direction is usually in the negative direction, unfortunately.

Just now finishing up the study of Acts and Letters of the Apostles in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), I have hovered over Acts 2:42-47 as the true picture of the church: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

Sorting through some dichotomies that are in conflict in my heart.

Given: God is the Great Initiator. Then, He is the One who establishes the conduit to us, not vice versa. Positive direction. Horton says our devotion to Christ “is not a private inner garden where we walk and talk with Jesus,…but in a public garden with visible means of grace – there He forms a people, not just a person, by consecrating ordinary human speech as His Word, ordinary water as His baptism, ordinary bread and wine as His communion.” The public garden comes first. The private inner garden is secondary. Positive direction.

Grappling with the means of grace that God has initiated, I have come to understand that the Lord’s Supper is really a declaration of God’s action, not my willingness to remember something important. Direction. I see that baptism is an expression of God’s commitment, not mine. Direction. Preaching of the Word is God’s gift to us, but not the way I often receive it as a challenge to do more. And singing. No matter what my musical ability might be, singing is the vehicle for reviewing God’s countless mercies in His great Redemption story. It is the embodiment of Colossians 3:16 as we serve one another, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.”

God is the Great Initiator. He serves us through ordinary means of grace rather than what we often imagine – that we serve him through means of works. His intent is that we mature in Christ, become the new creation, through the ordinary life of the covenant community. He is forming a people. Ordinary speech, water, bread, wine. The preaching of His Word, baptism, communion, singing. The public garden. The positive direction – His initiation.

Measure all things by God’s holiness. Meditate on what Jesus has already done. God is the Great Initiator.

Do You Still Love Me?

Back in the day, my then young son would repeatedly ask me, “Do you still love me?” Granted, this was after some kind of misbehavior and some kind of “losing it” that I displayed. Shouting, screaming. Wondering why kids just can’t simply behave. I did all the things that parents probably shouldn’t do. Before kids, I remember witnessing moms losing it (maybe even smacking their children) in the grocery store while their kids were throwing tantrums. So public! So embarrassing. I said to myself, “I’ll never do that!” Of course, I would eat my words later.

“Just say, yes ma’am, and do it!” was my favorite phrase during my child- raising years, and I dreamed that my kids would just say “Yes ma’am” and actually do what I asked. Fat chance. Looking back, I’m pretty sure that I routinely overlooked the part of the job where parents are supposed to persuade their children that blatant misbehavior does not negate their love. That love is unconditional. That I would stand in front of an oncoming train to protect my kids. But, apparently that assurance of love was questionable in many cases. Either because of my lack of patience or my projected feeling that their misbehavior was a personal affront to me.

The little “Count Your Blessings” heart was actually given to me by my young son, I imagine for a Mother’s Day gift, but I didn’t keep the best records back then. Even this little treasure begged the question, “Do you still love me?” I’m pretty sure that my messaging was unclear, and at best, advanced a performance-based approach to life that continues to plague and uproot grace.

All I can say is – I prayed a lot when the kids were young. Through mistakes and traumatic scenes. Always asking God how I got myself into this intense parenting thing? Especially when everybody else made it look so easy? And how could I fix them into perfectly behaved little people? Was there a way? I surely wanted to find it.

Well, God’s answer to my prayer was that He was trying to fix me! Through and through. Yes, He was using my family, my children, to sanctify me and make me whole. Wish I had known early on. I would have preferred an easier route. After all, I was a first born achiever who fancied myself in control of outcomes. Oh no. OH NO! Instead, this was God’s priority for me – I Thessalonians 5:23 “May God himself, the God of peace sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Taking time to count your blessings is the antidote for insecurity. So, I’m counting my blessings now. The blessings of three beautiful children who were gifts from God to me. The blessings of three beautiful, but wildly different personalities that God used to get my attention. The blessings of three beautiful souls that, by God’s grace, call Him their Heavenly Father. The blessings of three beautiful thinkers that challenge me with their provocative ideas. The blessings of three beautiful influencers who are passing on the heritage of faith in Jesus Christ to their children. Talk about blessings. There is no argument here!

It is God Who is in control of outcomes. Genesis 49:25-26a says, “Because of your father’s God, who helps you, because of the Almighty, who blesses you with the blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb. Your father’s blessings are greater than the blessings of the ancient mountains, the the bounty of the age-old hills…”

My prayer is that my grandchildren will feel the deep assurance of first, God’s unconditional love, and then their parents’ unconditional love. No matter what the circumstances are. Including outright rebellion. Including wayward seasons. Including the small little foxes that spoil the vine. Including the unsettling or careless remarks that can’t be taken back. Including the most repeated word in the English language – “NO!” And, that the answer to “Do you still love me?” will always be an emphatic YES because of the love of Christ made manifest in their families.

I Corinthians 13:4-8a says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

My Cup Runneth Over

I have the privilege of grandparenting with three other sets of really wonderful grandparents! What a gift! These are the in-laws of each of my children. Turns out, they are all amazing, just the kind of grandparents you wish every child could have! But, there’s something else. There is an added gift among these in-laws. These are all praying grandparents!

I am serious. All these grandparents know the Lord Jesus and faithfully pray that God will watch over and protect our grandchildren, both shared and those whom we don’t share by marriage.

One of the grandmothers recently gave me Stormie Omartian’s book entitled THE POWER OF A PRAYING GRANDPARENT.

Here’s a portion of one of the prayers:

“Lord, I lift up my grandchildren (by name) to You. Help me to clearly see the spiritual inheritance I leave each one when I pray for them. Thank You for all of the wonderful promises in Your Word that declare You will bless my children and grandchildren when I live Your way. I know that children are a gift from You and grandchildren are a crown of glory upon my life (Proverbs 17:6). I know that whether I can see my grandchildren often or not, I can still be close to them every time I pray for them.”

During this time of pandemic anxiety, one of my grandchildren was born into the world. March 2020 will always be a memorable month! Her entrance into our family was a great reminder that God is indeed the Giver of the great gifts of life! And God indeed entrusts grandparents with the privilege of praying for these precious ones.

When those grandbabies were born, my heart overflowed with joy. Like a cup overflowing. Psalm 23:5b-6 says, “…You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

It’s good to know that I can still be close to my grandchildren when I pray for them, even when social distancing makes it difficult to visit at the moment. I can still experience God’s goodness and love, even when circumstances would prefer to steal my “grandparent joy” away and replace it with worry. I can still pray that God’s mercy surrounds my grandchildren all the days of their lives.

Since God’s dwelling place is unshakeable, I know one way to pray for these young ones. “That nothing can separate them from the love of Christ, not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (Romans 8:35).” That God’s goodness and love will follow them all the days of their lives. That they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

This is my prayer for you all – Kayla, Brooke, Ella, Caroline, Jack, and Ava. What gifts you are to your grandparents. And what a privilege it is to pray for you!

But Our Eyes are Upon You

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(Photo Credit – Kim Clayton Lance)

One of my favorite pastors is Dr. David Jeremiah (senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church in California and founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries). I love his books. I love his style. Mainly, I love his steadfast passion for the Lord! He is a great teacher. A great preacher. Yesterday, I saw a YouTube clip from one of Dr. Jeremiah’s current sermons offering a great perspective on the Covid19 pandemic. It was very encouraging. Dr. Jeremiah highlighted the prayer of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:5-12). It is an ancient prayer, long past. But, the prayer could so appropriately be the prayer of our hearts right now.

Years ago, I had already highlighted this prayer of King Jehoshaphat in my Bible…

2 Chronicles 20:5-12 New King James Version (NKJV)

Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court, and said: “O Lord God of our fathers, are You not God in heaven, and do You not rule over all the kingdoms of the nations, and in Your hand is there not power and might, so that no one is able to withstand You? Are You not our God, who drove out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel, and gave it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? And they dwell in it, and have built You a sanctuary in it for Your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us—sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine—we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.’ 10 And now, here are the people of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir—whom You would not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt, but they turned from them and did not destroy them— 11 here they are, rewarding us by coming to throw us out of Your possession which You have given us to inherit. 12 O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.”

Most of our responses to things are based upon our focus. This I know. When my eyes are upon Jesus, there is no room for fear. When my eyes are upon anything else, my anxiety will surely rise up. I heard it said one time that “we are what we look at.” Ouch! So true. What we look at indicates what our heart desires. I am praying that the eyes of my heart stay focused on the God who rules over all the kingdoms and nations. The God who hears and saves. The God whose power and might no one can withstand.

Psalm 141:8 (NIV) “But my eyes are fixed on You, O Sovereign Lord; in You I take refuge – do not give me over to death.”

But keep our eyes upon You, Lord, I pray.

A Whisper of Easter

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God surely has a way of lifting up His countenance upon us! My husband and I recently welcomed a beautiful new granddaughter into our family. A baby! In March 2020. In the middle of a pandemic. God has a way! We recently enjoyed some home-smoked barbecue from our son-in-law. Delicious! God has a way! We have had regular FaceTime visits with our grandchildren who live 45 minutes away. Ages almost 2, 4, and 6. Blessed chaos! God has a way!

I am not usually a participant in chain letters. I’ve never had much trouble saying no to invitations to anything “chain.” I’m not even comfortable with text chains with unrecognizable numbers. But, I recently made an exception. The purpose of the chain was to provide an “uplift” to women. And yes, I got a few “no’s” and I didn’t really expect the 20 of my friends that I thought might participate to actually participate… They might not even speak to me again…

But, I received some pearls in the desert! Refreshing. Encouraging. Unexpected. Smile-producing. Heart-warming. Grace-filled. God has a way! And, I happened to recognize two out of the four responders (small world!):

One sister-in-Christ wrote: “John 1:14 ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory. The glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of truth and grace.’ One of my favorite verses. Praying for all. Hope this finds you and yours well. And sane!” The sanity part is up for grabs. But, this happens to be one of my favorite verses too!

Another sister wrote: “I want to encourage you today that, no matter what your circumstances say, God is Sovereign, Wise, and Good! He is love and He loves you. Trust in Him! I Chronicles 5:20 ‘…for they cried out to God in the battle, and He granted their urgent plea because they trusted in Him.’ Your sister, Angela.”

Another wrote: “Hope you and your family are well during this strange time in our lives. Here is what I wanted to share with you… Isaiah 41:10 ‘So do not fear for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ ” She attached a YouTube original song, written and sung with additional encouragement. God has a way!

The fourth one wrote: “Numbers 6:24-26 ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face shine upon you, And be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, And give you peace.’ Have a great night!”

Words can be used for amazing good. And yes, The Lord surely lifts up His countenance upon us. Even now. These words provided me with a whisper of Easter.