The Reading Disciple

Every suffering heart eventually comes face to face with a pivotal question, for the pain of our circumstances hinders us as we remove layer after layer of uncertainty until we finally hear His whisper, “Do you trust Me?”

I have personally wrestled with this question, because the truth is it is the last thing you want to hear when you are in pain. My own disappointment with God seemed to scream that He is not faithful or good, but the fact is that we live in a fallen world where our enemy delights in using every negative situation to destroy our relationship with the Lord.book-recommend

What I once perceived as God’s wrath through my suffering was actually Him pursuing me. What would have happened if Jonah was not cast into the sea? He would have turned his back on God. No doubt you have heard that we learn obedience through suffering. This is true, but less commonly known is that there is an intimacy with God that is available through the catalyst of pain for the simple reason that “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). We either use the white-hot noise of pain to springboard ourselves into the arms of God, or we run like Jonah.

But how can we experience that sweet tenderness with the Lord if we don’t trust Him? It is difficult to trust anyone when we don’t know if their heart is good. Authors Brent Curtis and John Eldredge call this intimacy The Sacred Romance. In their book of the same title, they beautifully express God’s passionate pursuit of us. The Sacred Romance unveils the loving heart of God and gently shows that the deepest longing of the human soul is for an adventurous love affair with our Maker.

book-recommendationJohn Piper eloquently states, “God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him.” In his book When I Don’t Desire God, How to Fight for Joy, Piper explains that contentment in suffering is achieved through an eternal perspective in that we need to cast off everything that hinders (Rom. 12:1) or, more simply put, to dissolve all attachment with the natural and to treasure nothing except that sacred relationship with the Savior. Of course, this is not an easy task and requires faith, but once our gaze is fixed on our eternal home, there is serenity. An eternal perspective helps us realize that He is sufficient. We have the freedom to love God without the fear of losing Him because we know that this is not our true home.

The wonderful pursuit of God will begin to change our lives as we love Him, not for possessions, success, direction, prosperity, or any other thing but His passion for us. In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer expounds on this concept by explaining that those who make God their treasure have lost nothing because they have all things in One. This inspired and Scripturally sound book will topple tradition-infested doctrine like a house of cards. The truth in the title resounds so loudly it will cause you to examine the falsehoods of “religion” and understand that the fatherly heart of God is good and trustworthy.

Yes, we will face suffering in this world. Our disappointment with God may burn away the chaff of our “religion” leaving nothing but pure, unadulterated faith. This world may fail us, our church may fail us, our friends and family may fail us, but God will never fail. He will relentlessly pursue our hearts. Whether to the depths of the sea or the heights of success, we will never walk alone. God is faithful to give grace for our most filthy sin, comfort in unimaginable pain, faith in our darkest doubt, victory in our fiercest battle. In fact, He is faithful to give Himself.

I hope that these three books would help you to trust that our beautiful Savior is more than enough.

book-recomendbio

 

Audrey lives in Delmar, MD with her husband and two young children. She blogs about surviving motherhood with her faith intact at www.sanitybreaks.weebly.com.

By: Audrey

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

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Defeating Depression

A Story of a Family That Prayed Through

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-5 NIV)

[Debbie’s account]

We don’t need to look very far to observe someone who is suffering. Just this morning while on Facebook, I read the blog of a young mother. She is living each day under the oppression of cancer as she waits for her little boy to die. Her life and home have been consumed by the disease. She mentioned that she glanced into a mirror and noticed how the horror of her sons cancer had overtaken her body as well. Her skin is now wrinkled and worn. Her smile is no longer visible. Suffering has a way of doing that.

            My family has also suffered, but the symptoms of my depression were harder to spot. It began as what felt like a tired, bad mood. Sleep began to escape me and anxiety moved in. My life was busy as a mom to four children, so I pushed through. I began to ask God to help me feel normal.  My asking turned to begging as time crept by.  Each day I felt myself slipping closer and closer to the edge of a black hole. The harder I tried to cling to the edge, it seemed, the deeper I slid. Until one evening, after struggling to fall asleep, I awoke abruptly. I felt as though I couldn’t breathe, my arms and legs shook uncontrollably. I thought for certain that I was dying. I prodded my husband to wake him. “Pray for me!” is all I could get out. And so it began…

Fear that this would happen again kept me from sleep. When exhaustion won over the fear I would doze off, only to be wakened by shaking and shortness of breath. Impending doom consumed me. Night after night my “situation” went from bad to worse.  Days became almost as much of a nightmare. Lack of sleep and inability to hold down food made me sick and left me weak. This made the feeling of my impending death only more real. The enemy had been attacking from the beginning, but at this point I felt that he had pulled out all his resources against me. His lies filled all of my thoughts. And then the lies moved from my mind to my heart as I began to believe them. Then they moved on to my lips as I repeated them continuously.

            The depression that consumed me quickly began to consume my husband as well. My lack of sleep became his lack of sleep. The lies that filled my mind, however, made it no where with him. When the enemy tried to wreak havoc in me with a new lie, my husband quickly refuted it with the Truth and the Word. For each lie from the enemy, the Lord gave my husband a specific scripture to use against it. Night after night, day after day, as I spoke the lies, my husband spoke the Truth. As I cried and paced, he followed me, quoting the Word! He often prayed aloud over me. He sought the Lord for wisdom on my behalf as to how and what I should do to get well. He sought the counsel of a godly physician, as well as the Great Physician.

            I believe the most important thing that my husband did for me was to continue to pray, to continue to press into the Lord for my healing. He knew in his heart that the Lord would hear his cry and heal me. The Lord has blessed me tremendously with a godly husband. He has also blessed our marriage with a oneness that only He can give.

My mother in law recorded many healing scriptures, and together with my husband, they played the recordings for me whenever someone was not available to speak them. Slowly the battle that the enemy was raging in my body and in my head began to turn. Those who love me sought the Lord on my behalf, knowing that I was too weak to do so myself.  The enemy who was seeking to devour me had no choice but to retreat when faced with Truth!

[Mark’s account]

When fighting depression from the support side, there were two primary weapons I used: prayer and truth. When I wasn’t directly involved in refuting the lies or providing encouragement, I spent my time in prayer. This is where knowing who you are in Christ and knowing what Gods Word says is so important. Much of my prayer time was while driving to and from work or while lying in bed. I had to know the Word because, as often is the case, there is no time to look up scripture. I laid hands on her in accordance with the Word. Mostly, I was just there for her. When I wasn’t there, I was available and she knew it.

I had a long commute to and from work and when I wasn’t in prayer while driving, I listened to the Scriptures. For me, it was a great way to refresh my scriptural knowledge. Dramatized versions made it easier and more interesting. Zondervan has a good dramatized version that is word for word with the Bible. Also, recruit someone or several people you trust who will intercede for you and your spouse during this time. Agree with them in advance as to how they should pray. It’s important that they actually “pray the Word.” In my case, my mother acted as intercessor and prayed with and for Debbie when I couldn’t be there, spending many hours with her while I was at work.

Be prepared to refute the lies with Truth directly. When the depressed person says things like “I’ll never get better” or “It’ll always be like this” be prepared to say “That’s a lie” and then reply with the truth. Do not allow your feelings to be hurt. My wife was not hurtful to me but don’t be surprised if this occurs. This type of battle will require a lot of time and courage. I was fortunate that I am self employed and had the freedom in my schedule to be there for Debbie.

Another important thing is to prevent the depressed person from withdrawing into darkness. The devil loves the dark and wants to drive us there so we’ll go deeper into it. Exposure to natural light and the company of other family members is important. Try to get the depressed person around family and into as much normal activity as possible. Also, playing Scripture on an ipod or CD is very helpful, especially while sleeping. My mother made a recording of healing scriptures that we listened to again and again. John Hagee Ministries has a wonderful pre-recorded device that plays healing scriptures repeatedly. Truly, Scripture is like a healing balm, so play it and play it some more! Oh, and the enemy HATES it! Remember, Jesus used the Word to fight the devil  in the desert.

I’ve likened our depression experience to a battle. There is direct combat when one is refuting the enemy’s lies head on. During such a battle, there are those who are interceding in prayer. I liken this to artillery, harassing the enemy and keeping him off balance while we fight the lies with the truth. When the enemy withdraws we attack him with prayer – Give him no rest! We press in hard with prayer. And we cannot rest until the battle is won. Thank God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!

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, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

(1 Peter 5:8-9 NIV)

BIO

Mark and Debbie were high school sweethearts. They have been married for 30 years and they have six children and seven grandchildren. Mark runs their inspection & engineering business in Salisbury, MD. Debbie is a stay-at-home mom, she has been free from depression for nine years.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Suffering Well as a Living Sacrifice

 

                                              When peace,like a river,attendeth my way,                                                                                                   When sorrows  like sea billows roll,                                                                                                             Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,                                                        It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Horatio Spafford, the writer of this classic hymn, knew a lot about suffering. He and his wife lost their four year old son to scarlet fever.  Within a year they would also lose all of their significant real estate holdings in the great Chicago fire of 1871.  In need of respite, Spafford decided to take his family on vacation to England.  The trip would not only offer much needed rest but would also allow the family to reconnect with longtime friend D.L. Moody, who was there on an evangelistic tour.

Horatio had some business dealings that needed his attention so he decided to send his family on ahead of him.  Nine days later he received the devastating news that the ship had sank and his four daughters had drowned, his wife only narrowly escaping the same fate. Spafford took the next available ship to England in order to reunite with his wife.  While en route he was notified by the captain that they were crossing over the site of the wreck that claimed his children’s lives.  At that moment of great sorrow, Spafford returned to the quiet of his cabin and began to pen the now famous words, “It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

How could he do this you may ask?  In the face of such overwhelming personal tragedy, how could he trust so fully in God?  I believe that Horatio knew there is ultimately nothing in this world that compares to that which is to come in the next, for Paul says in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

In the current spiritual climate we are told that if we have enough faith we need not suffer.  That we can be healthy, wealthy, and free of pain if we just believe hard enough.  This “prosperity” gospel, while widely popular, is really just another false gospel that dilutes the true teachings of Jesus Christ.  Think about it.  Can a gospel that excludes Jesus ever be true?  For He surely never had great material wealth and he certainly suffered greatly.  Jesus even tells us to expect suffering: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33).

Notice how He not only leaves his followers with a warning but also a promise of comfort.  This sentiment is echoed throughout the Bible.  Though we may face times of great trials, God never abandons us and we can take great comfort in the fact that He  is our source of peace.

Inevitably in these situations the question arises, Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?  Before answering this question I think we must first realize that we live in a fallen world.  God did not bring suffering into the world.  Rather, it came as a natural consequence to sin.  When Adam and Eve chose to willing disobey God they forever brought pain, suffering, and death into the world.

Secondly, I believe we need to see that there is purpose in our suffering.  Romans 5:3-5 states “ … we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who has been given to us.”  And James 1:2-4 adds, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Clearly, we can see in the midst of our suffering that God is using it to refine and grow us, sanctifying us for His purposes.

In no way am I trying to diminish the reality of any pain we experience.  Certainly the hurt we endure is physically and emotionally tangible.  I am simply pointing out that we are not alone in our suffering.  We do not serve an unfeeling God.  He cares deeply for us and shares in our pain.  “Since He Himself has gone through suffering and testing, He is able to help us when we are being tested” (Hebrews 2:18).

Remember also that “Jesus wept.”  These two words are found in John 11:35 and are famous for comprising the shortest verse in the Bible but should be remembered more for their significance, for they show so much about the heart of our Lord.  He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but still He shed tears.  Why?  Because He was wholly sympathetic to the grief of those around Him.  His heart was filled with sorrow for the pain of His children.

Suffering is an inescapable reality of life.  Yet, how we choose to approach it can define its ultimate outcome.  We can become self-absorbed and bitter, cursing God for our pain, allowing our trails to be in vain.  Or we can choose to seek out God and allow Him to use our suffering for His Glory and for our good.  We can choose to inspire and encourage those around us through our understanding and steadfast faith.  We can trust that His promises are true and that we will one day share in His glory.  The decision is ultimately yours.  I pray you choose to suffer well.

By: Kyle Hubbard

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

If God is Good, Why is There Suffering?

To genuinely understand why there is suffering, we must examine our origin and our Fall.

When God had completed His Creation He pronounced it as being “very good,” for there was no death, disease, pain or suffering (Genesis 1:31).  Genesis 2:17 informs us that God planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve were instructed not to eat of it under penalty of death.  But, after failing their test of obedience, Adam and Eve forfeited their right (and ours) to live in perfect relationship with our loving Creator (Rom. 5:12).

Because God is perfectly and purely holy, He had to judge man’s sin.  Adam was accountable to the fact that death would be the penalty for rebellion, and so God enacted a Curse on both humanity and all creation (Rom. 8:20-21).  Therefore, the death and suffering that has existed and continues to exist is a result of our sin.

It should be noted that the world’s sin-infestation includes the distress of natural disasters, severe weather, personal tragedies, and the like.  This constitutes that all suffering is a direct consequence of Adam’s sin, allowing no excuse for anyone to blame God for such.  Moreover, God surely has good reason for allowing pain and suffering to beset the Christian (Rom. 8:28); our failure to understand “why bad things happen to good people” does not invalidate God’s goodness, it simply reveals our ignorance.

Why do we suffer for Adam’s sin when that happened so long ago?

Humanity is infected with an inherited (from Adam) sin-nature, yet God has made a way for us to be reconciled to Him.  By the atoning death of His Son, Jesus Christ, we each have the opportunity to recognize our sinfulness and turn to Him for forgiveness and then live a life according to His Spirit (John 3:16-17).

“Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…  For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom. 5:12, 19).

“For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:21-22).

Why did God allow Adam to choose poorly, and why does He allow us the same?

True obedience cannot exist without the choice to disobey, and free human choice is a product of God’s love.  His love is persuasive, not coercive.  We were created in His own image because God loves us and desires fellowship with us, and truly sincere fellowship is only true and sincere when it is chosen, not forced.  This fact makes our choice to love and live for God superbly relevant.

True obedience, therefore, is coupled with freedom and responsibility.  Micah 6:8 shows that one must (responsibly) permit themselves to be taught what is right by God, but one must also do what is right (obedience).  Freedom enables one to choose rightly, or not.  And since humanity has been gifted with free choice (itself an aspect of freedom), we are thus accountable to the Giver Who will bless the right choice.

Adversely, if one abuses that freedom they set themselves against God, inviting consequential judgment.  John 3:36 offers insight into freedom and choice: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Just as Adam and Eve had the forbidden tree to “test” their obedience, so we today have the forbidden fruits of a sinful nature that test our own.

So how can God be both loving and just, are not the two at odds?

Injustice is a part of our fallenness as we remain under the Curse.  The innocent will suffer and die along with the guilty.  Some suggest God is cruel in allowing certain atrocities to occur and fester (natural disasters, war, famine, disease, cancer, terrorism, tyrannical governments, corrupt politics, lawlessness, etc).  But, suffering (benign and malignant) will be a part of this world until Jesus establishes His throne in Jerusalem.

Yet God is just and must punish sin (Habakkuk 1:13; Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:11-15) even while His love compels Him to save sinners, for Jesus the Just suffered for the unjust (1 Peter 3:18) and God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

However, each individual must choose to accept His sacrifice in order to become such righteousness.  Even our own sense of desired justice (as when good things happen to bad people) is a reflection of our being made in His image.

God is also love and will not force anyone to love Him (1 John 4:16).  Moreover, love must be freely expressed lest it cease to be love.  He desires everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9) and our choice grants us the opportunity to love Him of our own volition, yet for those who reject Him there must be punishment.  His perfect justness is in fact an aspect of His perfect love.

Why would a loving God condemn anyone to hell if He wants everyone saved?

This is answered in the previous question concerning God’s justness.  However, the inquiry at hand is flawed.  The appropriate construct would be, Why would a good, perfect, and just God of love NOT condemn His enemies to hell?

Of course, God did not create us to condemn us; He created us to share in His love.  But those who choose not to love Him effectually condemn themselves to hell in that their choice determines their destiny (John 3:18, 36).  Though the Lord God desires everyone to be reconciled to Himself, He allows us to act on our own desire by way of His sovereign gift of free choice- an occasion of true freedom born of His optimal love.

Did God create evil?

No, He did not.  God through free will made evil possible, but disobedience to His will (per our choices) makes it actual.  Sin was born in the heart of Lucifer when he fell to pride as a result of his own free self-will (Isaiah 14:12; 1 Tim. 3:6).  Indeed, it is difficult to grasp how Lucifer and the other third of the angels (Rev. 12:4) rebelled against God

when all they had known was His goodness and love!  This proves that a truly free will is a potent attribute to have been endowed with, further revealing our Creator’s value of love freely expressed and justice wholly accomplished.

An unfortunate event occurred when Lucifer facilitated the fall of man, thus passing on the stain of sin.  Though such was foreknown by God, it unleashed the circumstance of the Christ’s Passion and provided a way of absolute restoration of what was lost in Eden’s garden.

In conclusion, how can we even claim the existence of evil and suffering absent an infallible standard of Good and Peace toward which we make a distinction?  Thus, the existence of both evil and suffering actually prove the existence of a good and peace-loving God.  Assuredly, evil will ultimately be defeated and those who reject God will be justly separated from all that is good.  And fuller splendor awaits those who choose Jesus Christ in preparation for a world of perfect love freely expressed!

By: Jon Scott Birch @ jonbirch.com

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

HEAVEN Part 2

     When I was a little boy I was not allowed to do certain things on Sunday.  I could not play with my wagon or bicycle.  I could not go to the beach or for a swim in the ocean.  I could not go to the movies.

     My brother, who is eleven years older than me, would go sailing on Sunday afternoons.  I told him I did not think our Grandmom, a saintly old Methodist, would approve.  He said, “Grandmom and Grandpop go for a ride in their car on Sunday afternoons, I go for a sail.  What is the difference?”

     Is that what it takes to get to heaven?  Don’t ride your bike or play with your wagon on Sunday.  Don’t go to the beach or to the movies on Sunday.

     In a previous issue of Signet Ring (Aug-Oct 2012) I mentioned some of the requirements that Jesus gave in order for us to enter the kingdom of Heaven including, “believe” (Acts 16:30), “follow” (Matthew 4:19), “perfection” (Matthew 5:46), and “overcoming” (Rev. 2:7).

     As I read my Bible I become aware that I frequently fall short of these requirements.  Am I doomed?   The words of Ephesians 2:8-10 comfort me tremendously.  May they encourage you as well:

     “For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

     Most of us know that “grace” refers to God’s love for us which we don’t deserve.  I surely have not yet reached perfection!  But I have found out recently that grace not only refers to God’s love for us but also to his enabling power.  By His grace I can even write these brief articles on Heaven.

     Jesus said to Paul, and to you and me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  This promise from Jesus enabled me to continue in the ministry after open-heart surgery and a stroke in 1979.  These left me with short-term memory loss, difficulty in controlling my emotions, and an equilibrium problem.  I heard Jesus say to me, “Get your eyes off your weaknesses and get them on me and My strengths. I entered the pulpit with a new sense of freedom and joy.

     I eagerly await being in Heaven in the near future.  I just turned 81.  I will be there because of God’s grace.  He loves me!  He has provided me, and you, a Savior in Jesus Christ.  I love Him.  I want to do His will. I want to make Him happy.  Holy Spirit, help me.  Thank you.  Praise you!

By: Pastor Richard Bridge

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

The Goodness of God

Now someone who in spite of his past sins honestly wants to become reconciled to God may Cautiously inquire, ” If I come to God, how will He act toward me? What kind of disposition has He? What will I find Him to be like?”

The answer is that He will be found exactly like Jesus. “He that hath seen me,” said Jesus, “hath seen the Father.” Christ walked with men on earth that He might show them what God is like and make known the true nature of God to a race that had wrong ideas about Him. This way only of the things He did while here in the flesh, but this He did with beautiful perfection.

From Him we learn how God acts towards people. The hypocritical, the basically insincere, will find Him cold and aloof, as they found Jesus; but the penitent will find Him merciful; the self-condemned will find Him generous and kind. To the frightened He is friendly, to the poor in spirit He is forgiving, to the ignorant, considerate; to the weak, gentle; to the stranger; hospitable.

By our own attitudes we may determine our reception by Him. Though the kindness of God is an infinite, overflowing fountain of cordiality, God will not force His attention upon us. If we would be welcomed as the Prodigal was, we must come as the Prodigal came; and when we so come, even though the Pharisees and the legalists sulk without, there will be a feast of welcome within, and music and dancing as the Father takes His child again to His heart.

By: A.W. Tozer (1961). The Knowledge of the Holy

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Making Disciples of All Nations

 

The Republic of the Philippines is known as the only Christian country in Asia and comprises a diverse population. Spain claimed the archipelago in 1542 establishing and uniting most Filipinos through Roman Catholicism. Located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, the Philippines include over 7,000 islands,  with Luzon being the largest and Mindanao  the next largest island,itself being classified as restricted/hostile to Christianity due to the presence of strong radical Islam, such as al Qaeda. Some reclusive groups never embraced Islam or Christianity and have remained animistic (worshiping various spirits). Nearly 81% of the populace is Roman Catholic, 2.8% evangelical Christian, 5% Muslim, 8.8% a mix of other Christian and sectarian churches, and the rest are either unspecified or hold to their isolated ethno-linguistic cults.  For further statistics visit: http://www.omf.org (Overseas Missionary Fellowship).

American control brought many evangelical missionaries to the Philippines to plant churches and since gaining independence this has fortunately continued, mostly through mission societies such as Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, whose plan is to preach the Gospel in every village while providing theological training and direction to assist national pastors in essential follow-up discipleship.

Signet Ring recently caught up with Sophie Maedjaja, who traveled to the Philippines in the summer of 2012.  Sophie was born and raised in Lynchburg, VA and attended Campbell University in North Carolina for her undergraduate and graduate education.  She graduated pharmacy school in 2010 and moved to Utah to complete her pharmacy residency.  Since then, she has remained in Utah and works as a clinical pharmacist in the intensive care units.  When not immersed in pharmacy, Sophie loves to spend her time hiking, singing, going to the theatre, and interior decorating.

-Define what the term “mission trip” means to you. 

Going on a trip with “spreading the gospel” as the #1 priority of the team.  This could be done in MANY different ways; however, the main goal of every action/decision should be to win souls for Christ.

-How did God lead you to go on this mission trip and what was your role in the ministry? 

I have always wanted to go on an international missions trip, but my schedule never afforded me the time until this past summer.  My mom is highly involved with the women’s ministry at my church in Lynchburg, VA and happened to meet a young lady who had gone on multiple missions trips with the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association (www.btea.org).

When she learned that Bob Tebow takes groups of people to the Philippines during the summer, she thought I would be interested and told me to look further into it.  Thankfully, my residency ended the week prior to when the first group was scheduled to leave, so I decided to apply.  Originally, I was supposed to go on a medical missions trip and use my skills as a pharmacist to help the team; however, the medical portion of the trip fell through so I ended up going with another group.  While we were there, our sole purpose was to evangelize and spread the gospel to whomever we met.  Each day we would go from school to school and preach to hundreds, even thousands, of children.

kidsPlease tell me of someone whose life was impacted with the Gospel during your ministry.

We had the amazing opportunity to spread the gospel to hundreds of children every day.  During the middle of my first week, I began to feel concern over whether the children really understood that once they accepted Jesus as their Savior, they were eternally saved and could be certain that they were destined for heaven.  I prayed that the children would understand the message I was saying, and that the Holy Spirit would do the rest.

One day I walked into a 3rd grade classroom to preach and noticed a particular young girl in the second row who was very attentive and excited about my message.  I wasn’t able to chat with her after the message or get her name, but she stayed in my mind the rest of the day.

Two days later we were eating lunch at one of the malls in Manilla.  We were on our way out to begin the afternoon session of preaching when I suddenly heard a young voice call my name.  When I looked up the young girl who I had noticed two days prior was waving at me from across the mall.  I smiled and waved back, but just as we were about to walk out of the mall she yelled, “I’ll see you again in heaven!”  Immediately, I realized that the Holy Spirit was working in the hearts of these children and that they truly understood the gospel.  What an amazing moment!  I look forward to seeing her again in a place where there is no death, mourning, crying, or pain!

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Describe an experience you had in the mission field that has deeply impacted your relationship with the Lord. 

I don’t think I can boil down the impact the trip had on my relationship with the Lord to one experience; however, two points were definitely made more evident to me by the end of the trip:

  1. Nothing in this world matters except for things that have eternal value… that would be people’s souls (including mine). After having “spreading the gospel” as my number one priority for two weeks, I realized that my priorities back in the US were screwed up. I had lost my perspective on what truly mattered, both in building my own relationship with Christ and in witnessing to others so they could have a relationship with Christ as well.
  1. God loves us sooooo much! I have known this fact since I was a little baby, but I really saw this attribute of God come alive on this trip. While most people in the Philippines have MUCH less than me, I could see how God still provided for their needs.  In addition, I spoke of God’s love for us multiple times a day when I preached to the children.  This trip really made me realize how much Jesus sacrificed for us and how undeserving we are of His grace and mercy.  This realization made me fall more in love with Jesus and become so much more thankful for His grace, love, and mercy

 

What has been your most noticeable spiritual change since your missions trip?  

I am now much bolder in speaking about Jesus and telling others about what He means to me and what He has done for me and the rest of mankind.

 

-How has your prayer life been encouraged by your recent trip? angel

This trip required VERY early mornings and VERY long days in a VERY hot climate.  Preaching multiple times a day was not only physically draining, but was also emotionally draining.  Without asking for God’s strength no one on the team would have had the energy or drive to continue preaching.  We relied on prayer.

 

Since coming back to the US, one of the guys on our team has set up a weekly prayer conference where we call in from all over the country, share prayer requests, then pray together.  It is amazing to be part of a team where the body of Christ comes together to speak to our heavenly Father.

269644_10151005304941344_1632951021_n-What would you share with people who are interested in being a part of a missions trip? 

DO IT!!  If you feel God is calling you to go on a missions trip of any sort, obey Him and go.  He will provide the means, the time, and the resources. I can’t believe how much I learned on this trip, spiritually, academically, and emotionally.  I met so many wonderful people, both Filipinos and Americans, that I will stay in touch with for the rest of my life.  In regard to third world countries, the situations you are exposed to will change your perspective on life forever, usually for the better.

-Do you see yourself pursuing a more long term mission commitment outside of the States? 

As of this time, no.  But that can very well change.  I am more than willing to go anywhere God leads me, but right now He has given me a heart for the people in Utah.

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

The Heart of His Heart

The crowds, reeking of sweat and filth, pressed and pulled as I elbowed my way toward the focus of the mob, fighting just to keep my feet lest I fall and be trampled. Dust swirled and hung thickly in a gritty white cloud as I finally neared the inner edge of the throng, loud voices now taking on meaning and the harsh racket intensified by what I now saw.

A handful of Roman soldiers lumbered about, wielding their fearsome whips threateningly to the rolling multitudes so as to keep an open path through the narrow Jerusalem streets. Then I spotted a person, a prisoner, through the dirty haze. He was bent over heavily, arms flung wide and bound roughly to a great wooden beam. He stumbled, his body twisting with the weight, and as one end of the beam slammed dully onto the road the prisoner gasped in agony.

My own breath stole from me, then, for what I thought were tattered strips of cloth from his torn robe were in reality massive shreds of flesh hanging from his shoulders and torso. The iron-tipped Roman lash had been put to fiendish use, and I soon observed that no portion of this poor soul’s body had been spared, the mauled legs and arms merely paled over by the curtains of chalky dust billowing round about.

The prisoner’s tunic hung loose and bunched from a cincture rope and was sodden with the blood coursing freely from his upper body, bright crimson spattering on the alabaster street with every step.

Though the face was hidden by matted locks of bloodied and sweat-drenched hair, there was a brutal determination evidenced by the swiftness and strength in the man’s recovery from the stumble. Soldiers who had begun to assist and mock him reeled back in astonishment and humor, though immediately set again to taunts and scourging with leather whips. The Romans’ pride was further wounded when the prisoner strode onward, almost confidently, toward the outer city gate and then beyond… toward the place of crucifixion.

At this show of defiance, or lunacy, the crowd roared with approval, further agitating the Roman military presence. Shouts of “Yeshua!” and “Jesu!” rang in my ears as I rode the tide of people into the tight street and out through the gate where I heard the sudden clopping and neighing of horses accompanied by an eruption of outcry from the masses. I again found myself at the edge of the spectacle and witnessed the prisoner on his knees and doubled over after another fall. A Roman officer on horseback hollered orders to the soldiers who had given to kicking and striking the burdened man with fist and scourge, while several more legionaries muscled their way into the growing mob and set order by brandishing their spears and clubbing more than a few with the spear shafts.

Being of unusually tall and burly build, I must have easily drawn the eye of the Roman officer, for he briskly motioned toward me and I immediately found myself pressed into service as I was forcibly pulled near the collapsed prisoner and made to wait as two soldiers unbound the cross beam from the mutilated man’s arms. Before I was fully aware of what was happening, a man in Roman armor upended and shoved the heavy timber at me, connecting solidly and painfully in my shoulder and along the side of my face.

Fully aware now of my duty, and my growing anger, I hoisted the plank easily onto my own shoulders and brutishly nodded off the attempt to bind my arms to the wood, as my grip was sure. I watched the battered prisoner being wrenched to his now faltering feet, and my head began to swim: Having only been in Jerusalem a few weeks for the Passover and to pay tribute to the Temple on behalf of my family in Cyrene, I abruptly find myself caught up in the region’s politics and barbarism! What had this reprobate done? Who was this Jesu? I am well aware of the Roman practice of crucifixion and its sobering cruelty designed to both quell opposition and satisfy bloodlust. Yet never did I imagine to see, or perhaps even experience, such savagery.

There is, however, something otherworldly about this affair that eludes me…

Both the prisoner and myself, after being prodded in the back hard by Roman spear shanks, took our next tentative steps toward the rocky hill where still more multitudes were gathered for the macabre display already begun with two other unfortunates. I marveled at how being free of his burden seemed to boost the wretch’s confidence, but to what end? And then He looked at me.

My breath stole from me for a second time that day, and my heart leaped into my throat. All faded into a dimness unexplained but for the knowledge that I was looking into the face of God’s own Son. All at once I saw Him as He was and as He truly is. A pain-soaked man whose ruined face was streaked with blood and dirt, whose high brow was pierced and pinched with fierce desert briars and thorns, and whose nearly swollen-shut eyes burned with anguish and purposeful volition. A longing God whose face radiated limitless joy, His clear eyes deep with wisdom, bright with accomplishment, and overflowing with love. His revelation unsettled me.

A moment, an eternity, and we were moving again, urged on by barking soldiers and the crowd’s clamor. The trek to the hillside was dismal, a few crosses were already being thrust upright bearing their doomed ornaments. I pondered why such suffering must befall this Man if He truly is the Creator and Savior of all.

I am the Christ…

I heard the words distinctly and glanced at my Lord, certain He had spoken, but His face was turned skyward and His eyes were wide and fixed upon something I could not discern. All at once my rumination turned to terror as we reached the top of the dreaded slope and the Romans set to work.

After forcefully taking the crossbeam from my shoulders and rudely pushing me aside, I watched, almost in reverie, as the huge soldier casually walked a short distance and tossed the stout beam to the ground. A few legionaries approached and stripped this curious prisoner to His loincloth, large pieces of flesh ripping and falling off in the process. Then they affixed the crossbeam to an appropriate wooden base post, set the fastening pegs, and hurriedly pushed my Lord onto the cross causing Him to wince in unimaginable pain as His raw bloodied back and shoulders scraped and rubbed against the coarse splinter-ridden wood.

I then beheld the cold practiced efficiency of a Roman crucifixion. One soldier held the condemned man’s body centered on the base post while another stretched out the right arm until it taxed the shoulder joint. Yet another, with smithy hammer and a leather pouch full of iron spikes, stepped up, knelt on the upturned arm to steady it against the crossbeam, and then deftly placed a spike just above the man’s wrist and between the two bones of His forearm.

A sharp crack! resonated down the hillock and across the nearby valley before I had even realized the soldier’s hammer had been raised. The head of my Lord jolted violently forward as the spike tore flesh and severed the tendons and veins of His wrist.

He did not cry out though His visage carried a grimace of torment one could veritably feel. Two more hammer blows in rapid succession had the spike driven deep into the dense wood, the ravenous mob bellowing for more.

Vivid red blood flowed abundantly and evenly from the Christ’s nail-riven hand. I noticed the reopened lacerations covering His body and I glimpsed naked bone in places, the dusty white pall from the streets now replaced by rusty black clumps of drying blood, pinkish ribbons of loose flesh, and the scarlet glisten of open wounds.

The sickly sweet odor of exposed viscera assaulted my nostrils. My stomach turned and I looked away. I saw a woman nearby collapsed on the ground, clutching her heart. Her agonizing regard of this man carried a mother’s torment. Another glance revealed a pair of panicked faces, loved ones in some degree, uncertain as to remain or flee their Lord’s affliction.

By My stripes you are healed…

My gaze was drawn back to the Christ’s trauma to see that His left arm and ankles had likewise been nailed to His cross, yet never did I hear my Lord bawl or protest amidst the torture. Ropes secured His arms at the elbows to prevent the body from tearing or breaking free from the spikes in the event of a weak skeleton or hysterical struggle once the cross is planted. Larger ropes were then passed through a metal ring set in each end of the main crossbeam, the end of each cord was then pulled taut by four stout Romans. Together, and seeming to make sport of it, the eight sturdy soldiers dragged the entire contraption, cross and victim, over the unforgiving terrain as swiftly as they could manage.

A fury rose within me and was vexed all the more when the cruel Romans reached the aperture, laughing heartily and clapping each other’s backs. I could have easily approached them and crushed one’s head with only my hands…

Vengeance is Mine, I will repay…

Unaware I had taken steps toward the soldiers solely a stone’s throw away, my Lord’s words stopped me fast. I marveled at how He could be speaking directly to me in such a condition, and that I would even be in His thoughts when…

The Romans finished their work by lifting the Lord’s cross halfway, positioning the base post at the mouth of the prepared aperture in the craggy ground, then hand- walking the cross upward until its own weight pulled it into the securing cavity with a muted thud. The violent jarring of the Christ’s body caused His mouth to open wide in a silent horrific scream. A brief rain of sweat and blood, shaken loose from the jolt, sprayed over those nearby. Even I felt a few breeze-blown drops alight on my cheek.

I lay down My life that I may take it again…

How can this be, Lord? I do not understand this evil that has befallen You! I spoke these words aloud though none could hear for the jeering and raucous maledictions from the undulating rabble. Stones were occasionally flung at those hanging from their death-perches, a few finding their mark and met with a mild cheer by the culprit. The legionaries soon grew bored and settled randomly into small triads, eating or striking up petty gambling games to pass the time while awaiting death for the crucified.

Then… a hush fell over the multitude. Many persons nearest the condemned Christ began to disappear into the crowd just as a group of Jewish elders arrived. They walked right up to the foot of the Christ’s cross and glowered up at Him for a long stretch. He did not respond, if that is what they were expecting. His head lolled back unevenly onto a shoulder, His breathing severely labored as His body’s weight and twisted frame slowly choked off any air.

My Lord did not even look human. The devastation of His flesh hurt me terribly to look upon, a vision of unspeakable atrocity and disgust. I cannot bear to recount further as the pain is too deep.

To whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?

As I pondered this inquiry the smug Jewish priests began to mock and fulminate, accusing my Lord of blasphemy and challenging Him to save Himself. But the Christ opened not His mouth, infuriating the elders beyond composure as they spat and tore their tinkling trinketed vestments. Bile rose in my throat and anger burned anew at their abhorrence and blindness. The desire to kill returned to me. I could take no more.

I stalked away stiffly, drunk with rage and bafflement. I shoved through the masses until I was back inside the city gate, where I glanced back toward the cross-laden hill. The over-pious vagrants had melted from view and I spied a soldier offering something to my Lord at the end of a lifted spear, though He did not respond. I continued into the city, wandering the streets as an oaf in a stupor. This was to my detriment when I ambled nearly into the path of two galloping chargers bearing a centurion and a governing official respectively. One carried a crude signboard with many letters; only a few of which were familiar to my sight though in the blur I discerned Yeshua and King.

When I came to my wits, desperately fatigued after what must have been hours, I noted an odd pallor to the sky and a stifling stillness in the air hanging like a damp cloak. Compelled to leave, I made for a city gate that would lead away from the disaster I had witnessed. An unnatural darkness crept eerily across the sky and my gait hastened as a shroud of dread gripped me, my mouth desert dry, my face suddenly throbbing where the wood plank had struck.

Then a peal of thunder like I have never heard crashed and shook the very ground as an earthquake. Then the earth did quake, wildly. I toppled but was up again quickly, running now. Another ferocious clap of thunder exploded so loudly I feared the heavens would break! But it was my heart that broke.

I knew in that instant that the Son of God had died. Yeshua. Why? Why the passionate suffering? Taking up my Lord’s cross had indeed changed me, but I did not understand how. And I did not know what to do. Until the tears came and would not stop. I crumpled to the street, sobbing awkwardly, a wreck of a man.

And yet, I heard then, in my brokenness, my Lord’s voice through Isaiah’s words, unleashing their mystery for the first time:

The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days…

The Christ will live again!

And by His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities…

The Christ will pardon, He will forgive. Forgive me, my God! Your suffering proved Your love, so that my suffering might have an end!

And who will declare My generations?

Send me, Lord! I will wait for you to rise and instruct me. And then, my country shall hear of such love…

By Jon Scott Birch of jonbirch.com

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.

Avonlea Acres

~~~

“Thank you, Lord,” I whispered as I drove into Avonlea Acres for Bible study one rainy evening.  “You had all this planned!  You called and equipped these dear friends, and then you supplied them with the perfect home to care for single mothers and their babies.”  A cold rain pelted down furiously, but thankfulness warmed my heart as I continued my conversation with God.

 “How did you ever inspire the former owners to design and remodel the house to fit so perfectly?”  My prayerful thoughts turned to the unique design of the red brick house God had led Tom and Rhoda to lease for Avonlea Acres.  Partitioned into three separate living areas, it beautifully and comfortably fits every need.  The first time Rhoda gave me a tour I must’ve commented a dozen times, “God planned every detail of this house for Avonlea!”  Why would anyone put a spacious eight foot counter in the main bathroom, in addition to the sink counter?  For changing babies, of course!  It’s ideal!

Pulling into the wide driveway, I was filled with warm anticipation.  Rhoda’s warm welcome greets you at the door, and God’s refreshing peace soaks into your soul.  “You love it here, don’t You, Lord?”

That’s when God whispered to my heart, “It’s not about the house, my dear daughter.”  I sat very still as the Lord instructed me, “It’s all about the girls who are cared for here.”

Tears flooded my eyes as the warmth of that thought flooded my soul.  Of course it was!  I was caught up in the wonder of God’s provision, but God was looking at only one thing: tenderly healing His wounded daughters.

The Healer of Hearts has found a home at Avonlea Acres.

                                        -by Becky Matson, Avonlea Acres Board of Directors, 2009

What is Avonlea Acres?

Avonlea Acres is a safe place for unwed mothers to live and learn about love and life skills.  It is a long term maternity/shepherding home where residents can stay up to two years or until their child is 3 years old.   Our motto is “futures are more important than pasts.” We are supported 100% by private donation.  We do not require residents to be Christian but we operate with Christian morals and guidelines, and each resident must agree to this prior to moving into the home. We believe that everybody was created for a purpose and Avonlea offers that safe place where these moms can quit surviving and begin thriving.

What is the Avonlea Acres vision and mission?

Our mission is to “Love because He first loved us” and to show that love by providing a home for women in crisis while upholding Christian principles and Biblical truths.  Our vision for Avonlea Acres is to be a Christ-centered family home which upholds the sanctity of life and meets the very real needs of the residents, providing an atmosphere  where women can break the bondages of their past and be transformed by the renewing of their minds (Rom. 12:2).  We equip them to go out and change lives by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, giving testimony of the grace that has been shown them.  By adopting the essence of Isaiah 61:1-3, we aim to help the women realize a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

What can a single mother expect throughout her stay at Avonlea Acres?

In order to be accepted at Avonlea Acres, each candidate of 18-28 years old goes through an interview to determine how best to help them.  If they are approved to stay, they will be participating in a challenging but worthwhile program wherein they will learn many essential skills.  These skills will include housekeeping and cooking meals as well as practicing money management, polite behavior, and accomplishing personal goals in seven categories: personal, physical, emotional, spiritual, social, career, and financial.

How does your ministry show love to those in need or suffering?

James 1:27  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”  We love our residents by offering them a safe place to live, and provide for their most basic needs where God’s ways and truths are modeled for them.  We plant seeds, water seeds, and watch God give the increase, which He always does.

In what ways have you seen your ministry help in an individual’s spiritual development?

amanda-and-nyah-3We are often asked what our success rate is.  We can honestly answer 100% success because each resident that has come into Avonlea has left knowing a little more of Jesus, a little more truth, and how much God loves them and has a plan for them.

What seeds did God cultivate in you to start the ministry?

The seed was planted the first year we were married.  We didn’t have any definite directions, just a sense that we would one day be operating a shepherding home of some type.  In the beginning we thought it would probably be a ranch somewhere for troubled teens.  We realized that we had something rare – a husband and wife team with the same calling, the same passion of helping people.  Through 27 years of marriage the idea just never really left, and we often wondered when would be the right time.  God taught us so many things in so many ways that we now employ here at Avonlea Acres.

We endured a major move, a business close, and a home foreclosure which led us to near homelessness a couple of times.  We also suffered with family through eight deaths in only a few years’ time, marriage breakups, mental illnesses, suicides, and drug/alcohol addictions.  He has reminded us so often of what is really important in life: relationships, not materialism.  We have learned what is necessary to live and what we can live without.  He has always been sovereign and faithful.

How did God call you into this ministry?

Whefellowship-vanessa-doing-devotionsn we became empty nesters, I started asking the Lord what He wanted me to do with the rest of my life.  In a very profound way I heard His still small voice say that He wanted me working with unwed mothers.  Feeling completely unqualified, I argued for three days before I finally surrendered telling God that if HE wanted me to do this HE would have to show me how and make the way very clear because I didn’t know where to start.  Then my phone began ringing.  When I answered, it was an acquaintance of mine and she said “Rhoda, this is going to sound really weird, but, do you know what the Legacy of Life maternity home is?”  She proceeded to ask me if I’d be interested in teaching a weekly bible study there.  I started teaching there that week and continued for about two years until the home closed.

This was not the limit of God’s preparations. About three months later I got that dreaded 3 a.m. phone call from our only unmarried daughter.  “Mom, I think I’m pregnant.”  I told her to pack a bag and come home.  By the time she got there, God had spoken to me again. This wasn’t just her life challenge, it was also ours.  We were going to learn firsthand about unwed mothers.

A couple of days passed and her boyfriend, now her husband, asked to meet with us.  He came and asked for our forgiveness for dishonoring our family name – it was then we knew he was a keeper!  They chose not to marry until after Lilly was born and through it all we gained much insight into what single moms experience.

During my time at Legacy of Life, typical protocol was that the mothers had two weeks after the baby was born before they had to move out.  That broke our hearts because just when they needed help most, they were out on their own.  Tom and I discussed this and we realized God was prompting us to start the shepherding home ministry.  With longtime friends Greg & Carmelle Helmes and Stephanie Lang, who were also led into this ministry, we began drafting legal documents, writing manuals, and putting together a board of directors.  Avonlea was on its way.

We were about three weeks from finishing our manuals when a vacant home was brought to our attention.  We approached the owner, who astonishingly donated it to us.  With the help of dozens of volunteers and a miraculous amount of donations, within three weeks Avonlea Acres was in operation.  Within another six weeks, we were at full capacity!  Only our God could do something like that.

Where do you see the Lord leading this ministry in the next 5 years?

In the last year Avonlea has evolved from a grass roots ministry to a faith-based community organization.  Interest and support is growing, volunteers are coming forward, and God keeps sustaining us month by month.  He has given us a vision of more homes across the U.S. and Canada.  For now, we have committed to keep Avonlea Acres operating as long as God sustains it.  Our program works and we have wonderful success stories, but God alone must get the glory and He alone must provide the way.

Contact Information:

  Avonlea Acres                                                                                                                                                 PO Box 1026                                                                                                                                             Battle Ground, WA  98604                                                                                                                 Directors phone:  360-600-5929                                                                                                                 E-Mail:  info@avonleaacres.com                                                                                                                  Website: www.avonleaacres.com

tom-and-rhoda

Tom and Rhoda Hilman are the founders of Avonlea Acres.  They have been married 31 years and have three girls married to three wonderful men of God, two grandsons, three granddaughters, and two granddogs.  “As for us and our house, we will serve the Lord.”  

Excerpt from Signet Ring Magazine Suffering Issue.