Always A Way Forward

By Dan Kivett

 

So here I was minding my own business (this makes me laugh for some reason), listening to a sermon by my friend and mentor and all of a sudden God gives me the urge to start writing. I haven’t felt that urge in a long time. Perhaps though, it’s more honest to say that I haven’t followed that urge for a long time. I’m not sure why but what I want to write about is what happens when you are a new believer.

It’s a truly wonderful time in life. For me personally I was able to live life in a way that I had always wanted to but never thought was possible. I met people that I never would have let myself be around before I believed in Jesus. People that were kind of like me but had taken the opportunity to get to know God in a way that I never had and it showed.

I loved studying the Bible and couldn’t wait to finish it so that I could go back and read it all again. It seemed like I would have these amazing Revelations on an almost daily basis. I couldn’t wait to share these thoughts with my new Christian friends and see what they had to say about the same Bible verses that I was reading.

I truly felt like God was leading me in new and exciting directions, toward places that I could never reach on my own. It was fun and it was scary and it seemed like the possibilities were Limitless. I prayed often that God would show me the direction that he wanted me to go in with this new life that he’d given me. I had no idea really what God wanted but I was so eager to follow him wherever he wanted me to go even if I was scared sometimes. But this column isn’t really about all of that. It’s about what happens when you’re living your life and doing everything right and all of a sudden something comes from out of nowhere and kicks you right in the face.

I started getting sick about six months after Jesus saved me. All of the health problems I had did not come all at once, in fact they have been very slow and gradual. When I first started having trouble walking I leaned on the people around me (haha, I wrote that without realizing it) and trusted in the Lord that he would guide me toward whatever doctor would diagnose me and I naively figured it would be a pretty easy process. Every other time in my life I had gone to the doctor and every other time I had come out with the information that I needed. This time wasn’t so easy.

As the months went by my walking started to get worse. I went from just moving around awkwardly to needing a cane. One doctor appointment led to another which led to another. While I was certainly uneasy about everything, I trusted in the Lord and did my best to get by. Someone even noted to me that I was still happier at this point in my life than I had ever really been before. Most of my twenties were filled with me being angry and sometimes not even knowing why. In spite of being sick and knowing that my health was declining Without knowing the specific cause, I still was enjoying the life of learning how to follow Jesus.

When I look back now I feel like maybe it would make more sense if my big crisis of faith had happened when I first got sick but that isn’t how it was for me. It didn’t really happen until about a year later. After many attempts at getting diagnosed, I spent several days in the hospital. It really seemed like this would be the time when I would finally find out what was causing my walking problems and what could be done about them. It seemed pretty simple to me that this is what should happen but it didn’t. Instead I spent five days in the hospital and was sent home with no idea what to do next. I had so many people that were praying for me and wanting to know how things went and I had no good news to give them. For the first time since getting sick I felt like I could not see a way forward from this.

Upon traveling back home and climbing up a couple dozen stairs to my apartment I sat there alone, scared and angry. This isn’t how it was supposed to happen I thought. Why would God lead me down this path and then there’s not any answers? Everybody else gets diagnosed, why can’t I? These were dangerous thoughts and they led to me getting upset at God. I started to think that maybe everything that I thought I believed about Jesus wasn’t true. I had done everything right, or at least the best that I could and I didn’t have the answers that I so badly needed.

I stood there crying and not having any idea what I was supposed to do next. I questioned my faith and started wondering if anything that I  had learned about Jesus was even true. At that moment a thought came into my head which said “Just because I’m angry doesn’t mean that any of this isn’t true. Just because I didn’t get what I wanted, even though what I wanted absolutely seemed like the best thing for me, it doesn’t mean that anything I learned about Christ was false.” I knew as soon as I heard it that this was true. So what, I didn’t get what I wanted. Nowhere in the Bible did it ever say that would happen.

While this revelation wasn’t the most comforting or peaceful thing that I had ever felt, it was enough for me to keep moving forward and believing in Jesus. Just because my circumstances change it doesn’t mean that Christ does. Jesus still loved me and while I didn’t feel that love as clearly as I would have liked to at that moment, I still felt it. I felt it through my friends that did their best to console me through this bad doctor visit and the many others that would follow. I felt it as the Lord continued to take care of me no matter how bad my health would get. The cane I used would eventually be met with a wheelchair and a walker and throughout that I still felt God’s love in so many different ways. Eventually I wouldn’t be able to push the wheelchair very well anymore so the Lord would get me a motor for it. God enabled me Keep On Moving and he kept on loving me regardless of how I felt.

I guess the message that I’m trying to say is that no matter what has happened to me in my life or how badly I feel like life has hit me sometimes, God has shown me a Way Forward. I may not see it right away or I may not be thrilled about what it looks like at first but God has shown me the way and has taken care of me every single step and every single day. If he’s done it for me then I have no problem believing that he will do it for anybody else too. I’m not saying that it’s easy. I’m just saying that God shows the way to those who look.

If you’re new to believing in Christ I just want to say congratulations. You have stumbled into the most amazing ride that you will ever go on. The Lord will bless you and take care of you and show you things that you never thought were possible. There will likely be a day though, where you will feel like life has hit you as hard as it can. When that happens just remember that God has been preparing you for this and he will show you the way forward.

COURAGE LOST – COURAGE FOUND

By Jamie Martelle

 

My last blog post was all about rising above my anxious thoughts.  As though the enemy was offended by this, there have since been some forces at work in my life that have really tested me, grating away at my already-delicate level of confidence.  The sense of unease settled over me like a fog, sometimes awful and thick, with glimmers of fear and doubt flashing through the darkness.  There was just no powering through this.  Little things turned into monsters and grew so large they seemed to obscure what little light was still shining.  My mind, heart and soul froze up, and I realized I had lost my courage.

The question brewing in my mind was, what does a person do when she’s lost her courage?  A few (foolish) things came immediately to mind:

  • You can start making a mental list of the ten (or twenty) dumbest things you’ve ever done in your life and start replaying them painfully over in your head until you just crawl under the covers and stay there.
  • You can systematically wipe out all of the food in your cupboards, starting with the carbs.
  • You can drink, smoke, or use whatever other chemical is currently your preference; or,
  • ______________________ (Fill in the blank).

I have struggled all of my life with anxiety and panic disorder.  I don’t know if it will ever be completely gone until I reach my heavenly home, but it has lessened, a great deal, thankfully. I have been redeemed and I am a child of God.  In this state, I have found that there is a certain peace and hope at the core of my being, but still, I am very human in a very broken world.  That knowledge keeps me on my knees, seeking God for healing and refining me into becoming the person He created me to be.  I have “done my time” in the prison of addiction to substances, and I am forever thankful for God’s deliverance.  However, I still struggle with fear and anxiety.

I was pondering this while pouring a bowl of cereal, after eating a huge mound of popcorn and several handfuls of nuts, when I thought of Elijah.  Elijah was a prophet in Israel during the reign of a very evil king and queen, Ahab and Jezebel (see 1 Kings 17-18).  Ahab and Jezebel were just plain scary.  Yet, Elijah went up against them and was empowered by God to demonstrate His authority over this earthly king and queen who had rejected Him.  Elijah was so brave!  And yet, after an amazing display of God’s awesome power and might, in partnership with Elijah before all the people, Elijah received news that Jezebel was going to destroy him, and he ran for his life.  Elijah was exhausted and burned out. His resources were all used up and God knew it.  He had mercy on Elijah. He sent an angel to care for Elijah, to feed him and minister to him.  After Elijah rested for a time, he traveled forty days and forty nights to Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai, where Moses had met with God some centuries before.  When he got there, he went into a cave to spend the night.  God met with Elijah in that cave.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:9-10)

     I have never had anyone threaten to kill me, but I have definitely felt alone, and at risk of losing what little control, or personal freedom I felt that I had over my life, and that something terrible was about to happen.  When I seek the Lord’s face, and ask Him what it is that I’m supposed to do, how I’m supposed to act under the circumstances, it seems as though He answers me in riddles.

The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

     Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 

      When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”(1 Kings 19:11-13)

     I’m thinking, praying, “Lord, You know that I love You, You know I will do anything You ask of me.”  And I pull my cloak over my face because He is so powerful and all-consuming, as I wait for his response, which comes after a time, “Trust Me.”  “Rest now.”  “Abide in Me.”  And He goes on, as in that earlier encounter, with Moses:

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:19-20)

     Because I know, more than anything else in this world or beyond it, He is good.  He has made His goodness very real to me.  He has delivered me when I didn’t think He existed or cared.  He has loved me when I took Him for granted.  I have learned that He is light, and there is no darkness within Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones says this about what God said to Moses: “I will stoop to your weakness. I will let you see something. But, much more important than that, I will cause all my goodness to pass before you. I will give you a deeper insight and understanding into myself, into my character, into what I am. That is what you really need to know.” (http://www.studylight.org/desk/index.cgi?rq=01033&t1=en_niv)

Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.  When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.  Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (vv. 21-23)

In my weakest moments, when I am feeling completely undone, I have no choice but to rest in Him.  That is, apparently, His will for me.  It’s as if He has placed me in a cleft in the Rock, and covered me with His mighty hand, and purposes to show me how He is going to take care of me and whatever my situation may be.  My courage is worth about as much as a lost piece of paper, flying, tossed in the wind.

 “These four things are happening at the same time, whenever God draws near to his people – revealing and concealing, blessing and protecting, all happening together at one and the same time. You cannot separate these things.” (Lloyd-Jones)

     “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”)  No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Romans 8:35-39, emphasis mine.)

     Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loves us.  Take that in, breath its truth to your soul.  Rest, and abide in the One who formed you in your mother’s womb.  In due time, He will restore your courage, but only after you’ve come to realize it’s worthless without Him.

Learning to Run Like a Deer

By Jamie Martelle

 

Nothing brings you closer to the Lord like being broke.  I say that with a bit of a smirk, but it is during those times when you find yourself in a situation akin to a quagmire, flailing around for a life rope of some sort, when you can choose to square your shoulders with the determination to trust God in this, and He will show His glory.

We have a few things going on, medical bills and tax season, mainly.  It’s nothing terrible, but definitely a different sort of financial picture than we would prefer.  I was struggling with this, but I knew that God would not appreciate my lack of trust in this situation, so I just gave up.

I gave up worrying.

I gave up being angry.

I gave up feeling sorry for myself.

It wasn’t without some doing.  But a beautiful memory surfaced in the process, of a message I heard during our revival last fall, from the Reverend Nathan Covington.  He talked about the feet of a deer, specifically, this refers to a female deer, known as a hind (as in the King James Version).

For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God?  It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.  He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights.  (Psalm 18:31-33 NIV)

“What is special about the feet of a doe, a deer, a female deer?” you may be wondering.  Reverend Covington explained, a hind is the only animal that has the ability to perfectly follow with her back feet the steps taken with her front feet.  Because of that special gift, she is able to climb the steep, rocky face of a mountain and find her way around, without ever getting lost, and her young are able to follow more easily.  These deer don’t get lost the way humans would, climbing a mountain, veering one way and then another, searching out the way to go.

The way that God makes our feet like the feet of a deer doesn’t have as much to do with our feet as it has to do with our thoughts.

My mind goes so many different directions.  I know what I need to do, but then my thoughts turn toward my resistance to doing it.  Can you relate?  I have the deliberate thought of what I know I need to do, then from my subconscious mind comes the nagging, “I don’t want to…this makes me so mad…why should I have to…,” really unhelpful, negative thoughts.

The other day when I was struggling with the sad news of our recent income tax report, and those negative kinds of thoughts were plaguing me, a thought that was not of my own came to me.  I had a choice.  If I trusted God, I ought to choose not to fear, not to worry, but to know that this situation did not come as a surprise to Him, and He will bring us through it.  I could choose the security of resting in His care for me, and freedom from anxiety and depression.  That felt really good, I must say.

Those old yucky thoughts didn’t just go away, but I had a defense to deal with them then.  I kept fighting them off with the assurance that God is in control, and He has a great track record for taking exceptionally good care of us.  Soon, I remembered Reverend Covington’s sermon about the hind’s feet.

The hind’s special ability correlates with the way we can learn to pattern our conscious and subconscious thoughts.  We have the ability to select or reject the thoughts that we think.  When we select only the thoughts that take us in the direction we know that we need to go, the direction that God tells us so plainly we are to go, we can reach the highest heights of the life He has planned for us.

I found that turning my thoughts back to focusing on God’s promises to me and on His truth took some effort, but not nearly as much effort as it takes to keep up with and deal with all my negative emotions.  I was actually empowered when I did this, I believe because He rewarded those efforts with His supernatural strength.  Without the “junk” thoughts (think “spam”) weighing down my spirit, I was much better equipped to move on and deal with our situation in a productive way.

There are times when this will not be so easy, I am certain of that.  I’ve already walked through plenty of those times; I imagine there will be more.  This is not a blog post to tell people how to “just deal with it and move on,” ignoring and stuffing emotional pain.  This is a story of a tool that was given to me, that I plan to use, again and again.  I offer it to you, as well.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!

(Helen H. Lemmel, 1922, public domain)