The Valley of the Shadow of Death

I’m coming up to the one year anniversary of my surgery. The surgery that “should have” killed me. God had another plan. But reflecting on the time leading up to it, I can see how God was speaking to me and comforting me. And a year later, I am alive.

Broken Alabaster Jar

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
   I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff,
   they comfort me.
Psalms 23:4

The thought of dying is scary.  Trust me, it is. No matter how much faith and trust in the Lord a person has, facing mortality is hard.  Fear of pain, compassion for the family and friends left behind, all the things you’ve left undone. It is a lot to carry.

As I’ve endured this very hard season in my life.  (Hard season is what I’ve been calling this tremendous trial of pain and suffering, by the way.)  I have cried out to God in anger, fear, frustration, hope, trust, love. A range of emotions that varies moment to moment.

Dying is that inevitability that we all face. And it still sucks.  I’ve been sick for so long, slowly…

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A Friend of God

People call me a deeply spiritual person.  A prayer girl.  A friend of God.  Someone who is praying continuously.  I’ve been proud of that.  I like that about myself.  And I suck at it. 

I get angry.  I get irritated.  I get frustrated.  People are stupid and most of the time I throw my hands up in the air with aggravation rather than deal with them.  A problem comes up and I try to handle it with love and kindness.  I try to be a peacemaker.  I really, really do.  Yet, I fail at it miserably all the time.  Because people are stupid.  And so am I.

I’m not nearly as spiritual as I think I am.  I’m not near as good of a friend to God as people think I am.  I’m not continually praying, even when I think I am.  I get distracted by emotion.  I get distracted by myself and my circumstances.  I turn into a victim or a tyrant or even a peacemaker and forget to bring God into the conversation at all.  

No wonder I fail miserably so often!

12We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle,c encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. 15See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise prophecies, 21but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22Abstain from every form of evil.

23Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.
1 Thessalonians 5:12-22

The other night the Lord said something to me that I can’t stop thinking about.  With all the kindness and tenderness of the sweetest southern gentleman, the Lord asked if I would invite him into the conversation.  The Lord asked me!  Wow.  The King of the Universe lovingly asked me if He could be a part of my conversations.  All of them.  

He didn’t ask me to be quiet.  He didn’t ask me to stop getting frustrated or angry or self righteous. He just asked me if He could be part of my conversations.  No judgement.  No criticism.  Just a gentle request.

I know I don’t invite Him in because deep down inside I think I’ve got it all figured out.  Either that, or I think He won’t like what I have to say, or He’ll stop me from having a voice at all.  He’s the Creator of All Things.  He doesn’t need me or want my opinion.  

What a filthy lie. 

The truth is, the God of the Universe made me in His image to be His friend.  And He loves me!  He doesn’t want a silent slave.  He wants a full fledged son with all the rights of inheritance He has given His Son.  All of it.

And He had to ask me to invite Him into the conversation.

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15:15

Jesus, I confess that I’ve not been very good at inviting you into my conversations.  I’ve tried to figure things out on my own.  I’ve lived huge parts of my life only letting You in occasionally.  And I didn’t even realize I was doing it.  So, I’m sorry, Lord.  I’m sorry for not inviting You in.  I took Your forgiveness and neglected Your wisdom.  Please forgive me.  Help me to do better.  Destroy my fear and insecurity.  Destroy my arrogance and any power I think I can manage without Your input.  It’s all Yours, God.  Every bit of who I am You designed.  It’s Your DNA that made me.  Will You show me how to invite You in and still be me?  Will You show me what freedom in sonship looks like?  Will You teach me how to be in You more fully and trust You more deeply so that You are always a part of my conversations.  Always.  I love you, Jesus.  Help me act like it.  Amen.

Breath of Life

 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature
Genesis 2:7

If you follow my blog, or know me well in person, then you know that I was on a ventilator last year for almost two weeks.  (You can read all the details about it here) I don’t remember it.  Not really anyway.   All I know is that everyone but my husband knew I was going to die.  It was a grievous time.  People flocked to the hospital to give their respects.  To say goodbye.  To offer comfort.  Doctors told my husband to say goodbye to me multiple times.

People say that the ventilator kept me alive.   People are saying that a lot right now because of Covid-19.  Hospitals need ventilators to breathe for people and keep them alive.  But the source of life will never be a ventilator. 

The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
1 Samuel 2:6

When you need a ventilator they have to restrain you so you don’t do something stupid while you’re heavily sedated.  (Like I did when I self extubated and should have died…you can read more about that fun story here.)  And the Church has definitely been restrained.  Public gatherings have been shut down. 

Jesus has shown me the Church as it gasps for breath. In these wretched days, a ventilator seems like the only thing that will keep us alive, whether we’ve gotten sick or not.  Bills need to be paid.  Congregations need comfort and encouragement.  How can any of this happen while we practice social distancing?  Zoom can’t be our new normal, can it? It’s just a stop gap, right?  Until we can breathe on our own again, right?

But, wait a second.  Are we even supposed to be breathing on our own?

Jesus Christ is the breath of life.

When I self-extubated my lungs should have collapsed.  Instead I began to breathe “on my own.”  But here’s a news flash, folks:  I know full well I wasn’t breathing on my own.  Jesus breathed for me.

I pray that the beautiful body of Christ would stop looking for ventilators.  I know it seems logical.  I know it makes sense from human standards.  I know that a ventilator kept me alive last Summer.  But Jesus showed me that He alone keeps me alive.  He alone is my breath.  He alone is our breath.

“Do you think that’s air you’re breathing now?” ~ Morpheus, The Matrix (1999)

 

Maybe being extubated is exactly what we need.  We know right now that we can’t breathe on our own.  We just can’t.  All the things we keep doing are helpful, even encouraging to us.  We want to do something.  We need to do something.  It helps us feel like we are contributing to the life of the Church still somehow.  If we keep those tubes of action in place we don’t have to die.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
John 12:24

Zoom and Facebook and YouTube have been useful and beautiful.  Wanting to live has value!  And these tools have shown us what matters and what doesn’t.  My prayer is that they don’t become just another way for us to live without Jesus.

I can tell you, I shouldn’t be alive. Not by human wisdom.  But Jesus could care less about human wisdom, and so I am alive.  

Can we trust Him in this?  Can we look to the Breath of Life for our resuscitation?  Can we trust Him?  Will we trust Him?  

Lord, thank you for Zoom and Facebook.  Thank you for exhorters and encouragers who say hard things.  Thank you for teachers and pastors who tenderly show us the Word of Life and offer us comfort.  Thank you for servants who weep for our needs in prayer and give beyond their means financially to support the Church.  Thank you, Father, that each member is a part of one body, Your Body.  Thank you that each of us brings something unique and beautiful to this mess that is the Church.  Help us to love one another and consider others higher than ourselves.  Let us love without judgment.  Let us trust that You are working even when we can’t seem to work together or have opposing points of view.  You are on Your Throne and that is something that we can all agree with.  Bring us unity.  Restore Your Church, Heavenly Father.  Bring Jesus back.  Set things right once and for all. Breathe for us, Daddy. Amen.

The List

If you knew that tomorrow the whole population of the world would either live or die depending on what list they were on, and that the those who were on the list of the living would be given great gifts and reward, while the list of those who were dying would only have what they had built for themselves before their death, wouldn’t you want to be on the list of the living? What would you pay to be on the right list? What would you do in order to be on that list? What would you do to make sure the people you know and love could be on that list too?

I know of such lists, though I do not know the day on which they will be called into account. I am on the living list and have been instructed to invite everyone that I can to join me on the life list.

But the master of the death list has made it his life’s work to keep as many people off of the life list as he can. He’s convinced people that what they do now is more important than what they do tomorrow, and that the riches and power and knowledge they achieve through their own hard work is a far better gift than a life filled with things of even greater value that they did not earn or deserve.

I’m brokenhearted that so many people believe that their own effort can force them onto the life list, but the master of the life list has said that no one is good enough to get on the life list because the death list master convinced everyone that the only way to really live is to decide for yourself what life should look like. And that sounds so good to everyone that they don’t even want to consider the life list because they think they’re already on it!

But the only way to get on the life list is to admit that the master of the life list has a much better understanding of life than the death list master because he is the ultimate source of life in the first place.

But the life list master can’t bear the thought of anyone willingly staying off the life list because they have been lied to, so he confronted the death list master and beat him at his own game. He allowed the death master to kill him, and then (because he is the master of the life), death could not hold him. He came back to life.

Now anyone who can admit that they have been duped into believing that they can have life apart from the life master, can choose to believe that the life offered by the life master is far better than the lie that the life of the death master has offered, and can receive a place on the list of life and receive all the abundance of life offered by the master of life. Forever.

All anyone has to do is confess that they have been believing in the death list master and following their own desires with the belief that it will give them life. Then turn to the life list master and ask him to give them life. And he shall give it to them.

Choose to stop believing the lie. Choose life with the master of life.

John 10:10

Suffering Sucks

Sharing this post again because it feels so relevant in so many ways right now. For those who are suffering, this is for you.

Broken Alabaster Jar

Suffering sucks God.

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 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.
Romans 5:3-5

It sucks, God.  I hate it, even though I know that You will use it.  I know what Your word says about suffering. I know Jesus suffered.  I know David suffered. I know the Apostles suffered. Paul suffered.  And God, I am suffering.

I’m tired from fighting.  It takes so much energy to cope with physical pain.  And, Lord, I feel like I’ve dealt with crisis after crisis for most of my life. I know that lots of people suffer, God, and I am no better or worse than anyone else.  But right now…

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Peace and Security

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[a] you have no need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. 4 But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 1 Thessalonians 5:1-4

We’ve all seen the info-graphics online.  X number of people have died since the outbreak.  X number of people have recovered since the outbreak.  X disease has killed more or less than the virus. X number of unborn babies have died since the outbreak. Cancer takes x number of lives every year.  Influenza kills x number of people every year. There’s a graphic out there to compare a million facts about death lately.  

Death is on our minds and we can’t stop thinking about it. 

But people have always been dying, haven’t they?  Death is the inevitable finish to life. And right now a lot of people are shaken to their core by the contemplation of a pandemic so powerful that it has shut down the world in order to save lives.  

Here in America, there’s been talk that it’s a political ploy to steal our freedom.  We have certainly lost a lot of freedom. And if you’ve invested all your hopes and dreams on the freedom of America, then of course you’re going to be shaken.

In our Western Church we’ve put a lot of emphasis on our freedom to freely worship God.  We are allowed to congregate and propagate and investigate without fear. We have incredible access to resources and teachings.  We can talk to strangers in coffee shops about our faith or share the Good News on the internet. Nothing has stopped us. Until now.

Undaunted, we push forward with our freedom of religion.  We get on Zoom calls. We have live gatherings on YouTube or Facebook.  We call people to repent and to pray and to trust and have faith. We are all about keeping up the freedom in our meetings. And maybe people who would never walk into a church building might actually get to hear what it’s all about for the first time in their lives.

What are we going to do about it?

Our president asked for prayer that the virus would pass over us on Passover.  Wouldn’t that be something? And all the world will see how blessed we are as Christians that God will protect us from this “China Virus”.  We are proud to be Americans where we have God on our side! Dang straight! God will protect us! God will protect our people. God will destroy our enemies and we will walk across safely on dry land, just like the Isrealites.  God will have the virus pass over us just like the Angel of Death passed over them in the final plague of the first born sons.

Except our first born son was slain. Our salvation from our slavery happened on the cross 2000 years ago, when our First Born Son, our One and Only Son, endured death for our sake.  The dry land we walk across it the dry land of Jesus Christ.  

Our faith is not in worldly protection anymore.  Our triumph is no longer freedom as man understands freedom.  Instead we stare with bold defiance at the face of our enemy and proclaim the victory won for us through Christ Jesus.  

12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12

We can triumphantly say our “Passover” has already happened!  Let’s not cheapen it with miracles meant to make us feel better. 

Our lives are so free that we have lost sight of the freedom we have found in Christ.  No matter what we must endure, no matter what affliction looms over us, we can claim our freedom and trust in our Savior, not our country or our healing or our protection.  

Our King, King Jesus will remain.  Nothing can steal His victory and the freedom He won back for us on the cross.  

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

So, it’s time to stop talking about death as it relates to death.  No more infographics. No more statistics. No more comparisons. No more compromise!  We are all going to die, my friends. Stop trying to beg God to save you from this inevitability of physical death.  Ask for your life in only so much as it would please Our Master. Stop mocking the healing God gave us that day on a cross on Golgotha and that bright and beautiful morning of His resurrection, by demanding something else!    

There is an eternal death, my friends, and Covid-19 can bring it the same way cancer does, the same way war does, the same way starvation does.  And Jesus Christ has already answered that death with life. No new salvation will ever be offered. No cure, no peace, no abortion law, no food for the hungry can replace the salvation of our One True King.  

When you die–and you will die–will you die to yourself, considering your own needs worthless compared to what the Lord has called us to in order to glorify the King?  Or will you cry for peace and security and watch the world fall back into death once again?

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:25

Turn From Your Wicked Ways: 2 Chronicles 7:14

I’m perplexed.  A large group of Christians in this country are rallying around the scripture of 2 Chronicles 7:14.  People I know and love are gathering together to pray and humble themselves and receive healing for this land. They’re asking that God would make the pestilence that is the coronavirus miraculously pass over America on Easter weekend. 

God loves our prayer.  He loves to hear from us and consider our thoughts and desires.  He chose to partner with us and that means He chooses to listen to us.  He loves it when we pray. He loves it when we have faith to make bold and audacious requests to Him.  He can do it and we believe it! Look at this scripture. There are some big promises here.

11 Thus Solomon finished the house of the Lord and the king’s house. All that Solomon had planned to do in the house of the Lord and in his own house he successfully accomplished. 12 Then the Lord appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a house of sacrifice. 13 When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, 14 if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. 16 For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that my name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 17 And as for you, if you will walk before me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping my statutes and my rules, 18 then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’

19 “But if you[c] turn aside and forsake my statutes and my commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, 20 then I will pluck you[d] up from my land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for my name, I will cast out of my sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 21 And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 22 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt, and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore he has brought all this disaster on them.’” 2 Chronicles 11-22

We are promised healing but we have defiled the house of the Lord.  I think repentance, not healing, needs to be our focus.

If we love God then we know He will use this contagian for His purposes.  He will use it! I keep seeing and hearing how He’s using it! Families are coming together. People are reaching out to each other with intentionality and love.  People are helping one another. Social distancing has brought a lot of good attention to our need to connect with people. And people are connecting!

What else will He do?  I can’t help but think of my years of chronic health problems.  For years people have prayed for my healing, but if I had been healed instantly every time, I would have lost so much!  I’ve learned how to draw close to Him in those times. So close. And in those times He has proven His love and care for me.

Now I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t pray for healing.  I want our land to be healed! But I want repentance more! I want to see this virus drive people to God.  I want to see God use it as a shepherd’s crook, pulling people close to Him. I don’t want one sheep to be lost.  

He will be coming soon to reclaim and rebuild His Kingdom, so how can we ask Him to allow the coronavirus to pass over us, when we know that it has stopped the worship of so many idols?  How can we ask Him to spare us, when we’ve taken part in the love of worldly freedom and arrogance? How can we ask Him to stop shaking the Earth, when we know He’s giving people one more chance to turn to Him?

 I would rather die of Covid-19 than see my neighbors spared the opportunity to drop to their knees in desperation and cry out to God for salvation.  Because I think that is what it’s going to take.

If people remain comfortable, if people can claim peace and security and watch the miracle of God’s protection from the coronavirus, will they repent?  Will they really? Will they turn to God and be saved because they were spared? Or will they continue in their wicked ways, oblivious still to the One True King.

Suffering, discomfort, fear:  these things will drive people to seek God.  I know this from personal experience. People will seek him because they have nothing else.  Let’s not ask God to deny them that opportunity.  

 Aren’t they worth it? 

I pray that we as Christians could stop asking for peace and comfort and healing, and start asking for the conviction of God to overcome us that we would repent of our sins and live as Christ: sacrificing our own comfort that those who are lost may be found.

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[g] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done. Matthew 16:24-27