Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Praying for Wisdom and Trying to be Joyful

"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.
    If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
    James 1:2-5 ESV (emphasis added)

What a strong passage to swallow, yet so fitting to where we find ourselves! 

Lord, You know, I am trying to count all of these trials as joy, but it is so hard when I find myself on the verge of crying all of the time.  Help me to keep trusting You and find the joy in the midst of these trials.  The decisions I have to make daily are overwhelming.  I have no wisdom or understanding of my own.  I need Your wisdom.  Tim and I both do.  Lord, please give us Your wisdom in large amounts to make the right decisions for our son and for our family. We trust You to help us to make the right decisions and to help us press onward.  May You receive the honor and glory in and through us and the trials we face.  Amen.

We are praising the Lord that yesterday Joshua came home from the hospital after being there for 12 days.  However, the countless decisions and therapies will only continue.  We have an overwhelming task ahead of us.  We are grateful for those who stand behind us with prayer and encouragement.  It is so easy to let the decisions overwhelm us or let people discourage us by questioning our judgment.  We have to remember that yes, we lack wisdom, but we can turn to God for an unending supply of wisdom.  With God helping us to make the decisions that need to be made, we can rise above the difficult decisions because we are more than conquerors through Christ.  We do not need to fear man's opinion because we know that we act in the will of God because we act out of His wisdom instead of our own.  When we look at ourselves in that comfortable place of having God's unending supply of wisdom, we can truly have joy because there's no better place to be--in trials or out of them.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Inner Struggles of the Mind

There’s nothing worse than watching your child go through unbearable suffering and be forced to sit there utterly helpless to do anything to relieve the suffering.

You pray for healing clinging to faith that is starting to waver as the situation goes from bleak to bleaker. Then to add injury to insult, you sit through church being reminded of the amazing miracles that Jesus performed during his earthly ministry. The account of Jesus healing the leper in Mark 1:40-42, reads: "A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!”  Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured." Jesus was willing

Knowing how much Jesus loved children and rebuked his disciples who tried to prevent the children from coming to him only makes it more difficult to understand why He could be willing to heal a leprous man but not be willing to heal my suffering 7 year old son.

The same Jesus who walked this earth is still capable of working a miraculous healing in my son’s body today as he did in the lives of those who live when He walked this earth. It is hard to understand the purposes of God and why He chooses to heal some and not heal others or why He chooses to allow some to suffer for a time before the healing takes place. Sometimes God chooses to show us His plan, and other times, He chooses to leave us in the dark and lead us blindly.

Whatever He does, we know it is for our good and for His glory.

I used to think that I can’t ask God “why.” I have learned that it’s ok to ask Him “why,” and that by asking Him why, it helps turn my focus toward Him more and listen more intently for an answer. The answer may not be what I would really like to hear, but God will always speak to His children. He does not keep silent to those who seek Him. Even Jesus asked God why as He hung on the cross dying for my sins when he in agony cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He got His answer when He was reunited with His Father as a Victor who conquered death.

God’s answer to my question of “why” so far has been:

“Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a)

“For I know the plans I have for you declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, ESV). God has assured me that this goes for my son too.

So what do I do? The circumstances with my son are completely out of my control. I pray continually for God’s healing for my son, for God’s will to be done, for God to be glorified in the situation, for strength to carry on. I pray for our family to survive the continued attack of the evil one and for our faith to remain strong. I cry – a lot – I am human, after all. I rest in God’s peace and rely on His grace taking one day at a time.

I am a planner who is always stressing about the future. My pastor providentially shared with me recently the most important thing I needed to hear in order to cope with everything going on. He said, “Christine, you need to focus on what God’s will is for you to do today and do it.” I remind myself this multiple times a day, and this has helped me keep on keeping on. Sometimes, God’s will is simply for me to survive the day of taking care of my family by relying on His strength and grace, and if I can do that, then may He be praised! This has really helped to put life into perspective.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remaining Unmoved

The Russell family continues to be buffeted by waves of tribulation of unmeasurable magnitude.  It seems that this last year has been one intense trial upon another without a chance for us to catch our breath.  We do not know what God has in store for us or what He is doing, but we rest assured that God remains in control and that He is working all of these things out for our good and for His glory (Romans 8:28).

We long to serve the Lord in full-time foreign missions, but it is clear that in this moment, that is not what God has for us.  He is simply working in each of our lives molding us to be who He wants us to be preparing us for the work He has called us to while using us for his Kingdom work as we go about our daily lives.  What He wants us to do in the future, He will lead us to do in His perfect timing.  For now, we remain unmoved while the storms rage around us from all sides, for that is all we can do.

"Our soul waits for the LORD;
        he is our help and our shield.
    For our heart is glad in him,
        because we trust in his holy name.
    Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us,
        even as we hope in you."
(Psalm 33:20-22 ESV)

As this current trial seeks to break down our family, threatens to weaken our physical bodies, shake our emotional states, and waver our trust in God, we have to keep our eyes on Christ the author and finisher of our faith as we continue to run this race of life that God has for us right now.

When it is hard to get up in the morning, I remember:

"But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me."
(Psalm 3:3-5 ESV)

"But this I call to mind,
        and therefore I have hope:
    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
        his mercies never come to an end;
    they are new every morning;
        great is your faithfulness."
(Lamentations 3:21-23 ESV)

The Lord recently encouraged Tim and me from a great passage in Habbkkuk of all places reminding us that no matter what happens or how desolate we feel, we can still rejoice in God our salvation.

"Though the fig tree should not blossom,
        nor fruit be on the vines,
    the produce of the olive fail
        and the fields yield no food,
    the flock be cut off from the fold
        and there be no herd in the stalls,
    yet I will rejoice in the LORD;
        I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
    GOD, the Lord, is my strength;
        he makes my feet like the deer's;
        he makes me tread on my high places."
(Habakkuk 3:17-19a ESV)

When we start to feel overwhelmed like the storm waters are starting to overflow, we must not fear and we must remember:

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
        and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
    when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
        and the flame shall not consume you.
    For I am the LORD your God,
        the Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
   (Isaiah 43:2-3a ESV)
 "So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."      (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)
Please pray for our family as we face yet another trial that we would keep our eyes on the Lord.  That our faith would remain strong, that God would receive the glory, and that soon we would enjoy the restoring of our souls by the still and quiet waters (Psalm 23).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A love like no other

As I reflect on what love is as I scurry around to make Valentine's Day special for my family, I have reflected once again at how our love pales in light of God's love!

I pulled out a poem I had written several years back that was published back in 2000.  I wrote the first stanza years before I met Tim and the second stanza right before I really got to know Tim really well as a friend.  I can truly say now that words mean a lot about my love for him and my thankfulness for his love for me.

                        A Shared Love
My love for you is like a blooming rose.
Each moment spent with you makes it unclose
Every petal one by one
As they reach up to the sun
To thank the Lord above
For giving you to me, my Love.

The love that you have bestowed upon me
Is cherished in my heart forever to be.
A better friend none could ever have,
For you guided me along my life's paths.
May you be truly blessed from above
For freely give to me your love.

        © 2000, 1997. Christine Benedict Russell

Yet, I am amazed at how lacking our love as humans really is.  God's love is perfect.  It is infinite.  It is unselfish.  It is unwavering.  A love between a husband and a wife is only a frail picture of the love of Christ for His bride the church.  How great is our God!  How great is our Father's love for us that He would send His only Son to take our place on the cross and die for our sins so that we can spend eternity with Him!  I am so thankful for His never-ending, always, and forever love!

"For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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 ESV)

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."
(1 John 4:9 ESV)

"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him."
(1 John 4:9 ESV)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Broken Down Fellowship

Lately, I have been convicted by my own lack of fellowship with God.  I have found that in the craziness of my mornings with getting the boys ready and off to school then getting house work done, important phone calls made, making it to doctor's appointments, running off to work, etc, oftentimes, my quiet time with the Lord gets totally ignored, is shortened, or is interrupted and forgotten.  Many times, that quiet time consists of spending time in God's Word then running off to accomplish the next thing on my to-do list totally forgetting the important aspect of prayer.

As I was greatly anticipating the day of prayer leading up to this past weekend, the thought struck me that my prayer life had become so shallow.  A relationship is built on communication, and granted, God was communicating to me through His Word, but really, was I taking time to communicate to Him?  Would I keep friends in this world if I never took the time to talk to them?  What if they were the ones always leaving me voice messages or emailing me or facebook messaging me, but I never took the time to contact them back.  Would I still have them as a friend?  I think not!  Good thing my God is Faithful!  My prayers of late had been a quick prayer to thank the Lord for my quick lunch, asking Him to help me to get a lot accomplished around the house as I scrambled to continue to work on another project while I ate.  I've been so pressured lately to get as much done as I can since I have been feeling better and have so much housework to catch up on since my house went to shambles while I was in so much pain for almost 3 months.  However, that is a sorry excuse for neglecting my relationship with God.  I am thankful that God has convicted me of this and that I am making strides to do better at spending more quality time in prayer!

I recently read the Acts of Faith series which is set in the time from Jesus' death to the conversion of Saul.  The authors did an amazing job researching the historical facts of the early Christians and creating fictitious characters.  I was really struck by the commitment to faith these early Christians had and how much of their lives revolved around proclaiming the Gospel and doing ministry.  This past Sunday, our pastor preached a great message from Acts 2:37-47 which really drove home what I got from these books.  The people being saved right after Pentecost were being baptized and were then DEVOTING themselves to

  1. The preaching of the Word
  2. The Fellowship
  3. The breaking of bread
  4. And to Prayer
These early believers would sell their possessions any time someone had a need.  Every day, they met together in the temple courts.  One thing I had learned from the book series I had read was that these early Christians were actually more dedicated to the daily prayers than the religious Jews in that often, they attended the noon prayer as well when many Jews did not.  The passage in Acts goes on to account that these believers also broke bread together in their homes and praised God.  Daily, God was saving more people!  Wow, what sweet fellowship!

Sadly, this way of life, is unheard of in our society today.  People too often, bemoan giving any money to the church even when there is a need.  People would rather sleep in on Sunday than go to Sunday School.  Going to the Sunday morning worship service is tiring enough, so they stay home instead of going to the evening service or Bible study.  If there is a mid-week service, forget that, because life is just too busy.  As for spending 6 hours for a day of prayer one day a year?  Too much of a sacrifice for most people!

I've also thought lately about people I have met personally who have been living testaments of being committed to God no matter the cost.  When I was in West Africa, I worshiped alongside people who had started walking before the sun came up to walk over a mountain and arrive at church 4 hours later in bare feet ready to worship with their brothers and sisters in Christ.  They do this every Sunday with gladness of heart! I have brothers and sisters in Christ who face persecution daily, lose jobs on a regular basis, pay 2-3 times the normal rent just because they call themselves a Christian and worship with believers on Sunday.  They run the risk of being killed by family members or others of the majority religion in their country.  Then there are others who I have not had the privilege of meeting personally who risk their lives to meet as a church underground because Christianity is illegal, but they are still committed to not forsaking the assembling of themselves together.  If these brothers and sisters can do it at great costs, why can't we when the only cost is convenience???? 

How can we even wonder why God doesn't seem to be working like He used to in the Bible times?  Why does it seem that souls are barely being added each year not to mention each day?  How can people even question God's goodness when something bad happens to them when they don't even give God any time of their day?  The problem is we have forgotten who God is because we have broken down our fellowship with Him.  We have forgotten that He is Holy, Just, Righteous, the Creator, Sovereign, Almighty, Ruler, etc.  We have become infected with the American "I"itis (my diagnosis of the current American culture stuck on itself) and think that we are good and deserving of rewards.  The Bible tells us that our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  We are desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9) and incapable of doing anything good (Ephesians 2:1-3).  We are deserving of nothing but eternal damnation (Romans 6:23).  Praise God that He is gracious and merciful and that out of His love and goodness, He chose us before the world began and called us to be His children and shed His own Son's blood to clean us from our sins.  We stand justified and are totally undeserving of it.  Yet, how often, do we take it for granted and become ungrateful for it or even think we deserve more?

Psalm 51:10-12
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a rightb spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.