Thursday, March 29, 2012

Help in troubled times

At the end of January and in early February I wrote a few posts about my former mother-in-law, Sue, who remains my best friend.  When I developed gastroparesis syndrome and had to quit nursing I began helping her with their family business, so most of the time I see her every afternoon for at least a few hours.  It's been a good arrangement for the both of us.  When I flare up bad enough that I can't come, what I do can wait or she can cover it until I'm better.  She's a strong, independent woman and a dedicated Christian.  I marvel that she and her husband have continued their business for so long; she's 73 and he's 78, and he still doesn't want to retire!
Anyway, in January she had a heart attack and then developed pneumonia and was critically ill for some time.  We all thought we might lose her.  But she recovered and we breathed a sigh of relief.  She's had some other problems for the past few years; some forgetfulness and balance problems that we've been concerned about, but figured it was probably just part of her aging.
A couple of days ago she took a tremendous fall, hit her head, and was hospitalized.  They did a CAT scan of her head and yesterday we received the devastating news that she has Lewy body dementia.  When I looked it up on the internet it all made sense.  Unfortunately, there is no cure.  She will only get worse with time.
Looking back, this has probably been developing for a few years.  She's been trying so hard not to let it show because she never wants to worry anyone.  She's the type of person who takes care of other people, not the other way around.  The doctors say that because she's had so many falls she can no longer be left alone.  They're trying to get home heath set up and I'll be there as much as possible.
I'm just heartbroken for her and her family.  But I know with God's help we'll get through this.  I don't know how I'd cope without him to lean on right now.
In other developments, I got some great news.  About six months ago I sent in a few devotions to a magazine that comes out once a year, with one devotion per day.  They are considering using one of mine! I'd blown it off a long time ago since I hadn't heard from them.  I just want so much to help others find the faith that makes such a difference in my own life.  Like now, even though Sue's illness is a terrible blow, I know that God will give me the grace and strength to carry on and help her to the best of my ability.
Even more exciting: on Friday night I'll be going out for the first time with the Mary Magdalene Ministry through my church.  The group meets at the church and then we drive out to the area in our town where the prostitutes hang out and talk to and pray with them, if they let us.  They work to get them off the streets and follow through afterwards as well.  I was privileged to meet one of the women Sunday at church.  She was one of the first they helped and they introduced me to her as a new person on the team.  I can't wait!  I've been wanting to do something like this for quite some time.
I really would like to make ministry a large part of my life.  It's really a question of what exactly it is that God wants me to do and how my health holds up.  For now, I'll keep putting one foot in front of the other and trust that he'll guide me into the right thing.

Searching for your will

Father sometimes I don't know
Which way you want me to go
Would you please make your will clear to me
My desire is to become what you want me to be
Guide me into the right ministry
As I search your word and pray
Open my heart to what you say
I want only to serve you the best I can
To fulfill my purpose according to your plan
Never have I known a love like you've shown to me
And a peace that has set my heart free
I just want to bring others to you
So that they can feel your love too
My life is yours, whatever you desire
Fill me up with your holy fire
Show me the door and I'll walk through
My life is not mine; it belongs to you.

This song nails it, I love it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

'Ethnic Cleansing of Christians' in Syria; 50,000 Flee

From Worthy News:

'Ethnic Cleansing of Christians' in Syria; 50,000 Flee

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 (8:19 am)

By Stefan J. Bos, Worthy News' Chief International Correspondent
syriaDAMASCUS, SYRIA (Worthy News)– Islamic militants with ties to terror group al-Qaida have launched the "ethnic cleansing of minority Christians" in Syria, forcing tens of thousands of people to flee the embattled Syrian city of Homs and other areas, aid workers confirmed Tuesday, March 27.
At least 90 percent of Christians living in Homs have fled after "fanatics" forced them to leave their homes, said Dutch aid group 'Kerk in Nood', or Church in Need.
It added that the exodus of 50,000 people mainly took place in the last six weeks. "They have fled to villages and in the mountains, sometimes as far as 50 kilometers from their homes. We have reports that Islamists 'cleansed' the Homs areas of Hamidiya en Bustan al-Diwan without giving them the opportunity to anything with them," the group told Worthy News in a statement.
Kerk in Nood said it has already made available some 80,000 euro ($107,000) for supporting the most vulnerable families, including survivors of a car bomb near a church in the city of Aleppo, that authorities claimed killed at least two people and injured 30 others.
Aid workers said the attack happened near the Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure in the area.
Aleppo Bishop Antoine Audo, who supervised the aid program, said people who don't receive support fear for their lives. "They don't know what will be their future," he said in remarks obtained by Worthy News.
"They are afraid that they will not receive back their homes. It's of utmost importance that we help these people," he said.
Earlier, aid group Barnabas Fund told Worthy News that Christians have also been used as "human-shields" by anti-government rebels, known as the Free Syrian Army, to prevent government forces from retaking control over the region.
The Free Syrian Army blames President Bashar Assad for the situation. Christians, like other Syrian minorities, have been viewed by critics as supportive of Bashar Assad, a member of the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Minorities reportedly fear an Islamist takeover should armed rebels, mostly from the nation's Sunni Muslim majority, manage to overthrow Assad.
Kerk in Nood said there is growing fear that Syria will turn into "a second Iraq" with a similar pattern of attacks against churches, and expulsion or kidnappings of Christians.
"As attacks continue, Syria could experience the same fate as Iraq where the number of Christians living there has been reduced from as many as 1.4 million at the end of the 1980s to less than 300,000 now."
Christians say that the crisis in especially Homs has raised fears that Islamists with ties to al-Qaida will use the power vacuum left by the other regimes in the Middle East when they were forced out by what became known by protests known as the "Arab Spring".

Link to story at bottom of page.

A story from Israel

Along the path to the spring
Last May, I was privileged to travel with my mother and stepfather to Israel for ten days.
It changed my life profoundly.  One of the things that I learned about myself was how little I know about the Jewish culture and the Old Testament.
I've read the Old Testament of course, but have spent much more time in the New, since that's the covenant we live under now.  But there are a lot of lessons to be learned in the Old.  One of my favorite stories that I was reacquainted with was the story of Gideon.  You can read the whole story in Judges 6-8:38, but here I'll tell the story partly by paraphrasing, directly quoting and inserting some of the insights shared by our guide and my own.  As our group gathered around the pool of water, he began by saying, "Have you ever noticed that God uses the nobodies in the sight of the world?  He uses the humble, the lowly in station, and Gideon was a great example of that..."
Now during this time, Israel had gone astray again, worshiping idols.  For seven years, God had allowed the Midianites to take over the land.  The Israelites were hiding in caves and mountain clefts.  Every time they tried to plant their crops, they were invaded, not only by the Midianites but others as well.  They wrecked everything all the way to Gaza, camping in their tent and ravaging the crops. They didn't leave anything for Israel to survive on, and finally they cried out to the Lord.  He sent a prophet who told them that God had warned the Israelites not to worship other Gods; after all, God had saved them from slavery in Egypt and given them the land.
Enter Gideon.  He was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it away from the Midianites when an angel of the Lord appeared to him.  The angel addressed him as a mighty warrior and told him that the Lord was with him.
"But sir," Gideon replied, "if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about when they said, 'Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?' But now the Lord has abandoned us and put us in the hand of Midian."  The Lord turned to him and said, "Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian's hand. Am I not sending you?"
"But Lord," Gideon asked, "how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." This line struck a chord with me.  I often think, what can I do for the Lord? I have a reoccurring illness and not a lot of money.  But God makes the point to Gideon; it's not he that will cause the work to be done, it will be the Lord.  How much clearer it is that it is the Lord's work when he uses a person who clearly couldn't do it on their own?
The Lord answered him, "I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together."
Gideon replied, "If now I have found favor in your eyes, give me a sign that it is really you talking to me.  Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you."  And the Lord said, "I will wait until you return."
So Gideon went and prepared a young goat and made some bread without yeast. Putting the meat in a basket and its broth in a pot, he brought them out and offered them to him under the oak.  The angel of God said to him, "Take the meat and the unleavened bread, place them on this rock, and pour out the broth."
And Gideon did so.  With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the Lord touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the Lord disappeared.  When Gideon realized that it was the angel of the Lord, he exclaimed, "Ah, Sovereign Lord! I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!"  But the Lord said to him, "Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die."
So Gideon built an altar to the Lord there and called it The Lord is Peace.  That night, God tested Gideon.
He told him to take a bull of his father's herd, tear down the alter to the false god Baal, and then build a proper one.  Then he was to cut down the Asherah pole, which represented the false goddess Asherah and use the wood of the pole to sacrifice the bull on.
Can you imagine? To ask Gideon to do this was asking him to tear down the local church, because these were the gods they were worshiping.  And who was he? The least in his family.  How would he explain himself?  He could tell them God told him to, but would they believe him? In any case, there would surely be an uproar.  Because he was afraid of his father and the men of the town he took some of his servants and did it in the night.
In the morning when the men of town got up, there was Baal's altar, demolished, with the Asherah pole beside it cut down and the bull sacrificed on the newly built altar.  And there was indeed an uproar.  It came out that Gideon had done it and the men of the town wanted to kill Gideon.  But his father intervened, wisely pointing out that if Baal was really a god, he was capable of defending himself when someone breaks down his alter.  Ever after, they called Gideon, "Jerub-Baal," meaning, "Let Baal contend with him."
At this time the eastern peoples joined forces and crossed over the Jordan and camped in the Valley of Jezreel.  The the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him and he sent messengers throughout the tribe of Manaseh, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali to take up arms with him and fight the invaders to get their land back.
But Gideon need a little more proof.  He asked God to confirm his promise to be with him by placing a wool fleece on the threshing floor.  He asked that if it were truly God, to allow the dew to only wet the fleece and leave the ground dry.  In the morning Gideon found that it was so.  Still, he asked God to do it again, only this time wetting the ground and leaving the fleece dry. It happened.
Sound familiar? I know I've asked God a few times to show me it is really him speaking.  But now Gideon felt confident, so early in the morning, Gideon gathered the men together and they camped at the spring.  The camp of Midian was to the north in a valley.  But there was a problem.
The Lord said to Gideon, "You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.  In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength  has saved her, announce now to the people, 'Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.' " When Gideon said that to the men, 22,000 of them left, leaving 10,000.
But the Lord said to Gideon, "There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will sift them for you there." So Gideon took the remaining men down to the water to drink, and there God told Gideon, "Separate those who lap the water with their tongues like a dog from those who kneel down to drink."   There were 300 men who knelt down and drank from cupped hands, and God told Gideon that those were his men, the rest could go back to their camps.  Now the enemy had settled in the valley and the Bible describes them as being thick as locusts, with so many camels they were like sand on the seashore

But God told Gideon that if he was still worried, to take his servant and sneak down there at night and listen to what was being said, and it would encourage him.
Gideon and his servant got there as one man was telling another about a dream he had, that a round loaf of barley bread came tumbling into  camp and struck the tent with such force that the tent overturned and collapsed.  His friend responded,  "This can be nothing other than the sword of Gideon son of Joash, the Israelite. God has given the Midianites and the whole camp into his hands." When Gideon heard this, he began to worship the Lord, and they made their plan to attack, right then in the night.  They split into 3 groups of 100 and surrounded the camp, carrying their trumpets, torches and each a clay jar.  Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets, they yelled, "A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!"
The 3 companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars, holding their positions around the camp.  When the 300 trumpets sounded, the Lord caused the men in the camp to turn on each other with their swords, and they fled. Gideon and his men pursued them, and sent messengers for the other men to help them.
They conquered them and tried to make Gideon their king, but he refused, saying that the Lord would rule them.  Gideon asked one thing of the men who'd fought.  He had each man give him one gold earring from each man's plunder, since it was the custom of their foes to wear these earrings. Altogether the weight of the gold was about 43 pounds, and Gideon made it into an ephod, which he placed in his town.  I would think that after all God had done for Gideon, the last thing he'd ever do would return to any form of idolatry.
But he did.
And all Israel prostituted themselves by worshiping it there, and it became a snare to Gideon and his family, though there was peace in the land until Gideon's death about forty years later.
He had seventy sons (he had a lot of wives now) and one by a concubine, who wound up causing quite a bit of trouble in the next few chapters.
It's easy to judge Gideon from the distance of history, but is this so unlike ourselves? In that day it was Baal and Asherah, but what do we spend the most of our time on?  What sin peeps its ugly head up time and time again when we think we've dealt with it once and for all?  An idol is anything that we place as a higher priority than God. 
When I look at the Old Testament as a whole, I see a God who loves Israel.  She slips, she sins, he becomes angry, but he forgives when she repents and calls out to him.  And so it is with us today.  No matter how many times we fall, the nature of God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  All we have to do is repent and reach out to him and he dusts us off, washes us clean, by the sacrifice of Christ that provides us grace.
By the way, my mother and I drank from Gideon's Spring and the water is still pure and sweet.  We cupped our hands. :)
Gideon's Cave

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What is Man, That You Are Mindful of Him?

 When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.-Psalm 8:3-5

The other day as I was driving, I saw the most beautiful sunset. I had just read this verse this morning, so it was fresh in my mind and I pulled over to watch. The sun was a vibrant orange as it sank over the horizon, painting the clouds with with such gorgeous shades of color; gold, red, fuchsia. 

I spent some time praising God for the beauty that He creates, and I was reminded of the pictures recently taken by the Hubble. I marveled at the gigantic swirling clouds of colorful galaxies that are simply the work of my Father's fingers. Sometimes I feel in such awe that I wonder as the psalmist said, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” Looking at the vastness of our universe can make me feel quite small and insignificant. But our Father reassures us that we are “crowned with glory and honor” through the cleansing blood of Jesus.  Throughout God's Word we are assured that God loves us and we are significant to Him. What an honor!  How blessed we are that our great and awesome God cares intimately for us, even knowing the number of hairs on our heads.

Prayer: Father, thank you for the beauty that you created and for being mindful of us and our problems.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Persecution in Laos

From Worthy News:

laos prison mapVIENTIANE, LAOS (Worthy News)– The only known Christian in a rural district of northern Laos was under pressure to abandon his faith in Christ or faceexpulsion from his village, his supporters told Worthy News.
Khamla of Dongvieng village in Viengphuka district was told by local authorities to "give up believing in the Christian religion" by March 7 "or be cast out from the village," said Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), which supports local Christians in Laos.
The Christian, who uses only one name, was allegedly summoned to appear at the local government headquarters where he faced some 20 officials, including a representative of the Communist party, the village leadership and security personnel.
"Authorities are believed to be attempting to abolish the Christian religion from taking root in Viengphuka district," said HRWLRF in a statement.
Khamla reportedly embraced the Christian faith only after claiming to have been healed from a long-term disease during following "fervent prayers by other believers" outside the district. Viengphuka district's estimated 20,000 people are mainly farmers and live in small rural villages.
Khamla is the latest known Christian to face expulsion over his faith, rights activists said.
Elsewhere in northern Laos, rights activists said 10 Christian families in Hueygong Village, located in the Pakoo District of Luangprabang province, were given till March 18 to recant their faith or be forced to leave the area, Worthy News reported earlier.
In the same province news emerged Wednesday, March 7, that 14 Christian families, comprising some 80 persons, have been told to leave Hueysell village, in Ngoi District, if they don't stop believing in Jesus Christ.
"Thus far, village authorities have not carried through their threat of expulsion" which was issued in January by local authorities, said HRWLRF, adding that the Christians "have remained firm in their faith."
The group has urged the government respect the country's constitution and international treaties regarding religious freedom.
There are some 200,000 devoted Christians in Communist-run Laos, where most of the 6.4 million people are Buddhists, according to Christian estimates.
Lao officials have denied human rights abuses against minorities.

Persecution in India

From Worthy News, March 13, 2012

BANGALORE, INDIA (Worthy News)– Suspected Hindu militants broke up a Christian prayer meeting and forced two women leading the gathering to stop evangelizing in India's southwestern state of Karnataka, as part of several attacks against devoted believers across the country, Christians told Worthy News.
Local Christians said as many as 20 Hindu "radicals" and "extremists" raided the March 3 prayer meeting in the Vijayanagar neighborhood of Bangalore, the state's capital.
The Hindu mob allegedly insulted worshipers and ordered the two women leading the service, Parimala, 36, and Padmavathi, 35, to stop the prayers immediately. In some parts of India people only use one name.
The two women are members of the Mahima Prarthana Mandira – an independent church in the Vijayanagar neighborhood, Christians said.
Both believers, who were Hindus before becoming Christians 12 years ago, also lead a 60-member congregation which often gathers for prayer services at a rented home. Additionally they have been distributing evangelical publications with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, local residents told Worthy News.
Angered about these activities, the Hindu militants reportedly filed a police complaint on charges of "forceful conversion" and pressured the two Christians to write down that they would halt prayer meetings and no longer conduct their other evangelism activities.
It was not immediately clear which Hindu group was behind the reported attack.
The two women were briefly held at the police station, said advocacy group Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), adding that its representatives had successfully intervened and that they were released.
Besides Karnataka, Christians have complained about attacks elsewhere, including in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu where police on February 21 reportedly detained Pastor John Chidambaran after Hindu militants beat him and his daughter, saying he was involved in "forceful conversions".
You can read the whole article here: India Militants Attack Prayer Meeting, Pastors

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Canyon

Yesterday was such a beautiful day.  After church, I drove out to the canyon that runs just outside of town and walked along the river.  The rocks were warm with the sun and the water was clear and cool on my fingers.  Overhead I watched a hawk hunting while I lay on my back enjoying the sunshine.  As I walked on I found some big fat raccoon tracks in the sand, and the peacefulness of the place restored me.  Here and there a few little wildflowers put forth their first blooms.  Soon the hills will be full of bright orange California poppies and others; tall purple ones, tiny violets and my favorite: the sunflowers that bloom even along dusty roads.  When I'm out there wandering and enjoying the beauty I can't help but marvel at the creativity of my Father who made it all in such diversity.  This is one of the songs I was listening to and it seemed to fit the day:

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.  -Psalm 23:3

I stayed out until the sun finally set behind the hills.   I wish you all peace through this coming week.