Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Week Twenty-Two - Heavy Hearted

Sometimes this old world just gets you down, doesn't it? The strife on the news, confrontations at work, unhappiness at home, and inner unrest take their toll, and you begin to feel heavy-hearted. I've been there, too. But here's one of the beautiful things about our God - He knows how we feel and doesn't leave us to encourage ourselves but reaches out with truth and comfort that lifts our spirits.

Proverbs 12:25 reads, "Heaviness in the heart of a man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad."  I call that the law of encouragement. So let's look at this little proverb's first two main words.

Heaviness. It is a form of anxiety, being disquieted in thought, sorrow, ot fearful anticipation.  God knows we experience these feelings. He records more about heaviness in His Word. For example, in Psalm 38:6, David writes, "I am troubled: I am bowed down greatly; I go mourning all the day long." That sounds like a heavy heart to me. Then, in Psalm 42:11, he writes, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me?" Yep, David is feeling pretty low.

And even Christ experienced heaviness of heart at Gethsemane as He suffered drops of blood in anticipation of the cross. So God understands our heavy hearts. 

Stoop. It means to bow down, crouch, or be humbled. My husband once said, "God created man to look up. Stooping is the opposite." This stooping isn't always voluntary humility. It can be a brokenness of spirit or a surrender to heaviness. It is the position of looking away from God and to self.

But let's not leave it there. The remainder of Psalm 42:11 says, "Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." God can lift our heavy hearts!

And when it comes to stooping, God is proficient in helping us there, too. In Luke 13:11-33, we read the story of the woman with an infirmity for eighteen years, and once Jesus laid his hands on her, the Bible says, "Immediately she was made straight.” She no longer stooped with the heaviness of her illness. And Psalm 3:3 tells us God is the lifter up of our heads. I love that promise.

Now, look at the last two essential words in Proverbs 12:25 - Good and Glad. 

Good - it means beautiful, best, full of mercy, welfare, precious, sweet, constructive. Good words, the Bible says, are seasoned with salt. Proverbs 25:11 says, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." A good word is beautiful and lifts the heavy heart. Proverbs 15:23 says, "A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it." So a friend who comes alongside to encourage - using the law of encouragement - is beneficial and so welcome to the heavy-hearted.

Glad. To brighten, make gleeful, or cause rejoicing. Proverbs 16:24 says, "Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones." It feels so good when we hear good words, doesn’t it? It makes our hearts glad again. And Proverbs 27:9 reads, "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel." 

Dear friend, if you are heavy-hearted today, remember that God sees you. He knows where you are and what is causing you to stoop. But you don't have to stay there because He is the friend you need and lifter up of your head. 

Go to God in prayer. Ask Him for comfort and assurance, then open His Word to the book of Psalms and let Him speak good words to your troubled heart. I think you'll be glad you did!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Week Twenty-One - In Christ Alone

How can I describe this upcoming week? On Friday, we will be saying farewell to a little family member who only joined us for a week of her precious life. There is great sadness, but there is also the precious hope of heaven sustaining our family. 

By Thursday, the appeal will have been filed with the Border Agency about our sponsorship license. And again, that leaves us waiting to hear the outcome and walking the path of the unknown. We are totally in God's hands, and what better place to be!

As Tom and I read our devotion yesterday morning, we rejoiced in the confidence we can have in such a position, a position where our only hope is in God.

Let me share some portions with you. Spurgeon took Psalm 138:8 as his text. "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me." The whole Psalm is a beautiful praise on how God works on behalf of His children. But Spurgeon began talking about divine confidence saying, 

"If we indulge in any confidence which is not grounded on the Rock of ages, our confidence is worse than a dream...The Psalmist was wise, and he rested upon nothing short of the Lord's work. It is the Lord who has begun the good work within us; it is He who has carried it on...He has done it all, must do it all, and will do it all. Our confidence must not be in what we have done, nor in what we have resolved to do, but entirely in what the Lord will do...If we had to navigate our frail vessels over so rough a sea all by ourselves, we might well give up the voyage in despair; but, thanks be to God, He will fulfil His purpose for us, and bring us to the desired haven."

Oh, how we rejoiced in being reminded that it is the Lord's work. We are simply His tools, His servants. He will be the one who decides the outcome. Ours is but to wait and trust, to cast ourselves upon His faithfulness and wisdom. He will bring us to the desired haven, and that is not the haven of our design. It is not the place we have carved out for ourselves or connived to attain. It is the haven of His desire, His design, His plan and purpose.

When we cast ourselves totally upon the Lord, not only in times of bereavement and uncertainty, but at all times and in every case of life, we can rest assured the Lord is on our side. He will fight the battles for us. He will, as Psalm 138 says, revive, strengthen, and answer. Then we can sing with all the saints of old,

In Christ alone, my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Week Twenty - The Rollercoaster

I have a love-hate relationship with rollercoasters. I hate getting on. I enjoy the thrill of the ride. Then, I love getting off! Over the years, I am less and less amazed with the thrill and prefer to keep my feet on more solid ground, but I have friends who live for the ride!

For the past few months I have been on an emotional rollercoaster. I have a love-hate relationship with these as well. I still hate getting on one, and I can't really say I enjoy the ride because of the abrupt jerks and ups and downs that rattle my bones and challenge my faith. I love getting off when the ride is done, but instead of feeling relief, like I do at the theme park, I find my heart more often tired, yet full of praise and wonder.

Join me for a few of the turns on my current ride. 

It started this year with a lovely family visit to Spain. Then, a scary downer. A shooting at my granddaughter's school in Virginia. 

We praised the Lord at the all clear on my daughter Sally's brain tumour, only to hear some ten days later that she had breast cancer. 

We rejoiced as our church voted to take on their first national pastor and then had a scary visit from the Border Agency that sent our ministry of sponsoring in missionaries whirling. Deep and deeper we plunged as Sally had surgery and the Border Agency suspended our license. That landed us in the lawyer's office and we are in the process of appeal. 

We enjoyed the heights again as Kingsmead Baptist installed their new pastor and we witnessed the coronation of King Charles the III. Our main church celebrated 30 years, and we saw souls saved and people coming to join through baptism. Only to be jolted with news that Sally needed a second surgery. 

We could barely contain our joy as churches donated to raise enough funds to complete the roofing project on the Bible college. Then, we thanked the Lord for a safe flight to the US for furlough and rejoiced again as my sister's second great-grandchild was born Mother's Day weekend.  

Yesterday, we flew from Virginia to Kansas City but the day started with sad news. The new baby has a rare and large brain tumour. The prognosis is not good. And while on the way to the airport we were praising to the rooftops as one of our missionaries was granted Indefinite Leave to Remain. That is a miracle and answer to prayer. It also strengthens our appeal. 

I'm not sure I want this ride to be over. If I get off too soon I'll miss seeing the amazing hand of God in all these situations. I'm going to sit tight and hold on because I know who has control. Through all the highs and lows of life, He remains true and stable. On every plummet His is the voice I hear whispering, "Trust me, Gail. Just trust me."

Friend, your life might be taking a similar ride. Let's hang on and ride to the end keeping our eyes on the horizon of God's love and faithfulness. Ups and downs will come, and we might feel jerked around, but we can always look to Him for comfort and encouragement. He knows about tomorrow. He knows about the next hour, and I truly believe it is bathed in His love and wisdom.  

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Week Nineteen - Dry Bones

Thank you to the many who have promised to pray for us during this missionary situation with the Border Agency. We truly believe God is at work. It can still be scary, and we might find ourselves a bit traumatized, but our humanity does not impair God's ability.

This past week I was reading along and came to the story of the valley of dry bones in Ezekiel 37. In verse 3, God asks Ezekiel, "Do you believe I can do this?"  That question caught my imagination and caused me to remember God's faithfulness in the past.

Back in 1995, God asked me the same question. Did I believe God could give us a Bible College, a fellowship of missionaries and pastors, and plant 20 churches in the UK? Back then, I said, "Yes." Now, some thirty years later, it is done! 

Today, with our current situation, my answer feels more like that of Ezekiel, "O Lord God, thou knowest." 

Even with that tiny measure of faith, what did Ezekiel see? He saw God raise the dry bones from the valley. Verse seven says, "The bones came together." Oh, how we need this situation with the missionaries and Border Agency to come together! 

And verse ten says they "stood up upon their feet." We certainly need God to raise us up and make us a more robust missionary unit, increase our fellowship and support for each other, and become "an exceeding great army." And maybe that's what He is doing.

Verse 11 Israel thought all was lost, their hope was gone, and they felt broken. But God said, "Ye shall know that I am the Lord when - when? - when I have opened your graves, O my people, and brought you up out of your graves."

God will lift us up from despair. He will restore hope and cause us to stand. And, verse 14, He will put His "spirit in you, and ye shall live." This is the promise of God.

I stand with Ezekiel today. Can God cause these bones to live? Can He bring life to this unpredictable situation? If I don't have faith to give a humble yet confident "Yes!" May I at least stand and watch God work with a whisper of faith, saying, "O Lord God, thou knowest."

I like what one missionary, Scott McCain said about the situation, "It's a long shot, but so was that stone that was squarely planted in the forehead of Goliath."

Friend, you, too, may be facing a situation totally out of your hands. You may even feel like those dry bones, not hope and feeling all is lost. You may wonder what in the world God could ever do to fix things. But I want to say I have seen God work before, and I know He is working now. He will do the same for you. You might not see it yet but don't lose hope. We serve the God of the impossible. Impossible situations are where He shines best!

Why not join Ezekiel and me in saying, "O Lord God, thou knowest." Then, settle back and watch God breathe life into those dry bones.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Week Eighteen - Winds of Adversity

If you regularly follow my blog, you will remember I wrote about our recent interview with the UK Border Agency. Traumatized and Compliance were the titles of the two blog posts. Well, today I must write again with a heavy heart. The winds of adversity are certainly blowing, and it seems to be a wind of irrevocable change.

On Wednesday, April 26, we received a very lengthy letter from the UK Border Agency citing every possible infraction they could find in our sponsorship. Some things were easily adjusted, but two requirements have made it impossible to continue with the sponsorship of missionaries into Great Britain under the umbrella of our church in the same manner which we have been doing since 2008.

The first requirement is that every missionary must work at the location of the church that sponsors them. So, every missionary we sponsor would be required to live in Wolverhampton for at least the first five years.

Also, the church must pay the missionary's salary. I don't know of any mission church here in the UK that could afford to pay a missionary. Most cannot even pay their own pastor. Funnelling missionary support through a sponsoring church is fraught with complications.

On Friday, April 28, after speaking to an immigration advisor and a solicitor, we were told this was not a battle we could win. So with a heavy heart, we informed our current seventeen sponsored families. Oh, how they need your prayers. Any sponsor who could take them would fall under the same two requirements. So, churches are hustling to get a sponsorship license, and missionaries are paying solicitors to help them with the process and trying to figure out how they can solve the situation on income.  It is all hands on deck here as they try to work through this wind of adversity. 

On Monday, May 1, we met with another lawyer who has agreed to put forward an appeal to the Border Agency. There is no promise of things being the way they were before, and the appeal process may be lengthy, but he believes he may be able to salvage some of this ministry and the ministries of our sponsored missionaries.

While we are all feeling heavy-hearted and grieving, we know God is the Master of the wind! He is forcing people to step up and open more doors for sponsorship. He is testing the faith of many and will prove Himself mighty to deliver.

Meanwhile, pray fervently for these missionaries as this ill wind blows.