Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Long Road

How do I apologize for being MIA these last several months—“missing in action” on this blog, online, via e-mail? This long road I’ve traveled grows longer by the day, stretching out just a little farther every time I sigh with relief to think I’ve glimpsed its end. It’s a road of growth that and discipline that makes me think boot camp must be easier.

If you endure discipline, God is dealing with you as with His own children. For who is the child whom a father does not discipline? But if you are without discipline, of which all have become sharers, then you are bastards, not sons and daughters.
Hebrews 12:7-8

Excuses come readily. I might say that there’s been an unrivaled degree of stress in my life. Certainly I’ve endured affliction. More than once, I’ve simply offered (truthfully) that I’m struggling with health issues. With those closest to me, I’ve shared details of stresses and afflictions enormous enough to provoke those health issues.

But when all is said and done …

When I look at the last 51 months through spiritual lenses …

When I’m honest with God, myself, and others …

I know, O LORD, that Your judgments are right,
And that in faithfulness You have afflicted me.
Psalm 119:75 (NKJV)

This road has been long because I still have far too much pride and my good Father is working it out of me. He is my Father, and my Maker, and my Lord. He is wise and loving and knows the means by which He may best change and break and rebuild me. I’ve thought Him too tough on me and have foolishly shrunk back from His hand, insisting on a bit of relief from the furnace of refinement.

Unless Your law had been my delight,
I would then have perished in my affliction.
Psalm 119:92 (NKJV)

The end of this long road is not yet in sight. I don’t say that I’ve learned or grown enough to have gained the privilege of travelling a new road. I make no promise of when I’ll find sufficient spirit to write again. (There’s been no “writer’s block”—my fingers often punch out black words against white, but then my heart withers before finishing them.)

But as long as I have breath, I shall continue to declare the goodness of my beloved Lord.

This I recall to my mind,
Therefore I have hope.
Through the LORD's mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning;
Great is Your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:21-23 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why Believe in God?

Note that the question here is "why believe in God?" and not "why believe of God?" Demons believe of God (James 2:19), creation testifies of God (Romans 1:20), and conscience—conscience which defies humanity's nature for self-indulgence—could not exist outside understanding of right and wrong ("do not steal," "do not murder") which is of God (Romans 2:14-15). God provides ample, visible proof of His existence to those who are unpretentious enough to look. (A mortal may possess sufficient arrogance to refute the existence of God, but no mortal possesses the infinite knowledge required to make such an assertion with credibility.)

The "why believe in God?" question is one we all ask at some point, regardless of whether or not we think ourselves spiritual, religious, intelligent. It is likely asked most often by those who cannot reconcile the stark reality of human suffering with the idea that God worthy of acceptance. It is asked in every act of disobedience to morality or honor. It is asked by the most devout of God-believers in moments when we comprehend Him least.

Perhaps, in these moments, we are being most honest with ourselves and with Him. We had caught a glimpse, a whiff of divinity, and we thought with delight that we are, after all, capable of understanding with finite minds the reaches of infinity. We presumed that God is reasonable and our faith can therefore be solidly planted on a rock of reason.

But consider the man whom God Himself once upheld as a model believer:

Then the LORD said to Satan, "Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?"
~ Job 1:8 (NKJV)

The horror to follow seems to have no limit. When all he owns and all he loves are lost, as Job writhes in agony of body, he is at last betrayed by wife of his bosom and comrades alike. How reasonable of God is it to allow His finest servant most extreme suffering for best behavior?

Stretched to his breaking point, Job, the quintessential God-believer, comes to the moment when he comprehends God least.

But I would speak to the Almighty,
And I desire to reason with God.
~ Job 13:3 (NKJV)

Job, man of reason, asks "Why believe in God?" What reason can God give Job to reconcile all the suffering and evil to befall him with the God he has previously deemed worthy of acceptance?

Yet even as Job questions the "why" of believing in God, Job does not stop believing in God.

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.
~ Job 13:15 (NKJV)

If Job had ceased believing God as good, there would be no purpose in the question. As he languishes in misery, longing for its explanation, Job holds faith in the One allowing the misery. For every cause we find to ask, "Why believe in God," there is a God bigger than the question.

be•lieve /biˈlēv/ verb 1 a : to have a firm religious faith b : to accept something as true, genuine, or real 2 : to have a firm conviction as to the goodness, efficacy, or ability of something

The mind may find a reason to believe in God—to accept Him—but He will eventually defy puny human intellect. The heart may encounter a feeling to believe in God—to put confidence in Him—but He will eventually push us out of our comfort zone and maybe even break our hearts. The physical senses may discover created beauty which inspires belief—conviction—of a good God, but He will also allow us to experience the evil conceived apart from Him.

When belief is challenged in every way, the humble soul may simply ask for the faith which is a gift from God.

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
~ Mark 9:23-24 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sorrow Turned Into Joy

"Most assuredly, I say to you that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy."
~ John 16:20 (NKJV)

This world is filled with sorrow—sorrow that runs long and deep and wide. Although the Word of God and faith testify that "all things work together for good to those who love God" (Romans 8:28), deepest sorrows bring us to the place where "good" seems inconceivable and joy seems irretrievable. In such a place, we may think the best we can do is hang on and wait for Heaven.

Jesus speaks of a different hope.

"A woman, when she is in labor, has sorrow because her hour has come; but as soon as she has given birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world."
~ John 16:21 (NKJV)

After carrying five children, I feel qualified on the subject of labor and childbirth. All five deliveries were thoroughly different experiences, with three common factors.

First, the misery of pregnancy went on for an excruciatingly long time. I stand 5'1" tall (154 cm.) and have a short waist. With little other space to fill, my babies pushed into my chest and against my ribs, making breathing difficult. Three trimesters of nausea didn't help. As I neared the end of nine months, each day became agony.

Then there's the extreme pain of delivery. The first time around, a failed epidural added to pain rather than relieved it, so I opted out of medication the remaining four times. I've heard passing kidney stones is worse than childbirth, but all my kids were bigger than my husband's biggest kidney stone, and he never reached the point of crying and exhaustion and screaming that I did.

The third common factor? Extreme exhilaration utterly obliterated all the preceding anguish. I've done some crazy thrilling stuff like skydiving, rappelling, high-speed driving on a track. But seeing a new human emerge from my own body and draw breath—bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh with a life of its own—? Nothing else comes anywhere close to the elation of giving birth.

In retrospect, all the agony was trivial. Each life is worth exceedingly more than the pain to birth it.

Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
~ Psalms 30:5 (NKJV)

When I consider that the Holocaust re-birthed the nation of Israel in 1947, I wonder if anything less could have produced this miracle—a people surviving 1,877 years of exile and returning to their homeland as a sovereign nation. Hostile neighbors have threatened their existence for every one of the sixty-six years since, and the "Day of Jacob's Trouble" lies in the not-too-distant future. Israeli suffering persists. Yet the Jews persevere, their life and land worth the cost after centuries of persecution.

This world is filled with sorrow—sorrow that runs long and deep and wide. Longer than pregnancy, more painful than childbirth.

But just as pregnancy and childbirth are necessary to the resulting joy of a new life, the sorrows of this life are used by God to birth in us the life of His Son. While God is saving the greatest joys for Heaven, He may be relied upon to bring us joy each day on Earth. The people of God can ground our hope on the greatest joys following the greatest sorrows.

This is not a "hope," of the wishing variety. This is the hope, assured by Word of God.

"Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you."
~ John 16:22 (NKJV)

Wherever else it may appear, joy is found in seeing Jesus near us, with us, in us.

God Almighty, Giver of life, You are good and faithful. Through dark nights, please let us feel Your life stirring within us. In the longest last hour, please enable us to persevere unto the first strains of dawn. When we are utterly spent, please carry us through to fullness of joy.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Answers for Religious Persecution

From the last post, "Religious Persecution," (which looked particularly at "in-house" persecution):

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

Though it's the longest post I've ever offered, what I present here as a five-part answer to persecution only begins to address the suffering a person might endure for choosing to follow Christ. I nonetheless submit it with a prayer that God will use these words to strengthen—to "build up"—every one of His precious people being persecuted; to encourage anyone facing suffering of any kind.

~ ~ ~

1. Choose Jesus

"But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her."
~ Luke 10:42 (NKJV)

To choose Jesus is always to choose the good part. Whatever temptation there may be to "smooth things over" and simply quench faith, the better blessing will be found in Jesus every time. To choose Jesus is to follow both His example and His Spirit's guidance in each situation. Following Christ sometimes means holding our ground, and sometimes means yielding a right.

If persecution arrives as spousal abuse (physical, verbal, or emotional), it's especially painful to be mistreated by the person we love most, from whom love is most expected, with whom God unites us body and soul. It can be particularly difficult to discern when to stand up and when to stand down. If we cling first to Him, we can walk with God through even this.

However and whenever we are confronted face to face with immediate affliction, true faith remains fixed on the unseen (Hebrews 11:1) and the eternal (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) through the moment at hand.

2. Seek Relief from God

Give us help from trouble,
For the help of man is useless.
~ Psalms 60:11 (NKJV)

Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
~ Psalms 146:3 (NKJV)

If physical violence is present or threatened, or if persecution violates civil rights, relief is sometimes sought through the courts, police, or other government agencies. Temporal relief is occasionally found, but government too often stands on the side of persecution.

Ideally, the church would never contribute to religious persecution, and would provide a measure of relief through all of life's trials by coming alongside its suffering members in support. But our churches are as imperfect as the humans who fill them, every Christian a work in progress. Whether or not church community lives up to the exhortation, "Bear one another's burdens" (Galatians 6:2), reality is that "each one shall bear his own load" (Galatians 6:5).

In cases of maltreatment from a spouse, our local church might provide immediate encouragement and advice (including biblical information on separation and divorce), perhaps some short-term counseling, and maybe even appropriate confrontation. Maybe. More often, spousal abuse may be seen as marital conflict that's too private (or too messy) for involvement of the church, particularly without the cooperation of the spouse, or in the absence of adultery or civil law violation.

Especially in the USA, we seem to expect quick relief from trouble, via everything from pharmaceuticals to FEMA. Persecution defies remedy through assistance from others. True relief is available from only one Source. The Lord is sovereign over all the suffering He allows in our lives until it has accomplished His intent for it. God alone is able to deliver, whether He sends human assistance, calls His people to come alongside us as support, or works a heart change in a persecutor.

3. Ask for God's Sustenance

"When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the LORD your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior."
~ Isaiah 43:2-3 (NKJV)

Though God may not grant our request for relief from persecution, we can rely upon Him to sustain us through persecution. While we can count on God's strength to sustain us through any and all suffering, we can especially expect it when we suffer on His account.

Withdrawal is a common reaction to intense pain. We can become weary in prayer when the Lord does not grant, in our timing, requested relief from persecution. But may we never withdraw from prayer! We absolutely need divine strength to stand in the face of persecution. Whether or not He provides relief, He is ever faithful to provide strength in the needed hour if we will but ask.

We are never alone in persecution. The Lord promises to be with us. This is not merely a standing-next-to "with." Through His Holy Spirit, God lives inside of us. And being on the inside, He feels and experiences and goes through everything we go through, as fully as we do. When God says, "I will be with you," He and His sustenance are with us more completely than our finite minds comprehend.

4. Allow the Master to Own the Debt

For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave.
~ 1 Corinthians 7:22 (NKJV)

Persecution hurts. And the more we have invested in the life of persecutor, the more persecution for faith hurts. The pain of persecution can be accompanied by the pain of anger, or the pain of anger grown stale—bitterness. Full forgiveness is difficult, especially when we continue to face persecutor on a regular or even daily basis.

God owns persecutor and persecuted alike. When we willingly give ourselves to the Lord, we are blessed to know Him as a good and loving Master.

No slave owns himself or anything he holds. All belongs to the master. In the case of a debt, anything owed to the slave is actually owed to the slave's master.

In the case of offense or injury from persecution, our Master owns the debt. We can freely forgive persecutor without being burdened by the debt owed for his sin.

(For more on this thought, see "Forgiveness.")

5. Remember: Witnesses, Jesus, Joy

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us throw off every weight, and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Look unto Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross—despising its shame—and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, lest you become weary and lose heart.
~ Hebrews 12:1-3

• Whether or not actively persecuted for faith, every Christian is on trial, to prove the genuineness of faith in Jesus, every day. Our lives are lived out before human and heavenly witnesses alike (both the good and the evil), our words and actions testimony to the power of God. (For more on trial / temptation / testing, see "Deliver Us From Evil.")

• Endurance can be passive. But persecution begs active perseverance, like running a race—or violently fighting a war (Matthew 11:12). And perseverance requires focus. A runner sets his sights on the finish line. Our focus is on Jesus, seated at the right hand of God's throne, who holds His arms out to us, spurring us onward.

• With our fixed eyes on Jesus, we can push through this life's afflictions. We can be renewed in the past joy of the salvation He's given (Psalm 51:12); we can express joy that we are counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus in the present (Acts 5:41); we can have joy in complete assurance of the future reward awaiting us.

" 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.' "
~ Matthew 25:23 (NKJV)

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Religious Persecution

Especially in America—a land settled centuries ago by pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, where freedom of religion and speech are held dear—we tend to think of religious persecution as something occurring far away or long ago. If you are among my readers who lives abroad, or if you are familiar with Voice of the Martyrs, you are likely aware that suffering for faith is still prevalent.

The devil has neither disappeared nor slowed with age, and he is personified contempt for God and truth. God's Word warns of our enemy's increasing activity in these last days, and of the many ways we can expect religious persecution to appear near at hand—nearer than we ever thought possible.

"Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.… and 'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.' " ~ Matthew 10:34,36 (NKJV)

I've been asked what words I might have for a local woman being abused by her husband for her newfound Christian faith. Another woman with growing faith attempted suicide after her well-educated father made a case against the Bible, persuading her that faith in Jesus for help with her problems was foolishly misplaced. From my own family members, I've repeatedly received ridicule, profanity and contempt because I cling to Christ.

…'a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.'

Shamefully, the household of Christ is not immune to the devil's lies, and too often allows itself to be his agent of religious persecution. Denominational differences in particular are fertile ground for abuse.

I know of a family that began attending church. The wife and children didn't read the Bible much, because they had difficulty understanding the King James translation. When a friend gave them Bibles written in their native English tongue, they began reading with enthusiasm. But the husband and father threw the new Bibles away, telling his family they would read King James or nothing at all, threatening punishment if they defied him behind his back.

I know a man raised in a denominational church, who found faith as an young adult in an non-denominational church. On Sundays he comes home from church and is asked by his father and family what he learned from the sermon he heard, and is then ridiculed on every point made from the Bible that doesn't line up with their denominational bias.

I know of a group on Facebook called "You know you're a [denomination name] when …" Though I don't identify myself as anything but "Christian," I didn't give much thought to their adding me to the group since its denomination's traditions are grounded in the Bible. I began receiving notifications of their frequent postings, some of them intended to be amusing. When a quite serious and particularly divisive post came to my attention, I added a comment exhorting biblical unity and love in Christ. Other members of the group zeroed in for attack, giving me the most sound verbal thrashing I can ever recall receiving. When another member supported me, they also attacked her. (Since I'm not on Facebook much, I couldn't figure out fast enough how to exit the conversation and the group.)

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name's sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me." ~ John 15:20-21 (NKJV)

Persecution for displaying faith in Christ can be public or private. It may be physical, verbal or emotional abuse. It may be as serious as being killed, as simple as demeaning looks and snide remarks, as intimidating as threats to those we love. It comes from stranger and loved ones alike—and even from misguided Christians with whom we share faith.

If you are a Christian, this affects you. No Christian stands alone or suffers alone. Every Christian's strengths and gifts benefit the entire body of Christian believers. And when any individual member is weakened by suffering or attack, the entire body is weakened.

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body … there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it … ~ 1 Corinthians 12:12-13, 25-26 (NKJV)

Remember that first example, of a woman abused by her husband for her newfound faith? When I was asked what words of encouragement might be passed to her, I regret that I found myself unequal to a response, being overwhelmed by my own suffering at the time. The question has haunted me ever since.

How God's Word has encouraged me and what I would share with those undergoing any form of persecution for faith in Jesus Christ will be the subject of the next post.

Lord Jesus, make us worthy of whatever persecution we may face. Enable us to rejoice that You make us worthy. Strengthen us to stand for Your name and Your Father's name, whatever the cost.

Comments are welcome (including respectful disagreement) and will receive a reply.
You may also contact author via Twitter – @anne4JC
or e-mail – use @gmail.com *after* buildingHisbody
Copyright 2013, Anne Lang Bundy, all rights reserved.