“Kinda Rusty” Excerpts

“To take all that we are and have
and hand it over to God
may not be easy;
but it can be done, and when it’s done,
the world has in it one less candidate
for misery.”
— Paul E. Scherer

THE JOURNEY

I HEARD HER GASP. In the mirror I saw the horrified expression frozen
on my hair stylist’s face. I thought she was reacting to a personal experience
I’d just shared – something so horrible that I hadn’t wanted to remember it.

But she needed to know.

Then she said, “Oh my gosh, that happened to me!”

My incident had left me feeling devastated. But for the very same thing to
have happened to her was just … well, disastrous!

“No way!” I said.

“I could NOT believe it,” she continued. “I was cutting this lady’s long, thick
hair, and she asked if I would thin it a little. I said, ‘Sure,’ and we kept on
chatting. I reached for my thinning shears and …”

“Oh nooo,” I commiserated.

I knew exactly what she was going to say next.

“I had grabbed my straight edge scissors by mistake!”

Now it was my turn to gasp, and for a brief moment we shared a deep sense of
empathy. Then, via our reflections in the salon mirror, we suddenly recognized
the humor embedded in both of our experiences, and we laughed until we
almost cried.

My story had turned out to be her story. And now we would remember this
moment in time as “our” story.

How often have I wallowed in my own, personal state of misery, thinking there
was no one else on planet Earth who could possibly understand my emotional,
physical and spiritual pain? … So I chose to travel the road alone.

How many times have I heard a pastor say, “Your situation is not unique, even
though you may think it is”? … But I wouldn’t believe it.

How have I come to this place in my life and ministry where hindsight is not
simply a self-pitying review of all the things that have gone wrong over the
years? A cleft in the rock, where I’m finally able – at least some of the time – to
recognize that whenever I allow myself to honestly reconsider the awesome,
the awful, and the decidedly ugly moments scattered along the pathway of my
life experience, I can see that God’s hand has been guiding my journey.

For the answers to questions that have challenged me, I need to return often
to the “mine, yours, and ours” concept on which this book is based. This is an
exploration of accounts that have inspired me over the years and information
that I’ve gleaned from various sources. They are first of all “mine” – told from
my personal point of view. They also include stories that I’ve collected from
other imperfect people – the humorous and the heartbreaking – which have
stuck with me over the years and insist that I still have much more to learn.

They remind me that especially when it comes to spiritual armor, mine is rusty
even on a good day. But then, so is yours and therefore … ours.

So let’s continue the journey together.

Caution: Stay alert for falling rocks and tongue-in-cheek humor.

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance,
But the Lord looks at the heart.”
(1 Samuel 16:7)

Excerpts from Chapter One: Basic Straining

“Tis not enough to help the feeble up,
but to support him after.”
— William Shakespeare

RUSTY ARMOR

I GREW UP IN a culture of “us vs. them” – cowboys vs. Indians, Popeye vs.
Bluto, Bugs Bunny vs. Elmer Fudd, the Coyote vs. the Roadrunner (“Beep,
beep!”).  I was born near the end of the Baby Boom that exploded after “our
guys” returned from fi ghting “their guys” following World War II. Back then
the good guys always won and the bad guys always lost. (All that changed
during the Viet Nam War era, when it seemed like everything from politics
to pantyhose was thrown into a blender and served up as the new normal.)

When I was in kindergarten, little boys played with cars and trucks, built
with blocks and stayed together in their corner of the classroom, away from
the kitchenette toys and baby dolls that were only for the little girls.

A girl was expected to grow up, get married and become an impeccable
homemaker. She would be adept at gossiping with her fellow girlfriends at
neighborhood coffee cloches and raise three or more children. Or, if she had
an unfortunate face or f gure and was unlucky at love, she could choose to be a
librarian or a secretary or a teacher. She could even be a nurse or a missionary,
if she felt gifted in those areas.

I was one of the many little girls who adored “us vs. them” animated Disney
movies – especially the ones featuring castles, princesses and knights with
fl ashing swords dressed in shining armor. So, in retrospect, it’s not surprising
that I spent my childhood expecting to fall madly in love with Prince
Charming and to ride away with him into happily ever after.

Now, from my perch overlooking the past – and with many years of acquired
counseling skills under my belt – it’s easy to understand why I loved the
regalia in the 1973 movie “Camelot.” And why I related to one character
in particular. Not the lovely Lady Guinevere, but the pitiful King Pelinore.
“Peli” (as he was affectionately called) was a disoriented old gentleman who
was discovered tangled in brambles, and being held captive inside a suit of
rusty armor. He simply could not comprehend his plight!

That’s how I began to feel when the early, dragon-like symptoms of clinical
depression began rocking my self-esteem at the tender age of seventeen. So it’s
not a wonder that I was swept off my feet when a charmingly devoted “older”
man (by three and a half years) came along during my senior year in high
school, overlooked my insecurities and said, “After you graduate, I’m going
to marry you.” I reasoned that my prince had arrived. Convinced that Chuck
was God’s compassionate answer to my naïve prayers, I reached out to him
for rescue from adolescently conceived troubles. Without a doubt, I knew that
he was key to my future happiness.

At eighteen I wasn’t able to envision how difficult it would be to keep the
flowery promises that I would make on the evening of my fairytale wedding.
And soon after that, when an avalanche of reality cascaded over me, I wasn’t
capable of comprehending the quality of love and the depth of forgiveness that
it would take to save me from an unexpected abyss of despair.

But the God of heaven knew his plans for my life, and they were much bolder
than I could ever have imagined.

“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.’”
(Jeremiah 29:11)

A RUST REMOVER: Remember a time when you felt caught in the
brambles of life. Realize that specifi c situations, which seemed dragon-like
at the time, may still be causing you emotional pain. Read 1 Corinthians
13:11-12, and spend some uninterrupted time with the Holy Spirit. Ask him
to help you release childish thoughts and reasoning that are binding you to
those memories, in Jesus’ Name.

*    *    *

“A moment’s insight
is sometimes worth
a life’s experience.”
— Oliver Wendell Holmes

DOING PUSH-UPS

IT WAS AROUND 7:30 in the morning when I parked my car and grabbed
my purse. I was in a hurry, but as I noticed the woman who sat near the
entrance to the store where I was headed, my immediate reaction was to sit
still for a moment and observe her.

Her clothing was baggy and mismatched. Her bare feet were dirty and the
strands of cropped, brown hair that escaped from beneath her knit cap looked
oily. When she stood up, a urine stain on her pants became visible, and I tried
to push away the thought that entered my mind: Oh my gosh, what must she
smell like?

She dug inside a mammoth-sized purse with feverish determination, as
though she were searching for something of great importance that she wasn’t
able to find. And as she frantically combed through the contents, trash by the
handfuls gathered about her feet. Suddenly she shouted a few curse words at
someone I was unable to see, slung the purse over her shoulder and ambled
off in the direction of the adjacent grocery store, leaving behind a trail of
rubbish.

At one time I believed I could accurately evaluate someone’s private pain by
noticing how they dress, observing their body language, or critiquing the
words they use to communicate. But shortly after my fibromyalgia diagnosis
I began to notice that my assessments were only occasionally on the mark,
and they were never completely fair.

Such a judgment can be especially tricky when a person looks “completely
normal” on the outside. Because it’s not always possible to accurately gauge
the level of pain that lies beneath a person’s casual smile.

Take Kerilyn for example. When I fi rst met her, she was the lovely wife of
a worship pastor and the devoted mother of two, adorable, little girls. Her brown eyes sparkled whenever she spoke about her love for music. And, as far
as I could tell, she never gave any indication that she had endured agonizing
back pain for over three years.

I heard that her husband had accepted a pastoral position with another church
in a city several hours away. Though I hadn’t had an opportunity to know
her well, I realized after they moved away that I missed her. When my fibro
diagnosis was handed down with little explanation as to how I should handle
the physical and emotional pain of a very different lifestyle, a mutual friend
said to Chuck, “You should take Paula to visit with Kerilyn. I’ll bet she could
help.”

Eventually Kerilyn and I were reunited, and I was astounded to discover that
in addition to back pain, she had been experiencing debilitating symptoms
similar to mine. She briefly described her illness, and I could tell that her
natural ability to hide pain was on shaky ground.

I sensed that she didn’t really want to go over the details, but I urged her to
tell me more about her recent diagnosis. “What’s it called?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s a complicated word, and I’m sure you won’t recognize it,” she said at
first. Then I asked her, “Is it called fibromyalgia syndrome?”

Kerilyn’s round eyes widened. “Yes!” she replied. “That’s what I have. How
did you know?”

“I have it too. We’re kindred spirits.”

The following Sunday, back at my home church, the smile of another fellow
traveler welcomed me as I entered the foyer. My entire body ached, and I
knew that if he reached out to hug me it was really going to hurt. “How are
you doing,” Regi asked with a tip of his head. I immediately felt a connection.

Later I learned that the middle-aged man had been coping with severe arthritis
pain since childhood. Yet, he managed to eagerly greet people on Sunday
mornings, and in a moment he was able to empathize with my fragile state.

Over the following months I came to terms with the folly of my judgmental
nature, and I started to recognize people in pain. So each time my hands
shook while trying to pay for groceries; when my legs grew weak and my
balance became so uncertain that I needed to buy a cane; as my mind clouded
over with “fibro fog”, I remembered the unseemly plight of that dear woman
in front of the grocery store.

After that I adopted a new hobby. I take cerebral snapshots of hurting people
as the Spirit points them out to me, and I store them away in my mental
database where they serve as continual reminders that I’m not the only one
who’s dealing with speed bumps and road blocks.

Then when life demands that I struggle to do push-ups, I’m better able to
courageously obey.

“In the same way you judge others, you will be judged,
and with the measure you use,
it will be measured to you.”
(Matthew 7:2)

A RUST REMOVER: Allow the Holy Spirit to help you examine your
thoughts. Give him permission to alert you when you unconsciously pass
judgment on someone. Then try to identify the reason why you responded
to them in that way. Take a mental snapshot of those moments to recall and
reflect upon down the road.

Excerpts from Chapter Two: Omg, My Breastplate Is Slipping!

“The battle is fought in the mind.”
— Charlie Ivans

MIND GAMES

I HAVE A CONFESSION to make. (As though I haven’t confessed enough
already.) I love to play Castleville on Facebook … and there it is, on the
written page, right before God and everybody. Well maybe not everybody,
but you get my drift. As you may have already guessed, my story is about to
become your story, and therefore our story.

Maybe I enjoy the virtual game because of its fairy tale theme, complete
with dragons, unicorns, charming princes, princesses and an assortment of
other endearing characters that pop in and out as the player completes quests
and advances up the level ladder. But more than anything else, I enjoy the
connections with Facebook friends, located around the globe, who have in
common with me a love for the game.

Actually it wasn’t my idea to get sucked into the Facebook community. By
2010, my daughter Lisa had been encouraging me to take the plunge, but
I was still in denial. I’d spent many years in self-imposed exile. I didn’t go
out much, and I had even stopped talking on the telephone, unless it was
absolutely necessary. But I’d recently started taking Lyrica for help with my
fIbromyalgia pain, and I was finding it helpful.

I was beginning to feel a bit lonely. So I’d recently been peeking out of my
carefully contrived castle to test the waters in the moat, fully expecting to
find Paula-eating alligators there. But each time I courageously made my way
to the edge, things seemed a little less threatening than they had the time
before.

Then one day, as Lisa was telling me about something that she had seen on
Facebook, I said, “Maybe I’ll sign up for that some day.” The next thing I
knew, she was sitting at my computer typing. And before I could say, “I really
don’t think I’m ready for this”, I had my very own “wall” for writing messages
and a list of potential “friends” to communicate with. For the next few days I received dozens of messages from kids – now in their 30’s – whom I had
worked with years before – as a youth worker at church, as a creative writing consultant in elementary schools, as a volunteer with the performing arts,
counseling office, and career center at my children’s high school (my own
alma mater).

I began reflecting more on the good ol’ days than dwelling on the bad ones.
And I was reminded that I have valuable gifts to offer, like encouragement
and insight. I realized that Facebooking gave me an avenue for sharing my
faith and broadening my horizon.

That was it. I was hooked…. Let the mind games begin!

I have discovered that social networking is a terrific avenue for sharing my
faith in Christ, and for testing the limits of my boundaries with non-believers.
(Talk about “mind games”!) Yet as long as I remain yoked to Jesus, as he
commanded in Matthew 11:29, he carries the burden when I encounter
quarrelsome individuals. He lets me know when to terminate my conversations
with hard-hearted humans who simply want to argue about religion. However,
before I cut any connections, I make the point that faith in Jesus is based on
relationship, not religion, and then I wish them well.

Oh, I have another confession to make: Facebook and Castleville can be
highly addictive.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God,
so that when the day of evil comes,
you may stand your ground, and …
Take the helmet of salvation …”
(Ephesians 6:13,17)

A RUST REMOVER: Opening your heart to people can be difficult – and
risky! A heart that’s open to encouragement and fellowship must also anticipate
criticism. A heart that welcomes praise must also willingly encounter rejection
and sorrow. But if you persevere in the company of your Creator, you’ll find
that God rewards open hearts.

 *    *    *

“I felt like a child
playing with pebbles on the shore
when an ocean of truth
lay all about me.”
— Isaac Newton

DISCERNING TRUTH

WHEN LISA WAS FIVE and Jonathan was two, I taught swimming lessons
for the YMCA’s Backyard Swim Program. By the end of the summer months,
I’d seen so many young faces that few remain in my memory. But one little
face I will never forget.

Tommy came to swim class with five other preschoolers from his daycare
program. The color of his inquisitive eyes matched the clear aqua blue of the
pool water. His soft brown hair was parted in the middle and evenly trimmed
just above his small shoulders. And though he never panicked or cried, I could
tell that he was terrified of the water.

After several sessions, I managed to convince Tommy that he could trust me
to keep his head above the surface of the water until he let me know he was
ready to go beneath it. Early in the second week, he was confidently blowing
bubbles and allowing me to take him under the water briefly while he held
his breath. And while I worked individually with the other children, he would
cling to the side of the pool like a starfish suctioned onto aquarium glass. I
felt absolutely certain that he would not let go.

On the last day of lessons, I helped each child review the skills we had
practiced. During one brief moment of that process, I turned my back on
Tommy. When I pivoted back around I saw staring up at me, from about
a foot under the water, a pair of frightened blue eyes framed by a mop of
floating hair!

I quickly attached the child in my arms to the pool’s edge and grabbed
Tommy, lifting him up from the depths and wrapping the little boy in a
remorseful hug. I expected him to start screaming as soon as he’d caught his
breath. But to my surprise, he calmly brushed back his drenched hair, looked
at me and said, “You almost wost me there!”

I can recall many times in my journey when I felt “wost” – I mean, lost.
Or perhaps “insecure” would be a more accurate term. Especially when
trying to comprehend the spiritual realm. Whenever I contemplated my
position in God’s kingdom “what ifs” would nag at my conscience: What if
the Bible translation that I’m reading is inaccurate? What if I’ve become trapped
in tradition, and I’m teaching erroneous doctrine? How can I be sure that my
lamp is filled with the right brand of oil?

Though my experience with depression had been diagnosed as “clinical” – a
byproduct of chemical imbalance – I knew deep inside that unanswered “what
ifs” were pulling me under as well, like lead weights drawing me down, down,
down into a deep pool, filled with doubt and guilt.

When fibromyalgia claimed control of my body in January 1994, I couldn’t
understand why God was allowing such a debilitating illness to take me away
from my family, my work, my ministries, and all the other things that I’d been
pouring my heart, mind and energy into. For another 18 months, I managed
to muddle my way through carefully chosen activities, until Jon’s high school
graduation in June 1995. But when I was finally diagnosed in July of that
year, I suddenly felt so hopeless that I rarely left the house. I needed help with
driving, grocery shopping, house cleaning and a list of other functions that
I’d always been able to handle without a second thought. And the “what if’s”
began pummeling me like 10-foot ocean waves: What if God is punishing me
for something I’ve done wrong? What if I keep getting worse? How will I fill the
empty hours of this pitiful, pain-filled life?

I experienced what little Tommy must have felt, looking up at his teacher from
a watery abyss. But looking back from the vantage point I have now, I can see
that my Teacher had a plan. He wanted to address my questions and answer
my prayers. But there was a necessary process that could not be skipped over,
if he were to successfully demonstrate how to discern truth and recognize
false teaching. And he would not take me under until I was fully prepared to
accept some incredible facts that he was ready to show me.

“Stand firm then,
with the belt of truth buckled around your waist.”
(Ephesians 6:14)

A RUST REMOVER: Do you believe that God has a plan for you? How
secure do you feel when you think about that possibility … that certainty?
Learning to swim takes time and effort. It can be fun, but it can also be
challenging and dangerous. Living within the scope of God’s plan can seem
challenging, and even dangerous. But he is always there to lift and sustain us
when we’re feeling lost and helpless.

Excerpts from Chapter Three: May I Speak To The One In Charge?

“I searched –
but there definitely was not
a packet of instructions
attached to my children
when they arrived.
And none has since
landed in my mailbox.
Lord, show me how
to be a good parent.
Teach me to
correct without crushing,
help without hanging on,
listen without laughing,
surround without smothering
and love without limit –
the way you love me.”
— Susan Lenzkes
(The Handwriting On the Wall Is In Brown Crayon)

THE MANTLE OF AUTHORITY

AS MY SIX-YEAR-OLD GRANDDAUGHTER, Jessa, hurried past me
on her way to the bathroom, she suddenly whirled around and said, “I’m
watching a fairy tale about Humpty Dumpty on TV. It’s one of my favorites.
He climbed up a very tall wall, and he should’ve asked his mom. But he
didn’t.”

Jessa apparently has gotten the message that at this stage of her life, the
ultimate authority on everything from family to fairy tales is Mom. Lisa
homeschools her daughters in partnership with a public magnate school,
an awesome parent support network, and an unlimited number of amazing
resources that she finds on the Internet.

Given the declining emphasis on education in our state and the ongoing
implementation of the ACLU’s agenda across the country, I’m very thankful
that the Holy Spirit guided Lisa past an early, serious relationship. So she was able to experience invaluable life lessons in Latin American mission fields and
secure an elementary education teaching degree before marriage.

I’m dedicating this chapter to my children – Lisa and Jon, the ones I gave birth
to via cesarean section, three years apart – the parents of my grandchildren.
And to the kids (from toddlers to teens) whom I’ve been blessed to know,
who belonged to other parents but seemed like they were mine. Those men
and women didn’t have the unique opportunities that I did to be alongside
their children during teachable moments. Whether I liked it or not, I was the
parent in authority who had to make judgment calls as the first responder in
dozens of situations.

And I want to give credit to the teachers and the mentors, to divine guidance
and unexplainable interventions, and to the supernatural “happenstances”
that have made these stories worth retelling.

“These then are the things you should teach.
Encourage and rebuke with all authority.
Do not let anyone despise you.”
(Titus 2:15, NIV)

A RUST REMOVER: Think about the people in your life whom you
influence in large, small, and indirect ways. If you are a parent, make time to
take inventory of how you are using your God-given talents to nurture your
children. If you are an employee, take mental notes at work when you notice
opportunities to be a servant, as Jesus demonstrated to his disciples when he
washed their feet (John 13). Perhaps you are single and pondering whether
it is worth the emotional struggle to remain pure before marriage; or maybe
you were genetically outfitted with an “unfortunate” face or body shape that
is unappealing to the opposite sex. No matter who you are or how your spirit
appears in the flesh, God has a rewarding journey planned out for you. But
he will not insist that you sign on for it. You will need to say to him, “Here
I am, Lord. Use me.”

*    *    *

“Demon possession is present in Scripture
as a dreadful reality. The supposition that
the demoniacs of the Gospels were only mentally ill
is fallacious.”
— Harold Lindsell

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WAS A conundrum for Jonathan. Each of his
teachers from first through fifth grades admitted to me that his mind was a
mystery. His grades were consistently low, but his intelligence quotient was
extremely high – so much so that he was placed in the Gifted and Talented
Education (G.A.T.E.) program upon entering middle school.

In sixth grade, his English teacher recognized that Jon was an auditory and
sensory learner, so she encouraged him to give his book reports orally rather
than in writing. With that, Jon demonstrated a talent for acting! And his
middle school teachers from that point on made use of that fact to help him
experience success whenever possible.

At the beginning of eighth grade, the school district imposed a year-round
schedule to avoid classroom overcrowding. A majority of the children were
able to adapt fairly easily to three months in school, then one month off .
But for Jon, it just didn’t make sense. He couldn’t get the fact that school
wasn’t finished at the end of each session. By the end of the fourth quarter,
we discovered that he had failed to keep papers necessary for a final passing
grade to move on to high school. Fortunately, because I had been vigilant in
connecting with his English teacher – and because she had also taught his
sister three years earlier – we were able to work out a compromise so that Jon
could graduate from middle school.

During the “off -track” time periods, Jon stayed busy at Drama Day Camp
through our city’s Parks and Recreation program. The counselors recognized
that there was something extra special about this young man. They nurtured
his acting ability and encouraged him to try out for the summer youth
production, “Hans Christian Anderson”, at the community amphitheater. The
next thing Chuck and I knew we were watching our son portray the character
Peter on a HUGE stage. And, just like his sister, he could sing!

Three years before Jon started high school, I began to prepare by volunteering
on campus in every way possible while Lisa was working her way from
freshman to sophomore to junior. Th e number of opportunities that opened
up for me to work with counselors and various teachers was nothing less
than miraculous. So after Jon began high school and was cast in the spring
musical his freshman year, I knew what to do when he started complaining
about the drama teacher – I prayed that God would open another door for
me to walk through.

I quickly made parent/teacher contact and asked, “Is there anything I can
do to help you?” She couldn’t think of anything, so I asked if I could write
bio’s for each cast member and create bulletin boards to display them. She
immediately accepted, and the conflict with Jon was quickly resolved. That
connection not only provided me with admission during rehearsals, but an
“in” with Jon’s peers as well.

The play was “The Fantasticks” – about a naïve young man from a small
town who longed to explore the seductive unknowns in life. But when he was
suddenly given the opportunity to step out of his comfort zone, the adventure
resulted in catastrophe. Jon was cast in that prophetic role.

Performing arts became Jonathan’s savior through high school. He was
awarded lead roles in plays and musicals, and he earned a coveted spot in the
Show Choir. He experienced ups and downs, but he had to earn at least a C
average to participate in the activities he loved, so that motivated him to try
harder – and it allowed me to give him more personal space.

Then, in Jon’s junior year, something happened that Chuck and I did not see
coming, and we were totally blindsided. I found out that he and some friends
had been experimenting with marijuana and “huffing” gas vapors. Th e next
thing I knew, his history teacher called me to complain about a behavioral
problem in class. So Jon and I met with her after school.

He and I sat side-by-side, across from the teacher, as she explained that Jon
had behaved disrespectfully toward her in class. She wanted an apology. Such
rudeness was so uncharacteristic of my son that I was speechless. I gently
touched his arm with my hand. Immediately he drew back and sneered, “Don’t
touch me.” Then he got up and bolted out the door.

I offered my apology to the teacher. Then I walked down the hallway to a
secluded area, leaned against the building and sobbed. What I had seen in my
son’s eyes was pure evil, and I had no idea how to deal with it.

Lisa was attending college in another state. She was the only one I could think
of who might remotely believe what had just happened. To my amazement,
the college choir that she sang with was scheduled to perform in a nearby city
that weekend, so we arranged for her to come home overnight.

That evening, she asked Jon if they could spend some time together, since she
hadn’t seen him for a while. I was lying sleepless in bed when I heard Lisa’s
knock at the door. She came in and sat next to me. With eyes wide, she calmly
said, “I don’t know who that is, but it’s not my brother.”

It would be another three years before we got our Jonathan back.

“Your enemy the devil prowls around
like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Resist him, standing firm in the faith …”
(1 Peter 5:8-9)

A RUST REMOVER: Many Christians believe that demons cannot dwell
within a follower of Jesus. I learned that this is simply not the case. If you
suspect that someone you love is behaving under the influence of demonic
spirits, I suggest that you consider reading, Larson’s Book of Spiritual Warfare
by Bob Larson. And remember to pray not panic!

Excerpts from Chapter Four: Whose Guarding The Arsenal?

“I can only say that I have acted
upon my best convictions,
without selfishness or malice,
and by the help of God
I shall continue to do so.”
— Abraham Lincoln

SHATTERING MYTHS

I’M NOT A VIOLENT person … usually. So it seems odd that I often
dream I’m battling some unidentifiable enemy. And when that happens, in
the morning Chuck will ask, “Who were you fighting with last night? I had
to get out of your way or risk injury!”

In my dreams I administer a powerful Kung Fu KICK. But in reality I’ve
learned that words can have an even more devastating effect on my perceived
enemies. So I try to use them carefully, especially when I find myself in a
keyboard conversation with someone who is challenging my faith in Christ.
It’s especially difficult to share with people who bring up injustices in history
– incidents that expose inhumane actions performed by fellow human beings
in the name of Jesus, the Christ.

A common question (usually presented in the form of a challenge) is this:
“What about all the people who were slaughtered by Christians during the
Crusades?” Or this: “What about people who attack homosexuals?” Those
kinds of interrogations really bothered me. So I did some research. And what
I discovered has helped me to understand why there is so much division – and
secrecy – in the Church, in America, and in the world.

Apparently, it all began with the Roman Emperor Constantine. According
to my findings, he came to power around 240 years after the legions of Titus
ransacked Jerusalem and burned the second Jewish temple to the ground,
overturning every stone – just as Jesus foretold (Matthew 24:2) – to collect
all the melted gold that had been used to elaborately decorate the interiors of
the temple buildings. Historians have recorded that Constantine became a
follower of Christ and decided to put an end to the brutal persecutions that
Christians had endured up to that time.

But Constantine’s conversion in AD 312 proved to be an act of convenience… a bureaucratic ploy. Though only God can know his true motives, the
emperor’s actions declare that he was trying to cover all of his religious and
political bases and reap the benefits of broad based favoritism. He displayed
both sides of the Roman coin – literally. Bronze coins from that era were
stamped with the name and bust of Constantine on one side. On the other
side was the image of the ancient Roman sun god and the words SOLI
INVICTO COMITI – “to the invincible Sun god, companion of the Emperor.”

On one hand he commemorated a battle that he claimed he had won through
Christ. On the other hand, he did that in a tangible way by ordering that a
pagan icon – the 69-foot-high Arch of Constantine – be erected in Rome right
next to the Colosseum, where thousands of true believers had been brutally
killed for refusing to deny their Lord. The emperor had the arch decorated
with images of the Roman goddess of victory and portrayals of sacrifices
to gods like Apollo, Diana and Hercules. There is no Christian symbolism
whatsoever, which leads me to believe that Constantine continued to worship
false gods, even though he claimed to be a follower of Jesus.

Nine years after he legalized Christianity by issuing a document known as the
Edict of Toleration, Emperor Constantine declared that everyone – Christians
and non-Christians alike – should unite in worshiping the sun.

After his conversion, Constantine had his wife and son murdered. He also set
a very dangerous precedent. He combined the affairs of the Roman state with
the affairs of the established Church. And he commanded his loyal historians
to alter written history and erase his crimes from the official record. He was
heralded as the first “Christian” emperor, savior of persecuted followers of
Christ. But he chose to keep the title that previous Roman emperors had been
honored with as head priests of pagan priesthoods – Pontificus Maximus.

As we will see, time is often an ally of deceit. Over the centuries the simple
Gospel message proclaimed by the apostles has morphed into doctrines
and dogmas that have been forcefully substituted for a rewarding spiritual
relationship with the Son of God.

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes,
he will guide you into all truth.
He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears,
and he will tell you what is yet to come.”
(John 16:13)

A RUST REMOVER: Try this experiment. If you have a print newspaper,
lay it out on a table. Then with a colored marker, circle all the headlines that
have to do in some way with injustice. If you don’t have a newspaper, log
onto http://www.drudgereport.com and scroll through the headlines reported by
journalist Matt Drudge. How many of these would you say could have been
resolved in a more positive way if people had made an effort to treat each other
with kindness, consideration and respect? How do you think Jesus would have
handled each situation?

*    *    *

“If we could read the secret history of our enemies,
we should find in each man’s life
sorrow and suffering enough
to disarm all hostility.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

TRAITOROUS TRADITIONS

HAVING TWO OF OUR granddaughters living with us has afforded a
whole new way to look at holidays and birthdays and pretty much every day
that carries with it a reason to regard it as special. To wake up on Christmas
morning and share in the exciting reveal of “Santa gifts” is such a priceless
honor for their Nana and Papa!

We all play the Santa game, but the girls know that Santa Claus is a fictional
character that simply adds fun to the joyous celebration of Jesus’ birthday.
And we all know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25th in a
snowstorm. Thanks to the amazing collection of information on the Internet,
we can be “certain” that Jesus was actually born in April, either on the 6th or
the 17th… or maybe the 19th. But of course there’s the possibility that Mary
may have held off until October 9th. At any rate, we choose to join with other
Christians around the world and sing “Happy Birthday, dear Jesus” on the
date that has become most universally accepted.

I do remember, though, getting a bit huff y as a youngster whenever someone
challenged, “But how do you know that Jesus was born on December 25th?”
I would always confidently answer, “Because my church says so!” However,
during my teen years, as the traditional remembrances surrounding Easter
rolled around – Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Resurrection on
Sunday morning – it began to bother me that all of that simply didn’t jibe
with what I was reading in my Bible. Truthfully, it really bothered me. And
as usual, I wasn’t able to find anyone, including pastors, who could give me
a satisfactory answer.

My problem was this: If Jesus said he would be in the grave for three days and
three nights (Matthew 12:40), why do we jump from the crucifixion on Friday
to the resurrection on Sunday. No matter how I tried to rationalize that, it
simply didn’t work. So for years I wondered: Why did Jesus say that?

I finally found the answer – you guessed it – after my fibromyalgia diagnosis,
during the time when I had no choice but to be still and let God teach me
some things that I’d been too busy to pick up on earlier. Lo and behold, into
my hands came a book titled, A Scientific Approach To Biblical Mysteries by
Robert W. Faid (1993; Guideposts and New Leaf Press). And in Chapter 6
– under the presumptuous title, “When Was the Crucifixion? It Wasn’t on a
Friday!” I found the answers I had been seeking for decades.

Once again we need to refer back to the fourth century and the Emperor
Constantine, who apparently forgot that Jesus himself was a Jew, because in
the year 325, he ordered all Jews to leave Rome. At that time, the Nicaean
Council ruled that Christians could have nothing to do with Jews, including
the celebration of Passover. Instead they instituted the pagan holiday known
as “Easter” to commemorate Christ’s death and resurrection in a non-Jewish
sort of way.

According to Jewish custom and the Gospel writers, here’s how it all went
down:

ON SATURDAY, (the Jewish Sabbath) Jesus entered Jerusalem on the colt of
a donkey in fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy (Zechariah 9:9). Christians
call this Palm Sunday.

ON SUNDAY, Jesus entered the temple and rebuked the moneychangers.

ON MONDAY, Jesus returned to Jerusalem and taught in the temple courts.
And Judas Iscariot promised to betray his Teacher for 30 pieces of silver,
fulfilling the Zechariah 11:12 prophecy.

ON TUESDAY, preparations were made for Wednesday’s evening meal,
called the Passover. So, Jesus sent two of his disciples to prepare a place for the
Seder, Tuesday’s ritual evening meal. (Christians call this the Last Supper.)

ON TUESDAY NIGHT after the Seder, Jesus and his disciples – minus Judas
Iscariot – went to pray at Gethsemene. Then they walked across the Kidron
Valley to an olive grove. Judas knew where they would be, and he led the
chief priests straight to Jesus. In the middle of the night, Jesus was arrested
for blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God.

ON WEDNESDAY MORNING, Jesus was brutalized and sentenced to
death. He was nailed to the cross around 9 a.m.

ON WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON, Jesus died at 3 P.M. (Mark 15:33). His
body was placed in a tomb before sundown in accordance with Jewish law.

JESUS’ BODY REMAINED IN THE TOMB FOR THREE DAYS:
Thursday was Passover and people were not allowed to travel. Roman guards
stood in front of the tomb. Friday was an additional Sabbath, always observed
on the day after Passover, according to Jewish tradition. Saturday was a regular
Sabbath with travel restrictions.

ON SUNDAY travel restrictions were lifted. Visitors were allowed at Jesus’
tomb and they saw that it was empty, except for the linen shroud and the cloth
that had wrapped Jesus’ head.

So there you have it. Another “truth illusion” implemented by the dictates of
men in authority and nurtured as fact throughout the passage of time.
But that was just the beginning of folklore which would ultimately shape our
minds and the world we currently live in.

“Thus you nullify the word of God
by your tradition that you have handed down.
And you do many things like that.”
— Jesus (Mark 7:13)

A RUST REMOVER: How does it make you feel that a majority of Christian
churches around the world still teach the erroneous doctrine that was put into
play back in Constantine’s day? Ask the Holy Spirit to help you reconcile that
fact within yourself, know that God loves you in spite of it, and be at peace.
Now you know the truth.

Excerpts from Chapter Five: Which Way’s The Enemy?

“The first step on the way to victory
is to recognize the enemy.”
— Corrie ten Boom

MASTER OF DISGUISE

PHIL WAS A GIFTED writer who had earned the privilege of being
published in National Geographic. When I met him in the early 1980’s, he
was working as a computer software technician. He had experienced the Viet
Nam War, and he was no longer emotionally able to write.

In the 1960’s, Phil was drafted and sent into combat. Though this chapter in
his life was not one he would have chosen to write for himself, he vowed to
uphold his duty as an American citizen, and for thirteen months he did his
best to honorably represent his nation.

Then, on the day Phil was scheduled to return home, he witnessed a scene
that dramatically changed his life. He had grown up within a generation that
expected Americans to demonstrate utmost respect for their country and the
United States flag. So when he saw young American military men ripping
apart U.S. flags and wrapping themselves diaper fashion to protest their forced
involvement in the Viet Nam conflict, he was deeply offended. Th e fact that
he could do nothing to stop or even discourage their insolent behavior left
him feeling intensely frustrated, ashamed and personally defeated.

When his family greeted him at the airport back home, Phil desperately wanted
to share the details of the incredible demonstration that still dominated his
thoughts. But as he became aware of all the scurrying, oblivious people who
surrounded him, he sadly realized that not one of them would be able to
comprehend his story. And would they even care to try?

Fifteen years after the incident, Phil was just as keenly intelligent as he had
always been. But the scar left on his emotions had rendered impotent his
passion for writing and reporting.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write again,” he told me. “Maybe I could
if someone could just explain to me the answer to one question: “Who was
the enemy?”

I find it interesting that the spiritual entity we call Satan or the devil, first
appears in the Bible in disguise. When he appeared to Eve in the Garden of
Eden, she didn’t run away screaming, so his presence must have been alluring
and non-threatening. He pops onto the stage without fanfare and dominates
the scene. After the Lord God pronounces his punishment, he instantly
disappears … unless you know where to look for him.

Throughout the Old Testament, this master of disguise skillfully wreaks
havoc in the minds and lives of men and women. Satan has made himself so
invisible to most modern-day historians that they have failed to acknowledge
his involvement in some of the most heinous activities of our time. So we have
to rely on Scripture for details on how the devil operates.

In the book of Job, we are granted a rare peek into God’s throne room,
where angels – including Satan, “the prince of this world” (John 12:31) – are
gathered to receive their orders from the King himself. The account provides
a candid view of the invisible workings within spiritual realms and confirms
who is ultimately in control. For some, what they observe in these writings
goes against everything that they may have been taught or simply assumed
about a loving God who will do no harm to the righteous.

Isaiah helps us see Satan from another angle. Laying out some interesting
details about the rift between God and the devil, the prophet writes: “How
you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have
been cast down to earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your
heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God
… I will make myself like the Most High’” (Isaiah 14:12-14). Unfortunately,
some scholars believe that Isaiah was only talking about the historical king
of Babylon. They choose not to recognize that Satan is hidden in plain sight
within Isaiah’s lofty phrases.

After 400 years of silence from God, and despite the devil’s displeasure, the
promised Savior was born in fulfillment of many ancient prophecies. Thirty
years later, Jesus finally kicked off his ministry by being baptized in the Jordan
River “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matthew 3:15). Then, when the Son of God
is at a physical low point, the devil steps out into the open to challenge the
Redeemer (Luke 4:1-13). He offers to trade the things of this world for the
one thing over which he has no authority – control of the human soul. Then
when he sees that the situation is hopeless, he disappears.

But he had in mind to try again later!

As Jesus restores sight to the blind and addresses physical needs of the masses,
Satan lies invisible, taking cover beneath the spiritual blindness of men. He
deceives the teachers whom they depend on for guidance … gives credence
to established political systems … enters into a trusted friend of the Teacher.
Then he sits back and watches his carefully conceived plans fall into place.

But through all of this, God is directing his plan to give mankind a second
chance. Everyone will be given the opportunity to personally choose between
the King of heaven and the prince of this world. The Lord is setting in motion
multiple actions that will result in the fulfillment of ancient prophecies and
prove that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah.

Perhaps the prophet Isaiah’s words give the clearest picture:

“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with
suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we
esteemed him not.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered
him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we
are healed.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led
like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he
did not open his mouth.

“By oppression and judgment he was taken away…. he was cut off from the
land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.

“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer … and the
will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.

“After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by
his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their
iniquities.

“Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the
spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was
numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made
intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53)

On the cross, prophecy was fulfilled when God in the flesh declared, “It is
finished.” And at that moment, Satan became a spiritually defeated foe.

“Later, knowing that all was now completed,
and so the Scriptures would be fulfilled,
Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’…
When he had received the drink,
Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’
With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
(John 18:28-30)

A RUST REMOVER: Make time to look up the scriptures mentioned within
this devotion. Highlight verses that seem to speak to you and off er wisdom or
insight. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you remember Jesus’ words of truth and
hope:  “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome
the world” (John 16:33).

*    *    *

“Knowledge is a process of piling up facts;
wisdom lies in their simplification.”
— Martin H. Fischer

IN THE TRENCHES

ALL THROUGH SCHOOL I hated history. For me, memorization was like
trying to catch a fish with my bare hands – it wasn’t impossible, but it did
require determination and a lot of effort.

In fifth grade, history was humiliating. Occasionally we had to listen to a
radio broadcast over the in-room sound system about a historically significant
person. And we had to take notes.

I remember actually looking forward to the one about the U.S. President
who very recently had been shot and killed by an assassin, John F. Kennedy.
As the narrator began speaking, I carefully wrote down the date of John
Kennedy’s birth and a few interesting things about his family. But then the
narrator began to talk about the heroic deeds of a man named “Jack.” I had
been instructed to write down facts about John.

At the end of the broadcast, everyone except me had written a full page, front
and back. I raised my hand to protest: “We were supposed to write about
President Kennedy, but that man only talked about Jack Kennedy!”

“That was about President Kennedy, stupid,” one of my peers kindly responded.

“They called him ‘Jack’ for short.”

Not one of my finer moments.

By the time I was forty, I still had trouble with memorization. I had pretty
much stopped making any effort to remember Bible verses. Trying to recall
where they can be found in Scripture had become a given – I could rarely
do it.

In spite of that, as my fibromyalgia symptoms progressed and my body
became weaker, I spent a lot of time in the recliner with my Bible – starting
at the beginning and working my way through each book. I began to get it.
All of the stories I’d been told in Sunday school, all the lessons I’d taught to children, teens and adults over the years began to fl ow into chronological
sequences that shed light on individual personalities and choices. I was finding
answers to questions that had frustrated me for decades!

Some wise person once said, “With knowledge comes responsibility.” As I
read and researched, I began to feel the burden of that commission. Though
I didn’t go to college, my spiritual gift is teaching, and in the midst of my
misery I needed someone to teach! So I began emailing my extended family
to share the amazing bits of information and insight I was gathering. I wanted
them to know that I had discovered a “thread” that runs through the Bible
from beginning to end.

It’s called “prophecy.” It is proof that Jesus truly is who he claimed to be –
the Son of God, born of a virgin who was a direct descendant of King David
and Judah, son of Jacob (also known as “Israel”), and Isaac, the promised son
of Abraham and Sarah. Abraham’s lineage could be traced back to Seth the
third son of Adam and Eve. I was beyond excited, in spite of the pain. And,
bless the hearts of my indulging family, they genuinely tried to be attentive
and humor me.

But over time I’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to inundate people with
information before they’re ready to receive it. Few in my audience were truly
interested in what I wanted so desperately to share with them. But those who
have listened and given feedback have provided me with a valuable backboard
for the bouncing of ideas. And that was instrumental in the creation of my
“Prophecy Connections” blogs on Facebook and through WordPress. To my
amazement, lots of people whom I’ve never met have contacted me over the
years and requested to join in my journey of discovery.

A few of my most faithful subscribers in many countries around the world
have been “watching” with me for well over a decade. They are the ones to
whom God has given an innate curiosity about why things are the way they
are. And one thing we’ve learned together is that most “conspiracy theories”
are worthy of serious consideration until they can be proven false.

“But if the watchman sees the sword coming
and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people
and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them …
I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.”
— The Lord God (Ezekiel 33:6)

A RUST REMOVER: Are you aware of any current “conspiracy theories”
that you have cast aside as “obviously false”? Realize that the Spirit may
want you to look into what you’re hearing. And if you are led to dig deep,
check out these websites for assistance: Alex Jones’ Infowars (http://www.
infowars.com/) and – prepare yourself – Raiders News Update (http://www.
raidersnewsupdate.com/).

Excerpts from Chapter Six: Casualties of War

“In character,
in manners,
in style,
in all things,
the supreme excellence is
simplicity.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

COMMON SENSE

SOMETIMES I AMAZE MYSELF … not in a good way. After working
very hard at something and raising my stress level to off -the-chart crazy, it
suddenly occurs to me that there was a much easier way to go about doing
it and achieving the desired results. Some would refer to that as “common
sense.”

That’s the term that came to me when the pieces of my “rapture puzzle” started
coming together, effortlessly. God used an actual jigsaw puzzle to show me
a basic principle to use when studying prophecy. It was a Coca-Cola collage
that I’d been working on for many weeks. I had fitted all the pieces together
except for one – and it would not fit in the remaining space.

The emotion I experienced was similar to that of working on a puzzle to the
very end, only to find that one piece was missing. The picture could not be
completed! But in this case, I had the final shape in my hand … how could
this be?

My attention was drawn to a specific area with similar colors. And I saw it –
the piece that I had forced into position because it was so similar, and it looked
like it should fit. In a puzzle with over two thousand pieces, I was shown the
one piece that was causing the problem! I switched the shape with the one I
held in my hand, and the collage was finished.

At that moment, I saw a parallel between the puzzle and the pre-tribulation
rapture theory that I had been studying. There’s one verse that’s used to build
that theory which just doesn’t seem to fit. Without it, the entire teaching is
incomplete. It’s Revelation 4:1, where John writes: “After this I looked, and
there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first what must take place after this.’”

The “pre-trib. theory” pinpoints John’s description of being taken up into
heaven “in the Spirit” (verse 2) as symbolizing the moment when the Church
will be removed from Earth during the rapture. When I compared that
assumption with the timeline that Jesus gave … it simply doesn’t fit. And I’ll
show you why.

Keep in mind that in Revelation 4, John is describing what he personally
experienced. I challenge you to compare John’s narrative with the sequence of
events that Jesus foretold to His disciples as recorded in the synoptic gospels
(Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21). Jesus said:

1. Many will come, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive
many.
2. There will be wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
3. There will be famines, earthquakes, pestilences, and fearful signs
in the heavens.
4. There will be persecution, death, wickedness, hate, and
betrayal.
5. The gospel must be preached in the whole world as a testimony
to all nations.

“And then the end will come.”

At that time:

1. An “abomination that causes desolation” will be set up in the
“holy place” – on a wing of the temple,” according to the prophet
Daniel (Daniel 9:27).
2. Judea will be attacked.
3. There will be great distress (“Great Tribulation”) beyond anything
that has ever happened on Earth.
4. False Christs and false prophets will deceive with amazing
miracles.
5. Then “immediately after the distress of those days” an
unprecedented sign will appear in the heavens: “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will
fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.” (This
was also foretold by the prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zephaniah,
and Joel!)

“At that time, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the
nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man [Jesus Christ]
coming on the clouds of the sky with power and great glory. And he will send
his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four
winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (Matthew 24:30-34).

In my mind, that is a profound word picture, given by the Lord himself, to
describe the rapture of his Church.

“Jesus said,
‘I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned,
and revealed them to little children…
for this was your good pleasure.’”
(Matthew 11:25-26)

A RUST REMOVER: Think about it … “As people become wise in their own
eyes … customs rise up from the spirit of this world … till a departure from
the simplicity that there is in Christ becomes as distinguishable as light from
darkness, to such who are crucified to the world.” – John Woolman

*    *    *

“There is precious instruction to be got
by finding we were wrong.”
— Thomas Carlyle

SUBSTANCE

ON SEPTEMBER 28, 2011, the highly respected Barna Group published
an article titled, “Six Reasons Young Christians Leave Church.” It was based
on research comprised of interviews with teenagers, young adults, parents,
and pastors, and it focused on young adults who had been active churchgoers
during their teen years but felt a disconnect after age fifteen.

The study revealed that no single reason dominated. Instead, six significant
themes emerged as reasons why nearly three out of every five youth left the
church either permanently or for an extended period of time.

Reason #2 on that list went like this: “Teens’ and twenty-somethings’ experience
of Christianity is shallow.”

For over a decade I wrote Christian education curriculum for teenagers. Some of
the most rewarding assignments I received during that time were for David C.
Cook’s online teaching supplements, titled “Real Life Downloaded.” I enjoyed
that type of writing because it’s purpose was to add additional substance to
print lessons that had already been published and were in teachers’ hands.
The RLD’s give a current, pop culture option that helps kids better relate to
the topic being explored.

This is something I can believe in and feel proud of contributing to. In my
humble opinion, that’s what teens and twenty-somethings need – not just a lot
of fun socializing activities to keep them coming back each week expecting
more entertainment. All Christians need fellowship. But when play outweighs
the depth of purpose that an individual can experience by truly connecting
with Jesus Christ, that social house of cards will eventually crumble. The
challenge: to find a sense of balance between the two.

That’s where prophecy connections come in. Let me show you what I mean,
building on the “end of the age” timeline that Jesus’ gave.

Imagine that I am presenting this to you via a Power-Point presentation in an auditorium. First we review the timeline that Jesus gave, recorded in Matthew
24. Then I overlay verses from Revelation to show the similarities in what all
four of the gospel writers documented.

Here’s how it might look if we compare the basic outline provided by Matthew,
Mark, and Luke (but absent in John’s gospel) with John’s vision detailed in
Revelation 6 …

Jesus said: Many will come, claiming, “I am the Christ,” and will deceive
many.

In Revelation 6: When “the Lamb”[Jesus] opened the first of seven seals, John
saw “a conqueror bent on conquest” (Rev. 6:1-2).

Jesus said: There will be wars and rumors of wars; nation will rise against
nation, and kingdom against kingdom.

In Revelation 6: When the Lamb opened the second seal, John saw “a rider
given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other” (Rev.
6:4).

Jesus said: There will be famines, earthquakes, and pestilences.

In Revelation 6: When the Lamb opened the third seal, John saw a rider with
scales in his hands foretelling the consequences of financial imbalance (and
natural disasters?).

Jesus said: There will be death, persecution, wickedness, hate, and betrayal.

In Revelation 6: When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, John saw “Death
and Hades” killing over a fourth of the earth by sword, famine, plague and
wild beasts.

Jesus said: Christians will be persecuted, put to death, and hated by all the
nations.

In Revelation 6: When the Lamb opened the fifth seal, John saw the souls of
those who had been slain because of their testimony for Christ.

Now I would present charts that show all of the era’s throughout history –
from the time Jesus made those prophecies until now. And we would see that
in his timeline, Jesus was merely giving an overview of Satan’s handiwork
and carnage, which would continually repeat over centuries of time. These
are not separate events reserved for after the rapture, as the pre-tribulation theory assumes. They are common occurrences that have taken place within
every generation, with the exception of the unprecedented sign in the heavens.

We’re still waiting for that one.

And “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a
testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).

I’m thinking that perhaps learning tidbits like that in church may have kept
a few of those teens and twenty-somethings coming back for more.

“All these are the beginning of birth pains.”
(Luke 21:15)

A RUST REMOVER: The Lord God loves a good mystery, and there will
always be things that he’ll choose to keep hidden from us. But he encourages
us to continually “ask” and “seek” (Matthew 7:7) until we find the answers to
our questions – even though many won’t be explained until we see him face
to face. And at that time, will it really matter?

Excerpts from Chapter Seven: The Wake-up Call

“Jesus
is God spelling himself out
in language that man
can understand.”
— S. D. Gordon

CONFIRMATIONS THAT DEMAND ATTENTION

FOR SOME PEOPLE, BELIEVING in heaven is a no-brainer and doesn’t
take any conscious effort. For others – especially those deeply ensnared in the
material world – it’s just as easy not to believe in life after death, and there is
little or no way to convince them otherwise.

When I read about heaven in the book of Revelation, I can envision it as a
real place where I will one day reside for eternity. But, I had no convincing
proof that my belief is not just a personal fantasy. That was before I heard
about Colton Burpo and Akiane Kramaric – two children whose incredible
stories are told by their parents in Akiane by Foreli Kramarik and Heaven Is
For Real by Todd Burpo (with Lynn Vincent). These two kids, who had not
met each other at the time of this revelation, have a connection that is …
well, heavenly!

I don’t remember when I first became aware of Akiane’s supernatural gift for
painting and poetry. But I do recall looking her up on the Internet to view
the creations that I had heard about. I wanted to see them with my own eyes,
because the story I’d heard seemed quite hard to fathom.

I discovered that the Lithuanian-American Akiane began sharing visions
of heaven with her parents when she was four years old. One morning she
whispered to her mother, “Today I met God.” Since her mother and father
knew nothing at all about God, Foreli Kramarik wasn’t sure how to respond
to her daughter’s pronouncement, so she asked, “What is God?”

Akiane replied, “God is light – warm and good. It knows everything and talks
with me. It is my parent.” In complete disbelief, Foreli continued groping for
answers.

“Why did you think it was God?”

Akiane confidently answered, “Just like I know you are my mommy, and you
know I am Akiane.”

“Who even taught you such a word God?”

Akiane replied, “You won’t understand.”

And she was right. Her mother and father could not understand. But they kept
talking with their little girl and trying to remain open to the incomprehensible
information that she was willing to share about God and heaven.

The entire story of their journey from spiritual ignorance to acceptance of
Christianity is well documented, so I won’t try to paraphrase it here. What I
need you to know is that Akiane began drawing portraits when she was four.
Her drawings were so professional looking by the time she was five that people
refused to believe she had drawn them. When she was eight, she painted a
portrait of Jesus as she had seen him in heaven. And that is where Colton
Burpo’s journey intersects with Akiane’s.

Colton was three years and ten months old when he lay on an operating table
while surgeons struggled to repair his ruptured appendix and save the little
boy’s life. He was officially four and still recovering from the surgery when
he began talking about Jesus and the angels that he had seen while he was
in heaven. This came as a huge surprise to his father, Pastor Todd, because
there was no evidence that Colton had died for even a moment during the
operation.

When Colton was seven, his mother, Sonja, saw a CNN report about Akiane
that had aired in December 2006 when she was twelve years old. Sonja
realized that Akiane’s descriptions of heaven were remarkably similar to
Colton’s. Akiane described Jesus as pure and very masculine. “He’s really
strong and big. And his eyes are just beautiful.”

At that time, Sonja and Todd had been playing a game with their son for
several years. Whenever they came across a portrait of Jesus that an artist had
rendered, they would ask, “Does that look like him?” Colton would study
the picture then patiently explain why the likeness was just not right. And
he would comment, “His eyes are so pretty!” So when Todd saw the portrait
that Akiane had painted, he called Colton to look at it and asked, “What’s
wrong with this one?”

After a long, hypnotic moment, Colton studied the picture then said, “Dad,
that one’s right.”

When I heard that phenomenal story, it became mine as well. And now that
you’re aware of it, it has become ours – Akiane’s, Colton’s, mine, and yours.
I don’t know about you, but these accounts by two very young, innocent
children have in many ways confirmed what I believe about heaven. I will read
their testimonies again and again when I need comforting and reassurance.

And I will study Akiane’s portrait of Jesus when I need to be reminded of
what he actually looks like.

A RUST REMOVER: Internet search for Colton Burpo and Akiane. As you
read their incredible testimonies, pray for the veil to be removed that separates
each of us from the heavenly realms, so that you too can believe.

*    *    *

 “I go out to preach with two propositions in mind.
First, every person ought to give his life to Christ.
Second, whether or not anyone give Him his life,
I will give Him mine.”
— Jonathan Edwards

SERENDIPITY

I came to the last devotion that I would write for this book, and my mind
was suddenly blocked. I thought and prayed … prayed and pondered. Then
I typed a bunch of words that didn’t really seem to say much. In my rush to
“be finished” I failed to realize that the Holy Spirit had not yet informed me
of what I should write!

Before bed one night, Chuck said to me, “What do you have planned for
tomorrow?”

I replied, “I have this feeling that I won’t know until I wake up and put my
feet on the floor.” And, that is exactly what happened. First thing the next day,
I got an email from my friend Mary Ann with the link to a YouTube video
that she had captioned: “What the heck?”

I was just about ready to set it aside to watch at a later time, when I felt the
Spirit prompting me, Do it now. So I did. And immediately recognized what
was so important. The video was first aired in April 2012 and was a collection
of news reports and headlines concerning unprecedented events that had
happened within a span of three short months, worldwide – “harbingers” that
seem to fulfill prophecies in Haggai, Matthew, and Luke.

It began with an incident on New Year’s Eve 2011 in Beebe, Arkansas when
dozens of birds suddenly fell from the sky onto the ground, dead. This was
the second year in a row that this had happened.

On January 2, 2012, tons of fish washed ashore in Norway. That was followed
by the deaths of thousands of deer in Montana and North Dakota on January
9th. On January 16th, hundreds of dead turtles were filmed lying – most of
them on their backs – on the shores of Smith Lake in Florida. Ten days later,
CNN reporter Jeannie Mudge reported on a strange happening in LaGrange,
Kentucky, when the sky over the small town was nearly blacked-out by flying blackbirds. They covered an approximate three-mile radius. Witnesses said
that their wings sounded like heavy rainfall.

Also in January, strange sounds in the atmosphere were recorded in England,
Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Brazil, and Costa Rica. Witnesses described the
noise as eerie and “like something out of a horror movie.”

More bizarre events happened in February. On the 10th, 260 dead dolphins
washed ashore on a 60-mile stretch of beach in Peru. The sight was particularly
unnerving because dolphins aren’t usually found in those seas. On February
17th, hundreds of Starlings dropped from the sky in Maryland during rush
hour traffic. Though a few birds lay in the grass alongside the shoulder of the
road, the vast majority fell onto the northbound travel lanes of the highway!

Other strange things in February included the Beirut River in Lebanon
turning blood red and the ocean freezing in Europe. NASA released footage
of earth-sized tornadoes on the sun and urged vigilant watching for “weird
fireballs” in the atmosphere that astronomers could not explain.

In March 2012, an unexplained fl ash of light appeared in the sky as a
Phoenix traffic report was being aired on a local TV station. And NBC’s
Brian Williams reported on a new asteroid “about 150 miles across that may
come so close to Earth that it will pass between us and the satellites orbiting
in space above us.”

Beginning on March 2nd, a massive tornado outbreak hit 20 mid-west and
eastern states in America, leaving 29 people dead. Entire towns were flattened,
170 mph winds recorded, and witnesses testified to seeing a twister “two
football fields wide.” In just a few days, more tornadoes were spawned in that
area of the country that it usually experiences in a month. One news report
claimed that 95 of the terrifying whirlwinds had ripped through the territory
in one day.

In Clintonville, Wisconsin, mysterious booms were reported by reliable sources
within the community, in a thirteen-block area. Geologists at the University
of Wisconsin, Madison, said it was “clearly not consistent with earthquake
activity.” However, there was obvious earthquake activity in Japan, Mexico,
New Guinea, Australia, and Chile, which all registered earthquakes between
6.1 and 7.9 in magnitude.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, a new volcano emerged in the Middle
East!

But there was more to come. And interestingly it brought “Ground Zero” back
into the limelight. On October 29, an eerie whistling sound could be heard,
coming from the exposed steel on top of the nearly completed Freedom Tower, as
Hurricane Sandy announced the arrival of death and destruction upon the eastern
coast of the United States — the geographical area where American government
was born. Some described it as sounding like an aeolian harp, a musical instrument
played by the wind and named after the fictional Greek god, Aeolus.

Many are wondering if the “super storm of Biblical proportions” was yet
another harbinger from Almighty God.

In the final chapter of The Harbinger, the question is asked, “What if it were
you who heard the voice of the prophets, and understood the harbingers,
and knew that judgment was coming? Everyone around you was oblivious to
it. Everyone just went on with their lives with no idea of what was coming.
What would you do?”

When I read that I felt as though I was the one being specifically asked the
question. And in a serendipitous moment it occurred to me: I am writing a
book. It was originally meant to be a devotional to help encourage and inspire
people in varying degrees of pain. But it appears that the Lord God means for it
to be something more.

And so with that thought, I off er this collection of words that God has given
to you through a few of his imperfect craftsmen, who have in common a love
for sharing insight that the Lord has provided. Actually, it all comes down to
the fact that it’s really his story. And now it’s become ours.
What will you do in response to it?

“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve …
But as for me and my household,
we will serve the Lord.”
(Joshua 24:15)

A RUST REMOVER: Act on it … “In the pure, strong hours of the morning,
when the soul of the day is at its best, lean upon the window sill of God and
look into his face, and get the orders for the day. Then go out into the day with
the sense of a Hand upon your shoulder and not a chip.” – E. Stanley Jones

Download the entire book at http://bookstore.westbowpress.com/Products/SKU-000610246/My-Armors-Kinda-Rusty–Encouragement-For-Weary-Warriors.aspx

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