0

Grace and goodness

Three days of inadequate efforts and I’m just plain tired. I mean, I’m really tired. I’ve experienced more spiritual warfare in the past few days than ever before. From dawn to dusk, it’s been one act of Satan working against me after another.  Ephesians 6:17 tells us, “Put on salvation as your helmet and take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” I’ve been clinging to that “sword of the Spirit” all week, calling upon the Lord to sustain me one day at a time. I’m reminding myself to rejoice in the blessings of fiery trials as Scripture says. Slowly but surely, I’m finding that rotten days strengthen my faith a little extra.

This morning I woke up and honestly dreaded another day, fearing that it’d be as exhausting as the days before. I turned on the radio as I drove to school, forgetting that it’s never rarely anything but Christian talk shows that early. Emphasis on the rarely. This is where the week’s tired prayers became fruitful: a song was playing, and it instantly spoke so much life into me. I only caught, “Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal, so lay down your burdens,” before it went to static. I just kind of lingered in the Lord’s presence for awhile, soaking every bit of that in. That single line laid every trouble to rest.

Earth has no sorrow that heaven can’t heal, so lay down your burdens.

I said, “No, Lord! I need to hear the rest of that!”

I came to terms with the lost radio station and opted for Pandora. Seconds later, the very same song was playing through my speakers. The exact song that had been lost to static happened to be streaming from Pandora just when I needed it to. This was Jesus saying, “My mercy is new every morning,” as I got my cup refilled.

“Come out of sadness, wherever you’ve been. Come broken hearted, let rescue begin. Come find your mercy, oh sinner come near. Earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t heal. So lay down your burdens, lay down your shame. All who are broken, lift up your face. Oh wanderer, come home, you’re not too far. Lay down your hurt, lay down your heart, come as you are. There’s hope for the hopeless, and all those who’ve strayed. Come sit at the table, come taste the grace. There’s rest for the weary, rest that endures, earth has no sorrow that Heaven can’t cure. Come as you are, fall in His arms. There’s joy for the morning, sinner be still.” – David Crowder

5

The Cost of Following Jesus – ISIS and America

Islamic terrorists in Iraq are beheading children and burying people alive, and it won’t stop there. They have a message for America: “We’re coming for you.” -CBN News

 

Following the path to Jesus often leads to persecution. Growing up in a culture where freedoms and choices are plentiful, makes that a hard pill to swallow for some. We’re free to gather in worship, we’re free to pray, we’re free to praise and sing to the Heavens all we please. While we very well may be ridiculed, hardly ever are we arrested for our faith.

 

Luke 21:10-19     Nations will go to war against one another, and kingdoms will attack each other. There will be great earthquakes, and in many places, people will starve to death and suffer terrible diseases. All sorts of frightening things will be seen in the sky. Before all of this happens, you will be arrested and punished. You will be tried in your meeting places and put in jail. Because of Me, you will be placed on trial before kings and governors. But this will be your chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or to say that you are wrong. You will be betrayed by your own family and friends. Some of you will even be killed. Because of Me, you will be hated by everyone. But don’t worry! You will be saved by being faithful to Me.”

 

I’m continuously watching videos and reading articles about ISIS and the persecution in Qaraqosh and Bartilla. I watch these Islamic terrorists run Christians out of their homes, cut off their limbs, and blow up their bodies. They flee while they can to Erbil, most with nothing more than the clothes on their back. If they don’t convert, they are killed, each one of them, from baby, to mother, to old man. They’re burning churches and cleaning out the belongings of the victims, leaving them with nothing. No ID, no travel documentation, no clothes, no money, nothing. They’re shot, tossed on the ground, and run over with machinery, as their families are made to watch. They’re pleading for the United States and the United Nations to come stand by them.

What am I doing for my faith?

Meanwhile, as thousands upon thousands are dying for their faith, here in America, churches care more about the lighting on the stage. They’re having basketball courts put in, flat screens installed, and pool tables set up. On the other side of the globe, children are being taken, raped and beheaded for their faith, while we worry about raising our hands during Sunday morning worship. We ask ourselves what the person next to us will think if we pray out loud or clap in excitement for the Lord. Frankly, I think we all need a heart check. Yes, persecution in the US is few and far between, but are we ready to fight the good fight?

Jesus made plain the consequences that would come with following Him. He warned us all through Scripture what would take place in the lives of believers. It happened to Peter, John, Paul, James, and countless others. Why it still comes as a surprise to me, is beyond me. Even though it’s anticipated, it’s not any more acceptable. 

Have mercy, Lord, on those who are mistreated. Keep them strong and rescue them from death.

Recently I read a story about a man named Dmetri, who fell head-over-heels in love with Jesus during the communist reign in Russia. He began opening his home to others, giving them a place to come and worship. People swarmed to read the Bible and sing songs that testified their faith. So many people came, the government noticed, and Dmetri was fired from his job. Steadfast, he continued preaching to others that came and gathered. One night, during a church session, officers broke in and took him, just as Luke said would happen in meeting places. They slapped him around and said, “We warned you, and warned you! And I will not warn you again! If you do not stop this nonsense, this is the least that is going to happen to you.” When the officer made his way to the door, a small grandmother put her life out there, and waved a finger in his face. She declared, “You have laid hands on a man of God and you will NOT survive!” Two days later, the officer died of a heart attack. After 150 people showed up at the next meeting, Dmetri was thrown into jail for 17 years. The prisoners and guards couldn’t break him as he continuously sang the same song to Jesus every day. They laughed and cursed, sometimes throwing waste at him. He snuck paper to his cell and wrote Bible verses on them, sticking them to concrete pillars as “praise offerings” to God. For 17 years he was beaten, but never stopped. The guards finally decided to execute him, but as they carried him away, 1500 inmates raised their hands and began singing the same song Dmetri had sung every day for those 17 years. The officers stepped back in horror and questioned him, demanding to know who he really was. He proudly declared, “I am a son of the Living God, and Jesus is his name!” He was then released.

When persecution comes, when your road becomes long, and your hallelujah tired, hold tight to Luke’s Scripture. 

 

This is a chance to tell about your faith. Don’t worry about what you will say to defend yourselves. I will give you the wisdom to know what to say. None of your enemies will be able to oppose you or tell you that you’re wrong.

Tomorrow’s freedom is today’s surrender. Shout loudly. Spend wisely. Read avidly. Live responsibly. Give Lavishly. Travel meaningfully. Think Biblically. Study purposefully. Volunteer. Pray continually. 

 

 

0

Well spent days in Africa

The road less traveled took me to the sewage-lined streets of Diepsloot, South Africa. There I learned that loving is the new black, and that a lion lives in the heart of every brave person. Rats ran the same streets the bare-foot children did, and disease was rampant, occupying the body of virtually everyone we met. But, come to find out, these people had nothing but grace and big welcome smiles to offer us strangers. It was there, among the hungry-for-love Africans, that I found more joy than ever before.

Nearly 280,000 people live within the 1.5 to 2 mile radius we ministered in. Of these 280,000, my group of 10 planted 301 seeds, sharing the Gospel with 301 people. The angels rejoiced as a whopping 153 of them committed their lives to Jesus.

Our hand’s became the Lord’s hands as a crippled woman walked and a blind woman saw again. Our whispers became shouts as we prayed not just for all, but for each.

I sat in the dirt with countless women, each one sharing in the same struggles. Not just one or two, but all of them lived in shacks the size of a garden shed or smaller. The shacks were built from wood, scrap metal and cardboard, pieced together like a puzzle. Electricity was a mighty scarce thing. Instead, open fires took the place of stoves, and there was no such thing as a hot shower. Dishes and laundry were done in buckets with water so cold it literally stung your fingers. This is what these people called home. This is how they lived survived.

But the women, oh the strong women of Africa. There was nothing more humbling than being seated at the feet of a woman bearing the hardships one bears in Diepsloot. Holding her hand and trusting that maybe for a second she felt all the hope she’d been robbed of. Sitting together, soaked in sweat-mixed tears, audibly crying out to the Lord. And as we cried, scripture says He bent down, leaning in to hear us. I write with Precious and Privilege and Agnus in mind. Nancy, Chio, Jo Ann, Gladys, Winnie, each one paving the way to greatness.

Africa is the swing of a hand caught by another, much smaller than yours. A baby in one arm, a child on the back, one on your shoulders, two pulling on your shirt, a few on your legs — you just never knew what kind of a balancing act you were walking into.

Here’s the thing – I’ve never been gifted with kids. So here I am, swamped with an innumerable amount of children, stiffly patting them on the back, trying my hardest to show them the love they are just so deprived of. Their noses dripped and their open sores were only growing. Most had ringworm, if not something worse. In that moment my heart softened as I thought of God’s love for us. Each of us, dirty and tarnished, are beyond loved by the Lord. And although we’re all “infected” by our own kind of ringworm, He still yearns for us, quick to pick us up with His grace.

I can’t express the state my heart was in. It was truly broken in a way that taught me my heart had never actually experienced heart break. But in the same hours, I sincerely fell in love too many times to count. I went with the intentions to change the hearts of the Africans, when in reality, I was the one that left with a heart change.

“It’s hard to reconcile the challenges they face, with the joy I see in them. The images spilling out of my television showed only misery, and I was fooled. I bought into the lie that circumstances define happiness in places that despair should thrive. I find adults dancing and singing. Children playing soccer with a ball of tied trash. Relationships and faith provide joy. My new reality… my joy should have no regard for my circumstances. I want what I have learned to trickle down from my head into my heart. I no longer want to need the ‘next thing’ to have joy. Africa does need our efforts and partnership, but for me, I need Africa more than Africa needs me.

So here I am, back at home, but I’m not so sure that home is a place that’ll ever be the same again.

 

 

 

 

1

God’s Calling On Your Life

We sit in waiting, day after day, expecting an answer from people and places and music and television, about what exactly we’re supposed to do with these lives of ours. All the while, days are passing and time is wasted in wonder. As we carry out our every day living, we go about it with the intent of just stumbling across what it is we’re meant to do for the rest of our lives, or where it is we’re supposed to go. We pray in anticipation, “God, what is it I’m supposed to do? Just tell me already.” Because that’s how we’re wired. We get antsy, we worry and fret over our unplanned lives, forgetting that God tells us not to be anxious. His plans for us slip our minds and we get brain washed by society telling us that by the time you turn 18, you better have the next 50 years mapped out. Believe me, I’ve spent my share of nights crying out to my ceiling, questioning if God was hearing me. I prayed the same prayer every night, asking God to reveal this “plan” I had always heard about, the one that prospers us and brings us hope. All along, the answer laid typed out on the delicate pages of my unopened Bible. In the Bible, God answers, and with nothing but truth and promises. Surely this isn’t news to you, but take a moment to think about it. So many questions we ask God are answered directly through the pages of the Bible collecting dust on our coffee table. 

We’re all called to the same life. We’re called to pray and to serve and to love our neighbors with willing hearts. We aren’t just called to love our neighbor next door, but the crossing guard directing traffic before school, the person that hits our car and drives off, the homeless man on the street corner asking for money only to turn around and spend it on drugs. We’re called to make disciples of all nations, whether that nation be our own or one on the opposite side of the ocean. We’re called to find the powerless and give them power, and to find the hungry to feed. There are beaten down, broken lives to love on all over the place. While we’re buried under the warmth of a tangled comforter, thousands upon thousands of others are buried under poverty and disease. They wrestle with desperation, so many of them unaware of the never-ending love and hope Jesus Christ brought and is bringing. We’re called to give more than we have, and in those moments of vulnerability, I’m convinced that’s when the most genuine form of joy takes root in our raw heart’s. We’re simply called to be brothers and sisters, to carry one another’s cross and love with such an intense love that Jesus is seen through our everyday living. This is what is asked of us. 

So maybe this plan of prosperity and hope isn’t a plan created just for us. Maybe the prosperity we’re blessed with is meant to be given to prosper others, and maybe the hope that God fills our life full of is meant to spark a flame of hope in someone else’s life. I’m finding more and more that the great future He has for us, is a future meant for serving and praying and loving. Not a day goes by that I’m not in awe that God, who is more than capable of doing all of this by Himself, would choose to let us all play a part.

 

 

 

2

Bittersweet and Ever-Changing

I believe there’s a time in everyone’s life where we get caught up in this tangled mess of confusion, and each strand of hurt or affliction or burden gets wound together all at once. I believe we all come to a point where we feel life and living are too much to bare, and all this urgency we have inside to make things right within ourselves becomes just as heavy of a load as all the other matters we’re facing. Our thoughts become jumbled and we see things more as a fog. We have to squint to see through the obscurities in our way. We have to try extra hard to see things the way they were before. Doubt corrupts our mind, tainting our views on ourselves and what we’re capable of. We can’t tell right from wrong, or what’s the end or only the beginning of a memoir. This seemingly never ending brawl within us finally gets us where it should: on our knees in surrender. This fight is good, in the way that childbirth is good, and grief is good, and defeat is good. It hurts, and it’s tough, but joy comes in the morning. (For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.) Psalm 30:5  The desperation welling up inside is longing for a hope that will ease the suffering we face in this moment, this moment of vulnerability. And in that moment, we abandon our struggles at the altar, or the bathroom floor, or wherever we put a halt to life and break down. We cry out to the ceiling, knowing what lies far beyond it. We pray for all the heavy burden to be lifted off our weak shoulders, because when compared to our Maker, we’re just these minuscule beings with little understanding of the world. Our loving King comes to our rescue just as He said He would, lifting off the weight of this world. And my friends, if you’ve not yet been caught up in a tangled mess of confusion, where each strand of hurt or affliction or burden gets wound together all at once, don’t think for a minute that God won’t be there to deliver you. When you feel life and living is too much to bare, and all the urgency you have to make things right within yourself becomes just as heavy of a load as all the other matters you’re facing, break through the dark night and dance your way into the joyful morning. Don’t try and do it on your own, but rather call on your gracious Father in Heaven. Remember the life that you find hard to live hasn’t run it’s full course yet, and God has much more planned for you. Call on God to be the light that guides you through the fog of chaos. Call on God for truth to cast aside any doubts. Appreciate growing in the bitter you face, and all the while be overwhelmed by the sweetness of His love. We need some “bittersweet” in our life to grow. Sweet is great, and I think we’d all agree we want more of the sweet than we do the bitter, but bittersweet is courageous. The bittersweet in life is ultimately beautiful and valiant and bewildering. When put together it’s something much more deep and life-altering. And although we all reach these heavy-ladened times, we’re blessed with a divine God to carry us out.

Thank you, and God bless each of you.

-Sara

2

Keeping Firm Faith

Hello again, friends. Recently, someone asked me how I stayed firm in my faith. They asked if I ever had doubts. Not only am I writing this for her, but I’m hoping the rest of you reading can benefit. As humans, we’re going to have doubts. There will be times when we’re all tempted by doubt in some form, and that doesn’t make you any less of a Christian. Really, I think doubts build faith. Honest doubt means we’re looking for an answer, or seeking to understand this awesome God we have.

  1. Prayer – One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in my faith have been caused by prayer. I started praying more, and giving God more than just the twenty minutes of “before bed” prayer I had been giving Him for so long. The kind of prayer where you’re half awake, half asleep, praying unorganized thoughts and drifting in and out of sleep. I’d pray in the shower, thank God for a new day, and pray for the day before me. Before I leave the house for school, I usually struggle to be on time. I’m not a morning person, and I hit snooze one too many times. I find myself throwing on clothes, frantically trying to find my other shoe, or a book I can’t leave without. I started praying in those situations of desperation. I kid you not, God so often reveals to me what I’m looking for before I even finish my prayer. I began praying at school, I’d look around the room and pray for each person. So on and so forth, I furthered my time spent in prayer. I felt God so much more than before, leading me to realize how crucial prayer is in a relationship with Him.
  2. Recognizing His Creations – It’s quite obvious how complex life is. In Genesis we learn of God’s creations. The Lord created Heaven and earth, water, ground, light, darkness, animals, humans, all life. Here’s a few facts to put you even more in awe of God’s works: In 24 hours your heart beats103,689 times, your blood travels 168,000,000 miles, and you exercise 7,000,000 brain cells. Snakes are immune to their own poison. Your average elm tree has approximately 6 million leaves on it. Camels have three eyelids to protect their eyes from blowing sand. Your heart generates enough pressure as it pumps blood through your body that it could squirt blood up to 30 feet. “Have you ever thought about how diverse and creative God is? He didn’t have to make hundred of different kinds of bananas, but He did. He didn’t have to put 3,000 different species of trees within one square mile in the Amazon jungle, but He did. God didn’t have to create so many kinds of laughter.” – Francis Chan
  3. Scripture – I know that to most of you, reading the Bible is a given. I know to others of you, it’s a struggle that is easy to put off. To so many people, myself included, the Bible is a hard book to understand. I’ve found that praying for understanding before I read helps. If you come across a chapter you don’t understand, sometimes looking online can be helpful. There are many Christian bloggers that explain different parts of the Bible. If you’re having a difficult time getting the gist of a chapter, a lot of newer Bibles have little notes off to the side to help you. I like to recommend the God Girl Bible to young women, I love it! If I’m not mistaking I believe the same company makes one for younger men as well. If you have a Christian book store near by, try asking someone who works there to recommend a Bible that would be best for you! 
  4. Resistance – Replace the things in your life that tempt or distract you with Godly things.  For example, get rid of Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, ect. and replace it with Christian music. And you might say, “I can’t, I love rap too much.” Well great! There are plenty of Christian rappers. (Lecrae, Andy Mineo, Tedashii) If explicit music is all you’re listening to, explicit thoughts will consume you. Instead of R rated movies, try a Christian movie. Believe it or not, there’s so many Godly movies that could spark anyone’s interest. Documentaries, comedies, action films, ect. Look on Netflix, at the library, online, or at a Christian book store. The possibilities are endless! Bottom line is, start replacing the things that tear you away from God, with things that draw you closer to Him.

Hebrews 12:1-4 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

 

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions, email me at sarawhitesell@rocketmail.com. I’d love to help you figure out what Bible, music artist, movie, ect. would be in your best interest. Let me know what you thought, I enjoy your feedback. God bless.