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What Jail Can Teach Us

June 28th, 2013

 

As we sat in a circle with the inmates last night in our county jail, I was reminded once again of how much hurt and pain are in this world

Tears, regrets, fears, questions, failures.

 

Every negative emotion the devil can stir up moves through the stale air in a jail cell.

Matching orange scrubs on every woman adds to the feeling of equal despair, equal pain, and equal failure.

 

Something happens while we are there, though.

As we share the love of Jesus with these women who are just  like us in so many ways

-moms, sisters, cousins, wives, aunts, daughters-

all of the negativity seems to somehow lift.

 

We share our stories.

They share theirs.

 

Slowly the old air is replaced with a fresh breeze of hope, laughter, love, and a feeling of God’s presence that seems to transform the evening into a time of fellowship.

 

I love the women in jail.

 

I love them because they are real.

They can’t hide their pain behind make-up or fancy clothes.

They can’t find comfort in what they own, because they’ve been stripped of everything material.

 

These women have reached the lowest valley.

The bottom of the deepest pit.

 

And somehow they find the strength to smile.

The will to dream.

The courage to hope.

 

I learn more about God’s love every time I sit with these women.

 

Last night as we baptized three more ladies, I was brought to tears as one of them could barely repeat her confession of faith through her trembling lips and her apparent speech problem.

She pushed through her stuttering and slurring of words to say,

“I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God, and I accept Him as my personal Savior.”

 

As she repeated the words we spoke just a few at a time, my voice became shaky.

I wanted to stop and spare her the agony,

but she pressed on.

As she ended the sentence with “my personal Savior,” she smiled the biggest smile.

Then she went under the water.

Nothing magic.

Nothing mystical.

Just a tank of water in a large concrete room.

But as she came up and as the other women came up,

the relief was evident in their faces.

 

They had humbled themselves enough to wash it all away.

 

All the mistakes.

All the regrets.

All the baggage.

 

Life won’t be perfect now.

We always remind them of that.

 

But here’s what changed for them last night.

 

They have the Holy Spirit now.

They have a Comforter who lives in them and walks with them.

 

Suddenly their valley isn’t so lonely, their pit isn’t so hollow.

 

Being in a jail cell reminds me that  freedom in Christ can happen anywhere!

 

Being in a jail cell reminds me that God’s love knows no boundaries.

 

There’s nothing too wrong for Him to make right.

There’s nothing too ugly for Him to make beautiful.

 

He casts our sins as far as the east is from the west.

 

He makes all things new.

Transformation happens when we meet Jesus at the cross and accept what He did for us there.

 

There’s something about spending time with women who need Him so desperately that reminds me of just how much I need Him too.

 

I’m thankful today for my sisters in Christ who are behind bars.

Their freedom in Christ is  no different than mine.

Christ paid the same price for us all.

 

II Cor. 3:17

Now the Lord is the Spirit,

and where the Spirit of the Lord is,

there is freedom.

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Recently, Tim and I had a big argument.

Looking back, I can’t put my finger on the exact cause.

It was a series of unfortunate events.

(By the way, I’m pretty sure the author of the book series by that same title was inspired by our family.)

 

Anyway, Tim and I are under a lot of “suppressed stress” this summer.

Having children in foreign countries, some of whom are in places much less than safe, does something to your emotional state of being.

So we try to stay positive, and we try to keep busy with projects, visits with friends, summer work, etc.,

but the reality is this,

“We walk a fine line between total trust and complete fear.”

 

On top of that, we are in the ministry.

There’s just something about me serving in jail ministry and Tim having a sermon to preach that the devil must not like.

So, when he attacks our family, he goes straight for the jugular.

He doesn’t mess around too often with little things like our big toe anymore.

No, he aims high.  He aims for our hearts.

 

So, as Tim and I were in a crazy morning of stress and intense anger at everything in the world recently, including each other,

I found myself in a dilemma.

 

The dress I had chosen to wear to church

(and yes, this lovely argument happened on a beautiful, sunny, Sunday morning)

needed zipped up the back.

 

In the old days, I could have asked any one of our five kids to zip up my dress,

but times have changed here.

 

Olivia is the only one I can turn to now for help and she was up in her room, music playing loudly as she straightened her hair,

and I was running late for Sunday school.

 

So, what was I to do?

I debated going to church with my dress unzipped, hoping to find someone in the parking lot who could help me.

But wouldn’t the town talk at such a sight!

 

I knew I really only had one choice if I hoped to get out the door quickly and with any type of modesty.

So, I asked Tim if he could please zip my dress.

 

He did.

 

And I left.

 

As I was driving to church reflecting on our ugly morning,

I realized something.

 

The devil once again attempted to stop us.

He tried to get in the way of Tim’s sermon that morning.

He tried to get in the way of my participation in Sunday school.

 

He tried to pull apart what God has put together.

 

He also knew that on that very day we would be talking to our kids for the last time before they left the United States to travel to a location we cannot even safely disclose online.

 

As I drove I also realized that he failed.

 

He failed because no matter how angry we get or how frustrated we become with each other or with the stress of life,

there will always be a dress that needs zipped or something else that reminds us that in spite of everything we need each other, we count on each other, we lean on each other.

 

Life is hard.

 

The devil loves to make it even harder.

 

He tries to confuse and complicate every situation we face in life.

He whispers fear and doubt.

He is happiest when we are most miserable.

 

 

That’s why I’m thankful today (and every day) for things like dresses that zip up the back.

Because these dresses remind me that on my own I can do nothing.

I am, on so many levels, helpless, weak, defenseless, and in need of help.

 

Thankfully, when we ask for help, God steps in and helps us overcome.

He zips up our spiritual dress.

He helps us face the world prepared for whatever comes our way.

 

Sometimes it’s humbling to ask God for help, just like it was humbling to ask Tim for help on that particular Sunday morning.

 

By asking, though, we show God we are humble.

We show Him that no matter how crazy life gets or how wrong we might be, we know we can turn to Him and He will help us.

 

And the same truths apply in marriage.

 

The Nischan house is one high-energy, faith-driven house.

We are living with kids in three different time zones right now,

and our minds are constantly calculating what time it is for each of them at any particular moment of the day.

 

Our hearts are constantly praying for safety, wisdom, and peace for all of them.

 

Trust has become our means of survival.

 

Occasionally, our stress turns us against each other, before we even know what has happened.

Remembering we have an enemy who loves these moments helps us push through and get to the other side.

The side with the zipper that needs zipped.

 

I’m pretty sure God helped me pick my dress last Sunday.

And I’m forever thankful.

 

 

Humble yourselves before the Lord,

and he will lift you up.

James 4:10

 

That is why, for Christ’s sake,

I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in

hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

II Cor. 12:10

 

We’ve all asked a similar question while shopping, haven’t we?

We see something we like and we really want to buy it,

but the price tag determines whether or not it goes in our cart or not.

 

How much does it cost?

Is it worth the price?

Sometimes, in a second-hand store, we may be able to get the owner to lower the price a little bit for us,

making the purchase possible without costing “too much.”

Suddenly, we are getting a bargain!

 

I love knowing something should have cost a lot more than it did,

and somehow I stumbled upon a great deal.

 

The day I first heard the story of what Jesus did for me on the cross,

I stumbled upon an unbelievable deal.

Eternal life –  free.

 

Have you ever sang the song, “Freely, freely, you have received, freely, freely give.”

Eph. 2:8 calls this offer of salvation a gift,

 

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–

and this is not from yourselves,

it is the gift of God-

Romans 6:23 says,

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I love gifts!

I love when things are offered freely.

I especially love that God offered us the Hope of Heaven as a free gift.

And this Hope is something I wouldn’t give up for ANYTHING.

 

But as I type those very words, I understand the irony of the Christian faith.

I grasp the complex nature of my walk with God.

 

Because  while salvation is offered freely, there is a cost to being a disciple of Jesus.

 

When I have something in my life that I won’t give up “no matter what,”

suddenly what I have becomes valuable, priceless, and extremely costly.

As I study the Bible and grow closer to God, and as I watch my kids begin to venture out in their personal journeys with Him,

I begin to understand the hard teachings of Jesus in Luke 14 when He says,

Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:  

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters-yes, even their own life-such a person cannot be my disciple. 

 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower.

Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?  

For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you,  saying,

‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

Yes, the gift of eternal life is free to all of us.

But in order to follow Jesus completely it will cost us everything.

Complicated?  Yes.

Hard to understand?  Yes.

Worth it?  Absolutely.

I love and hate at the very same time what Francis Chan has to say about the cost of following Jesus in the clip below.

If you have 10 minutes, I highly recommend you watch it.

It helped me this morning.

I love it because I know it’s true.

I love it because I know that when I stand before the throne of God all the things of this earth will disappear and all that will matter is what I did with God’s Son.

But I also hate what he says, because in a very real and powerful way I am living the “cost” of being a disciple every single day.

And so are my kids.

And it’s not easy.

Trusting God means leaning on Him NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS on this earth.

There’s just something about the words “no matter what” that take away any control I have over my life or my kids’ lives.

So, today, I’m praying especially hard that God will increase my ability to trust Him….no matter what.

And I’m reminding myself that Jesus said being His disciple would cost me everything.

 

 

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The War We Are In

June 16th, 2013

 

I can’t imagine waking up in enemy territory and placing my feet on the ground in a land where the people are against me.

I can’t imagine wearing special protection and carrying a weapon in order to protect myself.

Why do I feel as if I would be in a constant state of terror if God called me to this kind of life?

I’m pretty sure I would be the weakest link in my battalion, and I’m confident that I would position myself in a place of hiding every chance I could.

 

And yet every single day, I do wake up in enemy territory.

When I get out of bed, I place my feet on the ground of a world where someone is against me.

 

I can’t see him, but I know he’s there.

The Bible tells me he is like a roaring lion “seeking whom he may devour.”

The Bible tells me he longs to steal, kill, and destroy every part of my life.

Ephesians calls him the “prince of the air.”

 

He hates me.

And he hates you.

I don’t know about you, but it upsets me to know someone hates me and wants to see me lose.

 

Nothing makes him happier than to pull us down into times of failure, mistakes, depression, isolation, confusion, doubt, disappointment, and loss.

 

When we mess up, he smiles.

When we sin, he laughs.

When we fail, he grins.

When we fall short, he whispers, “I knew you would.”

When we try to do better, he hisses, “Why bother?”

When we want to be set apart and holy, he slips thoughts like “arrogance and pride” into our minds so we second-guess our heart and motives.

 

I’m feeling his presence this morning as I try to pray for my family.

But I refuse to tremble.

I refuse to hide or become the weakest link in God’s spiritual army.

 

He’s pressing in but I am pressing on.

I’m not perfect, but I know Who is.

I’m not able, but I trust in the One who is “more than able.”

I am weak, but I belong to Him who is strong.

 

As Christians, we are in a war from the moment we join God’s family until the moment we join Him in Heaven.

It’s not always going to be easy while we walk on this planet, but we are guaranteed an ultimate victory when God is on our side.

 

I’m praying for you this morning.

I’m praying Ephesians 6 over your life and mine.

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.   For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.   Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.   In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

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You’re Safe in His Hands

June 11th, 2013

 

No matter what today holds, know that God is holding you.

Lean back and rest in this promise.

Close your eyes and imagine the Creator of the Universe cradling you in His hands.

 

He feels your pulse.

 

He knows when your heart is breaking.

He knows when your heart is over-flowing with joy.

 

Nothing is hidden from His view.

 

Gods peace

 

Psalm 95:4
In His hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are His also.

 

Thankful for this promise today and every day.

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Uncategorized

 

Have you ever had to make a big decision?

When I do, I sometimes make a list of all the things I can think of to support saying “yes” and a list of all the things that would cause me to say “no.”

Seeing the reality of what could happen as a result of my choice written out on a piece of paper can be extremely helpful.

 

But sometimes, decisions aren’t cut and dry.

There’s good and there’s bad on both side.

 

What then?

 

This morning I was reading about a time when Jehoshaphat had to make a very big decision about whether or not to go into battle.

 

Here’s what he did:

 

1.  He declared a fast.

2.  He was honest with God and said, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”

3.  He listened for God’s answer.

4.  He trusted God when God’s spirit said, “The battle is not yours, but God’s…Do not be afraid or discouraged.  Go out to face them tomorrow and the Lord will be with you.”

4.  He praised and worshipped God before he saw the outcome of his decision.

 

Today, if you find yourself trying to make a big decision,

read II Chronicles 20 and consider following Jehoshaphat’s example.

God gave him a mighty victory because of his trust and obedience.

 

Sometimes our answers come when we look to God with an honest heart and simply tell Him,

“We do not know what to do, but our

eyes are on you.”

II Chron. 20:12b

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If you follow me on Facebook, you already know that not long ago our evening entertainment was watching a raccoon attempt to steal our cat food container.

After getting about half way across our yard with our now-destroyed plastic tub,

he flipped it over and worked until he pried off the lid.

He then began to feast on Marbles’ daily source of nutrition.

 

The next night Tim sat our cat food bag inside our dog food container and placed a full, three-gallon can of deck stain on top of the tub.

In the morning, we found the three-gallon can laying beside the tub and the lid to the tote popped off and laying beside it too!

Once again, the raccoon had successfully stolen from us!

 

Last night before going to bed, I laughed when I saw that Tim had now added a cinderblock to the top of our treasured food container.

What lengths we go to in order to guard things that are precious to us!

 

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As I thought about Tim doing everything he could to guard our pets’ food,

I thought about what the Bible says we should guard.

As I read this morning in Proverbs, I realized that while God doesn’t have any words of wisdom about dog food or raccoons, He does have a strong opinion about what we should guard.

I thought of our kids as I read this morning.

I thought about what I want them to guard as the most treasured part of life.

I also thought of the boys Olivia will date throughout high school and college and what I want them to know.

I decided that Proverbs 4 contains the very words I want all of our kids to live by as well as good instructions to share with the people they choose to date.

 

I think I’m going to print this chapter out and hand a copy to all the boys who consider taking Olivia anywhere outside of our presence.

I’m going to hang a copy in Olivia’s room too. Smile

 

I’m glad a raccoon tried to steal our cat food!!

He reminded me that there is an enemy trying to steal from our kids every single day,

and they need to know what truly needs to be guarded in a world full of masked bandits!

 

PROVERBS 4

Listen, my sons, to a father’s instruction;

pay attention and gain

understanding.

I give you sound learning,

so do not forsake my teaching.

For I too was a son to my father,

still tender, and cherished by my mother.

Then he taught me, and he said to me,

“Take hold of my words with all your heart;

keep my commands, and you will live.

Get wisdom, get understanding;

do not forget my words or turn away from them.

Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;

love her, and she will watch over you.

The beginning of wisdom is this: Getwisdom.

Though it cost all you have,get understanding.

Cherish her, and she will exalt you;

embrace her, and she will honor you.

She will give you a garland to grace your head

and present you with a glorious crown.

“Listen, my son, accept what I say,

and the years of your life will be many.

I instruct you in the way of wisdom

and lead you along straight paths.

When you walk, your steps will not be hampered;

when you run, you will not stumble.

Hold on to instruction, do

not let it go;

guard it well, for it is your

life.

Do not set foot on the path of the wicked

or walk in the way of evildoers.

Avoid it, do not travel on it;

turn from it and go on your way.

For they cannot rest until they do evil;

they are robbed of sleep till they make someone stumble.

They eat the bread of wickedness

and drink the wine of violence.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun,

shining ever brighter till the full light of day.

But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness;

they do not know what makes them stumble.

My son, pay attention to what I say;

turn your ear to my words.

Do not let them out of your sight,

keep them within your heart;

for they are life to those who find them

and health to one’s whole body.

Above all else, guard your

heart,

for everything you do flows

from it.

Keep your mouth free of perversity;

keep corrupt talk far from your lips.

Let your eyes look straight ahead;

fix your gaze directly before you.

Give careful thought to the paths for your feet

and be steadfast in all your ways.

Do not turn to the right or the left;

keep your foot from evil.