Through the Fire

Imagine, if you will, that you are an Israelite in Jerusalem and the army of Assyria is encamped against your walls. All the nations around you have fallen. Jerusalem is the last city standing, your city, Zion, which God had promised to protect.

Isaiah 49:14 speaks of the people’s reaction:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me.”

Forsaken by God. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Even Jesus experienced this emotion when upon the cross He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

I have felt forsaken.

Tuesday morning, a day like any other. It was a beautiful fall day: the air fresh, the sun warm, and the skies clear. As always the children and I began with Bible study. The day’s subject was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In discussing the three being placed into the fiery furnace for their unwavering faith in God, I made the cryptic statement that no matter what happens in our life, even when we go through the fiery furnace, still we must follow the Lord. I did not know that at that very moment my own life would be put through the furnace and my words tested.

Flag over PentagonThe day was September 11, 2001. My life forever changed as my father was ripped from the world by terrorists. In that moment I felt forsaken. All that I had believed in, trusted in, was stripped out from under me. How could a benevolent God, a God who loves me, allow such a tragedy to happen knowing full well how this would wound me?

But hear what God spoke through Isaiah, the prophet:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49: 15-16)

He has inscribed you on the palms of His hands…

This is not just taking a pen and writing your name on His skin. You have been inscribed, that is, engraved. He has taken a blade and carved His palm, wounding His flesh so that forever He will bear the scars of your name upon His hands.

Not only does He know our name, but He bears our scars upon His flesh—forever.

I have journeyed down a dark and empty road: alone, abandoned, and forsaken. But I have found something along this desolate way: a beautiful truth. My foundation is sure…and I am not alone.

I think the key is in the word “through,” for we do go through, we do not stay in the furnace. There is an end to our trouble. For even as the three young men stood within the flames of the furnace, they were not alone, but a fourth stood beside them.

We all face trials. We have difficult times. God never promised us otherwise. In fact, He told us that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). But He did not leave us to travel this world without aid.

Listen what the Lord proclaims:

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.” (Isaiah 51:12)

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Though God’s protection is not always for our bodies, it is a constant for our souls. And in the end, it is our final home that is most important. This mortal coil, which we cling to so ardently, is not what it is all about. Yet when one that is loved is taken, we cannot help but look back at what has been lost.

“But I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared— The Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” (Isaiah 51:15-16)

We serve a powerful God. An all-knowing God. So what then can man do to me? For the keeper of my soul watches me. We do not have a God who looks on from the outside as we struggle along the way. But we have a God who enters with us into the midst of the fire. He walks the troubled path with us, taking us through to the other side. He is our God and we are His people, engraved upon his hand: a perpetual covenant between the Lord and His chosen.

So as you travel the journey of this earthly life, remember: you are not forsaken.

Susan Van VolkenburghSKU-000524494_COVER

SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN

 

Oncology Nurse turned homeschool educator, Susan Van Volkenburgh is an award winning author of Christian fiction and non-fiction books. After the death of her father on September 11, 2001, Susan began speaking of her experience. Her book, SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (A 9/11 story), recounts Susan’s loss and subsequent spiritual journey.

Born too late to experience antiquity first hand, Susan spends much of her time studying and teaching ancient history. Therefore, it seemed only natural that she should draw from the experience of grief and trauma to write THE STONE OF EBENEZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga, a story of faith and restoration through the medium of Biblical fiction.

 

The Cross, the Veil, and the Empty Tomb

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)

When I think of Easter, three objects come to my mind…

~ the cross, the veil, and the empty tomb ~

 jesus-on-the-cross-for-us

For if not for the cross, my penalty would not have been paid. The broken blood oath of the covenant would not have been satisfied. It is only through the blood of Jesus that we are cleansed from the curse of sin.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6

 torn

As Jesus cried out, “It is finished!” and gave up His Spirit, the veil in the Temple, that separated man from the Holy of Holies, was torn in two. It was as if God, seeing the injustice of Christ’s death, rent His clothes in grief. And in so doing, He opened the way for all to enter into His presence. Now, boldly, we can come before the Throne of Grace, for the barrier of sin that separated us from God has been broken. The terrible gulf has been filled and we are reconciled to the Father.

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

 The-Empty-Tomb

Even as the sun was blotted from the sky and the earth was covered in darkness, God knew that Sunday was coming. Sealed for three days within the tomb, the Lord’s body lay, uncorrupted. Then with the dawn of that Sunday morning, the stone was rolled away–not to let anyone out, but to let those present bear witness–that indeed, Jesus had risen.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

 Where-is-Your-Sting

The tomb is empty! Death has no power over Him, the grave cannot contain Him. And now we have not just hope, but a Living Hope in Christ Jesus, the Risen Savior!

“O Death, where is your sting?

O Hades, where is your victory?”

The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15: 55-57

Hosanna!

~ Susan

Lamb Selection Day – Palm Sunday

Passover LambIt is not by chance that our Lord’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem is on this day. The events, as they unfold, are not by happenstance. The entire week is a well-orchestrated, choreographed enterprise enveloped in symbolism foretold by the prophets of old.

The week begins with a colt. Jesus gives instruction to his disciples to enter into the city and retrieve a donkey’s foal, for it is to be his transportation into Jerusalem. This colt, Jesus knew where to find it, and what is to be said to its master.

It is not because Jesus could not find a more suitable mode of travel. He can choose any animal He desires, yet the Savior of the world chooses this simple, humble beast. The donkey, you see, is to prove a point, for it is as the prophet Zechariah wrote,

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!

Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Behold, your King is coming to you;

He is just and having salvation,

Lowly and riding on a donkey,

A colt, the foal of a donkey.”

                                    Zechariah 9:9

Jesus comes to the city upon the back of this beast of burden in order to fulfill this prophecy. Not only that, but as he enters, the people recognize the fulfillment of scripture, and shout, even as the prophet spoke. This action by Jesus is understood to be His proclamation, that He is indeed, God’s promised Messiah.

Though the symbolism is not yet complete, for it is even known from which direction the Messiah would appear.

“And in that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives,

Which faces Jerusalem on the east.”

                                      Zechariah 14:4

It is from the Mount of Olives He will come, riding upon a donkey’s colt.

Jesus now arrives, having come just then, from this very garden. The actions of Jesus are anything but subtle, and they are not lost to the people. So they cry out as they understand what this entry into Jerusalem means: “The King is coming, and He is here!”

“Hosanna! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

                              Mark 11:9

Even the shouts of the people is foretold, their very words proclaimed, recorded in the psalms: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 188:26)

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Yet, all is not well, for the people are looking for a military deliverer, a king that would lead them in battle against the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire. As they wave their palm branches, the people shout, “Hosanna.” The branches represent the national symbol, waving their flag in support of the nation of Israel. The word Hosanna, not a cry of peace or religious fervor, but a symbol of rebellion as it signifies a call for deliverance from oppression. This joyous assembly is not singing praises to God, but is crying out for insurrection against an oppressive dictatorship. It is a battle cry.

However, Jesus has not come as a military deliverer, an earthly king to lead His people to war. He comes to reconcile His people to the Father.

It is for this reason that Jesus chose this particular day to enter into the city of Jerusalem. As He rides upon the colt, He enters the city with the lambs. Four days, it is, before the Passover, and that day is Lamb Selection Day. This is the day that the Passover lamb is to be chosen, the innocent sacrifice that will take the place of the first born. It is the tenth day of the month; on the fourteenth day, the Passover lamb is to be killed.

Enter Jesus, the perfect propitiation, to be chosen as their spotless lamb. Not a political liberator, but the King of all, whose kingdom is established by love and sacrifice.

Four days later, Jesus is with His disciples in the Upper Room, celebrating the Passover. Only this Passover is not like the others. Here Jesus puts Himself as the Lamb, His body and blood as the sacrifice. Then, the next morning, He is alone, upon the cross, His blood shed for the many that are now nowhere to be found.

And as the shofar is sounded, at the ninth hour, or three o’clock in the afternoon, the Passover lamb is slain, the lamb without blemish, given up for the people. It is at this very moment, upon a lone hill called Golgotha, that Jesus says, “It is finished.”

reflections on Christ - crucifixionJesus is the perfect Lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Because of this single act of selflessness, all who follow Him are set free from the bondage of sin, liberated from the oppressive regime of the Enemy.

“Hosanna in the Highest!”

~ Susan

Make Me Your Sanctuary

The day was hot and the trail was full of dust. It was a choking brume that coated the barren landscape. They had seen the other side, looked upon the green and verdant hills. Yet they had been afraid, unwilling to believe. So they were turned away, cast out and sent to wander, an aimless juncture even as their faith was led astray. How long would this exile last? How long must they endure?

Until they had passed beyond reach, until every last one who had rejected was gone. Even so, hope remained for those that came after. They would one day see those same green and verdant hills. Yet would the new generation believe? Would they find inside themselves what was needed to have faith, to trust?

Only time would tell…

As we look back to this episode, we can glean lessons for our own lives. Do we have faith? Do we believe? Are we able to trust in the wake of what appears to be insurmountable odds? What does it take to be led by God?

Let us return to the story.

So we see the Children of Israel wandering for forty years in the Wilderness—

searching for the Promised Land

And why were they sent to wander in the Wilderness—they disobeyed God.

They forgot that God was with them, that He had guided them and helped them. They lost faith. They knew better than God, after all, the evidence showed that giants lived in the land. What could they do about giants? They were mere people. But they forgot that the Lord traveled with them.

You see sin cannot enter into the Promised Land.

Yet, God said to them, “You don’t have to go it alone. I will show you the way, only you must follow me.”

“Firstly, you must build Me a Sanctuary (Ex. 25:8) that I may dwell among you.”

“Not a Sanctuary of your design, you must make the Sanctuary in the way that I tell you. I will instruct you. Then I will show you the way to the Promised Land. All you need do is follow Me.”

I tell you—

We are the children of Israel; this world is the Wilderness.

Heaven is the Promised Land

And we need to build God a Sanctuary so that He may live among us.

And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. Revelation 21:3

But first we need to understand what a Sanctuary is—for how can we build if we do not know of what we build?

Temple—Tabernacle—Sanctuary

According to Webster’s Dictionary it is a consecrated place, set apart for God’s service.

A hallowed place, a holy place, a dwelling place for God

The habitation of God through the Spirit

The Temple of the Old Testament typified Christ’s dwelling by faith in the hearts of believers.

  1. Our bodies are the Temple of God and are designed for worship

Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 1 Corinthians 3: 16

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. Hebrews 9:10-12

Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:20

2. Our bodies are the place where God dwells

God is holy and cannot live in an unclean house.

If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.1 Corinthians 3: 17

3. Our bodies are sacred

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:14.

4. Our bodies do not belong to us

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

If we received the truth in our hearts, we will honor Him in our bodies.

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Romans 12:2

Does everything we do and say glorify God?

We need to say as Jesus did, “Not My will, but Yours be done.”

We cannot have two masters. We cannot go our way and follow after God’s way at the same time.

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24

Remember, wherever we go, whatever we do, God is with us.

And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

I will dwell in them

And walk among them.

I will be their God,

And they shall be My people.

2 Corinthians 6:16

We do not have to be afraid. We can trust in our Redeemer, who dwells within us. His way is always the best way. Only have faith and follow Him, no matter what giants may stand before us. The Promised Land awaits.

So Lord, I pray, make me Your Sanctuary …

~ Susan

 

 

The Story of Christmas : Part V

MAGI_bl_and_wh_following-starAfter Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, behold wise men, philosophers, priests, and astronomers, learned men of the Eastern nations, came to Jerusalem, to Herod. Now Herod the Great, the son of Antipater, being appointed by Rome was the king of Judea. In this day of our Lord’s birth the scepter had departed from Judah, a foreigner being upon David’s throne.

So the Magi came to the king and spoke, saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? Long we have traveled to come to this land, for we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him. Is this not foretold?”

A star will come out of Jacob;

a scepter will rise out of Israel.

                        ~Numbers 24:17

“We have seen this omen of some remarkable event, a light that shines in a dark place. So we have come to seek out the source of this heavenly apparition, to learn what He has to teach us. It was His light that guided us to this place.”

The people who walked in darkness

Have seen a great light;

Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,

Upon them a light has shined.

                                    ~Isaiah 9:2

When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, for his claim to the throne was illegitimate. Fear for his kingship grew as he pondered all the Magi spoke. For the king knew the prophecy well:

The scepter will not depart from Judah,

nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,

until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,

the one whom all nations will honor.

                                    ~Genesis 10:49

So Herod gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people, inquiring of them where the long expected Christ was to be born. So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:

‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,

Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;

For out of you shall come a Ruler

Who will shepherd My people Israel.’”

                                  ~ Matthew 2:6

Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”

For often it is that wicked people conceal, under a mantle of deceit, their evil designs, cloaked beneath the appearance of pious ambition. And so it was fulfilled as the scriptures foretold, even as the new-born King lay within the stone-cradle, that the government should be upon His shoulder.

When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star, which they had seen in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy, these Magi of the East, a noble witness of His divinity from heaven, and of His kingly estate, from strangers.

The Star, the harbinger of hope, led them on to the Christ Child. For any who seek the Blessed Savior, God will guide; even if for a time it seems the Light has gone out, yet holding fast, it will reappear, to direct all who look, in the way to the Redeemer, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. (John 14:6)

As the wise men entered into the house, they saw the Child, great and beautiful, with Mary His mother. In heavenly homage they fell down upon their faces and worshiped Him, for they had found what they sought, the Christ, the King of kings.

These who were esteemed, cast down their high standing before Him who sits on the throne, and they worshiped Him who lives forever and ever, saying:

You are worthy, O Lord,

To receive glory and honor and power;

For You created all things,

And by Your will they exist and were created.

                                    ~ Revelation 4:11

And in the illumination of the Savior, they took the gifts that they possessed, and having opened them, laid them at the feet of the Master, as all must do who serve. In humble and lovely reverence they gave: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.Adoration-of-the-Magi-c_-1725

Gold as tribute to the King;

Frankincense, a fragrant aroma, an offering to God;

Myrrh, bitter herb, for embalming the dead.

King, Lord, Savior.

The One to reign, rule, and redeem.

~     ~     ~

“Hast thou not a heart, though unworthy of Him, dark, hard, and foul?

Give it to him as it is, and be willing that He use and dispose of it as it pleases Him;

He will take it, and will make it better,

and thou shalt never repent having given it to Him.

He shall frame it to His own likeness,

and will give thee Himself, and be thine forever.”

~ Matthew Henry

~     ~     ~

And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness:

God was manifested in the flesh,

Justified in the Spirit,

Seen by angels,

Preached among the Gentiles,

Believed on in the world,

Received up in glory.

                        ~1 Timothy 3:16

Have a Blessed Christmas

~ Susan

The Story of Christmas : Part IV

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, and the sky closed dark and still, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” In simplicity of devoutness and faith, they forsook all, those shepherds to whom the angels spoke, and went to find the Savior. With eagerness of spirit they came in haste to the place of where they were told. The path was dark after the glory displayed by the heavenly messengers, yet they ventured on into the swarthy night, until at last, they came upon a stable hewn into the side of the hill. Slowly they peered into the illuminated camber, eager, yet with trepidation, as the anticipation pulled at their hearts.

As they entered into the room, there they found Mary, and Joseph, and just as the angels had said, the Babe lying in a manger. When they looked upon the Child, they knew it was He, the One foretold. This new-born King, this Messiah, he looked through time directly into their hearts. And in the eyes of the Christ Child, they saw the abiding love that would suffer all things for them and on bended knee they fell and worshiped Him.

Now when the shepherds had seen Him, their hearts were full. Abounding in hope and faith, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. Not being able to contain all that they had seen, with exultation overflowing, they went out proclaiming the day of the Lord. And all those who heard it marveled at what was told them by the shepherds.

But Mary gathered all that had happened, all that was said, and placing them in her heart, pondered and cherished them. Delicate and beautiful, a mother’s heart, that kept them, resolved them, locked away in her very being, all those things respecting her child. Treasured up in her memory, she carried them always until the time would come for all to be revealed.

Then the shepherds returned to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, of the Babe in the manger, of the Christ Child that had come.

~ Susan

The Story of Christmas: Part III

shepherds-see-new-star-39535-galleryNow in that same country, through the watches of the night, there were shepherds tending their flocks. The lonely melody of the flute floated through the dark sky as a shepherd boy soothed the sheep with his song, lulling the flock into a torpid lassitude. The glittering orbs of the starlit sky winked down upon the hapless boys who looked well to their charge. As the migratory flock rested upon a bed of green grass, a stillness settled over the watch fires.

With tremulous power the heavens unfurled, the night sky aflame in glory. With shattering opulence, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, His glory rebounding. In the presence of the magnificent splendor, the shepherds trembled, all their sin laid bare before them and they fell upon their faces in fear and doubt.

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, both wonderful and amazing to behold, which will be to all people.”

With trepidation, the shepherd boys lifted their eyes to look upon the messenger of the Lord. In the watchfulness of his beauty they despaired. Yet there was something in his voice which drew courage from their souls as they listened to the words spoken.

“For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; He is the Good Shepherd foretold, the Messiah spoken of by the prophets, the anointed of the Lord: Prophet, Priest, and King. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

By three tokens you shall know Him: The Babe, the swaddle, and the manger.

In this manner you shall find the Child, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain. Amazing contrast there shall be, for it was by this birth the Savior of all has chosen to come.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

that though He was rich,

yet for your sakes He became poor,

that you through His poverty might become rich.

                        ~2 Corinthians 8:9

For pride is the character of all the children of Adam, but humility the mark of the Son of God. By humility Christ comes to reign, for it is by these means only, one may enter into His kingdom.

Then suddenly on high, the heavenly vision all encompassing, ruptured the sky. Oh, magnificent appellation! A multitude of the heavenly host, heralds of the new-born King, descended from on high, who compass the majesty of God round and filled the air with lofty strains, “The way of peace is thrown open to all people, by reconciling the world to God by His atonement.”

The angelic beings transferring their exalted station, bent to the poor earth and with pure voices proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

And as the morning stars sang together, the foundation of man’s soul was laid; the cornerstone of man’s salvation set in the incarnation of the Son of God, inducing man to lay down the weapons of rebellion and to submit his soul to God’s redeeming love. (Albert Barnes)

~ Susan