I am currently finishing a documentary called Sheep Among Wolves Volume II about the underground Church exploding in Iran. You may not know this—I surely didn’t—but the Iranian Christian Church is the fastest-growing Christian movement in the world. According to the U.S. State Department report on international religious freedom, in 2017 there were 350,000 Christians in Iran. That number is rapidly approaching a million today. Praise God!
Hearing the stories of these church leaders, their faces blurred and their voices dubbed in the film, has been devastating and inspiring all at the same time. They walk out the door to worship every day at the risk of not returning, while I have to muster up the motivation to get in my car so that I can sit freely in the adoration chapel. No, I am not writing a guilt-trip post for those of us who live in the west. I could write that post (and make a good case that we need to step it up), but this is about something in the documentary that deeply encouraged me. It is about the women. The testimonies from the women are incredible.
Because everything is underground, the Gospel must be spread from one person to the next, and it’s the women who are leading the movement. They have been unstoppable when it comes to telling everyone about Jesus. Why are the women leading so powerfully? One church leader answered this question as she shared her story.
She shared that she grew up in a culture that doesn’t value women, and she was oppressed and abused repeatedly by the men in her life. She learned to be an atheist from her mother, whose heart was hardened toward God from similar oppressive experiences. After spending her entire young life with no faith, carrying around crushing pain, she tried one last time to end her life. Right before she did, she opened a crack to God, and the Holy Spirit rushed in. She shared that after two years of neither laughing nor crying, she wept all night as she experienced the divine healing of the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit transformed her pain and she felt the love of God despite years of feelings unloved, she became relentless. She is now one of the most involved leaders in the Iranian Church.
Listening to her with tears in my eyes, I was reminded of the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well in John 4:7–42. It is clear from the account that this woman carried a similar pain in her heart from the years of her life that were worn by sin, and Jesus gently but directly addressed that pain. He offered to transform her pain into glory as He offered her Himself, the living water. Once she realized who He was, she accepted His invitation, and became the powerhouse that brought her whole town to Jesus.
The Iranian woman also reminded me of the women who delivered the news of Jesus’ resurrection. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared to two of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus. They didn’t recognize Him and so started to recount the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This is what they said about the women: “Some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive” (Luke 24:22–24).
It was the women who went to the very place of their most profound sorrow, the grave of their dead Savior. There, they learned that Jesus had risen and became the first to herald the news of the resurrection.
Ladies, the pain we carry from living in a sinful world, and giving in to the sin ourselves, runs deep and is personal. Whether we experience major trauma or just the beat down of everyday life, the suffering that we experience goes right to the core of our being, and the enemy will do everything in his power to make sure that it is never transformed. He encourages us to verbally degrade ourselves and embrace the belief that we are not valuable, because he is fully aware that the same power that transforms women into relentless kingdom builders will do the same through us. He knows that the moment we allow all of that baggage to be transformed, we will become unstoppable for Jesus and His Church. He will do anything to stop us. The enemy knows just how dangerous you are. Do not let him win.
Dear sister, no matter what your daily life looks like, no matter how you view yourself, God created you to stand confident in His love and to have an impact on His Church that goes far beyond your imagination or understanding. Do you believe that? I’m not talking about fame or achievement. I’m talking about the holy influence that leads others to Christ for eternity.
Every time you choose to lean into holiness, God uses you. Every single time you say no to discouragement and allow the Holy Spirit to transform your pain into glory, He uses your story to reach the heart of another. Just look at your sisters in Christ throughout history and around the globe. They were born into original sin just like you were, they carry similar pain, and they have the same magnificent Savior. Throughout the Church’s history, God has used women just like you to build His kingdom even when their place in society could not have been more insignificant. This Easter season, what does He want to do in and through you? Will you believe that you are worth it? Will you let Him do the work? Say yes—the world will be better off because of you.
 FAI studios, “Sheep Among Wolves Volume II,” YouTube video, 1:53:18, August 23, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SAPOLKF59U
 “2017 Report on International Religious Freedom,” U.S. Department of State, May 29, 2018, https://www.state.gov/reports/2017-report-on-international-religious-freedom/
 Jayson Casper, “Researchers Find Christians in Iran Approaching 1 Million,” Christianity Today, September 3, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2020/september/iran-christian-conversions-gamaan-religion-survey.html.
For someone who likes words and lots of them, editing a book can be hard work. After pouring over each sentence and getting to the point where you love them all, no author wants to hear that she has to cut hundreds of words. But that is exactly what a writer is told and tends to be reluctant to do. When I was in the midst of that very process, I received great advice from an editor. Surprisingly, it applies to Holy Week. She said, “You have to kill your precious.” To the writer, every word seems golden. But unless you “kill your precious” and get rid of the parts that are unnecessary, the finished work won't be as concise or impactful.
Holy Week offers us opportunities to kill lots of precious. It's the home stretch, the last incline of the journey of Lent. It might be tempting to just switch gears and start focusing on Easter Sunday, but if we skip over these key days in the Church calendar, we'll miss out. The spirit of sacrifice is hard for us pleasure-seeking people, but a few more days of focused effort can make the celebration of the resurrection that much sweeter.
We all have those sins that we like to justify. The ones that we hide and don't think matter much. I struggle in this way too. It makes me think of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings and the way he called the ring that he coveted “his precious.” This was something he had possessed that wasn't actually good for him, but he longed for it nevertheless.
What is it that you reach for when you are longing for security or comfort or an escape? Maybe it's attention from someone who doesn't belong to you. Perhaps it's too much wine. Maybe it's shopping and spending money you don't have. It can be porn, or Netflix, or eating food to try to fill a void in the heart...anything that distracts or diverts. Maybe it's your ego that needs to die a death. Instead of a hearty dose of accomplishments and accolades, you are actually needing to grow in humility. Even as I write this, it all sounds quite horrible to me. I suppose it does to us all, which is exactly why we reach for these things. They feel so good in the short-term.
God is asking us to “kill our precious,” not because he is out to spoil our fun, but because He knows that's the very thing that is holding us back from the life that is truly life. He is asking us to have a long-term perspective. He wants my eye not just on the reward of Easter Sunday but on the ultimate reward of being in His presence in heaven. Which do I want more, short-term gain or long-term glory?
What I have found very helpful is to kneel before the altar with that “precious sin” on my mind. I picture holding it in my hands. And this is what I pray: “This is the sin I am wanting to play around with. This is what looks so good to me in the short-term. But I want to be a saint more. And I want to be free.” Romans 6:16 tells us, “You are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
I wish that our desire to grow closer to God meant that the enemy of our souls would just give up and leave us alone. But nothing scares him more than people who know their true identity as beloved children of God, and he is terrified of the ones who take their faith seriously. The more committed to God we get, the more the enemy will tempt us to settle for mediocrity. Let's resist him with all we've got- especially during this Holy Week.
Our lives are too short and our calling too great to play around with sin. We're in the home stretch, the final incline in the marathon of Lent. Let's finish well. Let's fling aside those sins that entangle and cling so closely. Let's ask God to kill our precious, and do all we can to stay on the path of holiness.
“Bend the stubborn heart and will, melt the frozen, warm the chill”
(The novena to the Holy Spirit)
Happy Easter, my friends!
Springtime is here, and hope is springing up all around us. It may be hard to see- it may be hidden- but it is always there. Today is the day we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, and we don't only focus on the incredible fact that our sins are forgiven. The resurrection is all about the incredible life we can live here on earth and throughout eternity in heaven.
It's recently occurred to me that I have spent the better part of my adult life focused on heaven (that's a good thing), but having given up hope on a number of things changing in my life here and now (that's not so great). A subtle lie had crept into my life that went something like this: “If it's hard, it must be God's will.” Or “If it's good for other people in my life, it must be God's will.” And then the one that always got me to buckle down and keep on trucking, “If it's good for God's kingdom, God wants you to keep going no matter how much it's slaying you.”
I was behaving like God's workhorse instead of His beloved. I had lost sight of the fact that He wanted me to live fully alive. That I was a part of His kingdom, and He didn't want me numb inside, ignoring how I felt in order to simple deliver and perform. I'd prayed the Our Father and really meant it when I said, “Your will be done” but somehow missed the part where we say “ON EARTH as it is in heaven.” He doesn't want us to just grit our teeth and wait for eternity. He wants to melt the frozen parts of our hearts, resurrect dead dreams, and redeem our past TODAY.
God has led me on a journey of healing that has led me to look at things completely differently. I went on a retreat during Lent this year called Healing the Whole Person(1), and all sorts of explosions of truth went off in my heart; the experience has profoundly changed me. Painful memories and areas of hopelessness came to the surface, and I experienced resurrection and healing in ways I didn't think possible.
This Easter, as I picture Jesus shedding those burial clothes and bursting up from the grave, I am thanking Him for peeling off layers of self-protection that were covering what was dead inside me. Peeling those grave clothes away has given Him access to my heart, and He has brought it back to life and filled me with joy. The amazing truth is that the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you and me (Rom. 8:11). That means that the power that raised Jesus is available to us, right now. The Holy Spirit comes into us with that power and He is a total game-changer.
We need the Holy Spirit to bend our stubborn hearts and will, to melt the frozen and warm the chill. Sometimes what is most stubborn within us is our refusal to see our need for a thaw in our hearts. We say we're fine, we grab a glass of wine, we turn on Netflix, and zone out. That's our reward for getting through the day, and we know that it's all just going to start again tomorrow. The proving, perfecting, and endless performance. Underneath it all is an intense desire to be self-sufficient. To be our own saviors. We may not say that, but all too often, it's how we behave.
What we fail to see is that all the things we think are keeping us in control, all the things that we think make us worthy, are actually keeping us in bondage. They are keeping us tethered to the treadmill of performance, and we are exhausted.
This Easter, Jesus is offering you a different way to live. Listen to Him whisper…
Come to me. Come needy. Come broken. Come weak. Lay it all down. You can rest. It isn't all up to you. It never has been. It has always been all up to me, and I took care of all that was needed on the cross. You have nothing to prove. I am grabbing hold of you and bringing you into a resurrected life. Don't be afraid of your hopes and dreams. Bring them to me. Stand back and watch as I bring into your life far more than you could ask or imagine. Don't be afraid of your past. I will heal those wounds and redeem the years that have been eaten up by the locusts of pain and regret. Bring your relationships to me- those hurts and unmet expectations. Let me meet your relational needs so that you can stop manipulating and controlling. I am FOR YOU.
This is what Easter Sunday is all about. The resurrected life is for today and for eternity.
(1) If you want more info on this incredible retreat, go to the website: https://jpiihealingcenter.org