Monday, April 9, 2018

A BLACKSMITH

My brother and I were discussing our spouses, who are both battling cancer, when he said, "Life is boot camp! It either refines us or it does us in—our choice." He then shared a story about a blacksmith, of which I have written a condensed version:

A blacksmith had surrendered his life to the Lord and was living a godly life, yet it seemed that from the time of his conversion, more troubles, afflictions, and losses showed up at his doorstep. One day a friend, who was not a Christian, stopped by to "sympathize" with the blacksmith's trials and said, “It seems strange that so much affliction comes to you, even though you are a sincere Christian who trusts God for help and guidance. I can’t help but wonder, 'Why is that?'” 

The blacksmith did not answer immediately, for it was evident that he had pondered the same question. Finally, he said, “See that pile of raw iron. Do you know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost glowing white with heat. Then I place it on the anvil and hammer and shape it, as I know it should be shaped. I then reheat and hammer it, repeating the process numerous times until I have a finished product. But sometimes a piece of iron won’t yield to the hammering, tempering, and shaping. Therefore, I have no choice but to throw it out. I have discovered that just like the heating, pounding, shaping, and tempering of those raw materials, God has been holding me, an unfinished work, in the fires of affliction. I have felt His hammer upon me, but I don’t mind as long as He makes me into what I should be."

I watched several YouTube videos of blacksmiths and was amazed at the exacting care and attention given to crafting, shaping, and molding a raw piece of iron into a serviceable product. That is what God does with us. He is meticulous in His attention given to us, which often requires submitting us to the fires (affliction) until we bend and yield to His hammer (His will and His Word) so that our faith is tempered (strengthened). 

Life is difficult. God allows us to pass through the fires of adversity to purge any dross (worthless rubbish) that we have accumulated throughout our life. Often we don't recognize dross that holds us down and prevents us from receiving all that God has for us. But if we submit to Him, He will use our trials, tribulations, disappointments, and delayed answers to prayers to refine and conform us to His perfect will and purposes for us.  

I often reflect on the first 25 years of my life as a non-Christian. I had many of the same challenges that I have today. However, the major difference between now and then was that then, I didn't have the hope of Christ, which I have today. I didn't know God as Friend with whom I could share my concerns, needs, questions, fears, brokenness, hopes, and dreams. Instead, I viewed God as an unreachable and vengeful entity, who would squash me like a bug if failed to live a good life. 

Thankfully, a Christian shared the Gospel with me, and I learned that Jesus is the Door, for He said, "I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:9-11).

That snowy night, I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and my life radically changed forever. I became a "new creature in Christ. Old things passed away and all things were made new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). When I said, "Yes" to the LORD, I surrendered to His authority. In doing so, I said to Him, "My life is no longer my own; it is Yours." I was instantly overwhelmed with a sense of joy, freedom, and peace in my soul, as I felt His love envelop me like a warm blanket on a cold winter's eve.

Many find it frightening and intimidating to surrender their will to the power and authority of God, because our carnal nature wants to retain control. However, we have God's wonderful promise, that if we lay our lives on His anvil, He will shape and mold us into people He created and designed us to become. 

God never promised Christians a life of smooth sailing, and I can testify that I have been through the fires of adversity many times since becoming a Christian. However, our Lord said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Therefore, I hold on to His promise, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20 NKJV).

We are not to be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon us, as though something strange were happening to us (Peter 4:12). Sometimes God tests the strength of our mettle (convictions and strength of spirit). 

When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they responded, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18).

When the executioners looked into the raging furnace, they were shocked to see four men unhurt and walking in the midst of the fire, with the form of the fourth like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25 NKJV). They came out of that furnace untouched by smoke or flames as a testimony to God's merciful, delivering power. 

If you find yourself in what appears to be a hopeless situation, know that God is walking with you. Never view it as punishment or that God is turning a deaf ear. Instead, ask God what can be learned in the trial. Though the heat of affliction may increase, don't despair, because like the blacksmith, God's watchful eye and guiding hand are continually upon you, shaping and molding you to emerge victoriously from the flames of adversity. 

PRAYER:
FATHER, You are LORD of my life. Forgive me for any disobedience to Your will. I ask You for the gift of faith to trust You in every situation. I surrender to Your refining, tempering, and shaping that I may be all that You designed me to be for this life and the life beyond. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, April 2, 2018


RELENTLESS PURSUIT

It was 4 a.m. Unable to sleep, I was quietly talking with God when my sweet toy poodle of 12 years, gently pawed my bedside with a polite, "I'm here." I ignored her and waited. She waited. Then her pawing resumed with more intensity. I waited. The longer I delayed my response, the more intense and determined she became in gaining my attention. 

Little did she know that she had my attention from the very beginning, but I wanted to see if she would give up and return to her bed. Not dissuaded, she relentlessly and noisily pawed the bed. When I saw that she was committed to getting my attention, and that she was not going to give up, I reached down and lifted her to me. Her joy was palpable as she smothered me with kisses. I embraced her in my love, and she quickly curled up next to me and fell asleep.

As always, God has a way of using the simplest moments in life to show the most profound expressions of His heart. As I meditated on the sweetness of the moment, the Lord spoke into my spirit:

"I am always and ever present. I never sleep, and I never grow weary. I wait for My children to come to Me, and when they do, I welcome their presence with great joy. Yet there are times when I withhold My response to see if they will relentlessly pursue Me with all their heart, mind, and strength. Sadly, some give up and return to their bed of affliction. But oh how I rejoice over those who are relentless in their pursuit of Me. They are the ones who find that perfect rest and comfort in My great love for them."

What does it mean to be relentless? Relentless means to be incessant, to never give up, to be constant, continual, unceasing, and unremitting.

What does it mean to pursue? Pursue is to follow closely and to chase after.

God wants us to be relentless in our pursuit of Him. He tells us, "Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually (I Chronicles 16:11). For when You seek Me, you will find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). God promises us, "Draw near to [Me] and [I] will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

I have discovered in this highly mechanized and computerized world, there are four types of people:
1. Those who have no interest in the things of God 
2. Those who pursue God only when in need 
3. Those who dutifully read their Bible, pray, and attend church 
4. Those who pray, read their Bible, attend church, and relentlessly and tirelessly pursue God in conversation, prayer, and study of His Word.

I confess that before becoming a Christian, I fit into the second category. However, after becoming a Christian, I gradually moved into the third category, where I was content to stay for many years. Yet over the last few years, God has been urging me to proactively embrace the fourth category, which has taken me to a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

Intimacy is relational. It is closeness, togetherness, affinity, rapport, attachment, familiarity, friendship, affection, warmth, confidence in another, understanding, cooperation, and companionship. Intimacy is knowing God and being intimately known by Him. Trust is at the heart of intimacy. Without trust, there can be no intimacy, and without intimacy, there can be no faith, for faith can never be attained by mental assent.

We build trust and intimacy with God by daily spending time in His presence. We speak with Him, as a friend speaks with a friend. I have conversations with God throughout my day, whether I am working around the house or out running errands. I ask Him what is on His heart and tell Him what is on my heart. Most importantly, I listen for His sweet Spirit to speak into my spirit.

God is not a human who will disappoint or fail us. He is "always and ever present." "He is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19). Yes, God changes not and is faithful in all His promises. 

God created us with a spirit to communicate with the Holy Spirit. He created us for fellowship with Him. He never intended for our relationship to begin and end in salvation.

Daily, God walked and conversed with Adam and Eve in the Garden, until sin separated them from Him. However, despite their sin, His desire for relationship with mankind did not end. That is what the Easter story is all about—restoration with the Father through the sacrifice of His only son, Jesus Christ.

Reading the Bible and attending church are necessary in acquiring truth and knowledge, but knowledge does not ensure intimacy with God. That requires a daily one-on-one relationship with Him through communication, prayer, and study of His Word.

David was imperfect in many ways as we are, but despite his many failings, he was a man after God's own heart. Why was he a man after God's own heart? Because He relentlessly pursued God with his whole heart. 

Psalm 139 is a revealing and beautiful expression of David's love for God and God's intimate love for us. Their relationship is the kind that our LORD wants all of to have with Him. God is not distant and uncaring, as some have pictured Him. He sent His Holy Spirit to remove that distance. I often pray Psalm 139 aloud when my own words fail me. I encourage you to read it aloud. You will be blessed.

How do we know if we are truly pursuing God? Here are a few questions: Is my prayer time a hurried list of needs that I present to God. Do I look forward to verbally talking with God? Do I ask God what is on His heart? Do I invite Him into every decision before I make one? Do I find joy in spending time with Him or am I fulfilling a to-do list? Do I find joy in studying His Word? Am I relentless in pursuing Him with my whole heart?

The pursuit of God is the evidence of genuine faith. We must pursue Him with all our heart, because as humans, we are so very deficient in our own abilities. The Apostle Paul said, "I press on in order to gain Christ, because Christ has already gained me" (Philippians 3:12). Paul was in constant pursuit of Christ, because in that pursuit, he was given all that he needed.

God wants us to pursue Him until our life is saturated with His presence and power. Our spirits yearn to soar like eagles into the heavenlies, but that can only happen when we pursue God's heart. We are then captured by His embracing love, as He joyfully welcomes us into His presence. 

PRAYER:
FATHER, I ask that You place within my heart, a desire to relentlessly pursue You when I lie down, when I rise, and throughout my daily activities. Help me build an intimate relationship with You through Your Word, and give me an ear to hear Your voice as You speak comfort, peace, love, encouragement, direction, and knowledge into my spirit. In Jesus name, amen.




Monday, March 26, 2018

SURRENDERED?

I awoke at 3:00 a.m., unable to sleep. As I prayed, I began to sing in my mind. "I surrender all; I surrender all. All to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all." Suddenly, the Lord spoke into my spirit, "Have you really surrendered all?" Meditating on His question, I began to think about the word "surrender," so I looked up the full meaning of the word.

Surrender means to give oneself up, give way, yield, submit, relinquish, sacrifice, turn over, transfer, grant. As I reflected on that definition, I realized that I had not surrendered all, because I had not fully surrendered perfectionism.

Perfectionism is defined as someone who strives to be free from any flaw, to be precise, accurate, and exact in everything they do. Can you imagine how exhausting it is to strive for perfectionism, because realistically, perfectionism is not achievable?

The perfectionist believes that their self-worth is based on their achievements. Both my parents were caught in the cycle of perfectionism, because their parents were perfectionists who demanded that their children be nothing less than perfect.

Perfectionism demands unrealistic expectations and goals for ones self, which is then transferred to others. Often perfectionists require that their children be perfect, because they see their children as a reflection of who they are and their success as a parent. If their child is less than perfect, a parent views that imperfection as their own personal failure.

As a child, I loved to learn and couldn't wait to go to school. I would stand at our large picture window in the living room and cry every morning when the big yellow school bus stopped to pick up my older brother. I wanted to be on that bus, headed for adventures in learning.

My parents saw my potential for learning and at age four enrolled me in a progressive educational program at a Catholic school, even though we were not Catholic. Eager to learn and experience new things, I thrived in my new environment and quickly learned to write in cursive and Old English. I studied French and was in the school production of Cinderella. My mother told me years later that the nuns had told her, "Don't ever let Joy lose her joy and her hunger for knowledge."

I attended the Catholic school for two years until my parents couldn't afford the tuition any longer. I was then enrolled in the public school system. My expectations of having exciting adventures at my new school were quickly dashed when I was met with rejection and constant bullying.

Children who are bullied immediately believe there must be something wrong with them. I thought I could fix things by being that perfect, agreeable friend to all. However, the more I tried, the more I was rejected, bullied, and physically attacked. When I told my parents what was happening, they told me that I must have been doing something wrong to attract that kind of negative attention.

Up to that point, I had done well academically, but when my efforts to fit in socially were dashed, my grades dramatically dropped. My parents were then called to a teacher's conference to ask for their permission to hold me back a grade. Disappointed that my parents didn't support and believe in me, I emotionally and physically quit trying.

Years of mediocre academic achievement came and went and then shortly after I turned 16, my father suddenly died. That year, something clicked within me, and I vowed to prove to the world that I wasn't stupid. Once again, I strove for perfection in everything I did. 

I became the perfect daughter by agreeing with my mother's choices for me. I made the honor roll throughout high school and then the Dean's List in college. So began the long debilitating road of perfectionism. It would be many years later that I would understand and have compassion for my parents who had suffered under that same scourge of perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is a road that no person should ever travel because you never allow yourself mistakes, and you never measure up in your own eyes or in the eyes of another perfectionist. Interestingly, though some will view you as having it all together, you struggle with what you believe to be your many failures and flaws.

The Word of God tells us that we have been crucified with Christ. No longer is it we who live, but Christ lives in us. And the life that we live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). Thus, God is my Father and the Potter, and I am the clay and the work of His hands. Can the clay tell the Potter how to shape and mold the clay? No! The Potter has full control over the clay. Only in His hands, can the clay become a beautiful vessel (Isaiah 64:8). Unfortunately, the unrealistic perfectionist tries to be both the potter and the clay, which prevents God from having absolute artistic control.

Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. The Apostle Paul added, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). This Word is a powerful truth that resonates deep within my soul, because it allows for those weaknesses and imperfections.

I have quoted and written this scripture more times than I can count. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:14). Yes, we can do all things through Him, but not through our own efforts. It is God who gives us every good and perfect gift, and it is He who enables us to use those gifts and talents that we possess.

We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). That is such good news! We are His workmanship and not workmanship resulting from our abilities and performance.

A person, who struggles to be perfect, loses the joy found in living life to the fullest, because every day is a challenge to do everything perfectly. Fortunately, as a Christian, I have learned to allow myself mistakes. However, there are times when perfectionism knocks, and it is a struggle to keep that door shut.

Recently, I was disappointed in the outcome of a project that I had worked to perfect in every detail. Up to that point, I was convinced that I had overcome perfectionism. But when I became upset with the finished product, it became clear that a remnant of perfectionism still lingered in the shadows. 

Joyfully, I can now answer God's question, "Have you really surrendered all?" I am aware of my propensity to slip into perfectionism and recognize my failure to totally trust in the Holy Spirit to give me all that is required to succeed in whatever He asks of me. Thankfully, with God's guidance and correction, I will surrender thoughts of failure. Then I will be able to say with all assurance that I have surrendered all.

PRAYER:
FATHER, I am Your workmanship, created in Your image. When the enemy tells me I am less than what I need to be, remind me that I am clay in Your loving hands, and You are the Potter, who is working to create a vessel of honor, sanctified, and useful for every good work (2Timothy 2:21). In Jesus name, amen.