Monday, December 11, 2017

OVERCOMING FEAR

I was in the yard watching my husband run an orange extension cord from the house to a yard ornament, when Brandi, our toy poodle,  became frightened of the cord. Even though I was holding and reassuring her, her fears could not be abated, and with cat-like deftness, she scurried onto my shoulder. 

Instantaneously, I thought how we are very much like Brandi when we experience something unfamiliar, threatening, out of our control, out of our comfort zone, or if asked to do something that is completely out of our wheelhouse.  Instead of trusting and resting in God and His direction, we retreat.


Nine years ago, when my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer, our world was suddenly turned upside-down as we faced an uncertain future. Cancer was to us, like that orange cord was to Brandi. Frightened and confused, our minds struggled to grasp the enormity of a terminal diagnosis. However, with God's grace, we would move forward under His direction, and Michael would survive a difficult, fourteen-hour surgery that generated renewed hope.


Quickly, we both realized that our hope was not in man or what medical science could or could not do for us. Our hope had to rest in God, and that would mean pursuing Him with all of our heart, mind, and strength. He would become our ultimate source as we rested in Him rather than focusing on the grim prognosis. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower (Psalm 18:2).


Just as I am Brandi's loving provider for all of her needs, God has always been our constant, loving provider and source of strength, particularly during this continuing battle. Despite all that I have done and continue to do for our fur-baby, in that one fearful moment, she forgot who was holding her. We are no different. When trust wanes and fear takes over, we forget Who is holding us. But God tells us to trust Him in all things and all aspects of our lives. For He gives power to the faint, and to them that have no might, He increases strength (Isaiah 40:29).


Trusting God and depending on His strength is essential in overcoming fear. The enemy will fill our mind with fearful scenarios. If we don't discern his strategy, we become the scriptwriter, producer, director, and the staring actor in our own scary movie. We dismiss God's gentle voice, His direction, comfort, and His promise to always be with us as He guides and directs us through the valleys and over the mountainous challenges.


Assuredly, the LORD'S hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear us when we call to Him (Isaiah 59:1). Therefore, we are not to fear, for He is with us. We are not to be dismayed, for He is our God who strengthens and helps us and upholds us with His righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). 


During the past nine years, the cancerous nodules in Michael's lungs had been unchanging and stable. Then on August 1, 2017, we learned at his six-month cancer check, that the nodules had doubled in size and increased in number.


Many people don't know that Stage 4 Thyroid cancer metastasizes into the lungs. The FDA's approved treatment has many side affects and must be taken daily for the rest of the patient's life, costing $14,000 a month. Ergo, Michael opted for three months of experimental treatments at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He is the eighteenth of twenty patients enrolled in the program.


From the beginning of what has become a nine-year journey, Michael and I knew that to face this challenge and to overcome fear, we would need to make a daily, conscientious effort to trust God, for trusting Him is the key to faith. Because it is impossible to trust God if faith is misplaced in our own abilities, people, or the world's offerings. If trust is placed in what we see instead of God's promises, then trust and faith in God will falter. That is why it is critical to daily communicate with God. If not, we are susceptible to the enemy's fiery-darted lies. 

Satan is the great deceiver, manipulator, and distorter of all truth. Therefore, we must be able to discern between what comes from the father of lies and what comes from God, Who is the Originator of all truth. And it is truth that uncovers deceptions and extinguishes all fear.


Fear is defined as fright, panic, agitation, dread, distress, anxiety, apprehensiveness, worry, and nervousness. All of us have experienced those emotions, but unabated fear will paralyze faith. God's Word tells us that there is no fear in love. God's perfect love casts our fear, because fear involves torment. He who fears has not been made perfect in love (I John 4:18).

Do you see that? Fear is torment! Torment is agony, suffering, torture, pain, anguish, misery, distress, and affliction. Fear manipulates and causes us to make rash decisions. Fear denies the delivering power of God. Fear causes us to doubt God and His Word. Fear distorts and twists the truth and causes us to believe a lie. Fear misleads and misguides. But God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

We are not to be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, we are to present our requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7). 

Surrendering and entrusting all to God results in a peace that goes far beyond anything that the world could offer. That is why we are urged to be strong and courageous and not be afraid, for the Lord our God goes with us and never forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:6).

Michael and I continue this journey with our hope placed in God. None of us can know the future, but each day we purposefully and expectantly place our lives in His loving hands. What better hands could we find rest, hope, and healing than in God's hands that created us?

PRAYER:

LORD, thank you for Your loving hand that leads and guides me over and through what appears to be insurmountable. Give me revelation of Your Word. "Show me Your ways, Lord; teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long" (Psalm 25:4-5). You alone are my strength, and I will praise You, who counsels me. Help me to keep my eyes always on You, for with You at my right hand, I will not be shaken (Psalm 16:7-8). In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, December 4, 2017

A REMEDY FOR WEARINESS

Weariness affects all of us and I am no exception. There have been times when I felt like I was drowning in a sea of overwhelming weariness, and the shore's safety was beyond reach. However, I have discovered that during those times of weariness, my faith is not only tested but it is strengthened.

Webster’s Dictionary defines weariness as being exhausted in strength, endurance, tolerance, and patience. Weariness is a reluctance to continue with something. That mental, physical, and spiritual exhaustion can occur after years of praying and seeing no answer? However, the Word tells us not to be weary in doing what is good, for if we do not give up, in due season, we will reap a harvest of blessing (Galatians 66:9). Regardless of the length of time, our persistent prayers will, in God's time, reap a harvest.

A remedy for weariness is persistent prayer, because in being persistent, we are working towards God's best for us.  Persistence is defined as a "firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition." 

Scripture tells us that the persistent widow, begged the judge for justice in her dispute with her enemy. The judge ignored her because he said, "...the woman is driving me crazy!" However, she persisted until he finally said, "I'm going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!" (Luke 18:1-5) Persistence defies the circumstances. God want us to be that "persistent widow" who never gives up.

Jesus told the story of the friend who came to his neighbor's house at midnight to ask for three loaves of bread, but his friend told him to go away because he was in bed. However, the man persisted in asking, so his friend got up and gave him the bread. Jesus then said, "...though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistance he will rise and give him as many as he needs. So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened (Luke 11:5-10).

The Apostle Paul was persistent, regardless of hardship and suffering. Five times, he received 39 lashes from Jews. The Romans beat him three times with rods. His enemies stoned him once. Three times he was shipwrecked. He spent a night and a day in the open sea. On frequent journeys, he faced dangers from rivers, robbers, the Jews and Gentiles, dangers in the city and open country and by "friends" who betrayed him. He suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold, and nakedness. Yet in all of his suffering, he remained thankful, cheerful and confident, showing endurance with an obstinate persistence to do what Christ had called him to do.

It is doubtful that we will every suffer all that Paul suffered. However, the lesson learned is that we cannot give up when things are difficult or because we don't see an answer within our time frame. Unfortunately, we humans are an impatient lot due to technology that has trained us to expect quick results and fast service. Yet the road to victory is often slow with detours. It takes continual persistence, patience, and an uncomplaining, grateful heart to circumvent the obstacles. 

Patience is defined as having the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. Patience persists in trusting and praising God as we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonian 5:17). Paul was a master of patience and persistence.

Trusting God is vital to faith, especially when answers to prayers are delayed. Those delays test our faith, and when faith is tested and proven, our endurance grows, and when our endurance is fully developed, we are made perfect and complete in Him, needing nothing (James 1:2-9). Our response to delayed answers should be, "Lord, I don't understand why my prayers have not yet been answered, but I will praise You in the midst of waiting and trust there is a purpose as You work out the details."

Praising God in our circumstances defeats the enemy of our soul, because we are then focusing on God and not the problem. God tells us that if we vacillate between faith and doubt, then we are double-minded and unstable in all of our ways (James 1:8). Unstable means to be “prone to change, failure, or to give way under pressure.” The enemy is constantly provoking us to become weary so that we will give up. For that reason, God's Word must be daily on our lips and settled within our hearts.

As we take our journey, we cannot base our faith on what we see or feel but rather on God’s Word and His promises. If we have prayed for a specific problem for years and have not seen an answer, know that weariness will make every attempt to discourage, entangle, and suffocate our faith. For that reason, we cannot yield to worry, fear, and doubt, which are by-products of weariness. Those things will drain our energy, strength, resolve, faith, passion, hope, and peace.

God has provided us with everything we need for whatever we will face. However, it is incumbent upon us to put on the full armor of God, which is truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God. Only then can we stand firm against all strategies of the devil, for our enemies are not made of flesh-and blood, but are evil rulers, spirits, and authorities of the unseen world (Ephesians 6: 11-18). This means that every day, we are to live and speak His Word over our lives and the lives of our families, as we give thanks to God in all things.

Victory comes through perseverance, trust, and the belief that God is faithful and true to His Word, regardless of the battle's length. Often the nearer we are to victory and receiving our miracle, the more pressure the enemy exerts on us to give up or change the course that God had set before us. However, every battle, struggle, and adversity prepares us for greater blessings. For that reason, we are not to be anxious about anything. Instead, in everything by prayer, supplication, and thanksgiving, we are to let our requests be known to God. Then as we acknowledge and trust Him with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding, He will direct our paths (Philippians 4:6; Proverbs 3:5-6).

PRAYER:
LORD, help me find rest in You. Give me that measure of faith that never gives up but perseveres in persistent prayer. May I always trust and praise You in the midst of waiting as You work out the details. For I know that You work all things together for good (Romans 8:28). In Jesus name, amen.




Monday, November 20, 2017

FORGIVING OURSELVES

We have all made mistakes and wrong choices throughout our lives. Some of those choices were good and some brought heartache and much regret. Some were foolish, youthful mistakes. Some choices were thoughtless and selfish. And then there were those choices, whether good or bad, that changed the course of our lives. Unfortunately, there have been choices that have caused many to live in a debilitating valley of regret, where they continually revisit the choice and question what might have been, if they had only done things differently. 

I struggled with self-recrimination and self-doubt for many years, until I realized that mistakes are part of the human journey to spiritual growth. It is through our mistakes that we learn. The Word tells us that only a fool does the same foolish things again and again (Proverbs 26:11-12). 

When my son was two, he was very curious about many things, including the stove's burners. I cautioned him that if he touched them, he would get burned. One day, while I was cooking, he touched the front burner and screamed in pain. Fortunately, his minor owie taught him a valuable lesson, and he never again touched the stove.

 

Mistakes are only mistakes when we don't learn from them. However, the enemy relentlessly reminds us of past failings, imperfections, and weaknesses in order to prevent us from fully engaging in the present. But God tells us to “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland" (Isaiah 48:18-19). God never intended that we wander in a wasteland of regret and despair. He made a new way through Christ, Who brings refreshing to our souls and healing to our wounds.

The moment we surrendered our life and will to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we became a new creation; old things passed away and all things became new (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV). However, to embrace the new, the apostle Paul cautioned us, "Pay careful attention to how you walk —not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So don't be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17 HCSB). Yesterday is irretrievable; therefore, we are to use the time that we have today wisely and prayerfully as we seek God's will.

Paul admitted that he was not yet all he should be, but that he was using all of his energies to forget the past and look to what was ahead (Philippians 3:13). Before his conversion on the Road to Damascus, he had been a Pharisee who persecuted and murdered Christians. Now as a follower of Christ, he said, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate His extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in Him for eternal life" (I Timothy 1:15-16).

Like Paul, God uses our failures for His glory and for our growth as Christians. Past successes, achievements, and failures have all been stepping-stones to where we are today.  Jesus said, "No one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:62). We can't move forward with God, if we are always looking backwards, wishing things were different.

We all have had regrets, and Peter was no exception. Jesus told the disciples, “This very night you will all fall away on account of Me..." (Matthew 26:31). Peter responded that he would never fall away. Jesus answered, "Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” But Peter vehemently declared that even if threatened with death, he would never deny Jesus (vs. 33-35).

Jesus knew Peter's heart, just as He knows the content and intentions of every heart and how we will exercise our free will to make choices.  He is never surprised by our choices or what we say or do.

Peter had the best intentions. He thought he knew his heart. But often we make statements and decisions from a heart that deceives us. That is why Jesus cautioned the disciples on that very night of His betrayal, "Watch and pray so that you will not enter into temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

After Peter denied Christ the third time, the rooster crowed. Grief stricken, Peter locked eyes with the Lord as He was taken away and Peter remembered the Lord's words: "Before the rooster crows today, you will disown Me three times" (Luke 22:61-62).

Fortunately, the Lord's mercy is so great that He doesn't want us to live in our past mistakes and sin. So after Jesus' resurrection, He gave Peter an opportunity to be forgiven by asking him three questions, followed by three commands: 
1. “Simon son of John, do you love Me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” You know that I love You.” “Feed my lambs.” 
2. Again Jesus asked, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?" “Yes, Lord, You know that I love You. “Take care of My sheep.” 
3. Jesus asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked a third time if he loved Him. Peter said, “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-19).

Peter had denied the Lord three times, yet Jesus gave Peter three opportunities to be forgiven and reinstated as a powerful advocate and pillar for Christianity. His reinstatement tells us that we have been given that same opportunity to be forgiven, to forgive ourselves, and to move forward with the Lord.  For He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness (Psalm 103:8).  He treads our sins underfoot and hurls all of our iniquities into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Let our past mistakes stay in the depths of the sea and let us not go fishing for them.

Prayer:
Father, Your Word says that You tread our sins underfoot and hurl them into the depths of the sea, never to be recovered. Just as You have forgiven me, help me to forgive myself, so that I can move forward with You, for I am Your handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which You prepared in advance for me to do (Ephesians 2:10). In Jesus name, amen.