Thursday, July 31, 2014

         WEARINESS: A Faith Destroyer

   Like many of us, there have been times when I felt like I was drowning in a sea of weariness, and the shore's safety seemed out of reach. In struggling to reach that place of calm and safe harbor, I discovered facets to weariness. Fortunately, we have been given all power through the shed blood of Jesus Christ to overcome this invasive oppression.

Webster’s Dictionary defines “weariness” as being exhausted in strength, endurance, tolerance, and patience; a reluctance to see or experience any more of something.  Although weariness affects all of us, at one time or another, Galatians 6:9 encourages us not to be weary in doing what is good, for if we don't give up, in due season we will reap a harvest of blessing.  Persistence and patience are antidotes to weariness.
     "Persistence" is defined as a "firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition."  The story of the persistent widow who begged the judge for justice in her dispute with her enemy, is an example of how persistence brings results. At first the judge ignored her because he said, "...the woman is driving me crazy," but she persisted. Finally he said, "I'm going to see that she gets justice, because she is wearing me out with her constant requests!" (Luke 18:1-5 NLT) 
    Jesus taught on the importance of "persistence" when He said, “Suppose you went to a friend’s house at midnight, wanting to borrow three loaves of bread. You say to him,  ‘A friend of mine has just arrived for a visit, and I have nothing for him to eat.’ And suppose he calls out from his bedroom, ‘Don’t bother me. The door is locked for the night, and my family and I are all in bed. I can’t help you.’ But I tell you this—though he won’t do it for friendship’s sake, if you keep knocking long enough, he will get up and give you whatever you need because of your shameless persistence" (Luke 11:5-8 NLT). Persistence is an act of faith. It says, "Despite the circumstances, I will not give up!"             
     Persistence and patience go hand-in-hand. Probably the most difficult attribute for humans to possess is patience. "Patience" is defined as having the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.
     We live in a world that offers instant text messaging, microwavable meals, and drive-up restaurants, churches, and wedding chapels. We turn on our computers and immediately connect with the world. Technology has trained us to expect quick results and fast service, resulting in irate and impatient people. Waiting in line is an irritation. Traffic and other drivers challenge our patience. However, an attribute of a Christ follower is patience, and that is accomplished through the power of praise.
     The road to overcoming obstacles and achieving victory is never easy. It takes persistence and an uncomplaining, grateful heart, which is expressed through praise.  Praise is not something that we save just for those times of blessing, victory, joy and gratitude. Praise is to be expressed when we are fearful, weary and struggling, because praise lifts our spirits and refocuses our attention on God. To remain in a state of weariness only brings discouragement, which breeds doubt. Doubt then generates unbelief, which stops us from believing and trusting God to be our Promise Keeper.
     Praising God enables us to trust Him, and trust is vital to developing patience, persistence, and faith.  When troubles come our way, it should be seen as an opportunity for great joy. For we know that when our faith is tested, our endurance has a chance to grow, and when our endurance is fully developed, we are made perfect and complete in Him, needing nothing (James 1:2-9).  Trust is vital in understanding God's delay in answering our prayers. Our response should be, "Lord, I don't understand why my prayer has not yet been answered, but I will praise You in the midst of waiting and trust there is a greater purpose as You work out the details."
    Psalm 50:23 tells us that whoever offers praise glorifies Me.  Throughout the Psalms, David reflected a heart of praise and complete trust in God and His sovereignty. That's why God said that David was a man after His own heart. David understood the power of praise and that whatever happened, God was His deliverer and the One in whom he could trust.
      You may ask, “How can I trust God, let alone praise Him when something horrible has happened?” The answer is this: God is sovereign and has a plan for our life. When we praise Him in our circumstances, He will see to it that no circumstance or evil will divert us from His plan. As we “wait upon the Lord,” and His timing, He will have an answer. It may not be the answer that we are looking for, but it will be God’s best answer for us.
      David said in Psalm 119:164, Seven times a day I praise You, Because of Your righteous judgments. As you know, seven in the Bible means completion. Isn’t that what God tells us...that He will do a completed work in us? Our praise and thanksgiving is our “yes” to God and gives us the ability to say, “Lord, I trust you.”
     Do we trust God? Victory only comes when we trust and believe God and His Word. As we study the scriptures, we learn about God, and we develop a deeper relationship with Him. We also learn about the enemy's tactics and his plans to erode our resolve, so that we become mentally and physically weary. For Satan knows that once weariness takes hold, then complaining, questioning, and doubting follow.  Know that weariness is a red flag, alerting us to press in with God’s Word, trusting Him and fighting the urge to give up. 
     The Israelites became ungrateful, because things weren’t going their way. Soon weariness invaded the camp like a plague, wiping out their faith and trust in God. They began to complain bitterly, worshipping their manmade idol, even though God had provided for their every need during their journey. Their ingratitude, unbelief, and disobedience fueled God’s wrath against them. 
      As we take our own journey, we could easily lose the battle with our adversary, if we base our faith on what we feel and not on God’s Word and His promises. We must operate in the Spirit and not in the flesh, because the flesh deceives and misleads, but the Holy Spirit always guides us into truth and victory. 
     God has provided us with everything that we need for whatever we must 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 we are to live His Word and speak His Word over our lives and the lives of our family, EVERY DAY, as we give thanks to God in all things.
     As join-heirs with Christ, we call forth those things that are not, as though they are. However, we must be careful what we are calling forth.  The more we talk about and dwell on our problems, the more discouraged we become.  Speaking God's Word renews our strength and enables us to wait upon Him with expectancy. It is then that we gain victory over the enemy. If we can believe that God has a purpose and plan for our life, then we can rest in the knowledge that He has a hope and a future for us (Jeremiah 29:11). 
     If we try to look beyond today, hoping to figure things out, weariness will set in. If we look at circumstances and see no changes, weariness will knock at the door of our mind. If we have prayed for a family member for years and see no change, weariness can discourage us from continuing to pray for them.  We cannot surrender to weariness, worry, fear, and doubt. Those things drain us of  energy, strength, faith, passion, hope, and peace.
     Interestingly, to surrender means to entrust, hand over, yield, transfer, or give custody of something to another.  We don't want to surrender to those things that drain us of our faith, hope, and peace. Instead, we must surrender and entrust any fears and negative thoughts into God's hands.
     We can and must trust God, for trust builds faith and dispels doubt.  The Psalmist said, "The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold" (Psalm 18:2 NKJV). "And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, Lord, have not forsaken those who seek You" (Psalm 9:10). Believe these words. Confess these scriptures over your own life, for they are life to all who speak and believe them. 
     The war between faith and doubt is in the mind. James 1:8 tells us that a double minded man is unstable in all of his ways. "Unstable" means “prone to change, failure, or to give way under pressure.” We cannot straddle the fence with a mind that waivers between doubt and faith. It must be one or another. God tells us  “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth! (Revelation 3:15-16)
      Victory comes through perseverance, trust, and the belief that God is faithful and His Word is true, for “God is not a man, so He does not lie.
 He is not human, so He does not change His mind.
 Has He ever spoken and failed to act? 
Has He ever promised and not carried it through? (Number 23:19 NLT) We can trust God.
     We cannot believe the haunting lies that repeat over and over again in our thoughts, "You will never be healed." "You will never reach your goal."  "You will never see your loved ones saved."  "You will never find a mate." "You will never have that child that you've longed for."  "You will never succeed."  The list of lies goes on and on. By accepting a lie, we open a door to weariness that can quickly overtake us.  Before we realize it, our faith has faltered, and our trust in God has slipped away.
      Christians are called to be victors and not victims. We are to be armed with strength for every battle, and that strength comes from God’s Word, which is life. God will answer our prayers in His time. He is never late. Our job is to continue to pray and believe. 
      We must let go of fear, doubt, and worry, for God rewards the faithful and the faith-filled. Remember this: the closer we are to receiving our miracle, the more resistance and pressure we feel from the enemy.  He relentlessly attacks our minds with negative, nagging thoughts, urging us to either give up or change the direction that God had set before us. 
      We must not become discouraged and weary by the length of the battle, for every battle and every struggle and adversity prepares us for greater blessings. Instead, we are to give thanks to God who gives us victory and fulfills His promises. For we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NKJV). Therefore, be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord our God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9). 

Monday, July 21, 2014


Bloom Where You Are


The winter of 2008 and the first part of 2009, had been unusually cold, icy and harsh. It was called "the worst winter that Missouri had seen in years." Trees had been topped off and toppled by the weight of ice-laden branches and had blocked roads and damaged power lines and property. Missourians were longing for spring to arrive.

Months later, spring had begun to settle in, and as my husband and I drove across the Missouri backroads, we could see the ravages of winter and its cruel mark left behind. The landscape mixed with the winter storms' remnants of destruction seemed an odd and incongruous backdrop to the array of wildflowers now dotting the landscape.

As we drove past a farm, I noticed one tree among many dead and dying trees. Remarkably, it lay resting on the ground, barely attached by its roots, yet it was arrayed in glorious white blooms. As I reflected on this one lone tree that was defying Mother Nature, a thought occurred to me: 

We are very much like this tree. We can succumb to our circumstances or adversities, or we can bloom where we are. We have an opportunity not to just survive, but to thrive and create something beautiful in the midst of life’s challenges, problems, and tragedies.

Postscript: My husband made a decision not to succumb to despair and discouragement; rather, he chose and has continued to choose to thrive and "bloom" in the midst of of his adversity. His life has not only become a testimony of faith and God's goodness, but it has been a beacon of hope, giving testimony of what perseverance and faith in God can do when we don't give up. We must never give up, but we must alwaysfight the good fight of faith, [laying] hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed in the presence of many witnesses (I Timothy 6:12).



NOTE: If you read Unfailing Hope, then you know that my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer in the winter of 2009. Amazingly, God is faithful to provide what we need BEFORE we know that we need it. His delivery system of hope and encouragement is unique and always timely. 

"Bloom Where You Are" was birthed out of an astounding display of nature's fight to survive and thrive. The truth that God would reveal to me that spring day would become vital in shaping our faith in the coming months, for within a few short months, following our trip to Missouri, cancer would leave its cruel and ugly mark on the landscape of our lives. The above revelation would be revisited and embraced by both of us during my husband's journey with cancer.   

Thursday, July 10, 2014

UNFAILING HOPE


Thanksgiving is a holiday set aside to remember our Christian heritage and to give thanks for the Lord's provision throughout the year. It is a time to fellowship with family and friends, share a bountiful feast, and then quickly regret our overindulgence. However, Thanksgiving 2009 would be like no other and would challenge both my husband's and my faith as never before.
 
My husband had been complaining of a lump in his neck and had seen the family physician two different times. "It's just a swollen lymph node and nothing to worry about," the doctor had said. During his second visit in June, my husband had asked if a biopsy could be scheduled, but again, the doctor  reassured him it was unnecessary. 
 
Fast forward to the latter part of October. My husband's face and neck were so swollen that his chain, which had hung loosely around his neck, was cutting deep into his neck. Alarmed, I made an emergency call to our local ENT. After examining my husband, the doctor's face told it all. He would make an appointment for him with a specialist in Nashville.

November 20th was the earliest appointment; the doctor took one look at my husband and called for a radiologist, who hurried from the hospital to perform an emergency biopsy in the doctor's office. The sample was to be processed immediately, but we would wait over the weekend for the results. 


Waiting was agonizing, and then the call came. With a direct and matter-of-fact approach, the doctor told my husband, "You have a very aggressive form of thyroid cancer, and it has spread to your lymph glands and possibly to other organs."

When things seem impossible and insurmountable, God's rainbow appears in the darkest storm, offering hope and a plan. It may not be the plan that we would have imagined or hoped, but it is His plan. Through His divine intervention, a series of miraculous events would unfold. 


The specialist was able to quickly secure an appointment for my husband with the leading Head and Neck surgeon at MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Houston, Texas. (It usually takes a month or more to get an appointment and not everyone is accepted by the hospital). On November 24th, with a renewed hope and a plethora of emotions, we boarded an airplane for Houston. 


Upon our arrival at MD Anderson, my husband was put through a battery of tests. We then met with his team of surgeons who gave us the grim news. "You have stage 4 thyroid cancer that has metastasized into your larynx, lymph nodes and possibly into your chest and other areas. We will do everything humanly possible to achieve a good outcome." 

Surgery was scheduled for December 22. In the meantime, I sent email prayer requests to my prayer partners, who in turn, sent requests to their prayer partners, and a chain of prayer was formed.

The month's wait seemed interminable, but then the day of surgery finally arrived. There was the usual pre-op preparations, along with frayed nerves, and a kiss, sealed with an expectant and hopeful, "See you later, honey," as he was wheeled down the corridor and into the next chapter of our lives.

Eleven hours into the surgery, my husband's surgeon, who was usually smiling and very affable, approached me, looking extremely exhausted and solemn. The pounding of my heart pulsated in my head as I awaited news that I knew would not be good. The doctor paused, as if trying to find the right words and said, "When we closed your husband and sat him up to remove the tubing from his throat, he coughed so hard that he ruptured the newly sectioned larynx. We are hoping that there will be enough tissue left to resection it again. All we can do is our best and hope that it works." The alternative would be radical and devastating for my husband, because his job required the use of his voice.

As if that information wasn't enough to process, the surgeon pressed on, "We believe that it would be beneficial to remove his right salivary gland, but we need your permission to proceed." With a moment of hesitation, he continued, "It may leave that side of his face and mouth paralyzed, but there is always the possibility that it will only be partial…or temporary, at best. What would you like us to do?"

My mind raced as my thoughts sought an answer. I looked away from the doctor for a moment, praying to receive direction from God and hoping that the decision I was about to make would be the same decision my husband would choose. I turned to the doctor and said, "I believe that my husband would want to proceed." 


Three hours later and a total of 14 hours in surgery, word came that my husband's surgery was miraculously successful. They had removed the cancerous growth that had penetrated his larynx, had successfully re-sectioned the larynx, and removed 50 lymph nodes and a salivary gland on the right side of his face.

That first year of recuperation was not without difficulties and challenges for both my husband and for me, but with God's help, we weathered every storm and praised Him for every victory. With an initial prognosis of only a year to live, it has now been four years and seven months since his surgery. He suffered no paralysis of his face and sailed through 30 radiation treatments without experiencing the expected side affects. He has far exceeded the doctors' expectations in all aspects of his care. Although he has not been declared cancer free, his cancer margins are within acceptable limits, and his doctors refer to him as their "walking miracle."


You may have asked the same "why" questions, that my husband and I had asked each other and God. The first one being, "Why did God allow this?" Although I don't have all the answers, I can tell you that God has been with us every step of the way. We could have chosen to be angry and run from God; instead, we chose to run to Him. We have cried until we thought we would break, and we have laughed until we cried, but during it all, God has given us peace, strength, and His assurance that He will never leave nor forsake us.


This time of trial and testing has strengthened and grown our faith. We have learned the miracle working power of placing our faith, trust, and hope in God, for His Word tells us, In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith -- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (I Peter 1:6-7 NIV).


The Word tells us to consider it pure joy, whenever we face trials of many kinds, because we know that the testing of our faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (I James 1-10). This seems counterintuitive by all human reasoning, but that is what faith is all about.


My husband is a man who loves the Lord and brings a smile to all who know him. He exudes joy and gratitude for all of his blessings and victories, and each day, his scars remind him of the many small and large miracles that have allowed him to continue living with faith, trust, and an unfailing hope in His Savior, Jesus Christ.

All of us have faced, will face, or are in the middle of facing varying degrees of challenges, hardships, disappointments and loss. However, with faith and trust in the One, who willingly sacrificed His life for us, we too, will find strength and courage to move forward with unfailing hope.



As for God, His way is perfect: 
The Lord's Word is flawless; 
He shields all who take refuge in Him.
(Pslam 18:30 NIV)