Thursday, January 22, 2015

A PLACE OF MIRACLES


Saint Anne's Church, located adjacent to the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, is a beautiful 12th-century crusader church, erected over the traditional site of the birthplace of Mary's mother. Most of what remains today is original.

Saint Anne's acoustics, designed for Gregorian chant, are so perfect that the church is virtually a musical instrument to be played by the human voice. The acoustics are most amazing when used by a soprano or a tenor solo voice.


Thursday morning, April 25, 2013, I experienced a miracle in Saint Anne's Church. Our group had just heard a teaching on healing. As others sat and talked, I felt led to locate a quiet place to pray and found a step that led down into the Pool's ancient ruins. With many health issues and an impending surgery, I had been praying for healing. However, that morning, as I sat on that step, my prayer was different.

Fifteen years prior, I had been a worship leader for five years. God had gifted me with a voice and talent that was not of my own making. It was a gift. However, to my dismay, my voice began experiencing problems and over time, I could no longer sing. I went to specialists who told me that my vocal cords were scarred from acid reflux. Their prognosis was devastating. One of my greatest joys had been in worshipping God and experiencing His presence through the music.

Over the years, I had prayed and prayed for healing. After seven years of unanswered prayer, I asked God why He hadn't healed me. His answer stunned and devastated me, "You love the music more than me." With tears and great remorse, I repented and told the Lord that I would accept His will. 

Eight more years passed, and as I sat on that step of the Pool, I prayed a simple prayer. "Lord, You know that I have asked for physical healing of my body, but more than that, I long to lift my voice to You in worship. If my heart is now right before You, will You restore the gift of music to me? I will accept Your will."

I joined the others as they made their way into the church, that had already filled with tourists. Our tour leader directed us to the front rows, where she began to lead us in worship. As we were finishing our last song, the Lord spoke to me in my spirit, "I want you to sing The Lord's Prayer to me."   Stunned, I answered, "Lord, You know I can't sing." He repeated, "I want you to sing The Lord's Prayer to me." Suddenly, I felt an electric shock shoot through my body. Trembling, I knew that I MUST sing. In faith, I opened my mouth and began singing an octave higher than I had ever sung. My voice resonated and echoed in that glorious church. When I finished, I realized that I had just been given my miracle.

People were saying, "It sounded like an angel singing." "Who was it?"  "Was it a recording?" With a smile and a hug from my tour coordinator, she answered, "That was Joy."  

A professional opera singer and teacher, who was traveling with the group, later told me that I had sung coloratura mezzo-soprano, which is the highest and most perfect soprano known. All I knew was that I had worshipped the Lord in obedience and was overwhelmed with gratitude for what He had done. Not only had He restored my voice, but He had given me a stronger and more powerful voice. When the women in my group said, "I didn't know you could sing?" I answered, "Today, you witnessed a miracle."

An edited version was published in the "International Christian Embassy Jerusalem Magazine"

Epilogue:  The most remarkable miracle was not the restoration of my voice. The greatest miracle was the change that had taken place within my heart. I had been completely unaware that my heart was not right before the Lord, but because of His great love for me, He withheld the one thing that had captured my heart and was separating me from Him. When I recognized my sin and repented, He restored that gift. To know that my heart was at last right before Him was the greatest gift of all.

We must be very careful to check our motives and what we value most. I had thought that I loved God with all of my heart, but somewhere along the way, my heart became enamored with the gift, unaware that I had esteemed the gift greater than the Giver.

I am grateful that my heavenly Father's love is so magnanimous  that He withheld my gift for a season, so that I would grow in truth, knowledge, and wisdom. It was during that questioning time that my relationship with Him became closer and stronger.

When we pray and wait and no answers come, it is tempting to ask God if He really cares, or if He is even listening. Let me assure you, that He does care and He is listening, but His plans far exceed the desires we have for our lives. Know that He always has a purpose in His delays, for His timing is impeccable. However, He calls each one to first seek Him and His righteousness, and then those things that we desire will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). The caveat to this is that we must first trust Him, for without trust there can be no faith, and without faith, there is no hope.

2015 is the year of restoration, renewal and revived hope. God is pouring out His Spirit on mankind, wooing and drawing us to Him. We must seek Him now while He can be found, for He wants to heal, restore, deliver, and bless those who place Him first. He said, "You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3) We must examine our walk and ask ourselves if there is anything that we hold a greater value to, then our God. If we are setting Him aside for a worldly activity, talent, hobby, pursuit, or person, then we are serving those things and placing them above Him. This is not to say that we can't enjoy all of those things. God gave us this world and everything in it for our enjoyment. However, we must be good stewards of our time, gifts, talents, values, and priorities, so that those things don't become more important than Him.

God, who is the Creator of the universe, will not take a back seat to anyone or anything. We serve and worship what we value most. Where is God in our daily activities? Is He first when we awake to a new day? Do we pursue Him throughout our day, or is He a casual afterthought, a punctuation at the end of our day? We must seek Him with ALL OF OUR HEART. He doesn't want our leftovers.

How often I pursued God when my needs were the greatest in my life, but when my needs and desires were met, my pursuit of Him lessened. My experience with my voice taught me that to walk with Christ is to pursue Him everyday and not just when there is a need to be fulfilled. Our Lord is relational; He wants our whole heart, not just a small part of it.

God once showed me in a dream a house that had many rooms and each room had a door. The doors to the rooms were opened, but there was one room that I had locked. I was puzzled by this and inquired of the Lord. He answered that our hearts are like homes with many rooms with doors. The opened doors are those places in our hearts that we willingly surrender to Him. The rooms where the doors are closed and locked, are those areas that we tenaciously cling to and refuse to relinquish to Him.

Let this be the year that we surrender all, while diligently and passionately seeking Him with all of our hearts and strength. Let us expand our prayer time and learn to commune with Him, as we would fellowship with our dearest friend. God doesn't want to be a casual acquaintance or an afterthought at the end of our day. His Word tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Therefore, let us open all the doors of our hearts to Him that He may bless, heal, and restore us, as we pursue Him first and not the blessings and miracles that He so eagerly desires to provide.









Thursday, January 15, 2015

FAITH - SUBSTANCE - HOPE

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for
And the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1


- What is faith? It is trust, belief, confidence conviction, and hope.
- What is substance? Substance is defined as matter, material,  things, or items.
- What is hope? Hope is optimism, expectancy, confidence, faith, belief, conviction, assurance, promise, and possibility.

Faith trusts and believes with conviction, hope, optimism, expectation, and confidence in the promises of God, even when we don't see the evidence of those promises being fulfilled in our lives. This kind of faith says to God, "I don't understand, but I trust You, because I know that in the waiting, You are working a greater good in my life."

In my walk with the Lord, my faith has been challenged and stretched, often to the limits. Even as I write this, my body is telling me that things will never change. Yet I continue to hope, trust, and seek God and His joy. Many of you understand, because you have either been there or you are currently in that place of hopeful anticipation, while awaiting your own miracle.

For years, I had prayed, hoped and waited to see the realization of a specific miracle. After serving five years as a worship leader, acid reflux had ravaged my vocal cords, making it extremely difficult to sing and impossible to reach the high soprano notes. In my effort to believe God for a miracle, I became obsessed with seeking knowledge about miraculous healings. 

Years of unanswered, tearful prayers led me to ask the Lord why I had not received my healing. The devastating answer resonated in my spirit, "You love the music more than Me." My mind raced. Didn't I love God with all of my heart, mind, and soul? How could my priorities have become so unbalanced? Grief overwhelmed me with the sudden realization that I had been worshipping the gift and not the Giver of the gift. Hadn't God said in Exodus 20:3 that we are not to have other gods before Him?  That truth hit me like an anvil. I had made my voice and the pursuit of healing as my top priority and my "god." I quickly repented, asked for forgiveness, and told the Lord that I would accept His will.

God loves our praises and our worship; He inhabits the praises of His people. We sing praises as an offering of pure worship to our Creator. King David conveyed his love for God with worshipful praise through music:

But I will sing of Your power, Yes, I will sing aloud of Your mercy in the morning; for You have been my defense and refuge in the day of trouble (Psalm 59:16).

My lips shall greatly rejoice when I sing to You (Psalm 71:23)

I will sing of the mercies of the LORD forever…(Psalm 89:1)

Two years following my prayer of repentance, I was in Israel, seated on the steps leading into the ancient Pool of Bethesda. As I reflected on the miracles that Jesus had preformed, I was filled with a renewed hope, "Lord, if my heart is now right before You, will You restore my gift? I accept Your will." Though I longed to worship the Lord as I once did, my heart was ready to accept God's will.

That day, my physical healing arrived in the most miraculous way. (For the entire story, see "A Place of Miracles," in next week's blog.) Joyfully, the greater miracle was that my priorities had changed, and God was acknowledging and honoring the change that had taken place within my heart.

Like all of us, I am under construction and will be until He calls me home. As I read His Word, pray, and seek Him, I learn about myself, the good and the not so good, and how to become a more fully devoted child of the King.

God is our Parent who yearns to be first in our hearts. He, like all parents, longs for a one-on-one relationship with His children. My most treasured memories are of those sweet times of fellowship initiated by my son.

God treasures those moments when we take time out of our day to thank Him for all that He has done, to worship Him, to share our heart with Him, to shed tears of joy and pain, and to present our petitions before Him. He is our Father and we are His children. He desires sweet fellowship with us and to teach, guide, and give us good gifts. However, if we constantly ask for things, but have no interest in spending time with Him, our disinterest pains our Lord, and that indifference only hurts us.

God is the Creator of the universe and all things in it. Jesus' sacrifice made it possible for us to enter into the presence of God through prayer and worship. Fellowshipping with the Lord is a privilege that, until Jesus died for our sins, was only granted to those priests allowed into the Holy of Holies. Our ability to access the very throne of God through prayer and worship cannot be taken lightly. He longs to speak with us, teach us, and bless us. However, it's difficult to have a relationship with someone who is constantly distracted by schedules, busyness, and the world's offerings.

God's Word urges us not to be conformed to this world, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). That requires daily prayer, study of the Scriptures, and fellowship with our heavenly Father. All of His promises in His Word allow us to partake of His divine nature. His Word is a lamp unto our feet; He shows us where we are standing in our walk with Him. He is a light unto our path; He reveals to us a clear path to our destiny. Only then, are we able to discern what is His good, acceptable, and perfect will for us.

Human relationships require an investment of time, effort, and growth. It is the same with a relationship with our heavenly Father, which is the most important relationship and investment that a person can ever make in their life. Ironically, too many have no problem running to Him when they have an emergency, but they have great difficulty fitting Him into their daily schedule. 

Intimate fellowship with God, who is the creator and sustainer of all things, is foreign to too many of God's children. This should not be, especially in a world that is growing more violent with wars, famine, pestilence, disease, false religions, and evil of every kind. Now more then ever, we need to be seeking God with all of our hearts. 

Whoever draws near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Did you see that? He rewards THOSE WHO SEEK HIM! Praying, reading the Word, and meeting with Him every day are absolute necessities for growth in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18). "For all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, for training in righteousness, so that we may be complete and equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NKJV).

The Word tells us that what we sow (plant, distribute), we will reap (harvest, gather, bring in) Galatians 6:7-9. If we sow the Word into our life, then we will reap the blessings that we seek from God.

A Bible believing Christian's goal should be to present themselves to God as one approved, a worker who is not ashamed of his/her faith in Christ, but who rightly handles the Word of truth in their daily walk (2 Timothy 2:15). As Christians, we are called to be a light in this very dark and sin-driven world. If those who follow Christ don't carry the light (God's Word) within, then there will be no light to shine forth as a testimony of His goodness, truth, and righteousness. When we seek God with all of our heart, might and strength, He responds. May this daily prayer help each one of us to daily focus and direct our attention to Him:

Lord, this is the beginning of a new year with new possibilities. Forgive me for those times when the world's distractions and offerings have diverted my attention away from You. Today, I desire that You become my first priority and that my will and my heart become totally submitted to You. Help me to set aside time for prayer and study of Your Word that I may know Your deeper truths. Help me to always seek You and Your kingdom first, for only then can Your promises come to fruition in my life. It is in Jesus' name that I pray.


But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and 
All these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)






Thursday, January 8, 2015

TRUST DESTROYER


God is not human, that He should lie, not a human being, 
That He should change His mind.
 Does He speak and then not act? 
Does He promise and not fulfill?
Numbers 23:19

If once you forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, 
You can never regain their respect and esteem.
Abraham Lincoln

There is nothing more devastating then to learn that the person, whom you trusted, has lied or broken a promise to you. Unfortunately, we have all experienced the disappointment of being deceived. Even a "white" lie is deception that avoids truth. Like Lincoln, I am more grieved over that person's fractured integrity, then what they actually said or did.

What is a lie? The dictionary defines a lie as untruth, falsehood, fib, fabrication, falsification, deception, made up story, tale, half-truth, pretense, deviousness, crookedness exaggeration, fiction, disguise, evasiveness, concealment; to misinform, mislead, tell a white lie, perjure oneself, commit perjury; swindle, stretch the truth; hedge, shillyshally, dodge or sidestep the issue, waffle; evade, fraud, trick, cheat.

According to the definition, we have all lied, whether it was a lie that harmed another or it was a misrepresentation of the truth. Because Satan is called the Great Deceiver, we, as redeemed, born-again believers, cannot give place to any form of a lie or deception.

So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old,
called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; He was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. 
(Revelation 12:9)


No matter what we wish to call it, God sees a lie as sin, which includes embellishing a story, even a little. That was part of our old, unregenerated spirit. How then, if we have a relationship with all Truth, can we give birth to any form of a lie? If we are truly born again and are a part of God's kingdom, then any kind of deception has no place in our lives.

I did not grow up in a Christian home. My parents wore the label, "Christian," but they did not live their lives as Bible-believing Christians. It wasn't until the end of their lives that they surrendered their hearts to Jesus Christ. Consequently, my formative years were shaped around the philosophy that lying had its place, especially if a "little white lie" was told to avoid hurting someone. However, the Lord has much to say about lying:

There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an
abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are His delight (Proverbs 12:22).

No one who practices deceit shall dwell in My house; No one who utters lies shall continue before My eyes (Psalm 101.7).

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10). 

When I first became a Christian, it was very difficult for me to trust God. There were Christians whom I had trusted, but who had broken promises, betrayed confidences, lied, and stolen from me. What they had really stolen was my ability to trust anyone...even God. After all, if I couldn't trust God's representatives, how could I trust Him?

As a fledgling Christian, those betrayals and lies by fellow Christians were the most heartbreaking. Today, it doesn't hurt any less. However, we are reminded of Judas who betrayed Jesus, and of Peter who denied Jesus three times. We are not immuned to the enemy's deceptions. That is why Jesus warned us that "the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour, but we must stand firm in faith, because the family of believers throughout the world are experiencing the same kind of suffering" (Peter 6-8).

King David recorded the pain and disappointment of betrayal by a friend in Psalm 55: 11-14. "If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; 
if a foe were rising against me,
  I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, 
(a man of God) my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship
 at the house of God, 
as we walked about
 among the worshipers" (Psalm 55:11-14).

Revelation describes what will happen to all liars. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8 ESV). God sees lying as being equal to the other heinous sins.

Like many who have accepted today's false teachings and religions, immorality, and perversions of every kind under the guise of "tolerance," Jesus addressed those who accepted Pharisaical lies and refused to receive or believe His words. ...you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the Devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). In other words, to accept a lie as truth or to lie is agreement with the "father of lies."

We must get the unequivocal truth deep into our hearts that lying, no matter its form, is SIN, and sin is not negotiable. When we lie, we emulate the devil, who is the father of lies. He and all liars will end in "the lake that burns with fire and sulfur."

One day we will stand before our Lord and give an accounting of our lives. Before that day, we want to make sure that we have repented from the sin of lying. Until that day, this should be our daily prayer: "Lord, help me to be Your godly representative, being careful that my actions and  words coming from my heart through my mouth will be truthful and will honor You."

As followers of Christ, we have been called to a higher standard and that is to emulate Jesus Christ. It is better to say nothing, then to risk an untruth. "Above all, my brothers and sisters; do not swear - not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple "Yes" or "No." Otherwise you will be condemned" (James 5:12).

We have all experienced the pain of betrayal and broken promises by both non-Christians and Christians. Fortunately, God will never betray us, for He is faithful to keep His Word and to forgive. We can trust that His yes is yes and His Amen is Amen. He is NOT capable of lying. He is our Promise Keeper. If God said it, then we can believe it. We don't need to wonder if His Word is true for others but not for us. His Word is true for all who put their trust in Him. Jesus said that He would not tell us these things, if it were not so.

Jesus is recorded 78 times in the New Testament, as saying, "I tell you the truth." Of those 78, the gospel of Matthew records 30 separate quotes from Jesus stating, "I tell you the truth."  Since Jesus is God, and it is impossible for God to lie, Jesus reassured those who would listen, that the words He spoke  were words of truth, unlike the Pharisees who used deceptive words to sway the people.

If, like David, you experienced deep disappointment and betrayal by a person or persons whom you trusted or whom you called "friend," then you must forgive and pray for them.

Father, I lift up (name) to you. You know the pain and disappointment and even sorrow I feel because (name), whom I trusted, betrayed me. Today, I choose to forgive (him/her) and ask that You bring (him/her) to a place of repentance. May (name) see the joy in trusting You in all things, while embracing truth, for You are all Truth. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Some of the last words spoken by Jesus were, "Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." If Jesus could forgive, in the midst of such horrific pain, anguish, and betrayal, then who are we to withhold forgiveness?

Praise God that He is quick to forgive us our sins when we repent, for it is in our repentance that we produce fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). If you have told untruths, white lies, embellished the truth, or any other form of deception, then I encourage you to pray this prayer:

Lord, I come before you with a repentant heart. Your Word warns us that idolaters and all liars will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur, which is the second death (Revelations 21:8). I never realized that what I was doing was sin unto eternal death. Please forgive me and help me to be aware of any untruth that may be poised on my tongue, or any behavior or thought that is not in alignment with Your will. My desire, from this day forward, is to walk in truth, for when I walk in truth, I walk with You. In Jesus Name. Amen.

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think (meditate) about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

The flower shown is called Bittersweet. It means "truth."