Monday, February 29, 2016

GOD'S PEACE

Monday morning, February 22, 2016, as we prepared to leave for my husband's first oncology appointment, a heavy, thick fog hung over the area. The fog only emphasized the unknown that we were facing.  I then heard the Lord speak into my spirit, “Fear not, for I am with you.” I looked once again through the kitchen window, and the fog had suddenly vanished, leaving only the brilliant sun’s rays, dancing on the trees. It was at that moment that God's peace enveloped me like a comforting, warm blanket on a very cold day.

Tuesday morning, as I prayed and worshipped the Lord, He ministered to me with three scriptures, which I've highlighted in the following paragraph. Within those scriptures, I numbered the parts of each scripture that ministered to me and then expanded on them as indicated by the corresponding numbers below.

(1) "The Lord is near. (2) Don't worry about anything, but (3) in everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the (4) peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5-7 Holman). (5) "[He] will keep in perfect peace the mind that is dependent on [Him], trusting in [Him] (6) Trust in the LORD forever, because in Yah-, the LORD, is an everlasting rock!" (Isaiah 26: 3-4 Holman). "And (7) let the peace of the Messiah, to which you were also called in one body, control your hearts. (8) Be thankful" (Colossians 3:15 Holman).

(1) The Lord is near.
The nearness of You, my God, is my good; I have made You my refuge that I may tell of all Your mighty works (Psalm 73:28). I thank You that You are near to all who call upon You and to all who call upon You in truth (Psalm 145:18). For You, LORD, go before me and will be with me; You will never leave me nor forsake me. I will not be afraid nor be discouraged (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV).

(2) Don't worry about anything.
Lord, I cast all my anxieties on You, because You care for me (I Peter 5:7). I cast my burdens on You, knowing that You will sustain me; You will never permit the righteous to be moved (shaken or unsettled in their faith) (Psalm 55:22). Now may You, the Lord of peace, give me peace at all times in every way (2 Thessalonians 3:16).

(3) In everything through prayer and petition (a humble appeal or request) with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.  
This scripture is three-fold. We pray, we request, and we give thanks for the Lord's answer, even when the answer to our prayer has not yet arrived. For true faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1). In other words, we believe that God is bringing the answer (in His time) even though we cannot yet see it.

(4) The peace of God, which surpasses every thought, will guard your hearts and your minds.
I will pay attention to what the scriptures say and not let them out of my sight. For You instruct me to keep Your Words in my heart, for they are life to those who find them and health to the body (Proverbs 4:20-23 NIV). Help me to diligently seek knowledge and truth through Your Word that I may keep my heart secure and protected and able to receive your promised peace.

(5) He will keep in perfect peace the mind that is dependent on Him.
Lord, You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in You, all whose thoughts are fixed on You! (Isaiah 26:3 NLT) Your Word tells me to set my mind on the Spirit who is life and peace and not on the flesh, which is death (Romans 8:6). Therefore, I cannot focus on the problem; rather, I choose to fix my mind on You who is the Answer.  When I focus on You, You direct my steps and You delight in every detail of my life. Though I stumble, I will never fall, for You hold me with Your [powerful and loving] hand (Psalm 37:23-24 ESV).

(6) Trust in the LORD forever.  
Your thoughts are not my thoughts, nor are Your ways my ways, because Your ways are higher than my ways and Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). For that reason, I choose to trust and lean not on my own understanding, because I know that if I submit all my ways to You, You will make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

William Cowper, an English 18th Century poet and hymnodist, composed a song in 1773, with the first verse of the first stanza having been incorrectly attributed as a Bible verse. "God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform; He plants His footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm." No matter what storms invade our lives, when we call to the Lord, He listens and rescues us from all our troubles (Psalm 34:17). He is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of  [problems, difficulty, worry, distress, suffering, grief, trauma, burdens, disappoitment, heartache, loss, pain, and tribulation] (Psalm 46:1).

(7) Let the peace of the Messiah control your hearts.
Lord, You give strength and bless us with peace (Psalm 29:11). Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). Lord, I thank You for Your continued peace and strength as Michael and I travel the road ahead.

*Fear is a tool that the enemy uses to rob us of our peace and our joy.  The question is, "Who do we believe, the enemy who is a liar, or God who is all Truth?"

(8) Be thankful.
This is one of the most important attributes of those who love God. Be thankful through praise. Praise is defined as expressing respect and gratitude. It is the ultimate expression of thanksgiving, trust, and faith in God who has everything under control.

As a divorced mother of a young son in the early 70's, I had many challenges and questions for which I had no answers. It was during that time of seeking that I found Christ, His Word, and two powerful books by Pastor Merlin Corothers, author of 19 books.  Power in Praise and Prison to Praise would forever change the way I approach God and the challenges of life.

Corothers believed that whether we are enjoying good times or we are in the midst of a problem, a situation, or a crisis, God's power is unleashed through our prayers and praise. I do caution that it is incumbent upon each person to prayerfully examine the written works of others, including mine, by using God's Word as the one true litmus test, and then hold fast to that which is good (I Thessalonians 5:21). I found that Corothers' teaching passed that litmus test and aligned with God's Word, which tells us that "in all things give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus" (I Thessalonians 5:13 NIV). 

As I began to praise God each day, something wonderful and unexpected started to happen. I experienced a newfound joy and peace that I had never known before. Though at times it seemed counterintuitive to praise God when I was in the middle of turmoil or a problem, I committed my whole heart to praising Him, even if I didn't feel like it. Praise became an exercise of faith and trust as I surrendered each problem or challenge to Him with a heart of thanksgiving. The more I praised Him and committed my heart to Him, the more I saw God move "mountains" and answer prayers in amazing and miraculous ways. To this day, I continue to praise God in situations that I am facing, while giving thanks for His constant care. For He is good and His love endures forever (Psalm 118:1).

There is a huge difference between praising God "in difficulties" and praising God "for difficulties."  "In" means to be inside, surrounded, or enclosed in a circumstance, problem, or difficulty. While we are in that difficulty, we praise Him. However, if we were to thank God "for" the difficulty, we would be saying that He is responsible for it, even though we may have positioned ourselves outside of His will, which would have then brought about a negative outcome. Don't misunderstand. Clearly, we are to thank God for our blessings because we know that every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father...(James 1:17 NIV). 

Our prayer of praise might resemble this: "Lord, I don't understand why this has happened, but I know that You are sovereign. I praise You in this situation and ask that You take control of all that is happening in my life and bring good from this. If my own actions have put me in this position, then I ask Your forgiveness. I need Your leadership and guidance to teach me, so that I may grow in unwavering faith and remain on the path that You charted for me before my birth. For I know that all things work together for good to those who love You and are called according to Your purposes (Romans 8:28). It is in Jesus' name that I pray.

We can also pray for others in this manner:  Father, I praise you and thank you for (name) life. I thank you that before (name) was born, You had a plan for (his/her) life for good and not for disaster, a plan to give (him/her) a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11). I entrust (name) into your hands and ask that You move in (his/her) life in such a way that (he/she) surrenders (his/her) heart and plans to You. It is in Jesus' name that I place this petition before You. Amen.

Things happen in our lives, some of which are of our own making and some not. Whether we are at the helm of a wayward ship or a victim tossed about by the stormy seas of life, God has provided a way through by praying and praising Him.

As Michael and I walk through another journey with cancer, we continue to praise God in this circumstance. We cling to His Word and trust that He has a plan for our lives. He has already miraculously given Michael six years of health since his terminal diagnosis. Now as we face this new challenge, God has connected us with highly qualified doctors who are considered the best in their field. We know that He loves us with a perfect love; therefore, we choose to trust Him in all things. We will persist in prayer, petition, praise, and gratitude as we place our confidence in our sovereign God, Father, and Creator who gave us lives that we may fulfill His purposes.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).





Monday, February 22, 2016

SPEAK THE WORD

...I will speak of excellent things (Proverbs 8:6).

Barbara Wentroble, a gifted speaker who motivates and coaches leaders in ministry, media, business, etc., was approached by a woman at a conference and asked for prayer for her prodigal daughter, Jane, who had not contacted her in months and was living with her boyfriend. Barbara prayed the following two-part prayer.
Part I  "Heavenly Father, You are a father and understand the agony of this mother's heart. I ask You, in the Name of Jesus, to bring healing and restoration to this family. Remind this daughter of Your Word. Help her to remember Your goodness."
She then spoke as if the prodigal were standing in front of her and added:
Part 2 "Jane, open your eyes and look. You are in a pigpen. Get up and get out of the pigpen. Come back to your Father's House. Come home in Jesus' Name!"
A month later, Barbara was speaking at a conference held at a Bible school, when Jane's mother ran up to her and said:
"Barbara, you prayed for my daughter, and I have to tell you what happened. When I came home from the conference last month, I found I had received a phone call from her. The time of the call was exactly when you and I were praying. Jane left a message that she was coming home. She said, 'I don't know what happened to me! It was if my eyes were opened, and I could see. And I thought, This is a pigpen. I'm going home.'"
Intrigued by Barbara's prayer, I researched God's Word to see if the second part of her prayer was biblically sound. The following information is the result of my study.
Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus and ordered the stone at the opening of the tomb to be removed, but Martha protested, stating that her brother had been dead for four days. Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that You have heard Me.  I knew that You always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that You sent Me.” When He had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”  The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:41-43). There is another golden nugget of truth tucked in this scripture, but for brevity sake, I will leave that for another blog.
Jesus first prayed to His Father and then He commanded Lazarus, a dead man, to come out from the tomb. Just as Jesus prayed, Barbara prayed first to the Father. And just as Jesus commanded Lazarus to come forth, she commanded the prodigal to "Get up and get out of the pigpen. Come back to your Father's House. Come home in Jesus' Name!"
The centurion also understood the power and authority of God's Word, when he said to Jesus, "…only speak a Word and my servant will be healed (Matthew 8:8). He knew that it wasn't necessary for Jesus to physically be in the presence of the servant for the power of His Word to work. 

We are to be imitators of Christ who said, "… he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works
than these he will do, because I go to My Father (John 14:12). That is astonishing, considering that Jesus healed and delivered people bound by demons, sin, and illness, and He raised the spiritually and physically dead. That day when we surrendered our hearts to Jesus Christ and asked to be filled with His Holy Spirit, we, like the apostles, became vessels of His miracle working power.

Jesus left His Holy Spirit on this earth to empower us to be His voice, His hands, and His feet. When Jesus called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases. Most importantly, He sent the disciples out to proclaim the kingdom of God (Luke 9:1-6) and to go and make disciples (followers of Christ) of all nations (all nationalities), baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that He commanded them (Matthew 28:19-20). The disciples were to replicate themselves over and over again so that the works that Jesus did would be duplicated and continued in perpetuity.

As believing Christ followers, we have been given all authority. Jesus said, "I have given you authority to trample on snakes (the sin nature, lust, temptation, deception, danger) and scorpions (curses, demons, threats) and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you (Luke 10:19 NIV). "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12).

Jesus qualified the authority given to us with an "if," which means on the condition that …if you have faith (trust and confidence in God and His Word) [the size of] a mustard seed, and you say to this mountain (any obstacle, barrier, or problem), ‘Move from here to there,’ it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you (Matthew 17:20). Repeatedly, the scriptures tell us to speak things in faith and what we speak will bring forth God's miraculous power. No matter the size of our faith, faith moves mountains, because His Word, fused with faith, activates and releases the power of God.

Jesus said, "The words I say to you I do not speak on My own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work (John 14:10). That living Word is activated within us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We do not speak on our own authority, but with the authority given to us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the devil has convinced too many Christians that they are weak, impotent, and without power. Some even believe that His authority, given to disciples, was only for that brief time in history. However, God has given us all authority to speak life and change into the lives of others through the power of His Holy Spirit. We are the conduits through which the Holy Spirit works His wonders. For it is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak..."(2 Corinthians 4:13 NIV).

We are called to speak and declare God's Word. If we believe His Word and our request or declaration agrees with His Word, then we will receive whatever we are asking in prayer (Matthew 21:22).  For God tells us, "So is My Word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11 NIV). God hears His Word as we speak it and His Word never returns void.

Our words sow a harvest, but what kind of harvest are we sowing? [Words] have the power of life and death (Proverbs 18:21). We have been commanded to speak God's Word into any problem and those seemingly hopeless situations. If what we speak is in agreement with God's Word, then God will create the fruit of our lips and what we speak will be done (Isaiah 57:19). Therefore, let us speak the Word in faith and command those things to come into alignment with His Word. Then expect a miracle.



Monday, February 15, 2016

THE POTTER'S WHEEL

In my last blog, I mentioned that God is the Master Potter to whom we can entrust our lives. He created and crafted each person for wonderful plans that we couldn't possibly conceive for ourselves. For He knows the plans that He has for us, plans for our welfare and not for evil, plans to give us hope and a  future (Jeremiah 29:11). 


As I reflected on God as the Potter and we as the clay, it occurred to me that there is a direct correlation to the process of making a clay vessel. The Prophet Isaiah said, "O LORD, You are our Father, we are the clay, and You our Potter; and all of us are the work of Your hand" (Isaiah 64:8). Why do you suppose Isaiah made that analogy?

The Word tells us that we were a substance, without a definite form or shape. "So the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground, breathed life into his lungs, and the man became a living being" (Genesis 2:7 ISV). God is the Master Potter and Creator who knows how to shape and mold us into beautiful vessels fit for His Kingdom. Knowing how pottery is made helps us understand why Isaiah made that correlation.

In creating a beautiful and functional piece of pottery, the clay must first be properly centered on the wheel so that the piece doesn't become out of balance. If it is not centered and balanced properly, the clay will not take shape, because the potter won't be able to pull it upward and outward. Instead, it will be a lopsided and unyielding mess in the potter's hands. We, as clay, must be in the center of God's will, or our life becomes out of balance, directionless, disarrayed, and unyielding. We then become overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, bitter, hopeless, dissatisfied, and faithless.

Water is a key ingredient in turning pottery. It is continuously added to the clay to maintain malleability and prevent it from hardening. If the human heart is not malleable and submitted to God's hands, then it hardens to the things of God. The ears cannot hear, the eyes cannot see, and the heart is unable to understand the things of God or even turn to God (Acts 28:27 NLT).

Water is always associated with the Holy Spirit. On that great day of the feast, Jesus cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." Jesus spoke concerning the Spirit, that those who believed in Him would receive (John 7:37-39). 

God's Holy Spirit gives us direction, purpose and life. Those who refuse to yield to His Spirit, which guides, shapes, and molds us, will never see the fulfillment of His divine purposes, because their hearts have hardened to the plans and purposes of God.

With a turn of the wheel, the potter skillfully molds, shapes, stretches, pulls, and trims away unwanted layers of clay to eventually reveal a beautiful vessel. The Master Potter knows how to shape, mold, and stretch us into that perfect living vessel. He wants to remove those layers of insecurities, doubts, fears, ungodly habits, and anything else that prevents us from being all that He designed us to be. If we resist His hands, even when life becomes difficult, frustrating, painful, and perplexing, we will remain an unyielding lump of clay, never to reach our full potential.

Once the potter finishes throwing his piece, he sets it aside to dry. There are times when we feel that God has set us aside in a dry desert, but the Word tells us that even when we feel alone and abandoned, "the LORD will continually guide [us], and satisfy [our] desire in scorched places, and give strength to [our] bones; and [we] will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail" (Isaiah 58:11). No matter the circumstances, our Potter will never abandon or forsake us.

After the clay has dried, the potter then places the piece in a kiln, which is essential in finishing ceramics. The kiln's high temperatures change the chemical and physical properties of the clay and burn off organic and inorganic materials. 

Just as the kiln purges and changes the physical properties of the clay to make it strong and resilient, the Lord tells us not to be surprised by the fiery trials that we go through, as if something strange were happening (I Peter 1:7). The purpose of these troubles is make us strong and resilient by purging those things that keep us from being all that we were created to be and to test our faith as fire tests how genuine gold is. Our faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test it gives praise, glory, and honor to God. (I Peter 1:7).

After the piece goes through a first firing, it is then sealed with glaze and fired again to fuse the glaze. We may feel like we are walking through the fire more than once, but as believers, the fire of the Holy Spirit seals us for eternity and for His good works. "For as many as are the promises of God, in Him they are Yes; therefore also through Him is our Amen to the glory of God through us, who establishes us in Christ and anoints us, also sealed us and gave us His Spirit in our hearts as a pledge" (II Corinthians 1:20-23 NASB).

Most of you know that my husband, Michael, is once again battling cancer. The scripture tell us that we should not be surprised by fiery trials. Understanding that truth doesn't make it any easier to walk through the trials when they come. However, years ago, we made a decision to entrust our lives to the Master Potter, Who daily challenges us to surrender our wills to the turning of His wheel. 

We are God's workmanship, created for His good works. Through trial and error, Michael and I have learned over the years that resisting His shaping and molding does not produce good results. Only by surrendering to His loving hands, can we become those finished and useful vessels, worthy of service for His Kingdom.