Sunday, June 26, 2016

PERSEVERANCE

With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.
Matthew 19:26

Discouragement and doubt can become relentless suitors that invade the mind and soul.  Days and months of praying and pleading with God can evolve into years, without visible signs of change or answers to those fervent prayers. We then begin to wonder if God is listening. Before we realize what has happened, hope has dimmed under the glare of doubt. And when hope fades, faith and trust that God will answer our prayers diminish. That is exactly what the enemy of our soul wants, because if we give up and stop praying, the enemy has won the battle.

Persevering, when things become difficult, is necessary for success in prayer and all aspects of life. Unfortunately, our modernized, high tech world demands immediate results and reward for minimal effort. When reward is delayed, then efforts are abandoned. The result is a failure to persevere and commit in areas of prayer, relationships, marriage, employment, academics, sports, exercise, and many other things that motivate us. Too often, when things don't happen the way we perceive they should, temptation knocks, enticing us to take matters into our own hands and move forward with our agenda.

Perseverance is steadfastness in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success. It is tenacity, determination, staying power, patience, endurance, diligence, and dogged commitment.

Inventor extraordinaire, Thomas Edison, tried 10,000 times to find the right filament for his incandescent electric light bulb. When he shared this with his wife, she asked, “Aren’t you pretty discouraged, Tom?”  “Discouraged?” responded Edison. “Certainly not! I now know 10,000 ways that won’t work!” 

Obviously, Edison's perseverance and determination proved successful. In fact, so successful that the light he installed in his Ft. Meyers, Florida, home has been continuously burning since 1925. 

We see many examples of people in the Bible who went ahead of God, because they either lost hope or grew impatient waiting on God. Abraham and Sarah are perfect examples of two people who prayed for years, but when their prayers were not answered in "their time," they took matters into their own hands.

God had made a covenant with Abraham to make his descendants into a great nation and his offspring would forever share with him the land of Canaan, which is present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel. But after years of waiting and still having no heir, Sarah grew weary of waiting and offered her handmaiden, Hagar, to Abraham. Today's Arab nations descended from that union which resulted in the birth of Ishmael. However, that was not God's plan. His plan was to keep His promise by giving Abraham and Sarah a biological son (Genesis 17:3-8).

The Lord appeared again and said to Abraham, “'As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her." Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, "Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year" (Genesis 17:16-22 NKJV). It would be through Isaac's lineage, that Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Redeemer, Prince of Peace, and King of the Jews would come forth.

If we keep our eyes on the circumstances and not on the promises of God, what we perceive as unanswered prayer will become tentacles of doubt and fear that squeeze faith and hope out of us, causing us to pursue our own agenda. Instead, we are encouraged to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). In other words, we maintain a continual attitude of prayer with the Lover and Friend of our soul as we communicate to Him our love, gratitude, worries, hopes, dreams, despair, joy, needs, and concerns.

Because God is omniscient (all knowing) He knows what is best for us. His timing is impeccable. When He delays, He has a purpose. It is for us to persevere in faith, hope, trust, and prayer.

Not long ago, I was discouraged and asked God why I had seen only minimal change, after years of daily prayer for a family member. God quickly gave me a vision of a theater filled with people waiting in anticipation for the curtain to open and the play to begin. Then in my spirit I heard the Lord say, "The audience has no idea what has been taking place behind the scenes. Sets have been constructed and painted, and dialogue has been memorized. There has been tedious blocking of props and every move that the actors will make, along with numerous rehearsals. However, none of those things could happen if the playright had not first written the script." 

"I am the Playright, the Director, the Author, and Finisher of your faith. Before I formed (--) in the womb, I knew (--)  (Jeremiah 1:5). I am moving people and circumstances into place, so that (--) becomes aligned with My will. You may not see anything positive happening, but faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The audience has faith that the curtain will open and a performance will begin. Have faith in Me."

We may make our plans, but God has the last word (Proverbs 16:1). God has a way of stretching us to the point where we say, "I can't take any more."  He uses trials to build faith and to draw us closer to Him, so that He may accomplish His best for us. Our desire and prayerful focus should be for the fulfillment of God's purposes in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. With that mindset, we then become unrelenting in our prayers, because we believe that our prayers are being heard and that God has a plan in motion...a plan far better than what we could ever conceive.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart 
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways submit to Him, 
And He will make your paths straight.
(Proverbs 3:5-6)







Monday, June 20, 2016

 OLD GLORY

Recently, my husband and I were traveling and stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch. As we entered the restaurant, a large plaque, embossed with the Pledge of Allegiance, was displayed where all could see. Childhood memories flooded back as I recalled facing the flag every morning in school, and with hand over my heart, I recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Needless to say, that plaque is now proudly displayed in the entry hall of our home. 

Children were taught that the Pledge of Allegiance was an expression of patriotism and love for the United States of America. We learned to respect, honor, and take pride in our Flag, because it represented a nation built for peace, liberty, and religious freedom. When we faced the Flag, we did so with a solemn respect for those who served and those who had given their lives to preserve freedom and security for all. Today, only half of the United States requires the pledge to be recited in schools. Even then, children may opt out, if they choose.

June 14th, many celebrated Flag Day by desplaying the nation's flag on the front of homes, porches, or in yards. As I reflected on that day, I was curious to know how the Pledge originated. I quickly discovered the connection between the American Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Betsy Ross is said to have sewn the first flag in 1776. According to her grandson, Ross had received a visit in late May or early June of 1776 from General George Washington, Robert Morris and George Ross. She was given a sketch and asked to create a flag to match the design, and on June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress approved America's first official national flag. 

The originator of the Pledge to the Flag was George Thacher Balch, who had attended West Point Military Academy and graduated in 1852 as a commissioned lieutenant of artillery. A veteran of the Civil War, he served under President Lincoln as Chief of Ordinance and later returned to West Point to teach. He then left West Point to serve in various government positions and was eventually appointed to the New York City Board of Education. Because the Civil War had caused such divisiveness in the nation, he felt a need to promote and restore patriotism in the schools.

Balch believed that patriotism and unity could be accomplished if children were taught what the Flag represented. He then wrote the first Pledge of Allegiance for children to recite: "I give my heart and my hand to my country—one country, one language, one flag." He had a strong conviction that children needed to respect and understand that the flag represented war, struggle, and sacrifice for liberty, justice, equality, and religious freedom. It would be their future responsibility and duty to preserve it's meaning.

In 1892, Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister and author, decided the Pledge needed to be revised. A staunch advocate for the separation of church and state, he purposefully left out any reference to God and rewrote the Pledge to read: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bellamy intended that the Flag be saluted as the Pledge was recited. However, during World War II the salute was replaced with a hand-over-heart gesture, because the original salute required extending the arm towards the Flag, which resembled the Nazi salute.

The United States Congress adopted The Pledge of Allegiance in 1942. In 1954, in response to the threat of secular Communism, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words under God, creating the pledge that is recited today: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United State of American and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The birth of our nation and the flag share the same history. The Pledge of Allegiance was written to honor the flag and what it represents. Sadly, many youth and young adults don't know or appreciate the history behind "Old Glory." Agitators, protestors, and demonstrators see the Flag as a piece of cloth to abuse, stomp, deface, and burn. 

Many countries have laws to prevent flag desecration. Not the United States! A 1990 United States Supreme Court case, United States v. Eichman, invalidated a federal law against the Flag's desecration as a violation of free speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution. That decision has been an ongoing slap in the face to our veterans, those who continue to serve, and those families who have lost a loved one defending the Flag.

The following poem beautifully expresses the value and meaning of our Flag and gives us pause to remember why we should honor it and gratefully pledge our allegiance to it.

I Am The Flag
by Ruth Apperson Rous

I am the flag of the United States of America.
I was born on June 14, 1777, in Philadelphia.
There the Continental Congress adopted my stars and stripes as the national flag.

My thirteen stripes alternating red and white, with a union of thirteen white stars in a field of blue, represented a new constellation, a new nation dedicated to the personal and religious liberty of mankind.

Today fifty stars signal from my union, one for each of the fifty sovereign states in the greatest constitutional republic the world has ever known.

My colors symbolize the patriotic ideals and spiritual qualities of the citizens of my country.

My red stripes proclaim the fearless courage and integrity of American men and boys and the self-sacrifice and devotion of American mothers and daughters.

My white stripes stand for liberty and equality for all.
My blue is the blue of heaven, loyalty, and faith.

I represent these eternal principles: liberty, justice, and humanity.
I embody American freedom: freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the press, and the sanctity of the home.

I typify that indomitable spirit of determination brought to my land by Christopher Columbus and by all my forefathers - the Pilgrims, Puritans, settlers at James town and Plymouth.

I am as old as my nation. I am a living symbol of my nation's law: the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights.

I voice Abraham Lincoln's philosophy: "A government of the people, by the people, for the people."

I stand guard over my nation's schools, the seedbed of good citizenship and true patriotism.

I am displayed in every schoolroom throughtout my nations; every schoolyard has a flagpole for my display. Daily thousands upon thousands of boys and girls pledge their allegiance to me and to my country.

I have my own law—Public Law 829, "The Flag Code" - which definitely states my correct use and display for all occasions and situations.

I have my special day, Flag Day. June 14 is set aside to honor my birth.

Americans, I am the sacred emblem of your country. I symbolize your birthright, your heritage of liberty purchased with blood and sorrow.

I am your title deed of freedom, which is yours to enjoy and hold in trust for posterity. If you fail to keep this sacred trust inviolate, if I am nullified and destroyed, you and your children will become slaves to dictators and despots. Eternal vigilance is your price of freedom.

As you see me silhouetted against the peaceful skies of my country, remind yourself that I am the flag of your country, that I stand for what you are - no more, no less.

Guard me well, lest your freedom perish from the earth.
Dedicate your lives to those principles for which I stand: "One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

I was created in freedom. I made my first appearance in a battle for human liberty.

God grant that I may spend eternity in my "land of the free and the home of the brave" and that I shall ever be known as "Old Glory," the flag of the United States of America.

Unfortunately, many United States citizens don't know their American history. Therefore, the minority is allowed to push and often win for the removal of a history that ties faith to self-government and the reason for the words, "under God," which is displayed within the Pledge, on our currency, and on public monuments and buildings.

When we look at our flag, let us remember that our forefathers desired and hoped that this nation would never forget its basic Christian roots, which, as a moral base, anchored the Constitution and Bill of Rights as a beacon for truth and justice against tyranny. Only by preserving that truth will it be possible for liberty and justice to prevail in perpetuity.


Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.
(John Adams, the chief architect of the Constitution)







Tuesday, June 14, 2016

HOLDING ON AND LETTING GO


"Life is a balance of holding on and letting go." A person who is very dear to me made this wall hanging for my office. It is a daily reminder that faith calls me to hold on to God's truth and His promises as I let go and entrust into His hands those things that I have no power to change.

We are called to trust the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). Unfortunately, human reasoning often skews faith, so that when we pray for something and we don't see an immediate response or change, there is a tempation to "help God" by doing what we think is best.

Maintaining balance in our faith and our thinking is paramount to faith living. We must pray relentlessly, knowing that God not only hears our prayers, but He has a plan and has all things under control. Even if we have prayed for numerous years and have not seen change, we must continue to pray and believe that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

God tells us, "My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts, and My ways are far beyond anything you could imagine" (Isaiah 55:8). Because we often don't understand His ways, we become disappointed and discouraged, thereby, allowing our expectations of God to fall short. Our best option is to turn to prayer and His Word, which says, "...those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint" (Isaiah 40:31). 

Maybe you have been praying for God to intervene in a life-threatening illness, a child's life that is out of control, a loved one who is addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, finances that are in shambles, a needed job, a broken relationship, or anything else that you may have been earnestly lifting in prayer. The Word tells us that great and tremendous power is available to those who believe in God. That power is the same divine power, which was demonstrated in Christ when God raised Him from the dead (Ephesians 1:19-20). Nothing is impossible to those who believe God, because nothing is impossible for God, for "all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us"(2 Corinthians 1:20). Therefore, we must not lose heart in doing what is right and pursuing God, for in due time, we will receive, if we don't grow weary (Galatians 6:9).

We have this confidence in God's promise: "I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the One who helps you'” (Isaiah 41:13). We have that "blessed assurance" that our Heavenly Father knows and sees our struggles and will always do the very best for us, even though we may not understand or even like His best or His ways.

It is easy to focus on the negative tapes that try to replay over and over in our mind. When negative, fearful thoughts invade, we need to override them with the Word of God and put our confidence in what His Word says about that situation. Balance comes in knowing how to redirect our thoughts to what the Word says and then let go of those things that divert our attention away from the truth of God's Word.

I have been praying for family members for years. I used to think I was helping God if I "preached" to them. However, I found that it caused alienation and often made them angry. I realized one day that I needed to take myself out of the way and allow God to work in their lives. My responsibility is to pray, be a living example of God's love, and entrust them to Him. If they come to me and ask for prayer or counsel, I pray for them and give them guidance according to the Word of God. I do not force my will, plans, or opinions on them.

We often "help" God, because we watch months and years pass without seeing any significant signs of change. But God's Word tells us to trust the omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnipresent (infinite and everywhere) LORD with all our heart, and not in our limited understanding. Faith is trust. It confidantly knows that God is bigger than any problem and that He is willing and able to help.

Last Wednesday morning, as I was prayerfully preparing to write this blog, I asked God a simple question, "Lord, You have blessed me with life on earth and eternal life. Your have given me a husband, family, friends, a church, a home, and the ability to bless others through gifts and talents. You supply my every need, and I am thankful; yet there is a restlessness that stirs within me that I don't understand. Why am I feeling this way?"

Within my spirit, I heard God gently say, "You are spirit, housed in a mortal body. The restlessness that you feel is your spirit longing for that permanent "Home" that can only be found with Me in My Kingdom. While you are on earth, you must learn to live as the Apostle Paul who said, 'For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake' (Philippians 1:21-24). However, 'I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content'" (Philippians 4:11).

Learning to trust God brings great freedom. The Apostle Paul had that freedom because he had complete and unwavering faith and trust in God. Paul's words encourage us to be content no matter the challenges that we face each day. We do that by living lives of balance in doing the will of God, trusting and obeying Him, and being a living testimony of His abundant love for all. We cannot allow ourselves to become anxious about anything, "but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, 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).

Our lives are like the morning fog—here a little while, then gone (James 4:13-17). Tomorrow is not guaranteed; therefore, we cannot waste time worrying about things that we cannot change. If we are to have peace that transcends all human understanding, we must first count our blessings and then release to the Lord those things that weigh us down.

God has great plans for each of us and instructs us not to be anxious about tomorrow. We can be confident in knowing that He will take care of us each day when we surrender our doubts, worries, concerns, and fears to Him. Surrendering all to God gives Him permission to accomplish His perfect will in our lives and the lives of our loved ones. Then we have freedom to live each day in balance, as we tenaciously cling to God's living Word and let go of the things that we are incapable of changing (Matthew 6:34).