Monday, August 29, 2016

THE STORMS OF LIFE

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair;
Persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed...
(2 Corinthians 4:8-9)

The day had begun on a positive note. A great multitude had gathered at Capernaum, along the shores of the Sea of Galilee to witness miracles and hear Jesus teach parables about the Kingdom (Mark 4:35). The Jewish leaders were angry that "this man," whom the people called Teacher and Rabbi, could draw such large crowds (Matthew 12:24; Mark 15:10). As the day wore on and the sun slowly slid beneath the horizon that blazed with hues of gold, red, and orange, Jesus called to His disciples to launch the boat for the 13-mile, two-hour journey to the other side (Mark 4:35) They had made the trip before, so this would be just another, uneventful crossing...so they thought.

Exhausted from the day, Jesus quickly fell asleep in the stern of the boat, when suddenly a great windstorm arose. Waves crashed against the boat filling it with water, but Jesus remained sound asleep, unbothered by the raging sea. 

Fearful that they might drown, the disciples shook Jesus awake and said, "Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?" Jesus arose and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace, be still!”  Upon His Word, the wind ceased and there was a great calm. He then turned to His disciples and said, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” Seeing, the power of His Words, they were afraid and said to one another,  “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!” (Mark 4:36-41).

The disciples were asked two very important questions:  "Why are you so fearful?" and "How is it that you have no faith?" Jesus was basically saying, "You have sat under My teaching and witnessed numerous miracles, yet you still fear and don't believe?" They did not see Jesus as God incarnate, the embodiment of the "same Word that was in the beginning, and that Word was with God, and the Word was Godand the Word became flesh, and lived among His creation" (I John 1:1,14).

The disciples had felt threatened by the sudden storm. Trials and tribulations hit us when we least expect them. If we focus on the storm and not on the Lord, we can become entangled in fear disappointment, confusion, grief, and doubt that hinder God's purposes and plans. It is better to go through a storm with God than to resist Him, because when we trust Him, the storm dissipates and vanishes, leaving us with new strength and new day of promise and opportunity under the sun.  

Jesus, the Son, is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His nature, upholding all things by His powerful Word (Hebrews 1:3) We can be comforted in the knowledge that Jesus upholds us and is with us during our storm, just as He was with the disciples that night. 

Jesus had called the disciples into ministry. This storm was part of their preparation for those times when He would no longer be with them. He knew exactly what their strengths and their weaknesses were, just as He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knew that without faith, if they faced a hard trial, they would fail in their future assignment to "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). He knows when, how, why, where and what will prompt us to falter in our faith. For that reason, like the disciples, He lovingly prepares us, so that our faith will weather other storms that will surely come.

The disciples had stated, "Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!" Had they forgotten that He had taken authority over death, demons, and disease, so why not the storms and the sea? Their unbelief was exposed to show that faith not tested can never be trusted; life without problems is never tested. For that reason, God allows us to pass through storms to build faith and trust in Him. 

Trust is paramount in developing faith. Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, was a man of great faith who believed the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Despite His faith and right standing with God, God tested Abraham. He commanded him to take his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and go to the region of Moriah to sacrifice him as a burnt offering on a mountain revealed by God.

We would expect Abraham to have questioned God during the three-day journey to Moriah, "Surely, I haven't heard You correctly, LORD. You promised me that my wife, Sarah, would bear me a son in our old age, and I was to call him Isaac. You would then establish Your covenant with Isaac as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him (Genesis 17:19). How then can he have descendants after him, if I am to sacrifice him?" No, there is no evidence showing that Abraham questioned God. He believed in the integrity of God's Word; therefore, he moved forward with immovable and unshakable faith.

Early the next morning Abraham loaded his donkey and took with him, two of his servants and Isaac. On the third day, Abraham saw the place in the distance and told his servants to wait with the donkey, and said, "We will worship and then we will come back to you" (Genesis 22:1-5).

Abraham's words to his servants reveal his confidence in God's covenant promise to him. He was absolutely sure, that no matter what happened, that he and Isaac would come back down the mountain together. "So he bound his son to the altar and raised his knife to slay the boy, but God said, “Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear (honor) God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son.” Then Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. He sacrificed the ram as a burnt offering and called the place, The Lord Will Provide" (Genesis 22:12-14).

God is Jahovah-Jireh our Provider. Do we trust Him for our provision? He tests our faith in such a way that we are forced to make choices. Will we let go and let God take over? Is He the One who is directing our steps or are we? Only our faith in God moves Him to change our circumstances.  

Faith leads us away from fact, because faith believes and trusts the Word of God. The facts may say that we have a life-threatening illness, but the truth of God's Word says, "By His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5) The facts tell us that our bank account can't cover our expenses, but the Word tells us, "God will supply every need of ours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19 The facts tell us that we are out of work and need a job, but the truth of God's Word says, "Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!" (Psalm 90:17).

Praise and gratitude is a key element in faith, because it takes the focus off of our problems and ourselves and focuses on God. Praise says to God, "Lord, I don't understand why this is happening or the purpose in this, but I choose to thank you for this opportunity to trust and praise You. I believe that You have a good plan for me; therefore, I believe that You will make a way where there is no way."

The story of the disciples in the boat represents those Christians whose faith is weak and not developed to the point of trusting God in all circumstances. The story of Abraham and his son, Isaac, gives us a glimpse into the life of a man who walked in faith and believed God's covenant Word spoken to him. He did not allow the circumstances to derail his faith or overtake him.

We have been given a covenant Word. His promises are "Yes" in Christ, and through Him, we speak "Amen" to the glory of God (2 Cor. 1:20). He tells us to cast our burden on Him and He will sustain us and will never permit us to be moved  (Psalm 55:22) For we know that those who love God, all things will work together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Unexpected storms come, but know that God is with us. He is the One to whom we look for answers and guidance, rather than dwelling on the circumstances that have the potential to overwhelm us with fear and doubt. The disciples focused on the storm and not on the Lord who was physically with them. God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). Whoever goes to Him for safety and remains under the protection of the Almighty, can say to Him, "You are my defender and protector. You are my God in Whom I trust" (Psalm 91: 1-2). Do we have that confidence that when we call to the Lord, He listens and rescues us from all our troubles? (Psalm 34:17) The LORD is ready to fight for us. We need only to be still as He walks with us through the storm (Exodus 14:14).

A PRAYER IN THE STORM:

LORD, this storm is overwhelming me with fear, doubt, disappointment, and so many questions. My dreams seem tossed and blown; yet I know that You are with me, and You have a plan for my life. Although I don't understand why this is happening, I praise You in this situation, for Your Word tells me that You will fight for me and rescue me from my troubles. I have seen natural storms, and at the end of those storms, Your rainbow of promise was bowed across the sky. I ask that as I pass through this storm, I will see a rainbow of victory. I choose to trust You and will not lean on my own understanding, because Your ways and thoughts are far above mine. Help me to be sensitive to Your guidance and instruction as I place this situation in Your capable and loving hands. In Jesus Name I pray. Amen.


Monday, August 22, 2016

THE NATURE OF OUR ENEMY

The nature of our enemy is found in his name - devil. Take the "d" off devil and you have evil. "Evil" means to be profoundly immoral and malevolent (one who desires to do only evil to others).

The Word of God tells us that "the great dragon, that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray," rebelled against God. Because rebellion is the same as witchcraft, and stubbornness is iniquity and idolatry, Satan was hurled to the earth, along with his [demons] (I Samuel 15:23; Revelations 12:9-10). Therefore, we are warned to be sober-minded and alert, for our adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).

What is an adversary? An adversary is defined as an opposer, rebel, rival, enemy, challenger, instigator, and foe. Our adversary, Satan, uses and manipulates people to challenge, instigate, oppose, and rebel against a moral society. He has power to influence our thoughts and has only immoral and evil intentions for our destruction and the destruction of America. He attacks minds with negative, questioning, lying thoughts: "God doesn't care about you." "God doesn't love you." "You will never..." "Do you REALLY believe the Word of God?"  "If God loves you, why are you suffering?" "This isn't sin." If there is any doubt that the devil is real and that he puts thoughts into our minds, all we need to do is read the dialogue between Jesus and Satan in Matthew 4:1-11.

Satan wants people defeated, depressed, diminished, and dead. His goal is to create doubt and unbelief so that people blame God for any evil that occurs in their personal lives and throughout the world. For the enemy knows that if people believe his lies, they will rebel against God. However, Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). For that reason, it is imperative that every living soul look to God and His Word, where they will find all truth that dispels the darkness and shatters lies (John 1:5).

Jesus warned that in the last days, iniquity and evil will abound, and the love of many will wax cold (Matthew 24:12). Every day, the news reminds us of the inequity and unrelenting and escalating evil that is permeating the world. Since history provides lessons, it's important to consider the parallels between the rebellious Israelites and the rebellion we see in the United States.

ISRAELITES' REBELLION AND REPENTANCE:
The Israelites gave no thought to God's miracles and did not remember His many kindnesses, so they rebelled by the Red Sea. He saved them for His name's sake, to show His power and rebuked the Red Sea. He then led them through the depths on dry ground and saved them from the hand of the enemy. The waters covered their adversaries; not one survived. Then they believed His promises and sang His praise. But they soon forgot what He had done and did not wait for His plan to unfold. In the desert they gave in to their carnal desires and tested God, so He gave them what they asked for, but sent a wasting disease among them. In rebellion, they exchanged God for an image of a bull, and forgot God who had saved them and performed miracles, so He said He would destroy them. However, Moses interceded before Him to keep His wrath from destroying them (Psalm 106:1-23).

God is loving and merciful, but He will not tolerate sin. He responds to the repentant and to the prayers of those who stand in faith. An army of Christians has power to defeat Satan's agenda for America's destruction, for we know that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (I John 5:14).

The Israelites despised the pleasant land and did not believe His promise. Instead, they grumbled in the midst of their provision and did not obey the Lord. So He swore to them that they would fall in the wilderness and their descendants would fall among the nations and be scattered throughout the lands. So the Israelites absorbed the Canaanite ways and yoked themselves to the god, Baal (meaning lord, owner) and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods, arousing the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds. Because of their wickedness, a plague broke out among them, but Phinehas [the priest] intervened, and the plague was stopped (Psalm 106:24-31).

Daily, we see news coverage of people of all nationalities, who, despite living in the most free and prosperous nation in the world, show their ingratitude and contempt for God and America by burning our flag, killing our police officers, dishonoring our soldiers and veterans, mocking our government, burning communities, and spurning Christianity. For that reason, Christians have a moral responsibility to intercede for America.

ISRAELITES' CONTINUED REBELLION:
The Israelites disobeyed God and refused to destroy the idol worshippers as the Lord had commanded. Instead, they mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them and sacrificed their sons and their daughters to false gods. They defiled and prostituted themselves by their deeds. Therefore, the Lord was angry with His people and gave them into the hands of the nations, so their enemies ruled over them, oppressed them, and subjected them to their power. Many times He delivered them, but they continued in their rebellion and wasted away in their sin. 

GOD'S MERCY
He took note of their distress when He heard their cry of [repentance] and for their sake, He remembered His covenant, and out of His great love, He relented (Psalm 106:34-46).

GOD'S BLESSINGS ON AMERICA
Early Puritan Christians made a perilous journey to the "new world" to escape religious persecution. They built this nation on the precepts of God's Word, as a beacon of hope and liberty for all. Years later, our Founding Fathers, whom the majority were Christian, gathered to "form a more perfect union." Together, they created the U.S. Constitution, a bulwark against future tyranny. Over the years, brave men and women, who have believed in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have fought and sacrificed all to preserve the freedoms that our forefathers fought to gain.

AMERICA'S REBELLION AND CALL FOR REPENTANCE:
Over the last 30 years, there has been a slow eroding of America's basic Christian values as her people, like the Israelites, have forgotten God, who so richly blessed them. Now the people of America compromise their beliefs and heritage to embrace false religions, all forms of pleasure, and abominations of every kind. No longer are they "set apart" from the world, as God commanded. Instead, they have "mingled with the nations and adopted their customs." They worship their idols of materialism, wealth, and prosperity, which have become a snare, as they sacrifice their sons and daughters on an altar of self-gratification (Psalm 106:35-38). Because of this, God has given those who do those things over to their sinful desires and sexual impurity, as they degrade their bodies with one another. They exchange the truth for a lie and worship and serve the world and things in it, instead of their Creator (Romans 1:25).

The Rev. Franklin Graham, said, "While this country was founded on biblical laws and principles, today America has turned its back on God, and when a nation does this, the end is near."

America's only hope is to return to God and His biblical values that were once embraced and held dear. We cannot look to the government to fix the many problems that America is facing. 
America's problems are a heart issue...hearts that have accepted lies as truths and become hardened to God and His Word. 

Men and women, who hold positions of power, have abused their authority with no regard for God, His Word, or human life. Their conscience is seared as they brazenly corrupt and redefine the Word of God, our Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. They speak out of both sides of their mouths as they daily infuse their perverted ideologies into America's way of life. The result: this country is more divided and volatile than at any other time in history.

It is urgent that Christians awaken from their spiritual slumber and recognize that we no longer live in a country, safe from our enemies, for they are embedded within our society. Because the Israelites chose to serve other gods, God gave them into the hands of the nations, so their enemies ruled over them, oppressed them, and subjected them to their power. Will this be America's fate?

If America is to again become that light burning brightly on a hill, then Christians must daily intercede for this country and its people. If the people of America refuse to turn to God and leave their evil, destructive ways, we will see God's judgment.

America sits at a critical juncture in history; therefore our hearts must be set on God's will and not our own. God provided everything for the Israelites, yet they wanted what they wanted, so God gave it to them. Their rebellion caused them to "fall in the wilderness, and their descendants would fall among the nations and be scattered throughout the lands" (Psalm 106:26-27). Only now are the Jewish people returning from around the world to their homeland, Israel.

The decisions that we make in November will forever change the direction of our lives and this nation. Therefore, our hearts must be set on God and our voices lifted to Him in praise and prayer, asking  for wisdom, discernment, and direction in electing those who will uphold our Consitution, respect the sanctity of life, and honor God's biblical values and standards that have been the bedrock of this nation.

A PRAYER FOR AMERICA:
LORD, your Word tells us that if we, who are called by Your name, will humble ourselves and pray and seek Your face and turn from our evil and immoral ways, then You will hear from heaven and forgive our sins and heal our land (2 Chronicles 7:13-14) Therefore, I humbly repent and ask forgiveness for failing to pray for this nation every day. I ask that revival be stired in my heart and the hearts of all Christians, so that the lost and backslidden seek You and embrace the biblical values that made this country "one nation under God." Thank you, Lord, that You have given us power and authority over all powers of the enemy and have placed within every believer the ability to make a difference in the lives of others through prayer (Luke 10:19). May we each prayerfully and boldly seek Your will in all things, as we intercede for this nation's repentance and restoration. Give us wisdom and discernment in making choices that are not based on emotion or fear, but are based on Your Word. I ask this in Jesus name. Amen.

"Almighty God
 Who has given us this good land for our heritage;
We humbly beseech Thee 
That we may always prove ourselves
 A people mindful of Thy favor
 And glad to do Thy will."

Thomas Jefferson

Monday, August 15, 2016


AGAINST ALL ODDS

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15:13).

Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15 NIV). Generally, this refers to a childlike (innocent, unsuspicious, uninhibited, spontaneous) faith that knows, trust, and believes God without having tangible proof.

It is always inspiring to read about faith, but when it involves the faith of a child, it is even more compelling. The indomitable faith of eleven-year old, Breana Carsey of Connersville, Indiana, believed, against all odds, that she would own a brood mare, and that mare would birth a champion trotter.

Breana would always draw pictures of her imagined broodmare and foal that she knew would be hers. The miracles that came from her faith makes the truth of this scripture come alive: Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1).

Breana had been begging her parents for five years to buy her a "mommy horse," but the answer was always no. Then one day, her dad finally relented, so she picked a mare, named Imageofasweetgirl, (Image of a sweet girl) who, ironically, was in foal to Trainforthefuture (Train for the future). Excited, she said, ‘Daddy, I want to grow up to be a sweet girl. This is a perfect match."

In the spring of 2013, her mare gave birth to a foal, which Breana named MJB Got Faith. MJB were initials of her two siblings first names and hers. Got Faith seemed the obvious name for her foal, because she believed that with faith and hard work, her foal would prove to be a champion.

MJB Got Faith was considered a "runt from a poor breeding stock" that could never race, let alone qualify. However, Breana would not be dissuaded, despite her father's acute skepticism. Her determination, passion, and display of faith never wavered.  Still, her father believed that the horse was a long shot and a money pit. So, behind her back, he decided to sell the colt at auction and recoup some of his money. Mysteriously, the paperwork was  lost and the colt wasn't entered in the auction. When Breana uncovered her Dad's scheme, she exclaimed, "He's not for sale!" "There's no price, daddy." "You've got to have faith." Her dad could see the writing on the stall. His daughter was not going to be discouraged.

MJB Got Faith was so slow, that he barely qualified to compete, but miracle of miracles, he won his first race...then his second...then his third and fourth, which qualified him for the state championship.

In an attempt to encourage his daughter for the state championship, her dad said, "Baby, if you finish third, you should be so thankful." She responded, "Daddy, if he finishes last I'm going to be thankful, but he's going to win." So it happened that the little horse with no pedigree and against all odds, won the $225,000 Ohio Sire Stakes final.

Breana had a goal of buying a farm so that Got Faith would be just outside her back door; however, she put her dream on the backburner to help others and donated 50 percent of her winnings to needy families as well as charities, including the Christians' Harness Horsemen's Association. Despite several very lucrative offers to buy her winning gelding, she has refused all offers.

It is extremely unusual for a child to own a racehorse, much less manage a horse's racing career, but we are talking about a little girl who lives faith in partnership with her heavenly Father as she reaches for the stars. She always said, "MJB is going to buy the farm for us." I believe that with God's help and her unshakable faith, that dream will be realized.

Children, in all of their innocence, instinctively believe and trust in God, unless life teaches them differently and darkens their hearts. The Word tells us that, "before God formed us in the womb He knew us! (Jeremiah 1:5) People know that there is something greater than who they are, but many choose not to follow the evidence of God's presence that surrounds them. "For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that [He] made, even His eternal power and Godhead...(Romans 1:20-23).

We all travel through this life with its ups and down, challenges and heartbreaks, seasoned with supreme joys. Some experiences can encourage and motivate, while others have the potential to shatter dreams. That is where faith comes into play. Do we trust the circumstances and those things that are tangible, or like Breana, do we trust God to lead us to the realization of our dreams, knowing deep within our soul, that He has a good plan for our future (Jeremiah 29:11).

Are there dreams that have burned within your heart, but you felt they could never become a reality? Did life divert you from your path and you see no way to find your way back? "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know [believe] that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we ask of Him" (I John 14-15). Faith believes, despite the circumstances.

Are you struggling to believe that God hears your prayers or that He will even answer them? Did you have childhood dreams and plans that became sidetracked. It is never too late to fulfill your dreams. Consider Folk Artist, Anna Mary Robertson Moses, a.k.a. Grandma Moses, who began her art career at age 78 and ended upon her death at age 101 in 1961. As a child, she loved to paint and draw, but life as a live-in maid and then as a busy wife on a farm, delayed her dream. However, she never let her dream die. Her works have been shown and sold in the United States and around the world, with The Sugaring Off, selling for $1.2 million in 2006.

God placed a dream and wrote a destiny in each heart before birth (Psalm 139:16) If we trust and believe in the promises of His Word, He will set us on a path toward fulfilling our destiny.

If your dreams have been sidelined and you think that it's too late, know that it is never too late to realize your dreams. If that dream is still burning in your heart, don't let the flame go out. Prayer is always a starting point in accomplishing our dreams:

Father God, I thank you that I can come to you with my hopes and dreams, because it is You who placed those desires in my heart, even before I was born. But there are times when I struggle with doubt and unbelief. Help me to trust You with all my heart and not lean on my own understanding, because Your Word tells me that if I surrender my will and ways to You, You will make my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6). Lord, Your Word also promises that in everything I do, if I put You first, You will direct me and crown my efforts with success (Proverbs 3:6-8). My dream to ________ has not yet been realized. I ask for the gift of faith to believe and trust that as You equip and guide me with everthing good for doing Your will, that You will work in me those things that please You. Then I will see that special dream You placed within me come alive and be fulfilled (Proverbs 13:21). In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.