Sunday, February 26, 2017

THE FLY SWATTER...Revisited


We see metaphors of God's Word in everyday life. Recently, I was awakened by the buzzing sound of an annoying fly. It continued to buzz around my head, as I attempted to read God's Word. This persistent pest would not leave me alone. Deciding that I had had enough of my unwanted visitor, I went to the living room to continue reading and praying. Yes, you guessed it; the pesky annoyance followed me. He was determined to distract and disrupt my peace and time with God.

No matter how much I tried to ignore him and concentrate on God's Word, his aerial feats became more aggressive. His buzzing wings sounded more like a jet engine, as he relentlessly dive-bombed my head. That's when I decided to go on the attack. 

I retrieved the fly swatter from the hall closest and with stealth-like determination, set on a mission to rid the pest. My eyes scanned the room, looking for the nasty little annoyance, when suddenly I spied him happily resting on my Bible.

Just then, an amazing revelation came to me. Satan is referred to in scripture as Beelzebub, meaning "prince of the flies, a.k.a. prince of demons." He's constantly buzzing around us like a drone. His mission is to torment, annoy, impair, and draw us away from our relationship with God. His buzzing is filled with negative words, concerns, and distracting thoughts that become so loud, that we can't concentrate on anything else. Instead of immediately dealing with him, we try to ignore or move away from his assaults. Yet those nagging thoughts and distractions follow us no matter where we go. 

How ironic that of all places that the little intruder could have landed, he landed on my opened Bible, where, most appropriately, he met his demise. Fortunately, his mess was not left on the page, unlike the mess that Satan works to leave on the pages of our lives.

Satan is a defeated foe, yet we often forget to wield the sword of God's Word. However, if we take a stand and speak the Word, we will see the enemy retreat. Isn't that what Jesus did when Satan came to tempt Him in the desert? Three times Satan challenged Jesus, and three times Jesus spoke the Word to Satan. What happened? Satan left, and angels came and ministered to Jesus. Have we not been called to emulate our Lord and speak His Word?

A centurion approached Jesus and explained that his servant was sick with palsy and "grievously tormented." Jesus agreed to come and heal him, but the centurion said something remarkable. "Lord, I am not worthy that You should come under my roof: but speak the Word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, 'Go,' and he goes; and to another, 'Come' and he comes; and to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard this, He "marveled," and said, "Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matthew 8:5-11).
Like this centurion, who recognized the dynamics of authority, we are to use our authority provided through the sacrificial, cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. We must put that faith and authority into action and speak God's Word with full expectation that His Word will not return to us void.  For God said, "So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:11)  
When we speak God's Word, it does not return to us empty. It prospers! As joint-heirs with Christ, we are called to speak His Word and expect the enemy to retreat. Although Satan roams the earth as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, he was defeated at Calvary's cross (I Peter 5:8).
The next time the enemy flies around your head with deafening distractions, or thoughts of hopelessness, doubt, unbelief, accusations, distrust, self-recrimination and failure, remember that you carry a powerful "fly swatter" - the Word of God. Use it today and speak the Word.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. 
Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 
(James 4:7)


PRAYER:
LORD, I thank you that according to Your Word, greater are You that is in me then [Satan] who is in this world. Help me to be ever mindful and alert to his deceptions, distractions, and tricks. Remind me to use Your Word as that "fly swatter" to stop his aggravations, lies, and activities. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, February 20, 2017

FOLLOW ME

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
Plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
 Plans to give you hope and a future.
(Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, when He saw Simon, called Peter, and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”  At once they left their nets and followed Him. Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him (Matthew 4:18-22). It is amazing that these four men immediately dropped what they were doing, and left their livelihood and families to follow Jesus. 

My husband and I have some idea of what it is like to leave our families and all that is comfortable and familiar and go where God leads. To follow after God and His will is to surrender our will and then trust that His plans far exceed our limited imaginations for ourselves.

When Michael and I first married, we lived in the St. Louis, Missouri area where we both worked. We were conveniently located to our families, friends, and church. Then one day, in 1981, Michael said, "I've prayed, and I believe we are to move to Florida." Taken by surprise, I was reluctant to leave my widowed mother behind. But several miracles happened that made it clear that God was making a way for us to move.

In early 1982, we drove to Florida for Michael's interviews, where two positions were available — one on the coast and one in the center of the state. We visited both locations, and as soon as we entered the cozy town of Sebring in central Florida, we knew God wanted us there. My concerns for my mother were eventually alleviated. She moved to Sebring, where she enjoyed Florida living and being close to us, until she passed away.

That small Florida community became our home for 23 years. There, we formed lasting friendships, our son married and had three children; I completed my college education; and we developed our God-given talents as we grew spiritually.

In late fall of 2004, Michael was told his company was closing his office. They offered two choices: relocate to another city in Florida or take a position in Tennessee. After much prayer, we felt that God was leading us to TN, so in January of 2005, we prepared our Florida home for sale. Leaving family, friends, and our beloved church family behind was not easy, but we knew God was taking us to Tennessee for a reason.

My husband's company gave us five paid days to search for a new home, so we flew to Nashville, rented a car, and began our house search in Murfreesboro. On the third day, we received a call that our home in Florida had miraculously sold for more than twice its original cost. Day four arrived and we had not yet found a home that fit our needs, but on the last day of our search in a driving snowstorm, we found a newly constructed home that was just minutes from Michael's work. We made an offer and it was accepted.

The new owners of our home in Florida didn't need to take possession until March, so our exit date was March 5, 2005, the same day of closing on our new home. The movers packed us on March 2 and pulled up to our new home on March 5th. A sunny, warm day, and a robin's egg blue sky, seemed to say that God had exciting things awaiting us in Murfreesboro, TN.

When we purchased our TN home, Michael was sure that it would be our "forever" home. However, there was always something stirring within my spirit that God had other plans, plans that I didn't know. In fact, it took me months to unpack, because I believed that one day we would be leaving. In the meantime, we found a wonderful church, made great friends, and settled into a new rhythm of life.

Around 2013, my husband and I were beginning to sense that God was getting ready to do something new in our lives. Michael felt that God was telling him to move east, but east where?  We prayed and sought answers. In the meantime, in faith, we began to sell furniture and personal property. We felt strongly that wherever God was taking us, we would be downsizing.

In 2015, the housing market took off, and we felt it was time to sell our home. We still had no idea where God was taking us, but we had faith that He would show us. We retained a realtor and within two weeks, the home sold. Now what were we to do? We had to be out of our home in 30 days with nowhere to go. However, we believed that God would show us a house to rent for six months, but our faith was somewhat shaken when we discovered that home properties rarely lease for six months. Miraculously, just days before we were to be out of our home, we found a home, that despite the owner's requirement for a year's lease, agreed to a six-month lease.

Those six months were a time of trial and testing of our faith. We didn't understand what God was doing. Finally, with the lease expiring in less than a month, I fasted and prayed that God would give us clear direction. Through various circumstances, God directed us to the Tri-Cities of East Tennessee. I looked on line, found a condo that I was sure was to be our home. We left on a Thursday morning, drove the 4 1/2 hours, met with the realtor, made a offer, and bought the property.

The idea of starting over again in our late 60's, with no family close by for support, was a bit challenging and somewhat daunting. But we have loved being in this area and are excited and look forward to God's plans for our lives. Yes, family is further away, which requires more road trips for us, but we are confident that we are here for a God-appointed purpose.

It is only possible to follow God, if we trust Him and are willing to step out of our comfort zone. Self-doubts, fears, and self-will are destructive agents that prevent us from surrendering our will and wants to follow Him. It is when we trust His plans and purposes, that doors of opportunity are opened to us, which far surpass anything that we could create for ourselves.

In 2016, a young man asked Billy Graham what it means to follow Jesus. This was Rev. Graham's answer:
—"First, it means to be committed (dedicated) to Him as our Savior and Lord. This means we want Him to be the Master of our lives instead of trying to run them ourselves."
—"Have you turned over the control of your life to Him? Following Christ also means we seek to obey Him every day."
—"He knows what is best for us and has told us how He wants us to live in His Word, the Bible. Is it part of your life every day and are you allowing its truth to shape your mind and heart?"
—"Finally, following Christ means seeing others through His eyes. Christ loved the world so much that He was willing to give His life for our salvation. Is His Holy Spirit filling us with His love, and are we seeking to touch others for Christ? The Bible says, 'Follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us'" (Ephesians 5:1-2).

We don't yet have all the pieces to the puzzle in place, but we know that God has a plan and we are taking each day at a time. Each place that God has led us to, we have grown experientially in our faith-walk with Him. He has always blessed us in our obedience and has never failed us. We know that we can trust Him to always do the very best for us...if we obediently follow Him.


PRAYER:
LORD, I thank you for Your faithfulness and mercy in my life. Even when things have been difficult and uncertain, You have always been my One certainty, for You have never abandoned me. Help me to continue to place my trust, faith, and hope in You and Your plans, so that You may accomplish Your perfect will in my life. In Jesus name, amen.





Monday, February 13, 2017

CAN THE BIBLE BE BELIEVED?


The age-old question is constantly asked by researchers and people in general, "Can the Bible be believed?  If so, are the stories found in it just allegories, fairytales, legends, and fables, or did those events really happen?"
 
Probably the most famous biblical stories that people challenge are Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, Jonah and the Whale, the Parting of the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Daniel and the Lions and The Resurrection of Christ. Scientific, logical minds deem these biblical accounts to be far-fetched and question how anyone, with any modicum of intelligence, could believe that these events really happened? That belief was confirmed by a 2016 Pew Research Center's survey in which many who were interviewed stated "science" as their reason for not believing the Bible.

Ironically, the ongoing scientific research and archeological digs, that unearth artifacts, scrolls, and ancient ruins, prove the authenticity of biblical accounts. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, on December 4, 2015, a piece of clay inscribed with the 2,700 year-old seal of King Hezekiah (2 kings 18:2), was found in Jerusalem. And on March 7, 2016, an ancient seal was discovered from Israel's "First Temple era," when King David began his reign. These are just two recent discoveries listed among 40,000-plus artifacts.

Many of the skewed beliefs regarding the Bible have been perpetuated and circulated over the centuries by people who did not read the Bible, or by those who read it and found it to be confusing and contradictive. "But it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God's deep secrets" (1 Corinthians 2:10 NIV). It is up to us to be the seekers of those secrets.

A 2013 Gallup Poll stated that half of Americans believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but it should not be taken literally. The Barna Research Group surveyed American religious beliefs and found that only 4% of adults and 9% of born-again Christians believe absolute biblical truths exist to be implemented in one’s life.

A tremendous diversity of beliefs exists in our culture and our churches, especially when contrasted with the Bible. The Pew Research Center's U.S. poll taken in 2015, said that 58% of adults believe that hell is for bad and unremorseful people.  And 72% of Americans believe heaven is for those who lead a respectable, good life.

God's Word tells us that our good works cannot gain us entrance into heaven. Access is only through the blood of Jesus. It was God's great love for us, that He gave His Son, Jesus Christ, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). "For it is by grace [we] have been saved through faith — and this is not from [ourselves], it is the gift of God — NOT BY WORKS, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV).

CBS Evening News reported in 2008, that 70% of the American population believes there are many paths to heaven. The Pew Research Center found that 52% of Christians believe there are other faiths that lead to heaven. If that were true, it would have been pointless for Jesus to come to earth to suffer, die, and resurrect from the dead as the propitiation for our sins. Yet Jesus said, "I Am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6)

Jesus sacrifice is the foundational truth interwoven throughout the Old and New Testaments, reiterating that His blood covers sin. Jesus bears witness to the shedding of His blood when He speaks to His disciples and refers to Himself in the third person, “We are going up to Jerusalem,” [where] "the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles, who will mock Him and spit on Him, flog Him and kill Him. Three days later He will rise" (Mark 10:33-34).

Jesus' crucifixion, death, and resurrection were prophetically recorded in Isaiah and Psalm 22, a millennium before Christ was born. His sacrifice is verified in both Old and New Testaments: 
—"I offered My back to those who beat Me, My cheeks to those who pulled out My beard; I did not hide My face from mocking and spitting" (Isaiah 50:6, Matthew 27:30; John 19:1)
—They yelled, "He trusts in the Lord, let the Lord rescue Him" (Psalm 22:7-8; Matthew 27:41-43) 
—Lots were cast to divide up His clothes (Psalm 22:18; Matthew 27:35)
—His bones were out of joint (Psalm 22:14) 
—His hands and feet were pierced (Psalm 22:16; Luke 24:39)
Upon His resurrection, Jesus met with His disciples and said,  "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44).

The Old Testament prophetically speaks of things to come. The New Testament is a record of prophecy fulfilled. Therefore, "know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21).

People often ask why there was so much violence and killing in the Old Testament. The old covenant required keeping the law and making animal sacrifices to atone for sins. God had said, “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:2-6).  

Before Christ, those who worshipped God were covered by the blood of sacrificial animals. However, there were many, who rejected God and His laws, worshipped false gods, and embraced all manner of sin that resulted in death.

The carnal nature creates a false belief to fit a personal mindset and lifestyle, rather than submit that lifestyle and mindset to God. Fortunately,
God's extravagant love provided an escape for the repentant, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance, He had passed over former sins" (Romans 3:23-25). 

No longer under the law, we are under a new covenant of mercy, grace, and a promise of eternal life. For "in [Christ] we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" (Ephesians 1:7).

Every aspect of the Bible is read, studied, and believed by faith. What is faith? The Bible tells us that "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). The dictionary defines faith as having a complete trust or confidence in someone or something; it is having a strong belief in God or a religion, based on spiritual understanding rather than proof. True faith conforms to the will and nature of God. 

The Bible is a treasure trove of hidden messages for us to discover. Just as we were intentional in school to read, study, and then be tested, faith is developed and nurtured by studying God's Word, so that when testing comes, we are not weak, afraid, ineffective, doubtful, and faithless. 

Short devotionals read each day will encourage and give us a good start for our day, but rarely will they educate and inform us of the deeper truths that the Bible holds. For "all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped  for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).

So, can the Bible be believed? The amount of perseverance, commitment, and desire that is invested in knowing and understanding God through His Word will determine our level of faith that answers that question.

PRAYER:

Lord, thank you for Jesus' atoning blood that has given me new life and eternal hope. Forgive me for not seeking You as I should. I ask that You develop within me a hunger to know You through Your Word. Place within my heart a burning desire to prioritize Your Word in my life. As I pray and study, give me revelation, discernment, and understanding, for my desire is to intimately know You as my Shepherd. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, February 6, 2017

GOD'S FAITHFULNESS

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering,
For He who promised is faithful.
(Hebrews 10:23)

December 26, 2016, we celebrated our nine-pound fur-baby's eleventh birthday. Poodles, especially toy poodles, love to run and jump, so on that day, Brandi was doing what poodles do.

Her favorite pastime has always been playing with her small, squeaky, red ball. She jumps onto the sofa with the ball in her mouth, sets it down, and then pushes it off with her nose. She then jumps down and chases it. This process is repeated until she grows tired. That day, she was on her second jump when her left, hind leg gave way on landing. We rushed her to the vet, where she was diagnosed with a torn ACL. The vet suggested that we schedule surgery for Thursday, December 29, which we did.

Feeling somewhat uneasy about the surgery, I researched ACL tears and discovered that some tears, with rest and no activity, will form scar tissue and mend over time. I called the vet and said that we preferred to give the leg a month of rest to see if it might show signs of improvement. The vet reluctantly agreed. In the meantime, my husband, who never remembers his dreams, had told me,  "I had two dreams that God is going to heal Brandi's leg."

From the first day she was injured, she transitioned into a routine of waiting for me to carry her. Confining her to a kennel was not an option, because she is a pacer, which would cause more damage. Sedating her for a long period of time was also not an option.

Brandi has always been a Velcro, lap dog, but this injury had made her more dependent on me. She was carried to her water and food and outside to potty. If I left a room, I took her with me, so she wouldn't try to follow me. 

January 30, we dropped her off at the vet, so that we could travel to Nashville for Michael's six month checkup. More than a month had passed since her accident, and despite our efforts, she was still carrying the injured leg tucked tightly under her body. The vet met us in the lobby and said, "You need to schedule surgery." Her new surgery date was set for Friday, February 3.

We had been praying every day, since her accident, that God would heal her. From all outward appearances, it seemed that surgery was a given. We began to question if Michael's dreams had been nothing more than "wishful thinking." However, he couldn't shake how real both dreams had been. 

From the first day of her accident, we had placed Brandi in God's hands and trusted that He would do the best for her. Now we needed explicit instruction and prayed, "Lord, if we are not supposed to move forward with surgery, please give us some indication that her leg is healing."

We returned home from Nashville on Wednesday, February 1, to pick Brandi up from the vet. When they brought her to us, we noticed that she was walking on her injured leg for the first time. Even the vet tech was astonished that Brandi had been standing and walking on that leg during her stay with them.

When we got her home, I set her down and she took off running around the house, just as she had always done. We watched her for a couple of hours to see if this was a fluke or if she was really showing improvement. Each time I set her down, she put weight on all four legs and walked. I called the vet tech to let her know Brandi's progress and that we were holding off surgery. She agreed with our decision.

Brandi is now using her injured leg more, but until she shows continuous, solid footing without favoring that leg, there will be close monitoring, no running and playing, and only walking very short distances. No matter the length of the healing process, we have placed the outcome in God's hands.

The beginning of last week, we didn't know if we should move forward with surgery, but God answered our prayer with a clear and miraculous sign of improvement. He is faithful and never forgets His promises. He is not a man that should lie, but is faithful to keep His Word (Numbers 23:19).

What is faithfulness? Faithfulness means to be constant, loyal, abiding, enduring, and unwavering. However, faithfulness works both ways. God is faithful to us, but when things seem hopeless and our prayers appear unanswered, do we remain faithful and steadfast in our faith and resolve to trust Him?

God's timing and purposes are different than ours. Often His delays in answering are for the purpose of testing and developing our faith and resolve. If we were to instantaneously receive answers, then how would true faith be involved in the process? 

The Bible tells us that God's promises are conditional. One of the conditions for answered prayer is trusting Him. Will we be moved by circumstances or will we trust Him? 1 Peter 7 tells us that trials are only to test our faith, to see whether or not it is strong and pure. It is tested as fire tests gold and purifies it, for our faith is far more precious to God than gold.

We see conditions set forth for blessing throughout scripture. "If you do..., I will bless you with..." One very important condition is to delight ourselves in the Lord, and He will give us the desires of our heart" (Psalm 37:4). Do we take great pleasure in being in the presence of the Lord through prayer, study, and worship? He promises that if we do, He will give us the desires of our heart.

 God has shown His faithfulness to us in our many journeys throughout our married life.  His faithfulness has been a constant and abiding presence with us during Michael's eight-year journey with cancer and now with Brandi's injury. We have that assurance that the LORD is a faithful and merciful God who keeps covenant with those who love Him and keep His commandments (Deuteronomy 7:9). Because of the Lord's love, we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness! I say: The Lord is my portion; therefore, I will put my hope in Him (Lamentations 3:22).

PRAYER:
Lord, I am so thankful for Your unwavering faithfulness and Your unending mercies. Help me to always walk in faith and not by sight, for it is faith that moves mountains. Help me to remain steadfast and resolute in my faith, for Your Word reminds me that without faith it is impossible to please You (Hebrews 11:6). In Jesus name, amen.