Monday, March 27, 2017

ROOTS


It was a cloudy, early morning, and the threat of rain hung over the sleepy little community of eight hundred.  We had spent five days with my husband's mom, and it was time to head home. As we reached the edge of town, my eyes locked onto a large tree.  Immediately, I asked my husband to circle back so that I could take the picture that you see.

I marveled at the power of the roots. In their effort to keep growing, they had forced the sidewalk out the way. I was quickly reminded of the scripture, "He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers" (Psalm 1:3).

Roots function to absorb water and inorganic nutrients. They anchor and support the tree and store food and nutrients so the tree will survive a drought. They extend radially to a distance
equivalent to the height of the tree with the deepest roots being directly under the trunk. Tree roots can grow downward three feet deep to a recorded depth of 23 feet, depending on the richness of the soil and the size and type of tree. However, the richness of the soil is the key to any tree's growth. Without a rich soil, the root structure is shallow and weak, which brings us to God's Word and His comparison of the growth of roots to the growth of our faith.

Jesus taught the Parable of the Sower to a large crowd that had gathered by the lake (Read Mark 4 for the Parable). Interestingly, His disciples didn't understand the parable and asked Him for its meaning. Jesus explained that when the Word of God is sown, there are those who hear it, but Satan comes and immediately takes it away, because there is no root. Others, the Word is initially received with joy, but when trouble or persecution comes, they fall away because they are not rooted and grounded in the Word. Then there are those who hear the Word but it doesn't take root, because the worries of life, wealth, and the desires for things choke out that Word. But then there are those who receive the Word and it takes root, and those roots grow deep and spread out to anchor that person to an immovable faith and trust in Christ.

Christians are to be rooted and built up in Christ and established in the faith (Colossians 2:7). The only way to become established in our faith is to be rooted and grounded in God's Word, which is that rich soil in which our roots grow deep and spread out to become a strong anchor for our faith. Without knowledge of the Word, our faith cannot grow, because there is nothing fortifying our faith. For it is faith and trust in God's Word that holds us fast in the storms of life, feeds our soul, and brings refreshment in times of spiritual drought.

The more of God's Word that we pour into our heart, the more we are strengthened with power through His Spirit in our inner being, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith—that we, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:16-19). That kind of expansive love can only be embraced and discovered within the pages of the Bible.

Metaphorically speaking, we are like a tree whose depth of roots determines the health, height, width, and longevity of the tree. The breadth, length, height and depth of our faith and how deep and wide those roots grow, are determined by how much of God's Word we feed our spirit and soul. And like a tree that requires water for growth and nourishment, we require the living water of God's Word for our spiritual growth and longevity.

God has been impressing upon my spirit that reading His Word is not enough. He wants us to study to show ourselves approved (2 Timothy 2:15), so that we may understand and apply His Word. Most importantly, He wants us to commit His Word to memory, so that when the enemy comes against us, we can speak the Word and the enemy will flee (Matthew 4:1-11).

Recently, the Lord placed this word in my heart, "Again I say, read, study, and absorb my Word, for it is life to those who find it. Embrace it; speak it."  Proverbs 4:20-22 says,  "...be attentive to My Words; incline your ears to My sayings. Let them not escape from your sight; keep them within your heart. For they are life to those who find them, and healing to all their flesh."

The massive roots of that tree had thrived in the rich soil, yielding enough force to lift the sidewalk out of its way. God wants our roots so firmly grounded in His Word that when unexpected things come...and they will...our faith will be strong enough to uproot and push past those obstacles, problems, difficulties, pain, suffering, and disappointments that challenge our faith.

PRAYER:
Father, there are times when the distractions of this world overpower my desire to read and study Your Word. Place within me a passion to faithfully study Your Word. May Your Holy Spirit be my Teacher, for Your Spirit reveals and searches the deeper mysteries and truths in Your Word. Help me to commit Your Word to memory so that those roots of faith will grow deep, abiding, and unmovable. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, March 20, 2017

GOD PREPARES THE WAY

You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good
In order to bring about this present result.
(Genesis 50:20 NASB)

God prepared the way for the human race to escape sin and bondage and have full, productive lives in Him. Those full lives are birthed out of His promises found throughout His Word. We can be confidant that He keeps His promises because He is a covenant God to those who love and obey Him (Deuteronomy 7:9). The question that then comes from our impatient heart is, "When God —when will You answer my prayers?" However, we must remember that His timing is not our timing, for with the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8).

God's timing is outside our realm and limited dimension. When He drops something into our heart, we have a tendency to interpret that word as it relates to our desires and immediate needs. I have painfully learned the mistake in rushing God's timing and/or following my own plan. When God speaks a plan into our lives, we must prayerfully seek the timing of our participation in that plan. Otherwise, we will put things in motion ahead of His timing and then wonder why things did not work out. Fortunately, God sees our motives and redeems our mistakes, because He knows that our unbridled enthusiasm has a tendency to get ahead of Him.

God always answers our prayers, but before He does, His timing is essential as He prepares the way for the coming answer. He has and always will make provision long before we know that we need His help; however, we cannot fast-track God. His purposes will be fulfilled in His time.

God is not surprised by anything. The omniscient God knew beforehand that Adam and Eve would choose to sin, so He had a plan set in place with its fulfillment to come 4,000 years later. His plan was announced by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before the birth of Jesus, "Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God" (Isaiah 40:3). These same words would again be echoed by John the Baptist proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is He that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, 'The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight'" (Matthew 3:2-3).

God's provision was seen yet again, as He prepared the Israelites for a coming famine and then years later, for their release from years of bondage. God already knew that 20 years after 17 year-old Joseph had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, that there would be a famine in the land. What had appeared to have been a despicable act taken against one's own flesh and blood, had in actuality been orchestrated by God to bring about a future blessing for Joseph, his family, and the Jewish nation. 

Through a series of events, Joseph went from being a slave in Pharaoh's house, to suffering as a prisoner, and finally advancing to second in command of Egypt (Genesis 41:37-45). It was during Joseph's reign, that the great famine swept aross the land, forcing Joseph's brothers to journey to Egypt to buy grain. Eventually a reunion took place between Joseph and his brothers, and Joseph's father, brothers, wives and children moved to Egypt to live in safety.

Joseph and Pharaoh died. Several years passed when a new Pharaoh, who had not known Joseph, came into power. He felt threatened because over the years, the Israelites had greatly multiplied to outnumber the Egyptians. So he placed slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor (Exodus 1:8-11). The Israelites experienced a life of hopelessness and despair, but God heard their cries for help and had a plan to bring forth a deliverer to free them from bondage.

Pharaoh had ordered the killing of all males two years of age and under. To save her son, Jochebed, a Hebrew woman, living in slavery, placed her infant son in a basket among the Nile River's bulrushes. Pharaoh's daughter found the child, name him Moses, and raised him in the palace of Pharaoh. Forty years later, God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of bondage and into the Promised Land.

These few examples reveal that God works all things for good for those who love Him, and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). Therefore, we must ask ourselves if we are truly seeking God's purpose for our life or are we pursuing our own wants and desires.  If we embrace God's purpose, be prepared for a great blessing. However, know that waiting is often part of the journey. And generally, when the human heart is forced to wait, grumbling, questioning, worrying, and complaining emerge. That is precisely what the Israelites did in the desert, even though "they lacked nothing." God's continual provision did not suppress their constant grumbling, complaining, and disobedience. Instead, they provoked God to anger, requiring Moses to plead for their lives.

We are instructed to be joyful always, pray continually, and give thanks in ALL circumstances, for this is God's will for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). As Christians, an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude must be a way of life, no matter the circumstances. Otherwise, we become bitter, complaining, ungrateful, and faithless. And yes, there are times, when it is not easy to be grateful. There are times when we don't feel like praising God, because we can't see the light at the end of a very dark tunnel.

Many of you know that eight years ago, my husband was handed a death sentence of terminal Stage 4 thyroid cancer, with only months to live. We struggled through the emotions and questions of "Why God?"  However, we quickly realized that if we stayed on that train of self-pity, it would take us to a dead end of hopelessness and despair. Instead, we chose to praise God, pray, and trust that He had a plan and a purpose. He had always been faithful to us, up to that point, so we chose to believe that He would not forsake us in this time of trial and testing. 

My husband is a walking miracle, despite not being declared cancer free. We continue to believe and trust God, knowing that He has and will continue to faithfully make a way at every juncture in our journey of faith.

Waiting, yielding, and being patient is not written in our DNA. It is something that we must purposefully practice with intentionality. Yes, there will be days when we feel like giving up, but instead, we press forward, believing that God's love for us is greater than any obstacle or challenge that is before us. For if God is for us, who or what can be against us.

Our thoughts and what we choose to believe determine our destiny. Do we believe the Word of God, or do we believe what we see and feel? Despite all that God did for the Israelites and all the miracles that they had witnessed, they still refused to believe, trust, and submit to God.

Our senses have a way of distracting, confusing, misleading, and misdirecting. That is why God's Word tells us to seek His wisdom and trust Him with all of our heart. For His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). In all our ways, we are to acknowledge Him and He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5). If we do that, we can be confident that our lives will be in God's will as we follow His plan. And in that yielding of our will to Him, we have that assurance that He has already made every provision and prepared a way that will bring great joy and purpose to our life.

PRAYER:
Father, You are THE omniscient God, knowing all things. Because You know the choices before me; guide me to make good choices and decisions. Your presence surrounds me, and I marvel at Your immeasurable power that created the heavens, the earth, and all living things. You are daily mindful of Your creation and make a way where there is no way, as You supply all of my needs. You give me strength when I am weary and power when I am weak. If I am in a desert of despair, You lead me to an oasis of refreshing. When I am fearful and unsure, You walk me through the valley and carry me to the mountaintop. You make a way when it appears there is no way. I stand on Your promise that all things work together for good for those who love You and are called according to Your purpose. Help me to pursue You and Your will, so that I won't miss Your plans, Your timing, and Your purposes for my life. In Jesus name, amen.



Monday, March 13, 2017

PEOPLE OF VALOR

The Book of Judges tells us the fascinating story of Gideon and how faith, obedience, vigilance, trust, and valor led him to victory. 

Gideon, meaning great warrior, was the fifth judge of Israel, whom God called to judge for her idol worship. After Gideon destroyed the idols, the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and said, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12)

I have always loved that statement, because Gideon did not view himself as a mighty man of valor, yet God knew Gideon before he was born and had called him to be a man of valor (meaning great courage in the face of danger). God also knew each one of us before we were born and placed within us, qualities, gifts, and potential that we often fail to recognize (Jeremiah 1:5).

The Lord instructed Gideon, "Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites" (Judges 6:14). The statement, "...in this might of yours..." is interesting, because it indicates that, despite Gideon's inability to recognize his own strengths, God had made him a man of great and impressive power and strength. Of course, Gideon argued that his clan was the weakest in Manesseh, and he was the least in his father's house. (I too, have argued that I wasn't qualified to take on the task that God was calling me to do.) But the Lord assured Gideon that He would defeat the Midianites, if he obeyed and followed His instructions:

“You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against Me saying, ‘My own strength has saved Me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead’” (Judges 7:2).

Interestingly, Gilead means the "hill of testimony." This would be a place of victory and a testimony of God's sovereign protection over the Israelites. However, the soldiers who left did not understand that any victory won would not be by their might, nor by their power, but it would be by the Spirit of the living God. So, twenty-two thousand men left, while ten-thousand remained.

The Lord said there were still too many, so He
ordered Gideon to take the men down to the water where He would separate those who lapped water
as a dog laps, from those who put their face in the water to drink.

Three hundred lapped water from their cupped hands. All the others got down on their knees with their faces in the water to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped, I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands (Judges 7:3-7). Three hundred men sounded 300 trumpets, and the Lord caused the men throughout the enemy's camp to turn on each other with their swords, so that the Midianites were defeated.

Why did it make a difference whether men lapped like a dog or put their face in the water to drink? It was a test. Those who threw themselves on the ground and drank freely were carnal-minded and quick to satisfy their flesh, instead of being selfless and vigilant. The men who cupped their hands and lapped like dogs were on guard for the enemy and vigilant in keeping a careful watch for possible danger. Therefore, God saw those 300 men as true and faithful soldiers for His army.

God is on the lookout for vigilant Christians to join His army of the faithful. Timothy describes soldiers of God as not becoming entangled with the affairs of life, because like a soldier who must obey his commanding officer, soldiers for Christ, must obey and follow God's commands, while always being aware of their surroundings (2 Timothy 2: 4).

Not only must we be vigilant in knowing the enemy's clever schemes and purposes, Jesus warns us to be vigilant and stay spiritually awake, for the Lord's coming will be like a thief, for we do not know the day of His coming (Revelation 16:15; Matthew 24:42). For that reason, we must remain alert, watchful, and observant at all times, praying that we have strength to escape those things that will take place and not be caught up in them, for our adversary, the devil, is real. He stalks us like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (1 (Luke 21:36; Peter 5:8).

While we wait for the Lord's coming, we are further cautioned to watch ourselves lest our hearts be weighed down with excess, self-indulgence, depravity, drunkenness, and the cares of this life. Otherwise, that day will suddenly come upon us like a trap (Luke 21:34). Therefore, we cannot be spiritually asleep, as many are, but we must be on guard in keeping awake and sober, as we remain steadfast in prayer with thanksgiving (I Thessalonians 5:6; Colossians 4:2).

The vigilance shown by those 300 soldiers out of 32,000, was all God needed to win the battle and defeat the enemy. Likewise, God is looking for Christians who will be vigilant in watching, recognizing, and knowing the enemy's tactics. 

Satan is a malevolent being who brings death and destruction. He debases everything good and makes it evil. He works through the minds of people to create division within relationships and governments; he orchestrates wars and brings down governments. He is the author of lust, perversions of every kind, fighting, financial lack, anger, hatred, selfishness, lying, murder, sickness, addictions, and everything that is not of God. He appears as an angle of light to confuse, mislead, and snare. So it is no wonder that his servants can do it too (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). Only when we recognize his modus operandi, can we defeat him.

Jesus said, "He who is not with Me is against Me... " (Matthew 12:30). Fear and an unwillingness to surrender to God's plan, caused twenty-two thousand of Gideon's soldiers to leave the fighting ranks. Of the 10,000 that remained, only 300 men had hearts that were all in for the mission ahead of them. Are we all in with God, or do we retreat when things become too difficult?

God's clarion call is for more Gideons to set aside their fears and be vigilant and willing to follow Him wherever He leads. As with Gideon, the battle was already won; God was on his side. All Gideon needed to do was trust God and obey His instructions.

Satan's agenda is to destroy mankind, but he is a defeated foe. Unfortunately, many fail to recognize Satan as a real threat, or they deny his existence, or they believe he is real, but they are afraid of him. When we know the Word and who we are in Christ, we have unlimited power over the enemy. We are then able to move forward with victory as mighty people of valor in God's army.

PRAYER:
Lord, sometimes I feel like Gideon, who believed he was not up to the task to which he was called. But You created him to be a mighty man of valor who had all the attributes needed to defeat the enemy. You, whose name is Faithful, are my constant in life. Teach me how to trust and know that You will never ask me to do anything that You have not already provided me with all things to accomplish the task. Help me to be Your "Gideon" who will faithfully and fearlessly go wherever You lead and do what ever You ask of me. In Jesus name, amen.


I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippeans 4:13










Monday, March 6, 2017

While praying Thursday morning, I was suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelmed by God's greatness and His abundant love for us and for all of His creation. The following prayer stirred and rose from the deepest part of my soul, expressing my heartfelt emotion and awe for His magnanimous love.

HOW GREAT THOU ART!

How do I describe thee, my God? Where can I find adequate words? You are El Olam, the everlasting God, who has always existed; with You, there is no beginning and no end. It is too wondrous for this finite mind to grasp!

You are Elohim, Creator of the universe, the One who set the sun, moon, stars, and planets in their place. You spoke the worlds into existence, and with Your Word, You created all things.

Who is able to comprehend Your power and greatness? For You ride upon the wind; the seas obey Your every command. You are robed in a garment of light and Your glory fills the earth. Your eyes roam to and fro throughout the earth, revealing Yourself to those who love You.

You are Jehovah-Raah, my Shepherd, who protects and guides. You are Jehovah Rapha, my healer and strength. You are Jehovah Shalom, my peace. You are Jehovah Jireh, my provider, with Whom, there is no lack. 

You are merciful and slow to anger. Your unchanging love and faithfulness pursue me, and Your unending kindness covers me. For You are The Rock, Fortress, and Comforter in Whom I place my trust. How great Thou art, my God! 

You extend Your inexhaustible love and mercies to all who seek You. Your wrath and judgment fall to those who reject You.

You, my Abba Father, desire fellowship with me. That knowledge is too astounding to think about...that You, God of the Universe, would want to commune with mere mortals. 

Sadly, man failed to trust and obey You in the Garden. That willful sin separated the human race from You. Yet Your vast and unrelenting love set in motion a plan to redeem mankind and re-establish a relationship with You. 

Thank you for sending Your only Son, Jesus Christ, to be a reparation for the sins of mankind. For I was a sinner, lost without a Savior, but Your love reached down and grabbed a hold of my tattered life. Thank you for sending Your Son to this earth. Without Him, I would be eternally lost.

You, who reign for all eternity, upon Your Word, will again send Your Son to gather Your saints to You. Until then, may my life be a living sacrifice, eager and willing to sow seeds for Your kingdom.

I join the chorus of saints who joyfully await the soon return of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as we cry out, "Come, Lord Jesus. Come quickly!"