Monday, July 24, 2017

NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY




NOT JUST ANOTHER DAY

July 20th was not just another day on the calendar. It was my husband's birthday. 

Birthdays are joyous occasions to celebrate that special day when our loved ones and friends made their entrance into the world. However, my husband's last eight birthdays have had greater significance, because each July 20th represents a miracle. 

November of 2009, my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer. The doctor's grim prognosis frightened, angered, and confused my husband. He asked God, "Why have You allowed this? What have I done to deserve this?" Those questions would likely be asked by most of us. Fortunately, his anger quickly turned to an unwavering resolve not to give in to despair and hopelessness. Instead, He made the decision to seek God's guidance with all his heart. 

Something unexpected happens when we get serious in seeking God. In His love and mercy, He lovingly challenges our faith and reveals "trash" that has accumulated and cluttered our souls, which can potentially affect us physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Trash is defined as refuse, waste, dregs, and dross. In relating this to a refiner of fine metals, gold and silver are mined out of rock that has been crushed. The crushed ore is then placed in a "crucible," which is a testing, fireproof, melting pot, that can withstand the furnace's extreme heat. The refiner carefully watches for the crucible to reach the correct temperature for testing and purifying the metal. Once the dross (impurities) surface, they are extracted. This process is repeated until all the dross is extracted and the metal reaches its purest form. 

God is the Refiner of our soul who works to bring forth a pure and obedient heart. To accomplish that, He will allow us to go to the very end of ourselves before taking ahold of us and using us for His glory. If we find ourselves in the fire, The Refiner is carefully watching as the crucible of adversity and affliction tests our mettle. Those things that prevent us from having an unwavering faith in His Word and His promises surface for removal (Proverbs 25:4; I Peter 1:7). 

God is good and perfect in all His ways. He is more than able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power of His Holy Spirit that works in us (Ephesians 3:20). Therefore, He wants us to fulfill our purpose on earth and be transformed with a renewed mind in His Word, thereby enabling us to test and approve what God’s will is for us (Romans 12:2). 

In reaching the goal of fulfilling our purpose, God will, at times, allow us to pass through the fire of adversity to remove the dross of self-destructive habits, wrong thoughts, false and skewed beliefs, selfishness, insecurities, and behaviors that we have unwittingly or purposefully assimilated throughout our lives. Once that dross rises to the top and is extracted, our most valuable attributes surface as pure gold.

Our Refiner knows the worth and potential of every person. That is why He gave Himself for us to redeem us from sin and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own and eager to do good (Titus 2:14).

As a Christian for 46 years, I have been submitted to the Refiner's fire numerous times; I guess I have had a lot to learn—and I'm still learning. But those teachable moments, as unpleasant as they always are, have caused me to grow in faith.

The purifying process is different for each person and can be uncomfortable, because it challenges our faith. As followers of Christ, we should not be surprised when we encounter a wilderness experience, because that experience develops faith and shapes and refines us. 

Jesus' crucible (severe testing) was in the wilderness, where He fasted 40 days and the devil came to temp Him. His most difficult crucible was in the Garden of Gethsemane when He sweat great drops of blood as He prayed in agony of spirit, "Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). Jesus was subjected to severe testing, yet He chose to do His father's will.

Cancer affects the entire family; therefore, my husband's journey with cancer quickly became my journey. We have both been in the crucible and passed through the uncertainties of each test, each surgery, and each doctor's visit. As weeks have turned into months and months have now become years, our faith, resolve, and understanding of God's Word and His purposes have grown exponentially. We continue to move forward, trusting and submitting to His plan.  

As of this day, my husband is not cancer free. However, we know that God saw his unformed substance before he was born and scheduled each day of his life before he began to breathe. His every day was recorded in His Book (Psalm 139:14-16). 

Each day is a gift of life not to be squandered or misspent. Hence, it is up to us to determine how we will use that gift. That's why He tells us to make the best use of our time. For that reason, we must be discerning and make every effort to understand the will of the Lord, so that we may use our days wisely (Psalm 90:12; Ephesians 5:16-17).

My husband and I have determined to seek His will and guidance in all that we do as we trust, pray, and believe in His sovereign plan for us. In the meantime, we are grateful for our continual growth in faith and for each miraculous day that we are given together.

PRAYER:
Father, if I have squandered my days in any way, forgive me. Help me to make each day count for Your Kingdom. As Jesus surrendered His will to You, help me to be teachable and fully surrendered to Your will and purpose for my life. If I am submitted to the fire of affliction, give me wisdom, discernment and understanding, so that I may be cleansed of any dross that might hinder my faith and my walk with You. In Jesus name, amen. 

Dear friends, don’t be bewildered or surprised 
when you go through the fiery trials ahead, 
for this is no strange, unusual thing 
that is going to happen to you. 
Instead, be really glad—because these trials
 will make you partners with Christ in His suffering, 
and afterwards you will have the wonderful joy
 of sharing His glory in that coming day 
when it will be displayed. 
(I Peter 4:12-13)






Monday, July 17, 2017

THE GARDEN


It was the perfect sunny day for a scenic drive to visit the Billy Graham Training Center at the Cove,  a 1,200-acre retreat  nestled in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. That particular day, only the chapel and Ruth's Prayer Garden were opened to the public. 

The stately Chatlos-Chapel holds historical items, some of which are over 500 years old. The tour-guide explained the meaning and prayerful intentions behind every well-placed item and adornment in the chapel, as well as some of Reverend Billie Graham's favorite scriptures displayed throughout the church as reminders of God's love for us.  

Downstairs, we viewed pictures of Reverend Graham, shown with kings, popes, Presidents, and other dignitaries from around the world, along with his family, and those who served with him in ministry. Also displayed was his famous and very unique pulpit that was carried to all of his crusades by which he preached to over 80 million people, not including the millions who heard him on radio, and those whom he ministered to in private.

The prayer room, located upstairs in the chapel, is intimate and quiet, so my husband and I took advantage of some private time to kneel and pray.
When leaving the chapel, visitors are met with the sweet fragrance of Ruth's Prayer Garden, named after Reverend Graham's wife. A pathway located beyond the sign leads to seating where the tranquility of the garden can be enjoyed. 

Ruth's Prayer Garden reminded me of the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed. I have been to Gethsemane in Israel. When you step into the Garden, you immediately want to pray, because of a strong sense of the Lord's presence.

As I reflected on the beauty and tranquility of Ruth's Garden and the Garden of Gethsemane, the hymn, The Garden, written in 1912 by American gospel song writer, C. Austin Miles, came to mind, and I couldn't help but sing it. This beautiful song reveals a prayerful heart that seeks and knows the joys of intimacy and relationship with God the Father, Creator of all. 

THE GARDEN

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share, as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet, the birds hush their singing,
And the melody, that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share, as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

I'd stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share, as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

God's desire for relationship was so great that He created Adam and Eve in His image. Daily, He walked with them in the beautiful, lush Garden of Eden and had face-to-face conversations. Sadly, they rebelled and were cast out of His presence. Thankfully, Jesus Christ restored relationship between God and mankind through His death and resurrection. Now we can have precious, intimate, daily conversations with our Father in prayer.

Jesus said, "I have called you friends, because everything I have learned from My Father, I have made known to you" (John: 15:15). We can have sweet fellowship with the LORD at anytime and in any place. He is always waiting to meet with us wherever we are, no matter what we are doing.

We don't need to find a physical garden to meet with the Lord. I have daily periodic conversations with God, as I would with a dear friend. I praise Him, seek council, ask questions, ask for forgiveness, share my heart's concerns and frustrations, and I thank Him. And He answers. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). 

The more we pray and read His Word, the easier it becomes to recognize His voice. God speaks to our conscience through His Spirit. He speaks to us in His written Word. He speaks very often through our circumstances, nature, music, and through people. We just have to know Him well enough to recognize His "voice".  

We live in very dangerous and uncertain times. More than any other period in history, it is critical that we be in unity and fellowship with Creator God. He calls us daily, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest  (Matthew 11:28). "Call on Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor Me.” (Psalm 50:15).

God is calling us to Him, and He says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13). I encourage you to daily go to that quiet garden of repose and be refreshed as you drink in the sweet fragrance of Lord's presence.

PRAYER:
LORD, I have been remiss in conversing with You each day. Give me a discerning spirit that I may hear Your voice when I pray. Help me to be sensitive to Your presence in my life and give me a heart for Your Word that I may know You and Your will. In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, July 10, 2017

THE RIGHT ATTITUDE

When I was growing up, my parents stressed that attitude would always be the most important element for success. My mother often said, "With the right attitude, there is no limit to what you can accomplish." As a teacher and mentor she could see the potential in her students, many of whom were average students with great attitudes and a healthy work ethic.

Today, we see too many young people who live with a sense of entitlement, believing that the world owes them a comfortable life. They don't understand or appreciate hard work, and much of what they have, they have not earned. Unfortunately, they have failed to learn that a family, no matter the component, is a community where everyone works together as a cohesive unit, and any success achieved is the result of hard work, discipline, teamwork, sacrifice, and the right attitude.

As a teacher, I saw first-hand how a student's attitude reflected their regard for authority, responsibility, personal discipline, and goal setting. Those who struggled but were disciplined and tenaciously perseverant, yielded positive results that showed great potential for success in life. Those students who had poor attitudes about school and life in general were often sullen, disrespectful, demanding, self-indulgent, and poor students.

The late "Zig" Ziglar, who was a Christian motivational speaker, entrepreneur and author, made this memorable statement regarding attitude: "It is your attitude, more than your aptitude, that will determine your altitude." 

Attitude is defined as a fixed way of thinking, feeling, or behaving that reflects a state of mind or disposition. One can have a positive, constructive attitude or a negative, arrogant, truculent, uncooperative, antagonistic, defiant attitude. But God's Word tells us that our attitude and thoughts must be constantly changing for the better and should be the kind of attitude that was shown to us by Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:23) (Philippians 2:5).

Have you ever been asked to do something and your attitude was resentful, hesitant, yet reluctantly compliant. The entire time that you were doing what was either asked or required, you were not happy doing it. And maybe you even complained about it to others. Possibly you felt the person had taken advantage of you and didn't show appropriate appreciation for your efforts.

God recently took a scalpel to my attitude to remind me that whatever I do, it should be done heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that my reward comes from the Lord (Colossians 3:23-24). The last thing I want, especially as a Christian, is a bad attitude. We are to work hard with gladness all the time, as though working for Christ and doing the will of God with all our heart (Ephesians 6:7).

How do we develop wrong attitudes? Wrong attitudes form when we try to control our circumstances, our future, a career, and the people around us. We might even feel imposed upon by outside demands that interrupt our plans. We expect things to go a certain way and if people or circumstances impede those plans or agenda, we find ourselves experiencing irritation, frustration, resentfulness, or anger. Why? We did not surrender our wills and our plans to the Master of our soul.

Maintaining the right attitude requires us to persevere in the task set before us. Persevering calls for persistence and determination, which
necessitates setting aside personal feelings, so we can stay the course until the task is completed. To do this, perseverance must be wedded to the right attitude. 

While sitting in a prison cell in Rome, the Apostle Paul wrote about the kind of attitude we should have: "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27). If not, resentment settles in the heart. With the right attitude, we reflect faith, patience, gratitude, encouragement, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, grace, and love.

Jesus maintained a perfect attitude of humility, selflessness, and service. He said, "I have come here from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to have My own way" (John 6:38). His eyes were focused on His mission and not on all the negativity, rejection, resistance, judgment, anger, accusations, criticism, and hatred that were directed to Him. 

Everything that Jesus did, He did in love for love's sake. He wasn't looking for rewards, applause, respect, accolades, appreciation, gratitude, or recognition. He had come to reveal His Father's love to mankind.

My ultimate goal is to become more like Jesus who said, "Your attitude must be like My own, for I, the Messiah, did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give My life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28 TLB)


Jesus was not passive; He set limits and when appropriate, He chastised. Yet He had a servant's heart, and as Christ followers, we are called to walk daily in His example and serve others with a heart that reveals His love, grace, patience, humility, forgiveness, and mercy.

PRAYER:

Father, you have called me to serve others as You came to serve. Show me how to maintain the right attitude so that others will see Your goodness, mercy, grace, forgiveness, humility, patience, and love through me. In Jesus name, amen.