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.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

UNFAILING, STEADFAST LOVE

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning.
Great is Your faithfulness.
(Lamentations 3:22-23)

I am continually amazed when I reflect on my life and how I managed to walk through the first 25 years without a relationship with God. Life was lived according to my willful agendas, whims, desires, and choices, which eventually led to heartbreak. 

I believed in God, and in desperate times, I even begged Him to help me, but it never occurred to me to have a daily relationship with Him. It wasn't in my wheelhouse to think that He cared about my seemingly insignificant life. I often wondered: Where do I fit in His infinite universe? Does God really care about me, because if He does, shouldn't my life be better?

Yes, God did care then and He cares now, but during those years, I was making choices without conferring with Him. I wasn't aware of biblical truths that reveal His endless and expansive love and care for us. Nor did I realize that He created us to have fellowship with Him. That realization hit me one cold winter's night in 1972 when I met God's Son, Jesus Christ, and surrendered all to Him.  

I immediately went from spiritual darkness into God's embracing light. It was the beginning of a life reborn and made anew. That night I discovered a fresh and revitalized joy and a realization of His steadfast faithfulness and unfailing love for me and for all who turn to Him. After all, it was because of His love, that He sent His only Son to be an appropriation for our sins. 

The wonderful truth is that by grace we are saved through faith. This is not of our own doing; it is the [marvelous] gift of God and not a result of any works, so that we might boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10).

What is unfailing love? It is a love that is reliable and steadfast. The Word tells us the eyes of the Lord are on those whose hope is in His unfailing love and those who reverence Him and are in awe of Him. (Psalm 33:18).

The word "love" follows the word "steadfast" 200 times in the Bible. God's love is steadfast (firm, steady, unwavering, uncompromising, and constant). We have this promise that the LORD leads, with unfailing love and faithfulness, all those who keep His covenant and obey His Word (Psalm 25:10).

God is reliable and faithful and says, "I am the LORD, I change not..." (Malachi 3:6). Unfortunately, people change. They make promises that too often are not kept, leaving us hurt, disheartened, and disillusioned. When they fail us, the resulting disappointment and hurt can cause us to assign their failed traits to God. But be assured that "God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? (Numbers 23:19). His yes is yes and His amen is amen. 

As God's children, we can daily trust in His constant, unwavering love and faithfulness toward us. He knew each of us before we were born and had a plan and purpose for each unique life. His eyes have always been on us, even though our eyes might not have always been on Him. 

I look back at different scenes in my life, and those times when He tried to lead me in the right direction, but my willfulness led me down a path of pain and disappointment. I had wrongly blamed God for all that had gone wrong in my life, but much of what was wrong resulted from my own obstinate choices.

Over the last 45 years, I have developed a relationship with God through prayer and by reading His Word—a picture of His infinite love, nature, and character. We meet every morning and our conversations and interactions continue throughout the day and into the evening. He is my best friend, Father, confidant, Teacher, and the lover of my soul. I can't imagine life without Him. His unfailing and steadfast love have always been with me. I just hadn't been aware of it until that winter's night of 1972.

PRAYER:
Test me, Lord, and try me; examine my heart and my mind. Help me to be mindful of Your unfailing and merciful love and to rely on Your faithfulness (Psalm 26:2-3). Help me to daily nurture and develop my relationship with You, so that I may always know Your voice and Your will. In Jesus name, amen.