Tuesday, September 18, 2018

IN THE WILDERNESS

Behold, I will do a new thing; 
Now it shall spring forth;
Shall ye not know it? 
I will even make a way in the
Wilderness, and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43:19 KJV


Have you ever had a wilderness experience? Possibly you are having one now and you are asking, "God, where are you?" "Don't you care?" "Can't you see I am suffering?"

The answer is that He is with you; He does care; and He knows and understands your suffering. For He said, "Do not fear, for I Am with you; do not be dismayed, for I Am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10 NIV).

Jesus had the pivotal wilderness experience when the Spirit of God led Him into the wilderness to pray and fast for forty days and forty nights. It was there that He interceded and redeemed mankind from the three, greatest destructive forces against the human spirit: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). He would "finish" that work on the cross.

The tempter came to Jesus and said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread" (Matthew 4:3 NKJV). The first thing that Satan did was appeal to the lust of the flesh, because Jesus was physically weakened from lack of food. However, there was nothing to prove, because Jesus was and is the living Bread of Life, which came down from heaven (John 6:51)

Jesus responded, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone (that which sustains the flesh) but by every Word (that which sustains the spirit and soul) which proceeds from the mouth of God'" (Matthew 4:4 NKJV). Jesus, the incarnate Word, spoke the Word, and in that moment, His Word defeated the power of the lust of the flesh.

Then the devil took Jesus up to the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: 'He shall give His angels charge over you, and in their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone'" (Matthew 4:5 NKJV). In other words, "The angels won't let you fall." Jesus responded, "It is written again, 'You shall not tempt the Lord your God.'" Jesus defeated the pride of life (an inflated ego) that succumbs to temptation before a fall (Proverbs 16:18).

"Tempt" means to entice, persuade, convince, coax, and woo someone into doing something. That is what Satan successfully did with Eve and what he attempts to do with us. He entices and appeals to carnal desires by convincing us that we deserve and need what we know we should not have.

If we think we are immune to Satan's temptations, how many have been on a diet and someone offered a forbidden dessert? Suddenly, that voice in our head said, This one time won't matter. How many other forbiddens have we given into?

Again, the devil took Jesus to a very high mountain to see all the kingdoms of the world and their glory and said to Him, "All these things I will give You, if You will fall down and worship me." (Matthew 4:9 NKJV)

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.'" Then the devil left, and angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:10 NKJV). Jesus had defeated the lust of the eyes that entices a person to sin. 

Satan will engage us in a debate and plant seeds of doubt that question God's authority, goodness, intentions, and integrity. He did it with Eve when he said, "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing god and evil" (Genesis 3:5 NIV) He created doubt in Eve's mind by accusing God of being a withholder of good things and tempted her with the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, which brought about the fall of Adam and Eve and all mankind.

Jesus experienced His lowest physical reserve during those forty days and forty nights. We have all been at our lowest physical, mental, and spiritual reserve, but unlike Jesus, we felt tempted to give in. Thankfully, we have fasting, prayer, and God's Word available to us, which provide strength to the inner man and make a way for God's power to work in and through us. 

Satan was put in his place when Jesus dismissed him with His Word and told him to leave, for Satan has no authority, except what God gives him and what we give him. Our authority was bought and paid for with the shed blood of Jesus Christ. We are expected to emulate our Lord who said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in Me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father (John 14:14 NLT). 

The devil finally left when Jesus said, "Away with you, Satan! For it is written..." We are to speak God's Word in the same manner when Satan comes with his lies, temptations, accusations, and deceptions. 

Why did Jesus fast forty days and forty nights? Throughout scripture, the number forty is connected with judgment, punishment, redemption, and God's reigning authority. 

God caused it to rain forty days and forty nights as judgment on an evil generation (Genesis 7:12). As judgment for rebellion and worshipping idols, the Israelites wandered the desert for forty years (Deuteronomy 8:2-5). Moses fasted bread and water on Mount Sinai for forty days and forty nights to intercede for the Israelites who had committed wickedness in God's sight and provoked Him to destroy them (Deuteronomy 9:18). Of the numerous examples cited in God's Word, the most telling are the forty days from Jesus' death to His ascension, which represent the completed redemption of mankind and Christ's eternal reign as King of kings.

Satan came to temp Jesus with the original three deadly sins that caused man's fall. But in the wilderness and at the cross, Jesus defeated Satan's power over death and life, thereby, releasing mankind from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Although He provided our escape, we choose whether to succumb to those temptations or to resist them. 

If we find ourselves in the "wilderness," God is calling us to seek Him with our whole heart through prayer and fasting. Of course we are not expected to fast forty days, but fasting a day or more will deny the flesh, so that we can become spiritually minded and sensitive to the Holy Spirit's guidance and instruction. For it is in those wilderness experiences that faith is tested, nurtured, and matured, as we learn to trust and depend on God. 

PRAYER:  Father, Your Son defeated the works of the enemy. He made a way for me in the wilderness, so I could be free from bondage to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Give me wisdom and discernment to recognize those sins, and help me resist their temptations. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, August 6, 2018

TRAINED WARRIORS

     Christians were never promised an easy life. In fact, the Word tells us that the testing of our faith produces steadfastness.  "And we are to let steadfastness have its full affect, so that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4). As a fan of NBC's, American Ninja Warriors (ANW), I have been intrigued with the steadfastness and determination of these athletes.

     For those unfamiliar with the show, most of the men and women who compete hold jobs, but each has a passion to be the best and strongest trained warrior. To achieve that goal, they daily train for hours and months and even years to become physically strong and mentally fit to tackle an extremely difficult obstacle course. Those with the fastest times in completing the course qualify for the national finals in Las Vegas where they battle to win the title of American Ninja Warrior and one million dollars.   
     It is fascinating to watch these highly trained athletes navigate each obstacle. Most, at one point in the course, will stop, take a breath, shake off any nerves or weary muscles, size up the next challenge, and focus on successfully getting through that challenge. Their goal is to complete the course in record time and hit the red buzzer. Some "warriors" fail in their quest, but surprisingly, they don't make excuses. They simply state that they will train even harder and return the following year to tackle the course again. 
     While reflecting on the difficulties of becoming an ANW, I noticed correlating traits that are required and necessary for both trained athletes and committed Christians to successfully complete their course. Both must remove all excuses, set goals, be dedicated and committed, follow rules, move past failure, refuse to be discouraged, and have eyes fixed on the prize. 
     Although we expect these traits in athletics, should we really expect them in Christendom? Unequivocally, "Yes!" God expects Christians to train just as hard in His Word as athletes train in the gym or at home. Therefore, we are to:
   ·  Remove all excuses. "I just don't have the time           to read the Bible. Besides, I don't understand it." Learning and understanding require study "for whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures" (Romans 15:4).
·  Set goals for studying God's Word. Just like athletes require equipment to train, we need the right reference materials to study God's Word, such as a Bible dictionary and the Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary (free online). For "the Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God" (Psalm 14:2).
·  Be dedicated and committed to renewing our minds through God's Word. Whether or not athletes feel like exercising, they are committed and dedicated to their daily mental and physical training. Every day, we must be committed to renewing and training our minds by reading, studying, and praying God's Word—even when we don't "feel" like it. 
·  Follow rules. God's Word gives us guidelines and rules for our own safety and well-being. "Anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor's crown except by competing according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:5 NIV)

·  Move past failure because we can do all things through Him who strengthens us (Philippians 4:13). Failure can bring growth, but true failure is giving in to defeat.

·  Do not be discouraged. This is My command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go" (Joshua 1:9 NLT).

·  Fix our eyes on finishing the course well. The American Ninja Warrior's entire goal is to finish the course and hit the buzzer that announces, "All that time, pain, and hard work paid off!" Christians must press toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [them] heaven ward in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14 NIV)

     Can you imagine any one of us trying to complete the course set before ANW athletes? Unless we were properly prepared and conditioned, most likely we would not complete the first obstacle, let alone make it to the next. That truth applies to the Christian walk. Life throws obstacles and challenges our way. If we are not strong in the Word of God, we are unprepared and unable to handle despair, unbelief, doubt, anxiety, discouragement, weariness, and the most dangerous of all—becoming rebellious. 

     God's Word is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). It is the most powerful tool we have in building and maintaining faith and trust in God. Without God's Word to lead, guide, strengthen, comfort, and provide truth, we are vulnerable to lies, distortions, and fallacies. His Word is an anchor for our soul and a safe harbor where we find rest in this very uncertain world. No matter our circumstances, we must keep moving forward towards the prize and realize that God is developing and strengthening our faith.

     The most amazing attribute of these athletes is their steely resolve to overcome failure. With conviction and determination they press forward, work harder, and then return to navigate the course once again. The Word compares us to the athlete, "all runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it" (I Corinthians 9:24)For we want to be able to say, "I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7).

PRAYER:

Lord, there are times when I am overwhelmed by the struggles and challenges of life. Help me to be Your warrior of faith, as I turn to Your Word for truth, direction, comfort, strength, and shelter. Help me understand and memorize Your Word, so that I can always hold it high as a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. In Jesus name, amen.
Look to the LORD and His strength; 
Seek His face always.
(I Chronicles 16:11)

Sunday, July 29, 2018

PEOPLE OF VALOR

MOUNT GILEAD

The Book of Judges tells us the fascinating story of Gideon and how his 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 her for idol worship. After Gideon destroyed the idols, the Angel of the Lord appeared and said, "The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!" (Judges 6:12)

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, strengths, and great 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, integrity, power, and strength. 

Gideon argued that his clan was the weakest in Manesseh, and he was the least in his father's house. Haven't we all argued at one time or another that we lacked the qualifications to take on the task that God had called us 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, twenty-two thousand men who had left had not understood 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. 

Ten thousand remained, but the Lord told Gideon that there were still too many. He ordered him to take the men down to the water where He would separate those who lapped water like a dog, from those who put their faces into 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). Those 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. God clearly fights our battles when we make that decision to trust and obey Him.

Why did it make a difference whether men lapped like dogs or put their faces into the water? It was a test. Those who threw themselves onto 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.

A Commanding Officer learns about his enemy's location and tactical weaknesses before giving information to his troops and ordering them to engage the enemy. Equally, Christians must take their directions from the Lord God and Commander. Since God already knows the outcome of all things, it is unproductive to weigh ourselves down with worries, fears, doubts, and the affairs of life. Those things will only prevent us from hearing God's voice that leads us to victory.

God knows our strengths and weaknesses, so He allows trials to prove the genuineness of our faith, which is of greater worth than gold (I Peter 1:7). In doing so, He often takes us to the very brink of what we believe is our breaking point. But it is there in the valley of decision where we choose to either run or we find strength and faith in God to defeat the enemy. 

The vigilance shown by the 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. The caveat to this is actively trusting and obeying God's instructions, so that we see victorious defeat of the enemy. 

Satan is a malevolent being who instills fear in the hearts of man and brings death and destruction. He debases everything good and makes it evil. He works through the minds of people to create division within relationships, churches, and governments. He orchestrates wars and brings down governments and churches. 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.

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

God's clarion call is for more Gideons to stand up as people of valor and set aside their fears and doubts. As with Gideon, the battle was already won, because God was on his side. All that was required of Gideon was to trust God, obey His instructions, and follow Him in faith. 

Fear is Satan's weapon of choice, so when we are faced with difficulties that are beyond our ability to fix, God tells us, "Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand (Isaiah 41:10). That is what He did for Gideon and that is what He will do for all who trust and believe that God is their Deliverer.

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 with all attributes necessary to secure victory. 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 all abilities and resources to accomplish the task. Instruct and help me to be Your "Gideon" who will faithfully and fearlessly go wherever You lead and do whatever You ask of me. In Jesus name, amen. 

Monday, July 23, 2018

SHADOW AND LIGHT


One evening, I was standing outside my back patio, waiting for Brandi to potty, when I noticed that the light, streaming from the house, was casting an elongated and distorted shadow of me onto the lawn. My fur-baby quickly noticed and began barking as my shadow moved. Just then these words from Psalm 23 ran through my mind, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Verse 4 KJV).

I have always loved Psalm 23, but the "shadow of death" puzzled me. The Psalmist did not say, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil..." What then was the meaning of the "shadow?"

What is a shadow? It is a dark area or distorted shape produced by a body or object coming between rays of light and a surface. Like my elongated and intimidating shadow that frightened Brandi, the enemy of our soul always looms larger and fiercer to create fear and dominance. As I watched her react to the shadowy image, the Lord spoke into my spirit, "I Am the Light that uncovers and shines on what is hidden in the dark."

The apostle John tells us, "God is light." There is no darkness in Him, for He is light itself (I John 1:5). All light comes from Him; light is the very nature and character of God. His light is always present to reflect and expose what is hidden in the dark. He uncovers deep things out of darkness and "brings the shadow of death to light" (Job 12:22 NKJV). For "nothing is hidden, except for the purpose of having it revealed, and nothing is secret, except for the purpose of having it come to light" (Mark 4:22 ISV).

Let us re-examine these words, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil..." The word, "through" is very important, because it means to move or travel from one side and out through the other side. We are given the assurance that God is with us as we pass through the "valley" and come out the other side.

A "valley" is a low area of land between hills or mountains, typically with a river or stream flowing through it. Though we may pass through the valleys (trials), God provides us with continual refreshing from His River of Living Water, which is His Holy Spirit. 

God's presence is always with us, for His rod and staff comfort us. The rod is a symbol of discipline and correction and the staff represents the instrument used to bring stray sheep back to the fold. Jesus, the Great Shepherd, defends and disciplines His sheep with His rod. And when we, His sheep, wander or stray, He guides us back with His staff.

Having recently been so sick and in the hospital for a week, events were happening with the speed of falling dominos, and I felt as though God was ignoring my pleas for help. However, I was forgetting a basic truth. No matter what we go through, or how long we remain in a valley, we determine our length of stay in that valley of despair and fear by what we focus on. Are we focusing on the shadowy symptoms and circumstances, or do we have our minds firmly fixed on God's truths?

As we walk through the valley, God calls us to stop, bend down, and drink deeply of His living water, so that we may become renewed for the journey through the valley. It is there, by the sweet and refreshing living water, that He invites us to rest, spend time with Him, and listen for His council, as He encourages, teaches, corrects, guides, and directs.

Why does God allow us to pass through valleys? He does it to reveal areas of weakness in our armor. For His Word tells us, "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

We must be diligent in wearing the whole armor of God so that we are battle-ready, for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, powers, and rulers of this dark world, and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, we put on the full armor of God, so that when evil comes, we are able to stand our ground, with our waist buckled with truth, our breastplate of righteousness in place and our feet shod with the gospel of peace. Above all, we must take our shield of faith to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.

The words "fiery darts" are from the Greek word belos. The Apostle Paul likened the fiery darts of our spiritual enemies with physical enemies who wrapped the tips of their arrows with fabric, soaked in flammable fluids, so they could burn hot and long. As a defense, Roman soldiers soaked their shields with water, so that when the fiery darts (arrows) were fired against the wet shields, the water extinguished the flames. Likewise, when our faith is Word-saturated, it becomes like a soldier's water-saturated shield; the fiery darts of the enemy are quickly extinguished.

We wear our helmet of salvation as we carry the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The helmet was the soldier's final piece of armor put on, showing readiness for combat. Our assurance of salvation and God's promises that go with salvation give us faith to enter the battle. With armor firmly in place, we continually pray in the Spirit and for the Lord's people (Ephesians 6:10-18).

God's light is every present; consequently, we need not fear evil, for His light uncovers what is hidden in the dark. However, when He uncovers the hidden things, are we battle-ready, dressed in the full armor of God, and prepared to defend our ground? Rest assured that when the enemy is close, he is looking for a chink in our armor. Therefore, we must be equipped at all times to stand firm with our shield of faith in place and the Word of God ever ready on our lips.

PRAYER:
Lord, thank you that as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, You, the Light, will reveal the dangers, refresh my soul, and illuminate my steps. I have nothing to fear, for You protect, comfort, teach, correct, refresh, lead, and guide. Help me to faithfully and daily put on the full armor of God, so that I may stand boldly against the enemy. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, July 2, 2018



THE PERFECT MARRIAGE

What is the perfect marriage? There are no "perfect marriages." The only perfect marriage will be when Christ comes for His bride—the Church. Until then, marriage is the union of two very imperfect souls that have their own distinct personalities, likes and dislikes, opinions, and views. Those differences are challenging enough, so when expectations plummet, and the couple is not experiencing unbridled harmony, they begin to question the marriage. 

Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. To base love on feelings is folly, because feelings are built on emotions, which are transitory like the weather. Conversely, real love is steady and constant. It is patient and kind. It does not envy; it does not brag and is not proud. It does not dishonor the other, and does not demand its own way. It is not easily angered and keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. The love, that God wants us to have for our spouse always protects, trust, hopes, and perseveres. Love never fails (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Marriage must be a partnership and not a collision of wills. A couple that is united in the purposes of God can successfully navigate through challenges that will surely come. But to do that, they must work together as one, without having any expectations that their spouse will "complete them" as a person. Only God can make us whole in body, mind, and spirit. 

I have heard people say,  "We are just too different. We've drifted apart." Ironically, those opposite traits initially drew each to the other before marrying. If batteries didn't have opposite polarities, they wouldn't work. Contrasting polarities can enrich a marriage, when both appreciate and embrace those differences with biblical love.

During the first two years of our marriage, my husband and I struggled with respectfully communicating our opinions to each other. Fortunately, we have always been united in our desire to obey God's Word and be led by His Holy Spirit. We knew that unforgiveness, criticism, and keeping record of wrongs are major deathblows to a marriage. Therefore, we resolved to persevere in prayer with patience, forgiveness, and humility, to reach godly solutions (I Corinthians 13:4-7).

Constructive arguing can be healthy when a couple presents their viewpoint respectfully, calmly, and without accusations and insults. For a soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger (Proverbs 15:1). 

Most importantly, a husband and wife must be dedicated in their praying for each other and with each other. Prayer must be combined with reading God's Word to obtain knowledge, understanding, discernment, and insight into what is true, so that both may remain blameless before Christ. For love abounds when we have understanding of God's Word and His teaching to love one another as He has loved us (Philippians 1:9-10; John 13:34). Additionally, we must be devoted to one another by loving, honoring, and giving preference to the other (putting the other first) (Romans 12:10). The task of preferring the other can be challenging, because the carnal flesh wants its own way.

What does it mean to be devoted? It means to be committed, loyal, faithful, true, steadfast, dedicated, loving, affectionate, caring, and admiring. Therefore, couples should never compare their marriage to other marriages. If devotion to God is first and foremost, then devotion to one's spouse and to the marriage will follow. 

There will always be disagreements throughout a marriage, simply because two individuals have, at various times, opposing thoughts and views. However, those issues can be amicably resolved when the couple expresses respect, humility, gentleness, patience, and is committed to encouraging and praying with and for each other.  

An argument should never sever communication, nor should the sun go down on one's anger (Ephesians 4:26). When a couple reaches an impasse, they should respectfully say to each other, "I love you. Let's pray and ask God for His wisdom and guidance for..." That forces pride and ego to surrender, as both spouses join in unity to humble themselves before each other and the Lord. For "behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalm 133:1KJV)

Couples must be serious and vigilant in protecting their marriage, because "the adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (I Peter 5:8). His purpose is to divide, conquer, and destroy families. Just as he brought division between Adam and Eve in the Garden, his goal is to create disharmony between a man and his wife. Once discord happens, the enemy has a foothold. That is why God tells us that where two or three gather in His name, He is in the midst (Matthew 18:20). And where God is present, the enemy is not. A husband and wife's unity and commitment to prayer is the enemy's nemesis.

How do we truly love one another? We learn by reading and understanding God through His Word, for He is the essence and embodiment of agape love. We are called to follow His example in everything we do just as a much-loved child imitates their father. We are to be full of love for others, following the example of Christ who loved us and gave Himself to God as a sacrifice to take away our sins (Ephesians 5:1-2). 

Marriage is a lifelong commitment that should never be entered into lightly. Therefore, it is imperative that couples, planning to marry, seek God's will and His direction with all their heart. 

Most newlyweds have a "forever" attitude, but in the blush of wedded bliss, there is a tendency to overlook the fact that marriage is not immune to heartache, disagreements, disappointments, illness, tragedy, and pain. The fairytale, happily-ever-after scenario is just that­—a fairytale. Those who have been married for any length of time will agree that the success or failure of a marriage depends upon their dedication to God and their commitment to each other. A marriage certificate does not come with a lifetime warranty, guaranteeing perfect happiness and a conflict-free marriage. 

There is only one lifetime warranty that can be applied to a marriage, and that is the Word of God. That is the truest warranty against failure, destruction, and marital implosion, for it is His Word that teaches us how to love and overcome conflict. 

My husband and I have had our marriage under God's warranty for 38 years and counting. It's the best and most perfect warranty of all. 

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from [us], along with all malice. 
We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave [us]. 
(Ephesians 4:31)

PRAYER:
FATHER, I thank you for our marriage. Teach us to communicate in love and to always listen and respect each other's thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Help us to have patience, gentleness, humility, forgiveness, and unconditional love for each other. Heal those broken areas and bring reconciliation where there has been division. For Your love covers a multitude of sins. In Jesus name, amen.



Tuesday, June 26, 2018

THE FATHER OF LIES
 
Keep the door bolted against lying.

My formative years were shaped around the philosophy that lying had its place, especially if a little "white lie" was told to avoid hurting someone. However, lying is part of our old fallen nature that existed before we surrendered our hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. 

We see that old sinful nature exposed in very young children with a similar scenario played out in many homes. A child stands covered in chocolate—the perfect billboard for Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. You ask them if they ate the chocolate bar that you had hidden in the pantry. Their guilty, chocolate-covered face betrays them as they answer, "No." If lying weren't so serious, it would be funny.

Children are told to tell the truth, but then, with all good and loving intentions, a parent might create elaborate, false stories or false explanations to answer their child's inquisitiveness. They might make false promises or ironically, as my parents did, tell an outright lie to insure compliance, "If you lie, your nose will grow like Pinocchio's." Of course, my parents were not Christians at that time, so they did not know God's position on lying; therefore, they couldn't pass that truth to us.

Students lie to their teachers. Employees lie to their bosses. Patients conceal the truth from their doctors. Spouses lie to spouses. Friends lie to friends. Parents lie to children. Children lie to parents. People lie about their age and weight. People conceal and lie about their past. People lie to themselves. The list of lies is endless. 

The Lord tells us that there are seven things that are an abomination to Him—haughtiness, lying, murdering, plotting evil, eagerness to do wrong, a false witness, and sowing discord among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19). The harsh reality is that "all liars will have their part in the lake, which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8 NKJV).

Why is hell punishment for lying to those who do not repent? Jesus said this about those who lie, "You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44 NIV). 

What is a lie? The dictionary defines a lie as an untruth, falsehood, white lie, perjury, fabrication, falsification, deception, betrayal, made-up story, tale, half-truth, pretense, crookedness, exaggeration, fiction, evasiveness, and concealment. The verb form is to misinform, mislead, stretch the truth; hedge, evade, trick, conceal, or cheat. Even a "white" lie is a deception that invalidates a person's integrity. According to those definitions, at one time or another, we have all lied; therefore, we must repent. 

The Word tells us, Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator (Colossians 3:9-10). We are created in the image of God, who does not lie. If we have a relationship with all Truth (Jesus Christ), how can we justify lying in any form?

When I became a Christian, God revealed the importance of truthfulness. Truthfulness was relevant to me, because I had experienced pain and disappointment from those who had called themselves Christians, yet they had lied, broken promises, betrayed confidences, stolen from me, and had harbored hidden sin. What they had really stolen was my ability to trust God. After all, if I couldn't trust God's representatives, how could I trust Him? As a fledgling Christian, those betrayals and lies by fellow Christians were heartbreaking and painful. Today, it is not any less painful to be at the receiving end of a betrayal or lie.

We know the spiritual aspect of why we lie, but why do humans give into the temptation to lie? Dr. Robert S. Feldman, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science, examined lying and deception for over 25 years and said, "People lie because they can get away with it; because it works for them. It's a way to get along with other people. It's a way to control [their] world, and it's a way that [they] can use to make people do what [they] want them to do." He went on to say that men usually lie to make themselves look better and to build themselves up, and women tend to lie to make others and themselves, feel good.      

We are daily inundated with false statements made by various people, ads, politicians, and the news media, that manipulate and distort the truth to promote their deceptive agendas. The enemy is relentless in using people and anything of this world to entice and draw us to his deceptions. Even false christs and false prophets will arise (currently present in many churches) and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect (Matthew 24:24). 

Adam and Eve had every good gift from God, yet Satan was able to cleverly craft a lie, which they believed and then disobeyed God. We too are vulnerable to Satan's clever and enticing deceptions. Therefore, we must be prayerful and vigilant to discern and distinguish the truth from the lie. We must be sober-minded and watchful, for our adversary, the devil, prowls like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (I Peter 5:8).

The reality is that as human beings, we have all fallen for a lie. But we have also lied and embellished the truth. Romans 3:23-24 tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Praise God that He is quick to forgive us of our sins when we repent (Matthew 3:8).

"Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think (meditate) about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

PRAYER:
Lord, I come to You with a repentant heart. I realize that any form of lying is sin. Please forgive me for any and all lies, exaggerations, evasiveness, concealments, deceptions, half-truths,  and betrayals, whether intentional or unintentional. Help me each day to be aware of all untruth that might be poised on my tongue or any behaviors or thoughts that are not in keeping with Your will. I want to live a truthful and authentic life before You and others. In Jesus name, amen.

God is not human, that He should lie, 
not a human being, that He should change
His mind. Does He speak and then not act? 
Does He promise and not fulfill?
(Numbers 23:19)


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

LIFE'S CROCKPOT 

LIFE'S CROCKPOT 

My husband and I love a thick and creamy homemade, chicken vegetable soup. I pre-cook the chicken, debone it, and return it to the pot. Then I add a variety of vegetables and seasoning to the chicken and broth and allow the ingredients to simmer, while tasting and adjusting periodically. As the ingredients simmer, a wonderful aroma wafts through the home. Thinking about this, it occurred to me that faith develops much like a potpourri of flavors in a crockpot. 

A crockpot is a depository for cooking ingredients over a long period of time. God has us in a type of  "crockpot" where He prepares us for heaven. If Christ is not at the center of our life, then we are nothing more than a simmering pot of carnality that is self-seeking, self-serving, self-absorbed, vain, thoughtless, and looking out for number one—self. 

God monitors our response to the "heat" of life's challenges. For our responses determine the strength of our faith. Often when a crockpot reaches a full boil, we turn it to "medium" or "low." When the ingredients are done, we turn it to the "warm" setting for serving. Depending on what God is trying to accomplish within us, will determine the temperature He sets at different intervals of our life. 

God's love for us is so great, that He will not hesitate to turn the heat up from "low" to "high" in order to get our attention. He may also make adjustments when there is an imbalance in the flavor and fragrance of our life, because He desires that we, as Christ followers, carry and diffuse the fragrance of Christ throughout the world.

With Christ as the very center of our life, we must then be open to God's correction. Those of us who cook, know that when preparing a dish, we often taste repeatedly to make various corrections and changes to the flavor until it is just right. God tells us, "whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid" (dense, ignorant, irrational, foolish) (Proverbs 12:1 NKJV). 

Correction means to amend a version of something or to rectify an error. Before we accepted Christ as our Lord and Savior, all of us were on the wrong path, walking in error. We made many mistakes and added things to our lives that misdirected and misguided us. Some of those things harmed us. As Christ followers, we require daily correction, because each day, the flesh wants to revert to what it once knew and enjoyed. 

A good soup cannot be made in minutes; the Christian life cannot be made overnight. God has been patiently working in me for 47 years, for which I am grateful. He knows the potential within me and within each of us. Therefore, He painstakingly guides us in making gradual corrections, which eventually give birth to maturity as a Christ follower. Hence, a sweet aroma reaches others, because we then carry the pleasing aroma of Christ to those being saved and those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:15 NIV). For that reason, we must always be submitted to God, embracing His wisdom, His correction, and His knowledge, so that we can grow in faith.

Often, when cooking, we might not get the flavor just right because of too much or too little of an ingredient or seasoning. However, we don't throw the entire pot out because of a mistake or even a few mistakes. We keep working with the dish until it reaches the right consistency and flavor for serving. Equally as we learn and grow in the things of God, He doesn't become frustrated when we are not "seasoned" perfectly. He sees too much value in the ingredients that have been invested, so He continues to work with us. It is never an option to throw out what He started and begin again with all new ingredients, for He says, "if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance" (Romans 8:25 NKJV).

Perseverance means to be steadfast in doing something despite difficulty, delay, or obstacles in achieving success. With love and perseverance, God waits patiently for us to become that balanced blend of strength, courage, obedience, wisdom, humility, mercy, forgiveness, moral fiber, and faith. 

God's crockpot can be painful. We may encounter circumstances and challenges that we don't understand. However, that is not the time to resist Him, because as ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal to the world through us (2 Corinthians 5:20). And very often those appeals are made through us in ways that we don't understand. Therefore, we must embrace the opportunity and trust and submit to His mighty hand. For in trusting Him, we achieve victorious faith that allows us to diffuse the fragrance of His knowledge to others, because we are the fragrance of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). 

May we all submit to God, as His watchful eye monitors, and His steady hand stirs and tastes, until He is satisfied that we carry the fragrance of Christ. For God calls the world to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Psalm 34:8). And it is the aromatic fragrance emitting from us that will cause the lost and hungry to eagerly taste of His goodness. 

PRAYER:
LORD, help me to be teachable and submit to Your correction. Give me the gifts of perseverance and faith so that when life heats up with all of its challenges, I will draw closer to You and make the proper corrections, thereby, creating a sweet aroma in my life that reach others. In Jesus name, amen.