Monday, February 26, 2018

A PLACE OF MIRACLES

Saint Anne's Church, located adjacent to the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, is a beautiful 12th-century crusader church, erected over the traditional site of the birthplace of Mary's mother. Most of what remains today is original.



Saint Anne's acoustics, designed for Gregorian chant, are so perfect that the church is virtually a musical instrument to be played by the human voice. The acoustics are most amazing when used by a soprano or a tenor solo voice.

On the morning of April 25, 2013, I experienced a miracle in Saint Anne's Church. Our group had just heard a teaching on healing. As others sat and talked, I felt led to locate a quiet place to pray and found a step that led down into the Pool's ancient ruins. With health issues and an impending neck surgery, I had been praying for healing. However, that morning, as I sat on the step, my prayer was different.

Fifteen years prior, I had been a worship leader for five years. God had gifted me with a voice and talent that was not of my own making. However, to my dismay, my voice began experiencing problems and over time, I could no longer sing. Specialists told me that my vocal cords were scarred from acid reflux. Their diagnosis was devastating, because one of my greatest joys had been worshipping God in song. 

Over the years, I prayed for healing. After seven years of unanswered prayer, I asked God why He hadn't healed me. His answer stunned and devastated me, "You love the music more than Me." With tears of remorse, I repented and told the Lord that I would accept His will. 

Eight more years passed, and as I sat on that step of the Pool, I prayed a simple prayer. "Lord, You know that I have asked for physical healing for my body, but more than that, I long to lift my voice to You in worship. If my heart is now right before You, will You restore the gift of song to me? I will accept Your will."

I joined the others as they made their way into the church that had quickly filled with tourists. Our tour guide directed us to the front rows, where she began to lead us in worship. As we were finishing our last song, the Lord spoke into my spirit, "I want you to sing The Lord's Prayer to Me."  Stunned, I answered, "Lord, You know I can't sing." He repeated, "I want you to sing The Lord's Prayer to Me." Suddenly, a current coursed through my body. Trembling, I knew that I MUST sing. In obedient faith, I opened my mouth and began singing an octave higher than I had ever sung. My voice resonated and echoed throughout that glorious church. When I finished, I realized that I had been given my miracle.

People commented, "It sounded like an angel singing." "Who was it?"  "Was it a recording?" With a smile and a hug from our tour coordinator, she answered, "That was Joy."  Yes, that moment was pure "joy."

A professional opera singer and teacher, who was traveling with the group, told me that I had sung coloratura mezzo-soprano, which is the highest and most perfect soprano known. All I knew was that I was overwhelmed with gratitude. 

The most remarkable miracle was not the restoration of my voice. The greatest miracle was the change that had taken place within my heart. I had been unaware of my prideful heart, but because of God's great love for me, He had withheld the one thing that had captured my heart and separated me from His will. When I recognized my sin of pride and humbly repented, He restored the gift.

We must be very careful to check our motives and what we value most. I had thought that I loved God with all of my heart, but somewhere along the way, my heart became enamored with the gift, unaware that I had esteemed the gift greater than the Giver.

We serve and worship what we value most. Where is God in our daily activities? Is He first when we awake to a new day? Do we pursue Him throughout our day, or is He a casual afterthought, a simple punctuation at the end of our day? We must seek Him with ALL OF OUR HEART. He doesn't want our leftovers.

God once showed me in a dream a house that had many rooms, and each room had a door. The doors to the rooms were opened, except for one room that was locked. I was puzzled by this and inquired of the Lord. He answered that our hearts are like homes with many rooms with doors. The opened doors are those places in our hearts that we have surrendered to God. Locked rooms represent those things that we tenaciously cling to and refuse to relinquish to Him.

When we pray and wait and no answers come, it is tempting to ask God if He really cares, or if He is even listening. Be assured; He cares and is listening, but because He is more concerned with our heart attitude, He may withhold or delay answering our prayers, with the purpose of getting our attention. That is when we need to press in and seek Him even more. 

God calls us to first seek Him and His righteousness, and then those things that we desire will be added to us (Matthew 6:33). The caveat to this is that we must trust Him, for without trust there can be no faith, and without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

One of my favorite scriptures and one that I often refer to is Jeremiah 29:11-16, "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.


Our heavenly Father doesn't want to be a casual acquaintance or an afterthought at the end of our day. His Word tells us that if we draw near to Him, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Therefore, let us make 2018 the year we open all the doors of our heart to Him, so that He may bless, heal, and restore us, as we pursue Him first and not the blessings and miracles that He so eagerly desires to provide.

PRAYER:
FATHER, if there is pride or sin residing in my heart, reveal it to me, so that I may repent and seek Your forgiveness. Show me any locked doors in my heart. Give me a heart that desires to seek You and Your will, and fill my heart with a passion and longing to know and understand Your Word, so that I may walk in truth. In Jesus name, amen.







Monday, February 12, 2018

PRIDE BEFORE THE FALL

Pride ends in destruction; humility ends in honor
(Proverbs 18:12)

How did pride enter the world? Satan, the manipulator and initiator of pride, thought himself to be greater than God, so he led a rebellion against God by convincing one-third of the angels to follow him. That spirit of pride is still actively working to manipulate, deceive, control, and destroy God's people? 

God wants us to understand the dangers of pride and to recognize it as a manipulative bondage that separates us from God and His will. The following scripture records Satan's prideful heart, which led to his fall from heaven:

            "How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, 'I will ascend to the heavens; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon (meaning concealed). I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.' "But you are brought down to the realm of the dead, to the depths of the pit" (Isaiah 14:12-15)

Satan's rebellion is refected in his prideful and repetitive, I will. However, he failed in his willful attempt to supersede God's sovereign authority.

Pride is a thief that embraces soulish thoughts and opposes the things of the Spirit of God. Those thoughts settle in the heart, where the mind, will, and emotions reside. And it is in the heart where either false idols hold court or where God reigns.

What are false idols? Today, most people don't bow down to carved idols and images. Instead, today's idols sit on the altar of the ego-driven self, which places personal desires above God.

The word, ego, has it origin in Latin, which translates, I myself.  It exudes pride, arrogance, bragging, conceit, selfishness, self-absorption, self-admiration, self-centeredness, rebellion and disobedience.

Ego and pride are co-conspirators in separating man from God. They look to self and not to God and work in tandem to undermine and usurp His authority. This duo claims credit for talent and accomplishments, demands appreciation, acknowledgment, and elevates self. Instead of seeking God for answers, the prideful ego trusts intellect to solve personal and world issues. However, mankind will never solve problems by taking the reins from God's hands. 

Those who rely on their own abilities do not comprehend God's infinite, unlimited, creative powers (Job 38:1-11). Only He has the power to dispense gifts and talents and to deliver us from evil (Exodus 13:3). For He is our refuge and strength and an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). 

Don't misunderstand. A person can enjoy a feeling of satisfaction in his/her achievements, but only if there is an acknowledgement of God's hand in making that success possible. For pride will always take personal credit and fail to acknowledge God.

King Belshazzar exemplified the destructive nature of pride and arrogance while he was hosting a party. He called for the gold and silver goblets that his father, Nebuchadnezzar, had stolen from Jerusalem's Temple. As he and his wives, concubines, and nobles drank wine from the sacred goblets, they saw fingers of a man's hand, writing Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin on the plaster of the wall. The king was gripped with such terror that he collapsed (Daniel 5:5-6).

The king then summoned the Prophet Daniel, a wise interpreter of dreams, who as a boy, had been forcibly taken from Jerusalem to serve at the pleasure of the Babylonian king:
  
            "Your Majesty, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar, who long ago preceded you, a kingdom and majesty and glory and honor. [God] gave him such majesty that all the nations of the world trembled before him in fear. He killed any who offended him and spared any he liked. At his whim they rose or fell. But when his heart and mind were hardened in pride, God removed him from his royal throne and took away his glory. He was chased out of his palace into the fields. His thoughts and feelings became those of an animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys; he ate grass like the cows, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until at last he knew that the Most High overrules the kingdoms of men and appoints anyone He desires to reign over them" (Daniel 5:18-21).

            Daniel continued, “And you, his successor, O Belshazzar—you knew all this, yet you have not been humble. For you have defied the Lord of Heaven and brought here these cups from His Temple; and you and your officers and wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, brass, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not praised the God who gives  you the breath of life and controls your destiny! And so God sent those fingers to write this message: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.
            "This is what it means: Mene means 'numbered' —God has numbered the days of your reign, and they are ended. Tekel means 'weighed'—you have been weighed in God's balances and have failed the test. Parsin means 'divided'—your kingdom will be divided and given to the Medes and Persians" (Daniel 5:22-28).

Belshazzar's pride elevated his self-importance and carnal desires. He forgot that wisdom and power are God's. He alone changes times and seasons; He deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.  He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:20-22).  

Man's pride directs his own steps, but the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in His way (Psalm 37:23). Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love Him (James 1:12).

God has numbered our days. He is weighing us in the balances, but are we passing or failing the test. Belshazzar's kingdom was ripped from him because he allowed pride and not God to rule his heart. Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself (ego/pride), and take up his cross and follow Me (Matthew 16:24-25).

A spirit of pride is exulting itself and fueling rebellion and evil in the world. We must be wise and discerning, for one day "all the glory of mankind will bow low; the pride of men will lie in the dust, and the Lord alone will be exalted" (Isaiah 2:17).

PRAYER:
FATHER, Thank you for Your mercy. I humbly repent of any pride that would thwart Your plans for my life. I surrender my will to Your purposes. Guide me this day, and may I never forget that You give gifts and talents to be used in bringing glory, praise, and honor — not to me — but to You and Your holy name. In Jesus name, amen.






Monday, February 5, 2018

THE CREATION STORY

The BIBLE records creation and describes how God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils. God then planted a garden in Eden and placed the man in it to tend and care for it. Afterward, the Lord commanded him to eat from every tree of the Garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. For in that day he ate from it, he would surely die (Genesis 2:15-17)

The LORD'S Word is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens (Psalm 119:89). The Book of Genesis is paramount in setting the stage and reason for Jesus Christ's arrival on earth. Sadly, there are those who view Adam and Eve as fictional characters set in a fictitious story. However, "the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" [through the Holy Spirit] (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Our human nature is curious, skeptical, and wants proof. That carnal side is at enmity with the spiritual side. Too often, what we don't understand, we don't believe. What seems impossible, we deem implausible or not credible, because things need to make sense to our carnal, limited thinking. I don't understand all the dynamics of how tons of metal, steel, and humans remain suspended in air while traveling 300-600 mph at 35,000 ft., but that doesn't prevent me from flying.

Everything God does, He does with purpose and meaning. It is impossible to grasp God's thoughts, His decisions and His methods!  For who can know the mind of God? (Romans 32:33-34)  "...My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways," declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah 55:8-9). Faith is required, because our finite minds cannot comprehend the vastness of God and His Word.

Adam and Eve had walked daily with God in the Garden. Although they had the perfect relationship with Him, they chose to trust in what they saw and not in their Creator. They became enticed by the beautiful, forbidden fruit that was desirable for eating and gaining wisdom. Eve listened to Satan and took the fruit and ate and gave some to Adam, who was with her (Genesis 3:6-7).

Their sins of unbelief and disobedience had introduced the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. Scripture tells us that if any person loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world (I John 2:15-17).

Both were immediately aware of their sin, so they hid from God and sewed fig leaves together to cover their shame (Genesis 3:6-7). Isn't that what mankind does? People sin and then try to defend their actions and cover their sin. But the Word tells us that our sins will surely find us out (Numbers 32:23). For there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed...(Luke 8:17).

God confronted Adam and Eve. Although they tried to justify their sin, their punishment was swift and sure. Their disobedience had injected sin, evil, and death into the world. The consequences of their sin would be pain, hard work, separation from God, and death.

Adam and Eve's attempt to cover their nakedness with fig leaves (false righteousness) could never cover their sin. It would require God's mercy.  Thus, He made garments of skin to cover and clothe Adam and his wife (Genesis 3:21). His grace provided the first blood sacrifice as a precedence and reminder of what He had done for them. They would follow God's lead and teach their sons, Cane and Able, to make sacrifices to the LORD, which would continue for many generations until the arrival of Christ.

Thankfully, the sacrifice of animals ended when God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, as the only atonement through His shed blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance, He had left previously committed sins unpunished. He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the One who justifies those who have faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23-26 NIV). 

Faith in Jesus first requires repentance. True repentance is a heart decision to surrender all to God; it must precede restoration with Him (Hebrews 6:4-6 NIV). King David, who had mourned over his sins of adultery and murder, understood the great need for repentance and asked God to create in him a clean heart and renew a steadfast (unwavering) spirit within him (Psalm 51:10).

Committed Christ followers invite the Person of the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them as they entrust and consign their will to God. They have faith in the integrity of His Word, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and believe the Bible to be a factual and accurate record of events, revealed to those who seek revelation and truth. The Bible is not a smorgasbord to lightly peruse and select what comfortably fits a person's beliefs and lifestyle. 

Surprisingly, not all who profess the Christian faith will walk in obedience to God's Word. The carnal Christian is more concerned with the world's offerings and living life their way rather than having a life that is lived for God. Though they have the appearance of doing all the right things, their heart and motives are far from Him. 

Jesus made a shocking statement that gives us reason to question our priorities:  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23 NKJV)

It is no longer possible for the blood of bulls and of goats to take away sins (Hebrews 10:4).  And we can't cover sins with "fig leaves" a.k.a. self-justification and self-righteousness. Only the blood of Christ covers sins. When we repented and chose Jesus Christ as Lord, we were forgiven and restored to a relationship with God. Now we must look heavenward in accomplishing God's will on earth. For it is in our daily, prayerful seeking of Him and His will, that we truly find happiness and fulfillment in this life and the life to come.

PRAYER:
FATHER, I am grateful for Christ's shed blood that covers my sins and places me in right standing with You. Forgive me for doubting any part of Your Word. I want to know You at a deeper level. I ask that Your Holy Spirit give me wisdom, discernment, and revelation so that I may understand those deep truths hidden within the pages of Your written Word. In Jesus name, amen