Monday, March 26, 2018

SURRENDERED?

I awoke at 3:00 a.m., unable to sleep. As I prayed, I began to sing in my mind. "I surrender all; I surrender all. All to thee my blessed Savior, I surrender all." Suddenly, the Lord spoke into my spirit, "Have you really surrendered all?" Meditating on His question, I began to think about the word "surrender," so I looked up the full meaning of the word.

Surrender means to give oneself up, give way, yield, submit, relinquish, sacrifice, turn over, transfer, grant. As I reflected on that definition, I realized that I had not surrendered all, because I had not fully surrendered perfectionism.

Perfectionism is defined as someone who strives to be free from any flaw, to be precise, accurate, and exact in everything they do. Can you imagine how exhausting it is to strive for perfectionism, because realistically, perfectionism is not achievable?

The perfectionist believes that their self-worth is based on their achievements. Both my parents were caught in the cycle of perfectionism, because their parents were perfectionists who demanded that their children be nothing less than perfect.

Perfectionism demands unrealistic expectations and goals for ones self, which is then transferred to others. Often perfectionists require that their children be perfect, because they see their children as a reflection of who they are and their success as a parent. If their child is less than perfect, a parent views that imperfection as their own personal failure.

As a child, I loved to learn and couldn't wait to go to school. I would stand at our large picture window in the living room and cry every morning when the big yellow school bus stopped to pick up my older brother. I wanted to be on that bus, headed for adventures in learning.

My parents saw my potential for learning and at age four enrolled me in a progressive educational program at a Catholic school, even though we were not Catholic. Eager to learn and experience new things, I thrived in my new environment and quickly learned to write in cursive and Old English. I studied French and was in the school production of Cinderella. My mother told me years later that the nuns had told her, "Don't ever let Joy lose her joy and her hunger for knowledge."

I attended the Catholic school for two years until my parents couldn't afford the tuition any longer. I was then enrolled in the public school system. My expectations of having exciting adventures at my new school were quickly dashed when I was met with rejection and constant bullying.

Children who are bullied immediately believe there must be something wrong with them. I thought I could fix things by being that perfect, agreeable friend to all. However, the more I tried, the more I was rejected, bullied, and physically attacked. When I told my parents what was happening, they told me that I must have been doing something wrong to attract that kind of negative attention.

Up to that point, I had done well academically, but when my efforts to fit in socially were dashed, my grades dramatically dropped. My parents were then called to a teacher's conference to ask for their permission to hold me back a grade. Disappointed that my parents didn't support and believe in me, I emotionally and physically quit trying.

Years of mediocre academic achievement came and went and then shortly after I turned 16, my father suddenly died. That year, something clicked within me, and I vowed to prove to the world that I wasn't stupid. Once again, I strove for perfection in everything I did. 

I became the perfect daughter by agreeing with my mother's choices for me. I made the honor roll throughout high school and then the Dean's List in college. So began the long debilitating road of perfectionism. It would be many years later that I would understand and have compassion for my parents who had suffered under that same scourge of perfectionism. 

Perfectionism is a road that no person should ever travel because you never allow yourself mistakes, and you never measure up in your own eyes or in the eyes of another perfectionist. Interestingly, though some will view you as having it all together, you struggle with what you believe to be your many failures and flaws.

The Word of God tells us that we have been crucified with Christ. No longer is it we who live, but Christ lives in us. And the life that we live in the flesh, we live by faith in the Son of God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20). Thus, God is my Father and the Potter, and I am the clay and the work of His hands. Can the clay tell the Potter how to shape and mold the clay? No! The Potter has full control over the clay. Only in His hands, can the clay become a beautiful vessel (Isaiah 64:8). Unfortunately, the unrealistic perfectionist tries to be both the potter and the clay, which prevents God from having absolute artistic control.

Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. The Apostle Paul added, "Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Corinthians 12:9). This Word is a powerful truth that resonates deep within my soul, because it allows for those weaknesses and imperfections.

I have quoted and written this scripture more times than I can count. "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:14). Yes, we can do all things through Him, but not through our own efforts. It is God who gives us every good and perfect gift, and it is He who enables us to use those gifts and talents that we possess.

We are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). That is such good news! We are His workmanship and not workmanship resulting from our abilities and performance.

A person, who struggles to be perfect, loses the joy found in living life to the fullest, because every day is a challenge to do everything perfectly. Fortunately, as a Christian, I have learned to allow myself mistakes. However, there are times when perfectionism knocks, and it is a struggle to keep that door shut.

Recently, I was disappointed in the outcome of a project that I had worked to perfect in every detail. Up to that point, I was convinced that I had overcome perfectionism. But when I became upset with the finished product, it became clear that a remnant of perfectionism still lingered in the shadows. 

Joyfully, I can now answer God's question, "Have you really surrendered all?" I am aware of my propensity to slip into perfectionism and recognize my failure to totally trust in the Holy Spirit to give me all that is required to succeed in whatever He asks of me. Thankfully, with God's guidance and correction, I will surrender thoughts of failure. Then I will be able to say with all assurance that I have surrendered all.

PRAYER:
FATHER, I am Your workmanship, created in Your image. When the enemy tells me I am less than what I need to be, remind me that I am clay in Your loving hands, and You are the Potter, who is working to create a vessel of honor, sanctified, and useful for every good work (2Timothy 2:21). In Jesus name, amen.










Monday, March 19, 2018

THE POWER OF PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Give thanks in every circumstance
For this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus
(I Thessalonian 5:18)


Paul and Silas Free A Salve Girl 
The Apostles Paul and Silas were going to a place of prayer when they were met by a female slave who earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. Paul commanded the spirit of divination to leave the girl, and the Word tells us “At that moment the spirit left her” (Acts 16:16-18).

Paul and Silas Unjustly Arrested and Beaten
When the owners realized that their moneymaker was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the authorities. Soon the gathering crowd joined in the attack and the magistrates ordered them stripped and beaten with rods. After their flogging, they were taken under heavy guard, to a cold, dark, subterranean dungeon, where their feet were fastened in stocks.

Today’s Christians Suffer Injustices
Paul and Silas had done nothing wrong, yet they were severely punished because they exposed and thwarted their accusers’ evil practices. Isn’t that what the enemy is doing to today’s Christians who stand by the truth of God’s Word? They are mocked, persecuted, heavily fined, thrown in jail, and even murdered for their faith, but this shouldn’t surprise us.

The Last Days
The Apostle Paul told Timothy that in the last days “men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, [without restraint], fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, [rousers], high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses and lead captive, silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:1-7).

The Power of Praise
In the depths of the earth and shrouded in darkness, “about midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, as the other prisoners listened. This entire scene astonishes me, considering that both men were in painful stocks, bruised, bloody, with their backs splayed open. Yet they had the fortitude and desire to sing songs of praise to God.

How Would We Respond?
I don’t know how I would have responded had I been brutally beaten and thrown into prison when no crime had been committed. I might not have been so eager to praise God. In fact, I might have complained in my misery and pain and asked God why He allowed such brutality and unfair punishment. Fortunately, Paul and Silas fully trusted God and instead of questioning or complaining, they praised Him with all their hearts.

Praise Releases God’s Supernatural Power
Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people. Praise releases God’s supernatural power. That is why we are to praise the Lord no matter what happens and constantly speak of His glories and grace. We are to boast of all His kindness and let all who are discouraged take heart and praise and exalt the Lord (Psalm 34:1-3).

God Responds Suddenly
God responded to the praises of Paul and Silas and “suddenly a great earthquake shook the foundations of the prison and every prison door flung open and the chains of all the prisoners came loose” (Acts 16:26). Just like the chains that were broken off of all prisoners and the prison doors were opened for all who heard Paul and Silas worshipping God, those things that hold us captive can be suddenly broken off our lives when we are intentional in our praise and worship of God.

The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. And it was an automatic death sentence for a jailer, if a prisoner escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” (Acts 16:27-28)

God’s Ways Are Above Our Ways
If you are asking why Paul and Silas had to suffer all that they did, God tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For 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). We, like Paul and Silas, need to trust God in every circumstance and know that He not only has our best interest in mind, but His heart is towards the lost.

Lives Are Changed 
The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” I’m sure that he was amazed that the prisoners were still there and overwhelmed by what had happened. When he fell before Paul and Silas, I believe it was an act of contrition and reverence for God’s power (Acts 16:29-30).

Paul and Silas replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (vs. 31). Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, which was an act of repentance. Immediately, he and all his household were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

Not Moved by Circumstances
Paul and Silas were not moved by their circumstances. They trusted God and praised Him in song and worship. Then God moved mightily in the midst of a darkened dungeon and the prisoners and the jailer witnessed His delivering power. However, the greatest miracle was salvation and baptism of the jailer and his entire family. What better ending could there have been then having more souls added to the Kingdom of God?

We all have difficulties and trials in life. None of us are immune. Satan’s goal is to destroy our faith, trust, and hope in God, so he attacks us by using a variety of methods. But often God is allowing those trials to not only prove the genuineness of our faith but to bring others to Him.

God looks for our praises in the trials. For when we lift our voices in praise, we are saying to God, “No matter what happens, I will trust and praise You.” And it is in that complete surrender to God and His will, that His heart is moved to act.

PRAYER: FATHER, I confess there are times when I don’t feel like praising You. Help me to have the attitude of Paul and Silas who did not dwell on their circumstances, but instead, they chose to dwell in Your presence as they worshipped You with their whole hearts. In Jesus name, amen.






Monday, March 12, 2018





GOD IS SPEAKING

Recently, I had a dream in which I was directing a play. There were several actors standing on the stage awaiting direction for the last rehearsal. Behind them was a nondescript painted set. The actors had memorized their assigned lines, but for whatever reason, a few actors were mocking the child actor who only had a small number of lines. 

Opening night, the packed theater watched as the curtain lifted, revealing the actors standing in their places before a picturesque backdrop. They performed their parts; the play ended; and each performer took a bow. However, only the boy who said a few lines received a standing ovation. I then awoke from the dream. After seeking God for revelation, He showed me the following:

The stage represents a platform for God's Word. The position of director represents pastors and teachers who teach, lead, and guide. The actors, who were prepared with their lines,  represent Christians who study and know the Word, so that they are ready to speak truth into the lives of others. The last rehearsal represents the last days. The non-descript, painted backdrop represents the untold Gospel story. The picturesque backdrop represents the telling of the living Gospel, which brings vibrant truth, freedom, renewal, and rebirth to lives. The audience represents the lost, hurting, broken, and spiritually hungry, who come to receive. Those actors, who did not belittle the child actor, represent Christians who see others as equal in the eyes of God. Those who were critical of the boy represent the hypocrisy of Christians who glory in their abilities and quickly judge others. However, when all the actors (Christians) put aside differences and became united in one purpose, they were able to convey the story (the message of the Gospel).

Why do you suppose the young boy was the only one who received a standing ovation? God is not concerned with the size of a person's talent, abilities, or experience, because He is the Giver of those things. Therefore, we are not to boast in our accomplishments, but we are to boast in the Lord and what He has done. (Proverbs 27:2;1 Corinthians 31:1) 

God is more concerned with our willingness, obedience, the intentions and motives of our heart, and the effort that we put forth in representing Him. While others may see little or no value to our contributions to His Kingdom, He is applauding our faithfulness and obedience to Him.

Since becoming a Christian, God has, at various times, used symbolic dreams to communicate, to encourage, instruct, and correct. By now you might be asking, "How do I know if a dream is from God?" 

Dreams given by God are very detailed, often puzzling, and sometimes disturbing. Upon awakening, God's Holy Spirit urges our spirit to seek Him for interpretation. This is not an anomaly. Many of us have had spiritual dreams that we passed off as simply weird. Yet we couldn't dismiss the dream from our thoughts.

A normal/carnal dream is disjointed, has no order and only bits and pieces of the dream are remembered. A spiritual dream progresses in an orderly fashion from one relatable scene to another and is remembered for its extreme detail.

Throughout Scripture, we can find numerous examples of God speaking to people through symbolic dreams. Here are two examples:

Jacob (later named Israel) had a symbolic dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Above it stood the Lord Who said:
       "I AM the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants (the Jewish nation) the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples of the earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you (the Jewish nation) back to this land (Israel). I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you" (Genesis 28:12-15). The fulfillment of that dream began May 14, 1948, and continues today as the Jewish people, from every corner of the world, are returning to Israel.

During King Nebuchadnezzar's reign, he had troubling dreams and couldn't sleep, so he summoned the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers to tell him what he had dreamed. When they told him it was impossible to tell the king his dream, he had them all executed. However, the Prophet Daniel prayed, and during the night, God revealed the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar's dream in a vision. He then told the king his dream and its meaning (Daniel 2:24-49).

Next, there are dreams that give explicit instructions, such as when an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). And then again, when Joseph was warned in a dream to escape to Egypt and stay until further instruction (Matthew 2:13).

Pilate's wife, prompted by a dream, sent an urgent message to Pilate stating that Jesus was innocent and must be freed (Matthew 27:19).

Not all dreams are of God. Some result from thoughts, concerns, and fears, while others come from the enemy to torment and deceive. But Jesus said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me (John 10:27). God speaks in many ways. That is why He tells us to listen and be sensitive to His voice, which is the Holy Spirit counseling and instructing us.

God is preparing His Church for things to come. However, in that preparation, He cautions us not to look to astrologers, sorcerers, palm readers, spiritualist, or other worldly sources. Only the Holy Spirit is able to unlock and reveal the deepest secrets to us.

God's Word tells us that in the last days, "I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy: your young men will see visions; your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy (Acts 2:17-18 NIV)

God is pouring out His Spirit upon His people and speaking to us. "Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what He is saying to the churches" (Revelations 2:29 NLT). Are we listening?

PRAYER:
Father, awaken me to Your promptings and messages through Your Word and through prophetic dreams and visions. Give me understanding of those things that You would have me know, so that You may use me. Give me courage and confidence to use whatever talents You have given me and resources that You provide to draw others to You. For the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matthew 9:37-38 NIV). In Jesus name, amen.

Monday, March 5, 2018



FAITHFUL, AVIALABLE, TEACHABLE

I watched the funeral of "America's Pastor," the Reverend Billy Graham, and was deeply touched as each of his children honored their father's final request to preach his "last crusade." With passionate, revealing, amusing, and profound words, they interwove their comments with the enduring and powerful message of the Cross—For God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16). It was a joyful celebration, because their "daddy" was where he had longed to be—in his eternal home with God the Father.

Graham's youngest son's brief but far-reaching message captured my attention and resonated deep within my spirit: 

       "I just want you to know that my father was FAT. He was faithful, he was available, and he was teachable. I just want you to remember that—faithful, available, and teachable. May we all be that way."

Billy Graham was the embodiment of the acronym FAT—Faithful, Available, and Teachable. The following is the New Oxford American Dictionary's definitions of those three faith-defining words:

FAITHFUL — to be loyal, contant, and steadfast. Are we steadfast and constant in our pursuit of God, His Word, and His purposes?
AVAILABLE — able to be used or obtained; to be at someone's disposal. Are we available to God whenever, wherever, and however He leads and directs?
TEACHABLE — someone who is open to being taught. Are we open to God's instructions and to the teaching of His Word?
*****
Listed below are a few examples of what FAT means in relation to God's Word?

FAITHFUL
Faithfulness of God's People: 
—"Enoch walked faithfully with God 300 years"(Genesis 5:22)
—"Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God." (Genesis 6:9).
God's Faithfulness:
—"Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; He is the faithful God, keeping His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments." (Deuteronomy 7:9)
—"...the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one." (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
—"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)

Rewards for Faithfulness:
—"The Lord rewards everyone for their righteousness and faithfulness (I Samuel 26:23)
—"A faithful person will be richly blessed..." (Proverbs 28:20)
God Encourages Faithfulness:
—"Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart" (Proverbs 3:3).
—"Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer." (Romans 12:12)
—"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22)
—"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor's crown." (Revelations 2:10)
—"Now fear the Lord and serve Him with all faithfulness." (Joshua 24:14)

AVAILABLE
Our Availability:
—"The Lord called Samuel and he answered, 'Here am I'" (1 Samuel 3:4). Samuel was mightily used of God, because he made himself available.
When God calls us to do something for Him, do we obey or do we feign ignorance?
—"For all of God's promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding 'Yes!' And through Christ our Amen ascends to God for His glory" (2 Corinthians 1:20 NLT). AMEN means YES. Do we say "yes" to God?
—"I desire to do Your will, my God..." (Psalm 40:8 NIV). Is His will our desire?
—"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?' Then I said, 'Here am I! Send me.'" (Isaiah 6:8 ESV)
God's Availability:
—"Know you not that I must be about My Father's business?" (Luke 2:49)  Jesus was available to His Father and walked perfectly in His will. Are we available and ready to be used by God?
—"The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth." (Psalm 145:18).

Every Christian should be available to God for whatever He asks of them. Sometimes that demands sacrifice and often stepping out of our comfort zone. Obedience requires a Joshua mentality that faces fears, insecurities, the unknown, and then responds in faith with a firm, Yes God(Read Joshua 1:1-9)

TEACHABLE
—"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid." (Proverbs 12:1 NIV).
—"Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget My words or turn away from them." (Proverbs 4:5 NIV)
—"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6 NIV)

Oh that all people would be faithful to God, available to Him, and teachable. Sadly, we live in a world that is breaking down and sliding into a dark abyss because of rebellion, unfaithfulness, unteachable spirits, and hardened hearts. Thus God is looking to FAT Christians who will offer the hope of Christ and His truth to a desperately hurting and lost world. Anne Graham Lotz made the same heartfelt appeal to Christians:

       "My prayer on this day of his move to Our Father's House is that his death will be a rallying cry. That tens of thousands of pastors, teachers, evangelists, and ordinary men and women will rise up to take his place. That they will take up his message like a baton being passed in a relay race and faithfully pass it on to those whom they come in contact."

As ambassadors for Christ, God makes His appeal through us that on behalf of Christ, we implore others to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). May we all be FAT.

PRAYER:
FATHER, help me to be FAT for Your Kingdom. May I always be faithful to You and Your Word. Give me courage to be available to You for whatever You ask of me, and may I always be teachable in learning from You and Your Word. In Jesus name, amen.

Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
(Psalm 107:2 NLT)