Monday, April 30, 2018

THEY DID NOT BELIEVE

I will even make a road in the wilderness 
And rivers in the desert." 
(Isaiah 43:19)

Have you believed God for something, but the answer has been long in coming? Maybe you are questioning God's plan for your life, or you are simply questioning God. 

April 25, we received news that the radiated cancerous nodules in Michael's lungs had increased in size. This was not the outcome we had hoped for, nor did we expect the doctors to tell us to wait two to three more months before pursuing chemotherapy. 

When answers are not what we expect and doubts begin to abrade our faith, we must go to the Lord. So I sought the Lord, who reminded me that Jesus' followers believed He was an earthly king, who would deliver the Jewish nation. Consequently, when He died, it appeared that all hope was gone. 
Things had not turned out as they had imagined. Doubt and fear had taken hold, because they did not believe that hope and life could or would soon spring forth from the Tomb.

The day of Jesus' crucifixion, Mary Magdalene, whom Jesus had freed from multiple demons, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus stood at the foot of the cross and watched as Jesus drew His last breath. Had they asked, "How can this be?" Jesus had healed multitudes, calmed raging seas, walked on water, and caused the blind to see and the deaf to hear. He delivered the demon-possessed and raised the dead to life. Why could He not save Himself? Yet many times, Jesus had foretold His impending death and resurrection, but they did not comprehend His words.

Has God made a promise to you and yet the circumstances seem to tell a different story? Imagine the confusion His followers must have felt that day. This was not the outcome they had expected. Most certainly, they wept bitter tears of disappointment and uncertainty. No doubt, they questioned why those, who had embraced Jesus, suddenly turned on Him and demanded the release of a murderer in exchange for an innocent man who had only done good? Why did Jesus suffer false accusations, beatings, lashings, humiliation, and a painful crucifixion? What did this mean? How could this be? He had promised a new kingdom. Again, they did not understand God's plan.

Before Jesus' crucifixion, Pilate questioned Him about who He was. Jesus replied, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews..." (John 18:36). Even Pilot saw the innocence of the "man" who stood before him and told the crowd of Jesus' innocence. Yet he caved into the crowd's demand to crucify Him.

The day following the crucifixion, the chief priests and Pharisees asked Pilate to have the tomb guarded and sealed, lest His disciples steal the body and claim that He had risen. So Pilate ordered it done (Matthew 27:62-66).

Hallelujah! The sealed tomb, soldiers, and death could not hold Jesus. On the third day, a great earthquake occurred and the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords arose and appeared first to Mary Magdalene, who hurried to tell the disciples and others that He was alive, but they did not believe.

Jesus then appeared in another form to two disciples as they walked the seven-mile road to Emmaus. When Jesus asked them what they were discussing, they replied that "Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, powerful in Word and deed before God and all the people," had been crucified. (Note, they thought of Him only as a prophet). 

Then the disciples said, "We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel" (Luke 24:22). Jesus responded, "How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and enter His glory?" Despite what He said, they did not know who He was until they broke bread together. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus before He disappeared (Luke 24).

On three different occasions, Jesus had taken the twelve disciples aside and told them He was going to Jerusalem, and that all things that were written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man would be accomplished. He would then be delivered to the Gentiles, mocked, insulted, and spit upon. They would scourge and kill Him, and on the third day He would rise again. But the disciples did not comprehend His Words (Luke 18:31-34). 

That day when Jesus was placed in the tomb, it is likely that His mother and followers were outside the tomb grieving and questioning the events. Had they believed in vain? What they didn't understand was that a new chapter would be written, and what had appeared lost would be resurrected.

Many of us have had dreams dashed, prayers unanswered, and inexplicable, tragic events happen. Hopelessness, despair, and doubt entombed our soul, and like the disciples, we questioned God's promises. Interestingly, just as those promises that Jesus made to His followers were fulfilled then, His promises are being fulfilled today...in His time.

If you are going through a difficult time, as Michael and I are going through, I encourage you not to focus on the circumstances, because they will lock you inside a dark "tomb" of fear, doubt, and unbelief. Instead, continually praise God and look to Him, for He alone has all power to overcome any and all circumstances and to bring forth a new thing.
The LORD says, "Behold, I will do a new thing. Now, it shall spring forth; shall you not know it. I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert" (Isaiah 43:19). For our sovereign God can take anything that the enemy intends for our destruction and bring good from it (Genesis 50:20). The question asked by Jesus to His disciples and to us is, "Where is your faith?" "For without faith, it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6)
God calls us to draw near to Him and He will draw near to us (James 4:8). For the Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him. He will also hear their cry and save them (Psalm 145:17-19)
Do Michael and I understand or know God's plan  for us? No, we don't. However, we have made a choice to rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, and remain constant in prayer (Romans 12:12).
PRAYER:
FATHER, things happen that I don't understand. But You know the beginning and end of all things, for nothing surprises You. Your purposes and ways are beyond my comprehension. Help me to keep my eyes focused on You and not on the circumstances.  Strengthen me to persevere and trust in You with an unwavering faith that frees me from a tomb of fear, doubt, and unbelief. In Jesus name, amen.

"Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. 
Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged; 
For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go." 
(Joshua 1:9)

NOTE: Do you see what appears to be an angel with wings protectively spread over the "road in the wilderness?" 















Monday, April 9, 2018

A BLACKSMITH

My brother and I were discussing our spouses, who are both battling cancer, when he said, "Life is boot camp! It either refines us or it does us in—our choice." He then shared a story about a blacksmith, of which I have written a condensed version:

A blacksmith had surrendered his life to the Lord and was living a godly life, yet it seemed that from the time of his conversion, more troubles, afflictions, and losses showed up at his doorstep. One day a friend, who was not a Christian, stopped by to "sympathize" with the blacksmith's trials and said, “It seems strange that so much affliction comes to you, even though you are a sincere Christian who trusts God for help and guidance. I can’t help but wonder, 'Why is that?'” 

The blacksmith did not answer immediately, for it was evident that he had pondered the same question. Finally, he said, “See that pile of raw iron. Do you know what I do with it? I take a piece and heat it in the fire until it is red, almost glowing white with heat. Then I place it on the anvil and hammer and shape it, as I know it should be shaped. I then reheat and hammer it, repeating the process numerous times until I have a finished product. But sometimes a piece of iron won’t yield to the hammering, tempering, and shaping. Therefore, I have no choice but to throw it out. I have discovered that just like the heating, pounding, shaping, and tempering of those raw materials, God has been holding me, an unfinished work, in the fires of affliction. I have felt His hammer upon me, but I don’t mind as long as He makes me into what I should be."

I watched several YouTube videos of blacksmiths and was amazed at the exacting care and attention given to crafting, shaping, and molding a raw piece of iron into a serviceable product. That is what God does with us. He is meticulous in His attention given to us, which often requires submitting us to the fires (affliction) until we bend and yield to His hammer (His will and His Word) so that our faith is tempered (strengthened). 

Life is difficult. God allows us to pass through the fires of adversity to purge any dross (worthless rubbish) that we have accumulated throughout our life. Often we don't recognize dross that holds us down and prevents us from receiving all that God has for us. But if we submit to Him, He will use our trials, tribulations, disappointments, and delayed answers to prayers to refine and conform us to His perfect will and purposes for us.  

I often reflect on the first 25 years of my life as a non-Christian. I had many of the same challenges that I have today. However, the major difference between now and then was that then, I didn't have the hope of Christ, which I have today. I didn't know God as Friend with whom I could share my concerns, needs, questions, fears, brokenness, hopes, and dreams. Instead, I viewed God as an unreachable and vengeful entity, who would squash me like a bug if failed to live a good life. 

Thankfully, a Christian shared the Gospel with me, and I learned that Jesus is the Door, for He said, "I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good Shepherd. The good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep" (John 10:9-11).

That snowy night, I accepted Christ as Lord and Savior, and my life radically changed forever. I became a "new creature in Christ. Old things passed away and all things were made new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). When I said, "Yes" to the LORD, I surrendered to His authority. In doing so, I said to Him, "My life is no longer my own; it is Yours." I was instantly overwhelmed with a sense of joy, freedom, and peace in my soul, as I felt His love envelop me like a warm blanket on a cold winter's eve.

Many find it frightening and intimidating to surrender their will to the power and authority of God, because our carnal nature wants to retain control. However, we have God's wonderful promise, that if we lay our lives on His anvil, He will shape and mold us into people He created and designed us to become. 

God never promised Christians a life of smooth sailing, and I can testify that I have been through the fires of adversity many times since becoming a Christian. However, our Lord said, "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Therefore, I hold on to His promise, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20 NKJV).

We are not to be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon us, as though something strange were happening to us (Peter 4:12). Sometimes God tests the strength of our mettle (convictions and strength of spirit). 

When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they responded, "If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and He will deliver us from Your Majesty's hand. But even if He does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up" (Daniel 3:16-18).

When the executioners looked into the raging furnace, they were shocked to see four men unhurt and walking in the midst of the fire, with the form of the fourth like the Son of God (Daniel 3:25 NKJV). They came out of that furnace untouched by smoke or flames as a testimony to God's merciful, delivering power. 

If you find yourself in what appears to be a hopeless situation, know that God is walking with you. Never view it as punishment or that God is turning a deaf ear. Instead, ask God what can be learned in the trial. Though the heat of affliction may increase, don't despair, because like the blacksmith, God's watchful eye and guiding hand are continually upon you, shaping and molding you to emerge victoriously from the flames of adversity. 

PRAYER:
FATHER, You are LORD of my life. Forgive me for any disobedience to Your will. I ask You for the gift of faith to trust You in every situation. I surrender to Your refining, tempering, and shaping that I may be all that You designed me to be for this life and the life beyond. In Jesus name, amen.


Monday, April 2, 2018


RELENTLESS PURSUIT

It was 4 a.m. Unable to sleep, I was quietly talking with God when my sweet toy poodle of 12 years, gently pawed my bedside with a polite, "I'm here." I ignored her and waited. She waited. Then her pawing resumed with more intensity. I waited. The longer I delayed my response, the more intense and determined she became in gaining my attention. 

Little did she know that she had my attention from the very beginning, but I wanted to see if she would give up and return to her bed. Not dissuaded, she relentlessly and noisily pawed the bed. When I saw that she was committed to getting my attention, and that she was not going to give up, I reached down and lifted her to me. Her joy was palpable as she smothered me with kisses. I embraced her in my love, and she quickly curled up next to me and fell asleep.

As always, God has a way of using the simplest moments in life to show the most profound expressions of His heart. As I meditated on the sweetness of the moment, the Lord spoke into my spirit:

"I am always and ever present. I never sleep, and I never grow weary. I wait for My children to come to Me, and when they do, I welcome their presence with great joy. Yet there are times when I withhold My response to see if they will relentlessly pursue Me with all their heart, mind, and strength. Sadly, some give up and return to their bed of affliction. But oh how I rejoice over those who are relentless in their pursuit of Me. They are the ones who find that perfect rest and comfort in My great love for them."

What does it mean to be relentless? Relentless means to be incessant, to never give up, to be constant, continual, unceasing, and unremitting.

What does it mean to pursue? Pursue is to follow closely and to chase after.

God wants us to be relentless in our pursuit of Him. He tells us, "Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His face continually (I Chronicles 16:11). For when You seek Me, you will find Me, when you seek Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). God promises us, "Draw near to [Me] and [I] will draw near to you" (James 4:8).

I have discovered in this highly mechanized and computerized world, there are four types of people:
1. Those who have no interest in the things of God 
2. Those who pursue God only when in need 
3. Those who dutifully read their Bible, pray, and attend church 
4. Those who pray, read their Bible, attend church, and relentlessly and tirelessly pursue God in conversation, prayer, and study of His Word.

I confess that before becoming a Christian, I fit into the second category. However, after becoming a Christian, I gradually moved into the third category, where I was content to stay for many years. Yet over the last few years, God has been urging me to proactively embrace the fourth category, which has taken me to a deeper, more intimate relationship with Him.

Intimacy is relational. It is closeness, togetherness, affinity, rapport, attachment, familiarity, friendship, affection, warmth, confidence in another, understanding, cooperation, and companionship. Intimacy is knowing God and being intimately known by Him. Trust is at the heart of intimacy. Without trust, there can be no intimacy, and without intimacy, there can be no faith, for faith can never be attained by mental assent.

We build trust and intimacy with God by daily spending time in His presence. We speak with Him, as a friend speaks with a friend. I have conversations with God throughout my day, whether I am working around the house or out running errands. I ask Him what is on His heart and tell Him what is on my heart. Most importantly, I listen for His sweet Spirit to speak into my spirit.

God is not a human who will disappoint or fail us. He is "always and ever present." "He 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). Yes, God changes not and is faithful in all His promises. 

God created us with a spirit to communicate with the Holy Spirit. He created us for fellowship with Him. He never intended for our relationship to begin and end in salvation.

Daily, God walked and conversed with Adam and Eve in the Garden, until sin separated them from Him. However, despite their sin, His desire for relationship with mankind did not end. That is what the Easter story is all about—restoration with the Father through the sacrifice of His only son, Jesus Christ.

Reading the Bible and attending church are necessary in acquiring truth and knowledge, but knowledge does not ensure intimacy with God. That requires a daily one-on-one relationship with Him through communication, prayer, and study of His Word.

David was imperfect in many ways as we are, but despite his many failings, he was a man after God's own heart. Why was he a man after God's own heart? Because He relentlessly pursued God with his whole heart. 

Psalm 139 is a revealing and beautiful expression of David's love for God and God's intimate love for us. Their relationship is the kind that our LORD wants all of to have with Him. God is not distant and uncaring, as some have pictured Him. He sent His Holy Spirit to remove that distance. I often pray Psalm 139 aloud when my own words fail me. I encourage you to read it aloud. You will be blessed.

How do we know if we are truly pursuing God? Here are a few questions: Is my prayer time a hurried list of needs that I present to God. Do I look forward to verbally talking with God? Do I ask God what is on His heart? Do I invite Him into every decision before I make one? Do I find joy in spending time with Him or am I fulfilling a to-do list? Do I find joy in studying His Word? Am I relentless in pursuing Him with my whole heart?

The pursuit of God is the evidence of genuine faith. We must pursue Him with all our heart, because as humans, we are so very deficient in our own abilities. The Apostle Paul said, "I press on in order to gain Christ, because Christ has already gained me" (Philippians 3:12). Paul was in constant pursuit of Christ, because in that pursuit, he was given all that he needed.

God wants us to pursue Him until our life is saturated with His presence and power. Our spirits yearn to soar like eagles into the heavenlies, but that can only happen when we pursue God's heart. We are then captured by His embracing love, as He joyfully welcomes us into His presence. 

PRAYER:
FATHER, I ask that You place within my heart, a desire to relentlessly pursue You when I lie down, when I rise, and throughout my daily activities. Help me build an intimate relationship with You through Your Word, and give me an ear to hear Your voice as You speak comfort, peace, love, encouragement, direction, and knowledge into my spirit. In Jesus name, amen.