Archives

God’s Treasures of Darkness

As I began this new month of October, I started a new devotional series by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, entitled Growing In Gratitude: A 30-Day Devotional Guide. In the first devotional reading, she defines gratitude as “learning to recognize and express appreciation for the benefits we have received from God and from others.” She adds, “This means constantly being on the lookout for blessings, making each day a treasure hunt.” That final phrase immediately brought to mind a Bible verse shared in the comments on a recent Thankful Thursday post I wrote for God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness.

“I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden riches of secret places, That you may know that I, the LORD, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.” Isaiah 45:3 NKJV

These words from the prophet Isaiah have taken on special meaning in my life since this verse was shared the comments following that Thankful Thursday post. At the time, I was facing one of the hardest steps of obedience God had ever asked of me. I knew the right thing to do, was determined to obey, yet was in a major battle in my emotions. I made the correct choice, and while the full answer is still in process it was clearly a turning point in some extremely difficult circumstances we have been walking through.

The term treasures of darkness, in the original Hebrew, refers to the blessings God has stored up in His storehouse, ready to bestow upon us as we choose to walk in His ways. Deuteronomy 28:12 uses this same Hebrew word to describe the blessings God has stored up, ready to pour out on us when we walk in obedience to His Word.

“Darkness” can refer to literal darkness, as in Genesis 1:4-5, when God separated the light from the darkness and called the light day and the darkness night. It is also used of figurative darkness, a night season or time of adversity.

The Lord has a storehouse of treasures stored up to lavish upon His children who walk in obedience to His precepts during the dark seasons when circumstances seem overwhelming and we have no light to see what lies ahead.

And why does God do this? That we may know that He is the “I Am”, the true God, the God who has the power to enlighten our darkness. “For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness.” (Psalms 18:28)

My husband and I have been walking through a dark season of great financial pressure, caused by serious damage to our home during hurricanes Ike and Harvey, very little help with repairs from our insurance company, some credit card debt we have been working to pay off, and our inconsistent and limited self-employment income.

When on top of all of this, we learned that our homeowner’s insurance was being cancelled because of the poor condition of our home, I felt like I was drowning emotionally and knew I was going under if I didn’t get some encouragement and help in dealing with my emotions. I reached out to a friend from our church, the wife of the retired pastor who leads our iConnect Bible study class.

Over four years before, when we began looking for a small group to be a part of in our large church, we read in the church bulletin that this small group was beginning a study on Genesis and Creation. This especially caught my husband’s attention since  he had recently written a screenplay that included scenes from the Creation story of Genesis. We visited the next Sunday and have been a part of this close knit class ever since.

The first “treasure of darkness” God gave in this situation was the understanding that we thought we chose this small group over four years ago, because the study posted in the bulletin that was about to begin caught our interest. But in truth, God spoke to my heart, He chose this group for us because He knew we would need the friendship and hard-earned wisdom of this couple in this situation several years later. When I made the initial contact because I needed help dealing with the emotional overload caused by our circumstances, I had no idea that my friend and her husband had walked through a similar situation earlier in their marriage. But God knew.

Other times, especially after difficult steps of obedience, God opens his storehouse and bestows a treasure so big we stand in amazement at His goodness. This past Sunday, we received a blessing that left us in tears and speechless. In the midst of great financial stress because of thousands of dollars of damage to our home, we have also been depending on rental cars and friends for transportation since our car broke down over a year ago and the repairs to get it running again were well beyond our means and the value of the car. For over a year, we have been praying for God to make a way for us to get a dependable vehicle without us adding to our debt (which we have been working to pay off). Sunday, God answered that prayer, through a retired widow who has been a prayer warrior for our family for many years. This former nurse for our special needs son came by for a visit and to bring some supplies for David and an anniversary card for Mitch and me. I opened the card and was a little puzzled by the message she had written. “Prayer do change things. Here is some help for your transport needs”… until she handed Mitch and me a certified check which will allow us to buy a dependable used car.

God usually uses people in the treasures of darkness that He bestows upon us when we walk in obedience to Him. But the thing in common no matter how big or small these treasures are is that we know without a doubt it is a gift from God and a clear revelation of His love for us. God’s treasures bestowed in darkness may come through people, but God is their ultimate source and recognizing that makes us fall more deeply in love with Him. Through His treasures of darkness, we know He is the true God, the one who is bigger than any dark circumstances we currently face or may face in the future.

Advertisements

Don’t Waste Your Sorrows

It was very early Wednesday morning, after an almost sleepless night. As I sat in the hospital room with our special-needs son David, still in the recliner that I had attempted to sleep in and the light finally off after a night filled with medical tests, IV replacement, and excellent nursing care for David’s complex medical needs, I heard four clear words in my spirit. “Don’t waste your sorrows.”

This wasn’t an original thought, but actually the title of a book I read many years ago, Don’t Waste Your Sorrows, by Paul Bilheimer. I’m not even sure we still have a copy of this book, but even if we do I haven’t read it for at least fifteen years. Yet it holds a permanent place in my memory because of the clear message it presents.

Suffering is a part of life on this earth. It’s a major part of God’s plan to grow us up into a mature faith in Jesus Christ and prepare us to rule and reign with Him in His eternal kingdom. But how we handle suffering is more important than what we are actually going through. Our own attitude toward God in the midst of suffering determines whether our hardships develop Christ-like character or if instead the suffering we go through is wasted.

Whether you are among my readers who suffer with chronic illness or your trials are in a different form, suffering is not a stranger to most of us. Often, we face multiple trials in our lives at the same time that really stretch our endurance. I’m sure all of us acknowledge the truth that suffering is a fact of life. When it comes, we face a choice. We can revolt in anger or resign in apathy, both resulting in wasting our sorrows. Or we can choose instead to draw closer to God, seek His perspective of what we’re walking through, humble ourselves to learn the lessons He wants to teach us, and spiritually grow from the circumstances we never would have chosen.

One verse God has been using recently in my life, showing me how to walk through our current difficult circumstances in a way that pleases Him is 1 Peter 3:4.

“But let it (your adorning) be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a MEEK and QUIET spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.” 1 Peter 3:4 KJV

Modern translations usually use the word gentle in place of meek because our culture wrongly equates meekness with weakness. One definition of true biblical meekness is “strength under God’s control.” Matthew 11:29 describes Jesus as “meek and lowly in heart” and He is our example of how to walk in meekness.

The Greek word translated meek when used in relationship to God means “that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.” A quiet spirit is one experiencing “tranquillity arising from within,” undisturbed and undisturbing. (Vine’s Expository Dictionary)

The Lord has been speaking to my heart that to not “waste my sorrows” in a variety of difficult circumstances our family is currently walking through, I need to grow in the areas of meekness toward God and work on developing a quiet spirit, undisturbed by anxiety and discontentment.

Are you currently facing some circumstances that you never would have chosen? If so, make the decision today not to waste your sorrows. Draw close to God, ask Him to help you see your circumstances from His perspective, and let Him lead you through the lessons He wants to teach you during this season of life.

Battling Anxiety by Prayer with Thanksgiving

“BE ANXIOUS FOR NOTHING , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Philippians ‭4:6‬ NASB

The above Bible verse has been one of my favorites for many years. I memorized it at least ten years ago. I’ve tried to live it out whenever circumstances came that caused anxiety, even studied Max Lucado’s book Anxious For Nothing last year and found help in overcoming some anxiety I was battling during that time.

Yet when I learned about three weeks ago that our home was no longer insurable due to extensive damage during the last two hurricanes that hit the Houston area – that to have continued insurance coverage on our home we had an estimated $40,000 of repairs (not covered by our insurance company) that we needed to find a way to cover – I still had a major battle with anxiety. Yes, I tried to cast my burdens on the Lord, but the anxiety remained. I prayed, but I still was waking up in the middle of the night feeling so anxious about this situation that I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Knowing I needed to find a way to deal with this before it started causing major problems with my health, I prayed and sensed the Lord speaking to my heart that I needed to reach out for help. We had already shared some of the details of what we are facing with the couple who lead our iConnect Bible Study class at church, so I made a call and explained the problem I was having to my friend Donna.

After listening patiently to my explanation of what had been happening, my friend gave me several practical suggestions to use to conquer my fears. First, she reminded me of the above Scripture. We discussed some of the specific fears that were keeping me awake at night. Donna asked me to make a list of those fears and others that came and then find Scriptures I could use in prayer to combat the nighttime fears. And she reminded me of the second action called for in Philippians 4:6, giving thanks to the Lord in the midst of our current circumstances. She also gave several other practical suggestions, which I’ve been putting into practice.

This was nearly two weeks ago, and nothing in our circumstances has changed. But my outlook on the circumstances has turned 180 degrees. Yes, I’m still having an occasional battle with anxiety keeping me from getting a full night of sleep some nights. But the combination of identifying my fears, reminding myself of what God’s Word says about the things I’m fearing, and looking for things to thank God for in the midst of this situation has made a big difference.

Dr. David Jeremiah, founder of Turning Point Radio and Television Ministries and senior pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:

“No matter what our circumstance, we can find a reason to be thankful.”

I don’t believe Philippians 4:6 is telling us to give thanks FOR the problems we are walking through but rather IN the troubles that are causing anxiety. Frankly, I’m not thankful about the damage that happened to our home or the fact that neither the government disaster relief agency nor our insurance company did anything to help after hurricane Harvey last summer. I’m not thankful that our attempt to find a new insurance company that would actually do more than take our money ended up causing our insurance to be cancelled because my husband was honest about the current condition of the house. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing to give thanks for in this situation.

I am thankful that the damage to our home last summer did not mean we had to move out, which would have been a huge problem with the medical needs of our son David. Many in the Houston area were not so fortunate. I’m grateful that God provided enough money to repair the leak in the roof so that future rainstorms did not result in even more damage. And I’m thankful for supportive friends who are helping us through this difficult time in a way that encourages us to honor God and His Word. And above all, I’m grateful that God has been with us as we walk through this difficult season, doing a work in both my husband’s life and my life.

Prayer is an important key to getting past our anxious thoughts. But remember when Philippians 4:6 gives us counsel on how to overcome anxiety it adds something to prayer. Thanksgiving.

My husband and I have prayed about our situation, reminding God that without His help there is nothing we can do to turn this around. We are doing the things He has shown us to do. And we are thanking Him daily for His blessings in the midst of the hardship.

Are you currently battling anxiety over some circumstances beyond your control? If so, I want to remind you that they are NOT beyond God’s control. He loves you with an everlasting, steadfast love and He has a track record from Creation till now of faithfulness. So instead of giving in to anxious thoughts, pray. Tell Him what you need. Praise Him for who He is. Thank Him for how He has come through for you in impossible situations in the past. And even look for something you can thank Him for in your current stressful circumstances.

The situation may not change overnight – but I suspect YOU will begin to change. And according to Romans 8:28-29, that’s one way God uses everything we face for our good and His glory, as we are conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. Add giving thanks to your prayers and see what happens.

 

Learning To Be Content

God has been speaking to me this week about being content as I face some difficult circumstances that I am trusting God to take us through. Being content in the way the Bible describes this quality will result in an attitude of gratitude that is unhindered by outward circumstances.

We live in a society that focuses on accumulation and consumption. But God’s Word teaches a different lifestyle, one in which we free ourselves from the world’s insatiable desire for more and learn to be mentally and emotionally satisfied with things as they are.

The Greek word arkeo which is used in most of the New Testament references to contentment, goes a step further than the English definition of being satisfied and not wanting more. According to Vine’s Complete Expository of Old and New Testament Words, “arkeo primarily signifies to be sufficient, to be possessed of sufficient strength, to be strong, to be enough for a thing.” Contentment starts with understanding that in Christ Jesus we have sufficient strength to walk in contentment through whatever circumstances God allows to touch our lives.

Rob Kuban, author of the book Christ-Centered Contentment, sees contentment as “the currency of God’s economy and God’s people.” Biblical contentment, Kuban says, is a commitment to choose Christ over consumption.

“The Bible calls us to allow our convictions, not our circumstances, to govern our sense of contentment. True, biblical contentment is a conviction that Christ’s power, purpose and provision is sufficient for every circumstance. We are to learn how to walk through all kinds of adversity believing in and experiencing Christ’s sufficiency. We have to choose to rest on God’s good promises despite what may be going on in our lives.”

CONTENTMENT IS CENTERED IN GOD’S PRESENCE

“Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, ‘I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU.” (Heb. 13:5)

CONTENTMENT IS EQUALLY ATTAINABLE IN ABUNDANCE AND IN NEED

“Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Phil. 4:11-13)

CONTENTMENT IS POSSIBLE IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE

“And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” …Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12:9-10)

I love this poetic description by American author, speaker, and pastor John Maxwell, which gives a clear picture of the lifestyle of contentment to which the Lord is calling us to walk, in contrast to the life of one who lives in discontentment.

“The contented man looks beyond his circumstances and sees a better day; the discontented man looks at his circumstances and sees no other way.

The contented man understands the purpose for which he was born; the discontented man looks at other’s success with a face that is filled with scorn.

The contented man has surrendered to a purpose that demands his best; the discontented man has selfishly hoarded much and grasping for more, will not rest.

The contented man has placed his values on things which will forever last; the discontented man has placed his values on things which will soon be past.

The contented man is anchored to clear goals and is hardly ever swayed; the discontented man has no goals that anchor him and is many times dismayed.

The contented man counts his blessings and names them one by one; the discontented man counts other’s blessings and thinks he has no fun.”

I’ve spent long enough living in discontentment. According to Paul’s words in Philippians 4:11-13, we can learn to be content in the midst of circumstances that are not those we would have chosen. Our part is to make that choice, God’s part to enable us to walk it out by His power. I know it’s time for me to make that choice. How about you? With you join me in a commitment to learn to walk in contentment in spite of the challenges you are currently walking through?

God’s Unfailing Love

For many years, Bible reading and study has been a major priority in my daily life. The primary way God speaks to us is through His written Word, and in the weakness of my flesh I need to hear from God daily to know how to walk victoriously through the many challenges of this life.

This past week was not an exception to my habit of beginning my days with time in God’s Word. But it was an exceptional week of hearing from God. It was a week where God’s message to me was coming through loud and clear. It was a week of hearing over and over again: “Trust in My unfailing love.

Unfailing love is how the New International Version of the Bible translates the Hebrew word checed. Other versions translate it steadfast love, lovingkindness, mercies, faithfulness, kindness, mercy, and love. Why so many different translations for one Hebrew word? Simply because there is no single English word that fully expresses the meaning of checed.

Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words says there are three basic meanings of the word, which always interact: strength, steadfastness, and love. This word is used 240 times in the Old Testament, most often in the Psalms. Vine’s says, “The term is one of the most important in the vocabulary of Old Testament theology and ethics.”

This single Hebrew word also includes the concepts of generosity and favor, of loyalty and mercy, of grace and faithfulness, of goodness and devotion, of protection and blessing. When used to describe our God, it applies primarily to God’s particular love relationship with those who are His chosen, those who have entered into a covenant relationship with Him. That includes you, if you have placed your faith in Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross.

As I did my regularly scheduled Bible reading last week, each day it included this concept. God was obviously trying to show me something important about His character. Then the day after this began, we learned that we need around $40,000 in repairs on our home, due to damage from Hurricanes Ike and Harvey that was not covered by our insurance. I was feeling overwhelmed.

The next morning, one verse about God’s unfailing love especially stood out to me. It was Isaiah 54:10.

“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.”

‭‭As I read these words, I realized God had given me a promise to hold onto. What we are facing feels huge, but it isn’t bigger than our God. No matter what lies ahead, we can walk through it in confidence that His unfailing love for us will not be shaken and that His peace won’t be removed.

This week, I’m especially grateful for the special words God brings to life from His written word, when a verse or concept in the logos, the written Word, becomes a rhema word that we personally hear and receive as we spend time in His presence. For that to happen requires a commitment to open your Bible (or a Bible app) every day with expectancy that God will speak to you.

Is there a verse of Scripture or a concept taught in the Bible that God has used to encourage you recently? Give thanks to the Lord for being a God who speaks to His people. If God has spoken a special verse or passage to your heart that has encouraged you, don’t keep the good news to yourself. Share it with someone else. It may be just what they are needing to get through a difficult day.

An August Anniversary

This post is written to link with Five Minute Friday, where we write spontaneously for five minutes on a one-word prompt.  The prompt this week is Anniversary.

As August 2018 begins, one of the most discussed topics in Houston, Texas is the upcoming first anniversary of Hurricane Harvey. On August 29th, 2017, after this devastating storm came in at the Texas coast, it moved northeast toward the huge metropolis of Houston. And Houston hasn’t been the same since.

The annual recurrence of the date marking a notable event – an anniversary – can be a time of rejoicing or a time of sorrow. In this case, my emotions concerning this upcoming anniversary are mixed. Hurricane Harvey caused devastation, but it also showed how loving and concerned the people of our city are for one another.

Our own church received major damage to it’s buildings during this memorable event, and yet the thing that stood out to me was the outreach to the surrounding community. Hundreds of people went around the neighborhood, cleaning out flooded homes, removing debris and delivering the hope that is found in Christ. And this same thing was happening in churches and ministries throughout the greater Houston area.

When disaster hits, we are faced with a choice. Will we sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, or will we show the love of Christ to our neighbors who are hurting? I’m grateful to be a part of a city and church that made the right choice in this, the choice that led to restoration and changed lives.

Houston isn’t the same today as it was after last August’s devastating flooding. Lives and property were lost, and some areas still need work before restoration is complete. Our own family was touched by the storm, as we faced damage to our home that to this point is still only partially repaired and as our special needs son David had a small illness that turned into a life-threatening battle with pneumonia because of delay in getting a prescription for an antibiotic filled in the midst of the storm.

But the thing that stands out to me as I look back is a clear lesson in what it means to truly love those around us in word and deed. We can look inward in the midst of a disaster such as this, or we can look at the opportunity before us to be “Living Proof of a Loving God to a Watching World.” This theme our pastor reminds us of frequently was lived out last August in practical ways. God used His people to bring good out of the disastrous storm. And for that, I’m thankful.

A New Month, A New Topical Bible Reading Plan

For a couple years, I have been using the monthly topical Bible reading plans published by Rachel Wojo, and this month’s plan Perfect Peace: Planting My Eyes on Jesus is especially appropriate to where I’ve been walking in recent months. My desire is to do at least one blog post per week during June sharing some of the things I’m learning from this study. If anyone is interested in doing this study with me, here is Rachel’s June Bible reading plan.

In the midst of a time of trying to find answers to explain recent irregularities in my blood tests, walking in God’s peace has been a challenge. It’s been a daily battle not to give in to fear. Last July and again in February of this year, my alkaline phosphatase levels have been elevated. My doctor suspected this was due to a new bone problem, so she ordered a full body bone scan with contrast. The test revealed no new bone disease that would explain the lab results.

Then, she felt the next most probable problem was disease or obstruction in the liver or pancreas. So I had a barium and IV contrast CT-scan done of my liver and pancreas done last Friday. This was especially scary, because my doctor had mentioned the possibility of cancer. But again, I was given a clear report of health from this test. This was a huge relief, but at this point we still do not know what is behind the elevated levels.

Next Friday, I’ll be taking the next step in the diagnostic process, an appointment with my gastroenterologist to discuss the results of the CT-scan in more detail and to schedule a colonoscopy. And the following Friday, I’m scheduled for a bone density test, which my doctor said is due and should be done to rule out the one other possible area of trouble with my bones.

Unlike most of the health issues I’ve faced in the past, this new one isn’t causing any outward problems. But there has been a battle – a spiritual battle in my mind against fear. So this month’s topical study on the peace we find in God’s presence is especially fitting.

Day 1: Psalm 29:1-11 (I’m using ESV throughout this study unless otherwise noted)

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” Psalms‬ ‭29:3-4

‭‭The voice of the Lord – and His very presence – is above the waters that threaten our lives. This reminds me of the first part of Isaiah 43:2.

“When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you…”

Psalm 29 ends with these words. They are a great reminder that God is still on His throne, that He has been and continues to be in charge.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” Psalm ‭29:10-11‬ ‭

Father, today I remind myself that these latest health problems I’m facing haven’t taken You by surprise. You are above these choppy waters I’m going through, still reigning on Your throne of grace and love. Thank You for a doctor who won’t let this go until she rules out all of the major issues that could be causing this irregularity in my blood work. Thank You that the two most likely and most serious problems have now been ruled out. Continue to teach me how to take hold of Your peace and rest in You as I walk through this storm in my life. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.