Sunday, August 3, 2008

An Attic Full of Smiles

Many people have a misconception about God the Father. They judge Him based on their earthly father. If they had a good father, then they look on their heavenly Father as good. If a person’s earthly father was mean, cruel, or absent, then they might expect the same from their heavenly Father. What we all need to realize is that our heavenly Father is perfect in every way.

He showed His goodness to the children of Israel throughout the Bible. His word says, “I will abundantly bless her provision. I will satisfy her poor with bread” (Psalm 132:15 KJV).

When Father speaks to His children, He does it with loving kindness, not in harsh, aggravated tones. He is not a King who sits on a throne and tosses out crumbs to His children as if they were beggars. No, He is our loving Heavenly Father who desires to help and bless us, even when we don’t ask.

I remember how my wife and I would go to Toys R Us and buy toys, dolls, and things for our daughter when she was growing up. We loved doing it so much that we rarely waited for her to ask us for anything. We bought the things we knew she would like and surprised her. This would always bring a happy smile to her face, and as her joy was our joy, happy smiles adorned our faces as well. Today, we have an attic full of smiles, found memories that remain even today.

Not long ago I was the recipient of a surprise gift from my heavenly Father. I was short an ingredient that I needed for a product I was making. Needing two gallons of this ingredient, I was short ¾ gallon. On the morning I needed it, I awoke to the voice of the Lord speaking to me in the Spirit. He said, “Take the chemical you have and divide it equally into two buckets.”

Trying to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I shook myself and said, “Lord, I don’t want to short change my product. I’ve never done that before.”

He said, “Take two buckets and divide the chemical equally. Make your two tanks. I’ll take care of it.”

I said, “OK Lord. I’ll do it.” What could I say? It was the Lord.

So I went in and carefully divided the ingredient equally into two buckets, poured one into the tank with my other ingredients, and set the other bucket aside. Two days later, I went back to make the second tank, and when reaching for the bucket that was set aside, I noticed something different about it. It had a full gallon!

There was no doubt that God had increased that partial gallon to a full gallon in both buckets. It was a miracle! He did it without me asking, just to bless me and see the smile on my face. I know my reaction brought a smile to His face also. We rejoiced together.

I remember from the Bible how the prophet Elijah turned an empty barrel of meal into a bottomless barrel of meal for a widow and her son, until a drought was over (I Kings 17:14). And let’s not forget Lord Jesus turning the water in pots, into fine wine (John 2:7).

This same God blesses us every day in ways we don’t expect, just to see the smile on our face. And like a good Father, it puts a smile on His face as well. I believe when our Father contemplates His memories of our reactions to His blessings, He also finds an attic full of smiles.

“Your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!” (Matthew 6:8)

Lord Over the Flood

I was watching the CBN News coverage of the flooding in the mid-west and was stunned by the devastation. Like many of you, my heart grieves for our neighbors who have suffered such great losses. The rising waters have submerged whole towns, and as the camera shows us the neighborhoods, it seems like only the mailboxes perched on posts have remained unscathed.

A disaster such as this affects people in different ways. Most shall recover when the water recedes. Some have only suffered a minor inconvenience, while others have lost everything they own, homes and business washed away.

But there’s another kind of flood going on in our nation. People are living through disasters all around us. A mother struggles to support and feed her children while her husband serves a jail sentence. A devoted father and husband find himself in the hospital with cancer, and his wife struggles to pay the bills. Ultimately, their home of forty years and all their retirement savings are washed away in their own personal flood.

Good people are devastated and cry out to God. “All the floods compassed me about: all thy billows and waves passed over me. Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight, yet I will look again toward thy holy temple” (Jonah 2:3-4 KJV)

Don’t give up! Whether you have experienced a flood of water, or a flood of bad circumstances, know that God cares. Don’t blame Him. Look again to His temple.

We live in a world of trouble and turmoil in which the righteous and the unrighteous are affected alike. God is not singling out you or your community. The world is a dangerous place. Know that God cares, and He will help you. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever” (Psalm 29:10 NIV)

He is our source in times of trouble. He will give you strength to stand, wisdom to find a way, joy to sustain your soul, and peace to rest.

As Operation Blessing rises to action, helping those most hurt by these floods, so we who are unaffected must do likewise. But in addition to those whose only remaining possession is a mailbox on a post, we must aid the hurting neighbors all around us who are trying to survive a myriad of personal disasters, some who even lost the mailbox. With God’s help we can make it.

“When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall raise a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19 KJV)

Become part of the standard that God raises for such a time as this. You may ask what you can do. Support disaster relief. Look at the mailboxes sticking up all around you in your own neighborhood or church. Many times your neighbor suffers silently and will not ask for help. Show them you care. Get involved. And for those who are hurting, the Lord over the flood sees you. Help is on the way!

Passing the Test of Liberty

As we read today’s headlines, we learn of constant challenges to our liberty. Terrorist’s threats against our nation, economic turmoil, and political struggles are on all of our minds. But hasn’t that been a constant in the history of our country?

From the very outset of our nation’s birth, our forefathers passed the test of liberty in places like Bunker Hill and Valley Forge. But there has come a steady stream of trials and tests to our nation that we have had to pass in order to remain free. We mustn’t forget the Alamo, the battle of New Orleans, or Gettysburg.

There have been many hero’s celebrated in our history, but none greater than the men and women who led their families through the great depression, two world wars, conflicts in southeast Asia, and our current hero’s who even today fight around the world, a war against global terror.

There has been a test that each generation has had to pass for liberty. And these tests are always given to the individual. The other evening while praying with callers in the CBN Prayer center, I received a call from a lady who wanted to thank us for an answered prayer.

It seems that her mother, who we’ll call Maria, had always wanted to become a United States citizen, but could not pass the test. Well, after praying with a CBN prayer counselor, Maria passed the test of liberty and became a United States citizen!

Now, there was a young boy named Tommy who was brilliant at an early age. Born and raised in a rural area, he had read all of his father’s books by the age of six, and had a hunger for knowledge that was unquenchable. He was tested many times in his life but at the age of fourteen, his father passed away, leaving him to assume the role of head of house.
In spite of life’s circumstances, he entered college at the age of seventeen. Maintaining his home with his mother and siblings, at the age of twenty-four, Tommy passed the bar exam and became a lawyer. When he was twenty-seven and away working in another city, his home burned down and he lost all his prized possessions, including his extensive library. In time he rebuilt his library, had an illustrious career, and passed the test of liberty.

Now Harriet Powers was an African American woman freed from slavery after the civil war. Her family suffered hardship and struggled to survive and pass the test of liberty. She was an expert seamstress who made quilts to help support her family of nine children. Few black women could write in those days, but Harriet told the stories of the Bible with the figures she sewed into the panels of her quilts.

To see Harriet’s quilts was to get a visual of the great stories of the Bible. She passed the test of liberty and led her family into the free world.

The greatest test of liberty, however, came in a garden in Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus passed the test of liberty for all mankind when He, in the deepest part of His heart, submitted Himself to His Father and said, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22:42).

At that moment it was settled. He sacrificed His liberty for ours, even to His death on a cross. Now we have liberty in Christ, eternal life that no man, no ruler, no despot, no tyrant, and no devil in hell can take from us. When we accept Christ Jesus as our savior, we are free!
The test of liberty is an individual test, which we must pass daily. Our struggle, whether spiritual, physical, or financial, is not in vain. Just as we reap the rewards of those who have passed the test before us, we pass the rewards of our tests on to those who come after us.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “As for the rest of you, dear brothers and sisters, never get tired of doing good” (II Thessalonians 3:13).

So pass the test of liberty, be an overcomer like Harriet Powers, the freed slave whose Bible quilt hangs in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC today. Or Maria, who passed the test of liberty and became a United States citizen at ninety-six years of age! And finally, let’s not forget Tommy, who at the age of thirty three passed the test of liberty when he penned these words:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1776).

Collector of Cracked Pots

One of my favorite movie heroes is Indiana Jones. I love to watch his adventures as he searches for artifacts from past civilizations. Real life archeologists sometimes search for years to find only scattered pieces of pottery. It’s amazing how painstakingly they put all the shattered pieces together. In many instances they are able to completely reconstruct the pottery to its original form.

Other than the obvious cracks, once the repairs are made, it looks as good as new. Once restored, a quality piece is usually placed in a museum where it is illuminated by special light and prominently displayed on a pedestal for all to see and enjoy.

But there are also private collectors of such treasures. One day while praying in the Spirit, I saw such a place in a vision. I entered a large building, which was rather plain, and followed a dimly lit carpeted hallway into a large room. The room was dark except for an area to the left, so I made my way there.

Before me stood a large wall painted with swirling brush strokes, giving it the appearance of a work of art. In front of the wall was a row of lighted glass pedestals with pottery sitting atop each one. It looked like a room in a museum. Each piece of pottery was splashed with light so that it was visible top, bottom, and sides.

As I approached for a closer examination, I noticed two things. Each pot was beautiful and unique in it’s own right, and each one was cracked. Some had one or two obvious cracks, and others had cracks like a spider web, surrounding it. But all were obviously painstakingly repaired and displayed in a place of honor.

I closely examined the first pot on my left. It was a plain earthen vessel with no visible decoration. It had one large crack from top to bottom, which had somehow been perfectly repaired. The crack, however, was still visible.

The next pot to my right was a large ornate vessel with designs depicting battles won and lost. It was a Kingly vessel of blue, with numerous flaws, which had been repaired.
Next was a beautiful classic pot, tall and thin, with leaves of green and gold decorations. Though repaired, one large crack spiraled around from the top to the bottom. It appeared to be the vessel of a scholar.

The next one was a wide short pot upon which were etchings of fish and the sea. The outside was fine but there was a large crack on the inside, which had been painstakingly supported and reinforced so the repair would hold.

The last pot in the row was a normal looking vessel at first glance, but closer inspection revealed a pot that had been shattered and put together more than once. It seemed that even the pieces had been broken. It was, however, masterfully reconstructed and sealed.

I stepped back and pondered these artifacts, wondering about their significance, when a voice spoke from behind me and said, “Would you like to know the significance of those pots?” Standing with my arms crossed, I didn’t turn around. Assuming this was the proprietor I answered. “Yes sir, please tell me.”

“Look closely at the placard on the first pedestal,” He said. Stepping over to it, I leaned down and read, “Adam.” “Adam?” I said. “Yes.” He replied. “Adam had a large flaw, one which cost me dearly. But the cost was a price that I was more than willing to pay.”

He instructed me to look at the next one. The placard read, “David.” “Yes,” He said. The King had many flaws, but what a beautiful vessel. Don’t you agree?” “Yes,” I replied. He spoke softly and said, “This was a vessel that captured my heart.”

The next pot, a classic with leaves of green and gold, had a placard, which read “Paul.” “Paul, Paul,” the voice said, “a vessel of educated substance, refined and stately. This spiral crack caused it great weakness, but my grace was sufficient. ”

The wide pot with ocean etchings had a placard, which read, “Peter.” “This vessel,” said the voice “was large, strong, and capable of much, but suffered severe damage on the inside. I had to hold it together for some time until the repair was complete. It became one of my greatest works. Now look closely at the next vessel.

I leaned down to read the placard on the twice-shattered pot and beheld my own name. Tears filled my eyes as I remembered the shattering that almost destroyed me, the destruction of my childhood due to my parents’ divorce. “I am like a broken vessel” (Psalm 31:12 KJV)

I turned to face the collector of cracked pots and beheld the Father! His eyes were as penetrating as His smile was warm. I felt the strength of His embrace as I said, “Thank you for putting together the shattered pieces of my life Father.” Unspoken love and acceptance passed between us.

He stepped over and picked up the Adam pot. “Son, he said, ever since that first vessel Adam, there has been flaws and cracks in every vessel which has come afterward.“
He went from pedestal to pedestal, carefully holding, and softly rubbing each pot. Then with an expert eye, He placed each one back on their pedestal so that the light reflected the unique beauty of each vessel.

He spoke again, “I sent my son Jesus to pay the price of all the cracked pots and to bring the pieces to me. And you know son, it wasn’t until I repaired the cracks that the vessels had their greatest use.”

When he finished, He gave me a pat on the shoulder and a quick smile as He walked past me toward the darkened area of the room. It lit up as He entered, and to my amazement, the light revealed the room to be enormous. It stretched out as far as I could see. My eyes quickly searched for Father and I saw Him walking, far away in the distance…in the middle of a sea of pedestals which held His redeemed collection of cracked pots, a collection which no man can number.

“And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all formed by your hand” (Isaiah 64:8 NLT).

The River of God’s Will

Do you ever wonder where you stand in the will of God? Every day we make decisions concerning our life, and in many cases, the lives of our family. How do we know we are making the right decisions? What about the consequences if we are wrong? How can we know we are right? A bad decision at the wrong time could have an earth shattering effect on our lives, and the lives of those close to us, if we are wrong. The Bible tells us, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own” (Isaiah 53:6 NLT).

However, we know that a correct decision can culminate in a cascade of blessings for our family and us. I was an 18-year-old Air Force Airman stationed far from home for the first time when I first seriously sought God’s will for my life. My High School sweetheart was awaiting my return as we had plans to marry. We both wanted God’s will in our life, not wanting to make a mistake that could end in divorce.

So on one hot Texas Sunday morning, I knelt in an altar and submitted my will to God’s will. I placed our plans in God’s hands and with a sincere heart ask His will in our lives. I told God that if He had other plans for our lives, or even wanted me to remain single and become a missionary, I would do it. I found out later, that at the same time, she was in the altar at our home church back in Virginia, asking God the same thing. We both submitted our wills to God and He let us know that our marriage was His will. Thirty-six years later, we’re still blessed by staying in the center of His will.

It is imperative that we find God’s will in our life, for His will is actually what’s best for us. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NLT).

Being in the will of God is like being in the center of a fast flowing river.
In the center of the river the flow is strongest and fastest. The further away from the center of the river you drift, the slower and less directed the flow.
You’re still in the flow, but it’s not as strong or sure.

In the center of God’s will, His guidance is strongest and most sure. But the further away from the center of God’s will you drift, the slower you move, and the guidance, direction and protection you would have received from Him is weaker and less effective, almost indiscernible. You move from His perfect will into His permissive will, and then out of His will altogether.

Wading to the edge of the river, you eventually step out and find yourself on the shore of your pride and independence, and the river flows on without you. Likewise, stepping out of God’s will, you are on your own, left to your own devices as the will of God moves on without you. Out of the river, you try to make your way, but it’s more difficult to move forward, because there are obstacles.

You try to move parallel to the river, keeping it in sight, but there are obstacles in the path, forcing movement around them. This causes you to travel in a different direction than the river, which is now so far away that it can’t even be seen. Trying to serve or even follow God when you are out of His will becomes frustrating because of the obstacles that force movement further away from God’s plan for your life. Bad relationships, wrong career choice, poor health, lack of education and finances are only some of the wrong roads on which you might find yourself. Subsequently your life ends up on a wrong path or stuck at a dead end going nowhere.

My old friend decided one day to wade out from the center of the river of God’s will. He found himself interested in another woman as he waded to the edge of the river. Then he stepped out of the river of God’s will and left his wife and family. He wandered about for many months until he came to his senses and decided to return. He came back to the river, saw his place, and dove in. He swam back into the center of God’s will, returning to his family, his church, and his God. And there he remains to this day.

Now, you could make your way back to where you left the river of God’s will, try to re-enter and find the place that was originally meant for you, but that’s not always practical. Maybe your spot in the river has already moved on, or your place was filled with another.

Do not despair! There is another place for you in the river. God’s will and plan for your life yet waits! Make your way directly to the river of God’s will at whichever point along life’s journey you now find yourself.

Get back in the river. Wade out from the shore and into the flow. Don’t be satisfied with an ankle deep, knee deep, or waist deep place in the river of God’s will. Remember God’s word, “Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb” (Revelation 22:1 NLT). Abandon yourself, head over heels, to the center of the river where the flow is strongest and most sure, flowing in the will of God.

Embracing Resistance

One afternoon while running an errand near the oceanfront in Virginia Beach, I decided to go an extra block and take a peek at the ocean. The air was cold, in the 40s, and cloudy, with a slight drizzle. It was a typical off-season day. The boardwalk was deserted/ So with my pick of the benches, I sat on a choice one, stretched out my legs, stuck my hands in my jacket pockets, and looked out over the water.

It was a little windy, as the rough waves crashed ashore making that unmistakable sound of the sea. Looking up at the seagulls flying, I noticed the drizzle had stopped. So I decided to enjoy the fresh sea air for a while, and maybe even get a little inspiration from the nature that God created.

Sitting there in the cold, my attention was drawn to a seagull flying above the boardwalk, about 10 feet in front and above me. Hovering perfectly still, his wings gave a slight flutter as he faced into the wind, which was blowing strongly. At first, I felt sorry for him as he was getting nowhere in this wind.

But by facing that wind, he was kept aloft by its force. For a few moments he opened his wings, without flapping them, and remained stationary, directly in front of me, suspended in mid-air.
As I observed this remarkable sight, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I’m not keeping you back, I’m keeping you up.”

Maybe like me, you can relate to that seagull. Have you ever felt stuck in you life? Seemingly held back and not going forward? The Lord let me know that He’s not holding us back; He’s holding us up.

As I pondered that thought and watched the seagull closely, I realized that if the seagull had flown away from the wind, he would have been blown down to earth. But by facing the resistance of the wind, with a slight flutter of his wings, he was lifted up. So when resistance comes against you, if you face it, put your nose into the wind and flap your wings. You’ll be lifted up and not cast down. Resistance will lift you higher!

“You make the clouds your chariot; you ride upon the wings of the wind.” (Psalm 104:3, NLT)

When you pursue your goals and dreams in life, at some point you will inevitably encounter resistance. Think of King David in the Bible. He was chosen to be King as a young man, but the current King Saul put unrelenting pressure on him by trying to destroy him. Through the years of persecution from King Saul, David honed his skill as a guerrilla fighter, a strong leader of men, and a man of character and honor. Resistance lifted him to become the King he had been chosen to be.

Think of the early church. Great persecution came against the early church. Many were martyred for refusing to deny Christ and many had to flee for their lives. But this unrelenting pressure of persecution caused the church to become firm in the faith and spread far and wide in order to survive. Resistance lifted the church throughout the known world in 300 years, becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire.

If you turn from resistance and run, it will smash you to the ground. You’ll be crushed and your flight, as well as your dreams, will be over. So instead of looking at the winds of resistance as something formidably holding you back, look on it as something that God is using to hold you up and make you strong. Embrace resistance, and it will raise you to the heights you dream of reaching!