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Monday, February 23, 2015

Soul Sister's Series #3, The Beautiful Woman




Even as a young girl, Esther’s loveliness was striking. Her young beauty was like a budding rose. You are in anticipation at what is to come. Yet when it spreads its petals, somehow it still exceeds your expectations. Now that Esther’s beauty had fully blossomed, she drew more lingering stares. You just couldn’t help but admire her beauty. 

Yet under the surface there was much insecurity and uncertainty about her future. And deeper still was a longing for what she had missed. 

Her parents died a long time ago. Thankfully her older cousin Mordecai took and raised her as his own. She never lacked anything in his household, yet there was a hole in her heart that he just couldn’t fill. Add to that the sad reality her people were far from their homeland. Most had settled and was quite comfortable in Babylon. But they never forgot Jerusalem. 

Even though Esther never saw Jerusalem, she knew in rich detail the city and the temple of Jehovah. The elder members of the family spoke wistfully about the sinfulness that brought them so much loss and pain. 

Esther was much acquainted with loss and pain herself, yet she felt a stirring, a restlessness in her spirit. She wanted to help her people. She wanted to make a difference. But how could this happen in her situation? All she had going for her was a pretty face. How far could that take her? 

Can you identify? Have you felt the stirrings, the restlessness in your own spirit to be more than you are, to do more? Do you look at your circumstances and feel trapped? Do you look at yourself and think this is all I have going for me? Does you seem to live in obscurity, unknown and insignificant? 

Esther’s vision was limited by the present; God’s vision went far into the future. The Israelites would need deliverance from imminent destruction. God chose this orphan girl for the mission. 

All she had going for her was a pretty face and that is precisely what God used to place her in the position where she could bring that deliverance. His plan began to unfold the day she was brought into the palace for the ultimate beauty contest. Whoever caught the eye of the King would become Queen. 

But first she had to undergo twelve months of beauty treatments to transform her from a lowly orphan to a breathtaking beauty. The treatments only added to her attractiveness. The day she was brought before the King, he was so gripped by her beauty he instantly made her Queen. She now was the wife of the most powerful monarch in the known world. 

Yet this was only the beginning of God’s plan. He had a higher purpose. When Haman’s evil plot to exterminate the Jews revealed itself, Mordecai implored Esther to go before the King to plead for her people. She wavered in fear at the suggestion for she knew the implications. You don’t just waltz into the throne room uninvited. You could lose your life for such an impulsive act. 

This was her moment of destiny, yet she didn’t feel ready or confident. The words Mordecai spoke encouraged her to step out in faith. “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this? Esther 4:14

Esther stepped out in faith and God came through in a big way, delivering His people from destruction. 

It took a year of beauty treatments to make Esther ready for the King, but the Master Craftsman had been at work her whole life using every element to shape her into a vessel of honor. 

I’ve felt the restlessness to be more than I am, to make an impact on people’s lives. Yet there always seemed to be overwhelming circumstances holding me back. My husband was backslidden and involved in hurtful things. A job I couldn’t quit demanded much time and energy. My past included sexual molestation, rejection and pain. I have no education beyond high school. I’m not a polished person by any means.  

I’d look at all of these things and conclude there was nothing of worth that would make a difference. I couldn’t see past my inadequacies and weaknesses. Yet God saw potential that I couldn’t see. There were gifts and talents hidden inside just waiting for the Master’s touch. In His perfect time, He would bring them out of that deep place and by His power use them to minister to others. 

Yet I was reluctant to step fully in the position of a leader. I sincerely felt I was the last person to be in this position with all of my insecurities and issues. 

I was like Saul in 1 Samuel 10 who hid among the baggage when his defining moment came. Samuel anointed him with oil, gave him three confirmations, which proved true. The Holy Spirit came upon him in power and he was a different person. God chose Saul, and equipped him thoroughly. Yet when it was time to stand before his people, the man who stood head and shoulders above everyone else cowered in fear. Literally the Lord brought him out from the baggage. 

Believe me; I’ve had a lot of baggage that I hid behind for most of my life. Grimy bags of dirty laundry. There were boxes of negative recordings and stacks of files broadcasting failures and weaknesses. I was reluctant coming out of my “safe place”. 

What if I fail people? What if they reject me? The unknown fears haunted and taunted me, keeping me firmly entrenched. God was determined to use me and drew me out gradually by His gentle touch. I wanted to resist, yet even the resistance began to be less formidable. 
My opportunity came when I was asked to be the women’s leader in my church. I was hesitant and quite scared to take this position. I didn’t feel qualified or ready. Every step was a step of faith, yet God showed Himself over and over again. As I remained faithful to my call, He began to use me in greater ways. He developed me further as a leader. 

God placed “Mordecais” in my life to help me find my place. A Pastor’s wife saw potential and drew me out. She gave me the opportunity to be the women’s leader, and to teach an adult Sunday school class. She always believed in me and supported even when I made mistakes. 

My accountability partner and friend, Nancy encouraged me during a time of turmoil in my church. Her prayers helped me to stand strong during this time. She spoke words of life into my spirit. It was during this time of struggle that I finally stepped into my place of destiny. 

God had prepared me and also the people in my life and brought us together at a key moment. It’s no quirk of fate, it’s a Divine appointment. So why would He set me up to fail? 

God prepared Esther thoroughly, and placed her in the right spot. It was more than twelve months of beauty treatments, it was a lifetime treatment. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” 

Dear sister, I urge you to come out from behind the baggage and take your place. God has prepared and equipped you for the mission. He has prepared hurting, needful people and placed them in your life. They need deliverance and healing. You are ready to meet those needs because of what He placed in you. 

He is not looking for assertive, strong, socially elite women with drop-dead looks. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stood a chance. He’s looking for someone who will dare to believe, dare to trust, so He can show Himself strong. He desires a broken and contrite heart. After all, it’s not all about you, but about God getting the glory. “He must become greater, I must become less.” John 3:30

I wavered in fear for many years. Yet, when I finally stepped out, all those unknown fears didn’t materialize. Why did I take so long? Did I ever miss out! My precious Lord is so faithful to His beloved. He moved on my behalf, and ministered through a broken vessel. 

I never cease to be amazed by this. It’s a sweet, wondrous experience to be used by the Almighty God; to feel His touch through me. It’s even more beautiful to witness that Divine touch through others. There is no doubt that God is in it. 

This is your destiny. Act now, and you’ll witness the miraculous in your life. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Soul Sisters Series #2, The Rejected Woman



They had encounters with the Great I Am and it transformed them. Their life course changed. Heads bowed low in pain, shame and discouragement no more. When you read their stories it elevates your faith. 

I shared Gomer’s story with you last week. In the upcoming weeks I’ll share new ones with you. I call them Soul Sisters. I rather think we are all similar in that we have experienced hurts, stumbles, failings, and lean seasons when we feel our prayers don’t reach the ceiling.  And we can testify to God’s goodness and grace. 

I wouldn’t be sitting here now if I didn’t have my own encounter with Jesus. I need Him so badly. He makes me sparkle. It’s my prayer that you have your own “face to face” with Jesus. 

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The feast of Tabernacles was an event not to be missed. Families traveled far to Shiloh to attend this festive time. This was a time to celebrate God’s blessings and favor. It was a time to meet with Almighty God. Groups of families assembled in the courtyard surrounding the tabernacle. Some stood aside and worshipped loudly. Others cried out to Jehovah with their faces to the ground. 

Elkanah and his clan were gathered around a cheerful meal that accompanied the fellowship offering. Elkanah always gave his wives Hannah and Peninnah portions of choice meat to enjoy. Hannah got a double portion because he loved her so much. 

In this special time when everyone was celebrating the presence and blessings of Jehovah, Hannah was miserable. With her head bent low, she picked at her food. A touch on her shoulder caused her to flinch. Peninnah’s little son stood beside her, a smile bursting through his grubby face. 

“What do you think you are doing? Get away from that woman!” Peninnah snatched his arm and dragged him back. She gathered her children around like a brooding hen and glared at her. “Get your own children. Oh, I forgot, you can’t have any.” Peninnah taunted and harassed her constantly, yet it seemed worse here at the temple. 

Peninnah rubbed Hannah’s barrenness in her face at every opportunity. To be barren was a curse that implied God’s displeasure. Peninnah’s accusations stung like poisonous darts, and caused Hannah’s had to droop lower and lower. 

Here in the midst of a festive time, seated at a meal fit for a queen, she couldn’t even eat a bite. Tears flowed and dribbled onto her uneaten meal. She took to heart every ugly word. 

How could she worship and celebrate when God was displeased with her. He had closed up her womb. She felt unloved, unwanted and unworthy. Nothing could make up for the void she felt. Even her husband’s well meaning words were of no avail. “Why are you so downhearted? Why don’t you eat? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?” 

You and I have been given a double portion. We are seated at a bountiful feast. We are told that we loved and desired by the One who has given this to us. Yet we hesitate enjoying this. We sit with our heads down, we pick at our food. What keeps us from partaking in this great feast? Why don’t we rest in the presence of Jesus? 

Hannah’s barrenness kept raising its ugly head; it filled her vision. What fills your vision? Is it your barren and broken past? Is it your failures and disappointments? 

Hannah had an adversary, Peninnah, who constantly harassed and taunted her. Are we any different? We certainly have an enemy, the Devil. We sit at the table of our Lord and when we start to enjoy ourselves, he brings up all kind of trash and rubs it in our face. 

Often we listen too much and take it all to heart. Our heads begin to droop, the silverware slips from our fingers. We excuse ourselves, feeling unworthy and ashamed to enjoy our Jesus. 

Peninnah’s strident voice broke through her reverie. Hannah glanced up to see her sneering face. She couldn’t take it anymore. She rose and wandered through the crowd, completely oblivious to the jovial atmosphere around her. 

A child’s laugh caught her attention. She glanced down to see a mother playing peek-a-boo with her son. The poisonous darts pierced deeper still. She felt utterly alone in her despair and misery. Stumbling she found a place where she could lick her wounds alone. 

Would the face of a child always bring such torment? Is this what she had to look forward to for the rest of her life? Perhaps it would be better to allow this desire for a child to die; at least disappointment couldn’t crush her again. Yet could she give up this burning desire for a son? 

She gazed around her at the people praying nearby. Her heart began to throb, her body trembled. She felt drawn to cry out to God. 

Dare she pray? Would God even hear her cry? Surely the same God who answered Sarah and Rachel’s prayer for a child is the same God who abided in this tabernacle. 

She hesitated for a moment, and then threw all restraint to the wind. With her heart wide open she poured herself out and pleaded for her deepest desire; a son. She was in such anguish that the priest standing nearby thought she drunk and rebuked her. 

Yet she didn’t care what anyone thought, she knew where her hope lie. In her darkest hour she found that God hadn’t rejected her. “Go in peace,” the priest said, after hearing her story. “May the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.” 

At that moment peace settled deeply in her spirit. The despair and hurt eased away. God met her and gave just what she needed. She turned back different, so much so it showed on her face. Her appetite even improved. She sat down at her meal and enjoyed the rest of their time at the festival. 

Hannah refused to allow her hope to die. She could have given up and resigned herself to a barren future. This is what makes her so remarkable. Rejection didn’t shut her up. Opposition didn’t keep her away. She pushed them aside and sought after her God. And God was pleased to show Himself strong on her behalf. 

God did answer her prayer by giving her a son. In fact Hannah had three sons and two daughters. Her first son Samuel was used by God as a great prophet. But more importantly God did a work in Hannah. We see her grow from a downcast, miserable woman, to a confident, strong woman who delighted in her God. She sang out, “My heart rejoices in the Lord, in the Lord my horn is lifted high. My mouth boasts over my enemies, for I delight in Your deliverance. There is no one holy like the Lord, there is no one besides You, there is no Rock like our God.” 1 Samuel 2:1-2

Have you snuffed out those dreams that used to burn within you? Have you resigned yourself to a barren future, certain that the rest of your life will be colorless, meaningless? Are you sitting at the table with Jesus, yet keeping yourself at arm’s length? 

Woman of God, it is time to rise up and become what God intended you to be. He has so much more for you and He’s made available to you all the resources and power to make it happen. He desires it more than you do. 

When your life is over, you don’t want to look back with regret at what could have been. Take all that He has for you now. This is your day, your opportunity. 

Your God is drawing you, calling to you. Seek after Him today. Do not allow rejection and opposition to keep you away anymore. It is your time. Find your purpose and His acceptance. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Soul Sisters Series #1, Love is not Grey


1 John 4:10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

It was at the slave market that I truly saw how loved I was. I was bound in chains and filthy in slave rags; on display for potential buyers. I kept my eyes down, sensing contempt and disgust in the people passing by. I resigned myself to the horrible truth that my life was essentially over. I had my chance at real love and blew it. I’m getting what I deserve. 

Men were milling about looking at the merchandise. I hoped that my buyer would treat me well. A familiar voice stopped my heart. “I wish to buy her.” I looked up to see the piercing blue eyes. The love that glowed from his eyes melted me. I watched with mouth gaping open as he opened his money bag and paid the trader. 

I was stunned to see him. Never in my wildest imaginations would I dream up a twisted plot as this. I couldn’t believe he asked me to be his wife in the first place. He knew I wasn’t the faithful type. I thought he was nuts, perhaps even desperate to desire me as a wife. I thought some stability would be nice in my life, so I agreed. I never expected he would actually love me…an undesirable and loveless prostitute. 

He was a tender man with a generous heart. I enjoyed many blessings in his household. I never lacked for anything. Yet I began to think Hosea boring and grew tired of him. The stability morphed into restlessness. It wasn’t long before my wandering heart led me astray and I chased after my old lovers. I left my home and Hosea far behind. I actually deceived myself into thinking I was doing better than being chained to straitlaced Hosea. I cringe in shame at the remembrance when I look down at the cold, tight chains bound to my hands and feet. What a wretched woman I am! 

What I thought of as freedom turned to bondage when one of my phony lovers betrayed me. After abusing me, he bound me up and sold me to the slave trader. 

I never once thought about returning to Hosea. That was a wild fantasy that could never be. He would never want to see my face again. Nevertheless here he was, coming to this shameful place to buy back a faithless wife. The slave trader unlocked the chains and gruffly shoved me forward. Hosea reached out and put his arm around my shoulder. 

“How can I give you up, my beloved? My only desire is for you. All I have is yours. Come, let’s go home.”

I looked up into his tearful face. I didn’t know how to react; words seemed so trite, so trivial. My heart ached, tears of shame flowed down my cheeks. I’ve known many men but none loved me like this one. This is a powerful, amazing love that goes far beyond reason or understanding. I don’t deserve it; I’ve done nothing to obtain it. I just accept it and live in wonder. 
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The story of Hosea and Gomer changed my life forever. It transformed my perception about my worth, and how God perceived me. Previously I’ve held Him at arm’s length. I never trusted my heart to Him.  It was so hard to be free of my distorted self image. Now it seems ridiculous that I would hold myself back from such an extravagant Lover as my God. That’s what the truth will do when you finally open your eyes to it. 

I recently read about body dismorphic disorder. People who have this disorder imagine they are ugly. They look in the mirror and see a repulsive person staring back. They are convinced other people see them as such, so opening themselves to love and friendship is impossible. They’ll spend long periods of time picking at their faces in front of the mirror, trying in vain to make themselves presentable. Some won’t even make it out of the house. 

It matters not that you keep telling them how beautiful and attractive they are. It may be the truth, yet they only see the hideous vision entrenched in their mind. So they remain blinded to the truth; they believe a lie and are robbed of the blessings of love. 

It was difficult for Gomer to believe Hosea could actually love her. How could she be worthy of such a precious lover as he? The truth hit her hard, when he showed up to buy her back. It had to be shameful and humiliating for him. Yet here he was. How could you disregard this love? 

1 John 4:10 says, “This is love; not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 

I was Gomer. Perhaps I wasn’t a prostitute, but I sure wasn’t worthy to be loved. I was unfaithful, disobedient and rebellious. Shame hung heavily upon me. My precious Jesus pursued me. He poured out His lavish grace upon me. I’ve been bought with a price. I am not my own. He did this through a humiliating and painful death on the cross. This was His plan from the very beginning of time to pursue my heart. 

Beloved sister, do you not see the powerful truth that He made you worthy to be loved? This is not a human love we are talking about here. It isn’t fickle; it doesn’t depend on your performance. 

I have failed Him many times. I’ve been a disappointment. Sometimes I feel so weak. Why would He choose me to be His vessel?  Why does He continue to show me mercy? I don’t understand; perhaps I never will. I don’t deserve it, I can’t obtain it. I just believe, accept it and live in wonder. 

Monday, February 2, 2015

All Fall Down



Jericho. Strong and impenetrable, they blocked the Israelites. Just beyond lay the Promised Land, but first Jericho had to be taken. 

The mighty Israelite warriors were geared up to take it. Joshua, their leader stood before them to give the battle commands. But they were strange commands. 

Once everyday for six days they would march around the city with the Ark of the Covenant leading them. On the seventh day, they would march seven times. They had to keep silent the whole time-no charging the city, no shouting, just silently marching. 

Even though it made no sense, they obeyed and circled the city as commanded. On that last march around the city, they shouted and the immense walls fell flat. God had delivered Jericho into their hands. What looked impossible became possible due to their obedience and trust in the Great I Am. 

My personal Jericho was my prodigal husband. My heart was crushed, it was a hard thing to accept. 

The walls of my Jericho seemed impenetrable, unmovable. They loomed over my life casting a shadow over me. I struggled and resisted, rushing the walls with my sword, cursing them! I wanted the walls to collapse now! That struggle went on, in vain for years. 

In the end I slumped against the wall, battered and bruised. My sword was broken off at the hilt; my knuckles were bloodied. Emotionally spent, I crumpled to the ground, tears of frustration filling my eyes. 

Why won’t the walls collapse? I wondered. I’ve done everything possible to make it happen. Now my strength is spent and all I’ve accomplished is to make a mess of things. In my despair I cried out to the Lord and I felt His presence near. 

I felt a gentle touch on my arm, and looking up, I saw Jesus standing there. I looked away ashamed, knowing I’d botched up everything. He had to be disappointed in my pitiful efforts. 

He spoke kind and comforting words that fed my faith, “My daughter, you have exhausted yourself needlessly. Are you ready to do it My way now? You cannot bring the walls down in your own strength. It is beyond your capabilities. I spoke the universe into existence; don’t you think that I can do this? All I ask you to do is circle the city with prayer. Be patient and let Me work. Be still and know that I am God. I will deliver this city into your hands in My time and in My way. My presence will go before you.”

I felt strength enter my body. I was overwhelmed from love that radiated from Him. I felt peace deep within. 

The walls were still standing, but they didn’t seem so intimidating anymore. My circumstances had not changed, but I had changed. My focus was on Jesus now, not on the walls. I became determined to see this situation through, but I resolved not to rush ahead of God. 

“I place my husband into Your hands,” I told God, “You take over now. I am so weak I can’t fix this, but You are strong and able. I have confidence in You.” 

I began to bombard the walls with prayer as I circled them. I followed the battle plans God gave me, even when I didn’t understand them. I kept my eyes on the One who leads me. 

At times I still messed up. I’d take my sword and rush the walls, screaming. These incidents happened less frequently as my faith grew stronger. In eleven years I circled the walls many times. At times I felt like giving up, but Jesus always touched me so I could walk on unwavering. He spoke words to feed my faith. 

Then I began to see cracks forming in the walls. This drove me to pray harder. 

One glorious day, on my final lap around the city, the walls crashed down. What seemed impossible was now flattened. I shouted with triumph to my God who promised deliverance. I had learned firsthand that whatever His lips promise, His hand will perform.
My husband’s returning to Jesus was a miracle. It was impossible for me to break down my husband’s spiritual walls, but Jesus could do it. I only had to get out of the way and let Him work. I am overwhelmed at what God had done in our lives. He desired a closer, deeper walk with me. He wanted my devotion, my trust and my heart. When He had that, the walls didn’t matter anymore. 

Do you have a Jericho in your life? Are you failing as you try to bring the walls down? You cannot do this in your effort. Get out of the way and allow Him to do the impossible. Obey, be patient, be still and know that He is the Lord. The walls will collapse, you will see it for yourself.