Whatever it Takes

It’s early morning and I’ve been up since 3:30.  I’ve been awakened by a song, Damaris Carbaugh sings called, “Whatever it Takes”.  Sometimes God wakes me in the middle of the night because He wants to talk to me.  This song is running in my mind over and over.  The words are so haunting, and it causes me to stop and re-evaluate my relationship with Jesus.

There’s a voice calling me from an old rugged tree
And it whispers, “Draw closer to Me;
Leave this world far behind, there are new heights to climb,
And a new place in Me you will find.”

CHORUS: For whatever it takes to draw closer to You, Lord,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do;
For whatever it takes to be more like You,
That’s what I’ll be willing to do.

Take the dearest things to me, if that’s how it must be
To draw me closer to You;
Let the disappointments come, lonely days without the sun,
If through sorrow more like You I’ll become.

Take my houses and lands, change my dreams and my plans,
For I’m placing my whole life in Your hands;
And if You call me today to a land far away,
Lord, I’ll go and Your will obey.

I can hear Damaris singing, with her deep, rich, alto voice resonating in my mind, and my heart is stirred within me.

I used to sing this song, without much thought to what it really was saying, not really applying it to my life.  But, one day my first husband asked me if I really meant what I was singing. Then he said, “You’d better be sure, because you don’t know what the future holds or if God will hold you to the words you sing.  Do you really mean, “Whatever it takes”? His statement and question caught me off guard.  I hadn’t really considered the fact that what I was singing, God may some day require me to prove my words.  Shortly after that my husband and I went through a very long trial. He had two strokes and became an invalid and I had to put him into a nursing home.  I had to carry a full-time job, try to manage all the things he had always taken care of, take care of him, and try to keep my head above water financially.  After a very long illness of seven years, God took him Home.  Then I spent six years alone before meeting my second husband.

I learned what those words meant! My second husband calls it my Job’s Trial. They were very dark days, but as I wandered through that haze of feeling nothing, I found out something. I found out that deep down inside, I really did mean those words.

It was so hard, but God showed me how I could trust Him with everything. I found that I had no one else to turn to, not in the way that I needed. Yes, God brought people into my pathway to help me, but they couldn’t be the Rock I needed to keep me standing.

So, as I listen to this song in my mind, I question, why is this song running through my mind now? It’s been a very long time since I’ve played the CD on which it is listed. God, what are You trying to tell me? I searched for Scriptures where Jesus is asking us to draw closer to Him and I found Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.’” (NASB) Then the thought crossed my mind, “Am I about to go through a trial?” I don’t have to fear, because God has already proved Himself strong, and I know that whatever He asks me to do, I will be able to accomplish with Him by my side.

The verse talks about taking up our cross. Crosses are heavy. They are burdens we carry and can be almost anything that drags us down or brings us to a point of desperation. Do we try to carry them ourselves, or do we go to the One who says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29 NASB) Rest, that’s what we find when we draw closer to Jesus. Peace floods our soul as we lean upon Him to carry those things that overwhelm us. The closer we get to Jesus, the easier it is to carry the burden, because we are not carrying it alone, He is taking the brunt of the weight. It is much like oxen who are tied together in a yoke, they each carry a portion of the weight as they pull the plow across the field. The burden is lighter.

So, as I think about the words to this song, I can say, “Yes, Lord, whatever it takes, because You have already proven to me that You are faithful, and I have nothing to fear.”

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The Cross

 

Today I read a post on social media from a friend of mine. She and her husband, pastor a church in a suburb of a large city. Her post dealt with something God impressed upon her husband to do, carry the cross around the perimeter of the city in which he pastors. As he was walking with the cross upon his back, she was at home enjoying the day in her back yard. As she was sitting in her yard, she began to think about what it was her husband was doing and the reaction that others may have about him walking with a cross out in public. As he would check in with her by text, her thoughts began with wondering if the people of their church really wanted him to do this. What would people say? As she continued pondering this, she began to think of why churches now seem to diminish the meaning and significance of the cross. Then her thoughts turned to why the Cross is so important in the life of a Christian.

As I was reading, I began to think of things my pastor has said regarding certain denominations beginning to lessen the meaning of the cross in their services. Some not wanting to emphasize the blood, others seeing the Cross as a dirty, bloody instrument of torture and death upon which we should not put too much focus. Some have taken hymns about the Cross out of their line up of worship music, some have not spoken about how important the Cross is, from the pulpit.

My mind began to think about how the whole purpose of our faith is buried deep in the significance of the Cross. Yes, it’s a dirty, bloody instrument of death, and yes it was a tortuous way for Jesus to die, but it was so necessary! Without the Cross, our faith is meaningless! As I was thinking about this, God impressed upon me the need to do a Bible Journaling page with a page from a hymn book. As I was trying to choose the right song to use, I had a hard time deciding because there are so many songs that feature the Cross. I finally decided to use the song, “The Old Rugged Cross”, after my husband offered it as a suggestion.

As I was working on the page, I began to think about how in many churches today, the focus seems to be on aesthetics…music, lighting, sound, almost a theatrical appearance. The message from the pulpit is desensitized, if you will, so that no one will be offended by the gruesomeness of the Cross. Our churches have lost the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit today.

A friend of my first husband and mine used to say that where there is no peace, the Holy Spirit can not abide. People are in turmoil today, and pulpits are not giving them the answer to resolve that turmoil, hence, no peace. Churches do not focus on allowing God to work in their services because everything is a performance, not a worship service.

Back when I was a little girl, I remember going to church at my Grandparent’s church in the summer when we visited, and I heard plenty of Hell-fire and brimstone messages from the pulpit. Sin was a topic in almost every sermon. Now, pastors don’t mention sin so much for fear of insulting or offending someone in the congregation.

The Cross is the centerpiece of our faith because without it, we are lost in our sin. God provided a means for us to be forgiven, through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. Christ gave up His life willingly so that we could escape the death penalty for sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.” (NLT) Notice, not one person is without sin. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (NLT) Jesus was the perfect sacrifice because He was God and Man, lived on this earth, was tempted as we are, yet did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15) Therefore, He was the Only One qualified to take the punishment for our sin.

John 3:16 says, “This is how God loved the world: He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (NLT) Death on the Cross was the most horrendous means to die that was ever conceived. The Cross was not made of smoothed out wood. It was not something beautiful, as some cross jewelry is today. It was rough, and rugged. To add to that pain, nails were pounded into the hands and feet of the person being hung on it. It was the most excruciating, painful means of punishment that was given. As if that was not enough, Jesus was also beaten, almost to the point of death, with leather straps that had bits of bone and glass at the end of each strap, before He was hung on the Cross. The punishment of Jesus was so horrific, that the Bible says He was almost unrecognizable.

Jesus shed His blood on the Cross for us, so that we might be made free. He took our punishment upon Himself. Why? Because He loves us so much! II Peter 3:9 says that God “was not willing that any should perish”! (KJV) His love for us is so strong, that He had a plan set up from the very beginning of creation to save us from sin.

What is sin, you ask? Sin is anything that goes against God’s standard. A look at the Ten Commandments gives us a look at what God’s standard is. So, since no one is perfect, and all have sinned, no one has ever kept the Commandments perfectly. Jesus’ death on the Cross pays for our sins.

How? God made the process so simple even a small child can do it. We must surrender our hearts and our lives to Him. By admitting we are sinners, accepting His death on the cross as the punishment for our sin, promising to live in total obedience to Him and His will, and asking for His forgiveness, we can experience eternal life. We must make Him the Lord and Master of our lives. When we do that, we begin a relationship with Him that transcends any human bond we can experience.

My hope and prayer is that you, dear reader, come to know Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, that you will accept His free gift of salvation, and that the Cross becomes the standard which you can cling to and be released from the punishment of sin. Then you can say with the old hymn, “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross.”

Do Not Fear

There are many things that make us fearful. We can be afraid of anything from snakes and creepy crawlies to fear of being in a crowd, or fear of heights. I was curious as to how many phobias existed, and according to what I found on the Internet, there are more than 500 phobias, things that are legitimate fears and those that are not so much. Our society today is troubled by fear. We see it everyday just in the news reports alone. People are afraid to walk out their front door for fear that they will be harmed by violence. Fear permeates almost every area of people lives and some are so fearful they can’t function in society.

The children of Israel had a fear. They had been across the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land and now they were standing on the banks of the Jordan getting ready to cross over into the Promised Land. The spies were sent to scout out the land. When they came back to give a report to the people, the spies said that the land was rich with good things, but said the land was filled with giants and walled cities. They were so afraid, that they gave a bad report, and made the people fearful as well. However, Joshua and Caleb, who were with the spies, gave a good report and implored with the people to not be afraid, but trust God. They told the people that God would go before them and give their enemies into their hand. But the people became rebellious to the point of wanting to stone Joshua and Caleb. Joshua and Caleb told the people, “Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land, for they will be our prey. Their protection has been removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” (Numbers 14:9) God was angry at the people’s rebellion and they paid for their disobedience. God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation of fearful, disobedient, rebellious people had died.

Fear can rob us of so many things. It can rob us of peace and joy. It can make us see only what we are so fearful of and gets our eyes off God. We forget that God has promised that He will always be with us. There are at least 20 verses that remind us that God is with us. Even His name, Immanuel, is a reminder that He is with us because His name means, “God with us.” One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 13:5,” …. I will never desert you, nor will I forsake you.” (NASB) He promises to stay with us always!

When we get our eyes off God and look at the circumstances around us or the thing that has us entrapped in fear, all we see is that fear, and God becomes so small. There is a saying that my husband uses that says, “Big problem, little God, little problem, big God”. The idea is to remember that no problem is bigger than God. When we focus on that problem, we make God so small that we see no way that He could ever solve the problem. But when our eyes are on God, He becomes bigger than any problem, and our faith is increased as we watch Him work on our behalf and remove that fear, that thing, that problem that has us entrapped. We must remember that our God is not a little God, He is greater than anything you may face!

When we give our fears over to Him, He releases us from what the Devil has had us bound. He breaks those chains, shows Himself strong, and delivers us from the fear that surrounds us. Peace begins to flood our soul, real joy begins to bubble up, and we find we can rest in His arms and allow Him to bring relief. The prison we have been in is opened and we can then walk in freedom. The chains of fear are broken!

How Long O Lord?

 

Today’s Bible Journaling is from Psalm 13:1, How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?” King David is questioning in the midst of a very difficult time in his life. He feels as if God has abandoned him. He doesn’t feel God’s presence, he prays and hears nothing. We’ve all been in that circumstance, haven’t we?

Life gets hard, God seems far away, our prayers seem to hit the ceiling and bounce back to the floor. “Where are You God?” I’ve certainly been there. I’ve recounted before the hardest time in my life when my first husband was so sick and eventually passed away. It took a long time for me to actually sense God’s presence and working in my life. But once I did, I was amazed at what He had been doing even though I, at the time, couldn’t see it.

David must have been very depressed, but despite his searching and feelings of being abandoned, if you read the rest of the chapter, David ends up rejoicing and worshipping God. The verses that really jumped out at me were verses 5 and 6. “But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, Because He has dealt bountifully with me.” Even though he felt like God left him to fend for himself, he realizes that he must trust God and His plan.

I love this about David! He spends the majority of the chapter pleading and complaining and then it’s almost like he comes to himself and remembers that he must trust God no matter what he is going through. How like David we are, aren’t we? We gripe and complain that God isn’t doing anything, or He has abandoned us, or isn’t working in our time frame and then it’s like we need a good smack in the head to remind us that no matter the situation, the first thing is TRUST GOD!

We forget to pray, or if we are praying, our prayers can be full of impatience or sound like a 2-year old temper tantrum…” I want it my way, and I want it now!” Never remembering that all things are done in HIS timing, not ours. He sees the big picture, He has a plan for our lives and sees the end from the beginning. All we can see is what is just in front of us.

Trusting is sometimes so hard to do, especially if we have been in the position of trusting someone only to have them leave us standing on our own without what was promised. We tend to not want to trust them again. We can only get left hanging for so long before we realize it isn’t worth the hurt and pain to trust.

However, God is always faithful! He never goes back on His word. If He has promised it, He will do it, and we can rely on His word. Sometimes it seems like He has moved far away, but in reality, we are the ones who have moved. He is always right at our side, holding us, walking with us, guiding us in the right way to go. It is up to us to stay with Him, to follow His leading. And, in those times when we feel He has left continue to trust whatever He has planned for us. Resting in His arms is the best place to be.
Sometimes God allows the hard times to build our faith, to make us stronger, or to prepare us for something that is coming down the road. We can look back and say, “If God could bring me through that, He can bring me through this.” Our strength comes from trusting in His Divine Plan for our lives and allowing Him to work through us and in us.

So, if you are going through a difficult time, remember it’s ok to ask, “How long, O Lord?” Just remember, He hasn’t abandoned you, He is right with you. Trust in His plan for your life and walk the pathway He has laid out for you with patience. He will never fail you!

Do it Again!

During this morning’s service we sang the song, “Do it Again!” and it touched the very soul of our congregation! If you’ve never heard this song, I have attached a You Tube link for the song. Play it repeatedly and let it sink deep into your heart! The sermon this morning was based on Numbers 23:19, “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”

I’m on the Worship Team, and as I was playing my flute, my mind went back to all the times God came through when life seemed hopeless. Not once did He fail me! The congregation was looking back too, because somewhere in the congregation someone was wailing, not just crying, a heart-wrenching, loud, wail, as if in deep mourning, as they must have been recounting in their mind how faithful God had been in their life. The bridge to the song says, “I’ve seen you move, you move the mountains and I believe, I’ll see you do it again, you made a way, where there was no way and I believe, I’ll see you do it again.” The verses say, “You’ve never failed me yet.”

Although that is true, what we must realize is, God is incapable of failing us EVER! The song almost makes it sound like He hasn’t failed me in the past, but maybe He will in the future. However, Numbers 23:19 tells us that God is not man, He does not lie, and because He isn’t a human, He doesn’t change His mind. Then the verse questions, “Has He ever spoken and failed to act? Has He promised and not carried it through?” How could He? He’s God, and what He says He will do … He will do! He keeps His promises, unlike men.

Pastor asked for a show of hands, and asked, “How many have failed to do something you have promised to do?” and everyone raised their hand! Man can and does fail us, but God NEVER fails us. He is faithful to His word.

As we sang, the power of the song grabbed us! Later, someone said they wanted us to continue to sing it over and over. It reminded us of how much God cares for us. Pastor reminded us that no matter what Hell throws our way, we can stand on God’s promises. No matter the struggle, no matter the situation, no matter how people have treated us, no matter what …. HE NEVER FAILS! The song says, “Your promise still stands, Great is your faithfulness, faithfulness. I’m still in your hands, this is my confidence, you’ve never failed me yet.” We changed it to say, “You’ve never failed me!” There is no “yet” about it!

Because He has never failed us, we have confidence in what He promises. His word is true. I can do nothing but praise Him! My heart is so full just to think of how faithful He is to us and to His promises.

We can rely upon Him in every situation. Even when we think that He has abandoned us because we can’t feel His presence. He is right with us showing His strength, love, and power in our lives. In those times when we can’t see Him working, we must remember that every one of His promises is wrapped up in timing …. His timing! He cannot cancel His promise and man cannot cancel God’s promise! We must learn to wait on His timing. We can rejoice because He moves the mountains in our lives! Great is His faithfulness!

Where Are You God?

 

We have all had times when God seemed so far away. Those are the times when life seems to be throwing everything it can at us and we feel like we just can’t get a break! The Bible tells us though that God never leaves us, never forsakes us, and He is always right beside us! Isaiah 57:15 says, “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (NASB)

For me, that time came when my first husband had two strokes and was in a nursing home until God took him home. I felt like God had abandoned me right when I needed to feel Him close to me. In my head I knew He was there, but in my spirit, it felt like I was facing this trial all alone. The days were so hard. Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and months turned into years. Anyone who has gone through being a caregiver understands how one could feel like they are fighting the battle all alone.

But God never abandoned me, no matter how it felt. He was right there. I can look back now and see His Hand in what was going on. He took care of me by placing people in my pathway to help me, especially with my finances. He placed me in a loving church that went out of their way to make sure I was doing ok. People would slip money in my pocket without my knowing, anytime I needed to vent He brought me a friend who would let me unload on her when I was so stressed I couldn’t see straight. When my washer and dryer went on the fritz, people from my church helped me get new appliances. Everywhere I turned someone was there right at the time I needed help.

God was also there when I would cry out to Him to fix this, to heal my husband, to bring me some peace, to help with the loneliness as I sat in an empty house. Even in the depths of my depression He was there. It got to the point where I wouldn’t even open the drapes in my living room, because I couldn’t see anything but darkness and couldn’t even let sunshine in my house.

He did answer my prayers, maybe not in the way I would have wanted, but they were answered. My husband did get his healing ultimately with his death. God was my husband through it all, taking care of me and healing me from the inside out. My emotions were raw, and little by little He would wrap me up in His arms and let me cry on His shoulder. He kept me from going into a financial sinkhole by providing the help of a good friend from my church. Eventually, He opened my heart enough to allow me to find love again and brought me an awesome husband. Now God guides us both in the good times just like He did in the bad times.

I love the part of the verse that says He revives “the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the contrite.” That’s exactly what it felt like. He was reviving me from the inside out. I had felt so dead for so long and as He was healing me, life started blooming again in my heart. I had been in the valley and He began leading me toward the mountain top.

Today, life is much brighter, I have a wonderful husband who loves the Lord just as much as I do, our goals of ministry are aligned, and we are enjoying this time of sunshine in our lives. We both look toward the future with a new perspective, anticipating whatever God has for us and trusting Him no matter what may come.

Remember God

 

So many times, I think, we tend to forget that what we have achieved, be it wealth, position, material goods, whatever it is, is only because God has given us the power to accomplish these things. Deuteronomy 8:18 says, “But you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.”

I’m sure we all know people who are so focused on obtaining the things of this world, and they work hard to get them, but they fail to realize that without God, none of it would have been possible. They think that the reason they are where they are, is because they did it all. They worked hard, they gained the knowledge to get where they are, they did this or that. The glory goes to them. They never once consider that without God allowing them to be successful, they wouldn’t be where they are at this time.

God is reminding the children of Israel that what they have is not because they did it on their own, but that God gave them the power to accomplish their goal. It is He who gives health to be able to work, it is He who gives the knowledge to learn skills, it is He who gives opportunities to develop their skills, God is the one to receive the glory for it all.

I had an uncle who did very well for himself. He was able to do so many things that my family were not able to do. However, what he failed to realize was that no matter what it was, he was not the reason he had acquired all he had, it was God’s goodness and graciousness that allowed him to have the wealth that he had. My uncle had the mindset that if he could buy his way into Heaven, he would be ok. I don’t know if he ever came to the point of turning his life over to Christ, only God knows that. But my heart is sad, because he never really understood that God was the reason he was so successful, and that he needed to change his focus from getting all he could get, to surrendering everything to Jesus. I loved my uncle very much, and I am glad he could enjoy things that I have never been able to, but I look at my uncle’s life, and what I see was a man, who deep down inside, was always searching, never fully happy or fulfilled, and was empty inside because He didn’t focus on God. He didn’t remember that God gave him the power to do what he was able to do. God was not part of the equation in his life.

As Believers, we also must remember that God is to be given the glory for all we have and are able to do. He gives us power, through the Holy Spirit, to witness, to live our lives as an acceptable offering to Him and be able to acquire wealth. He alone is to be given the glory for it all. He gives us the skills, the giftings, the talent, the knowledge, and the opportunities to be successful. Sometimes I think we get a little too full of ourselves and tend to forget that without Him, we can do nothing! (John 15:5)

We are blessed beyond measure, and God also gives us the hope we need to accomplish the dreams He has placed in us. Those dreams may include our part in spreading the Gospel to those who need to know who Jesus is, and to lead them into a relationship with Him. God gives us the avenues, be it speaking one on one with someone, broadcasting over radio and television, writing books, magazine articles, or blogs, or developing a website that draws people to further investigate God’s love and mercy to us, or through music, artwork, or dance. There are numerous ways to reach people with the love of Jesus, and He gives us the power and the wherewithal to accomplish those things.

So today, let us remind ourselves that what we are able to do, what we are able to gain, is only because God gives us the power! His Holy Spirit resides in us, helps us, guides and counsels us. Remember God.