Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Heat Is On

While I was taking a drive through "Pity City" this morning (bedroom door locked & all), I was very tempted to park & camp out for a while (move there actually)!! Then while flipping through my Bible, I came across my notes that I had written when I spoke at a church back in April. I was humbled and reminded once again that God is still in control...and thought I'd share what I had written in case any of it speaks to you too. "So, I've got to ask, before I start, when y'all heard the name of this lesson, did anyone else immediately start singing the song, "The Heat Is On" from the 80's? When Pastor Miller called me & was reading off the list of different titles/subjects to speak on, I had a hard time listening after she read that one because the song was already playing in my head, taking me back to the skating rink in Victoria. I actually Googled the song lyrics to see if it might fit in with what I'm going to be speaking on today, but they made absolutely no sense to me. ;) The Scripture this is based on is Daniel 3:19: "Then Nebuchadnezzar was furious with Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, and his attitude toward them changed. He ordered the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual." When I first read that, it kind of scared me thinking, "In order to teach something, you first have to learn it first hand. What am I about to walk through in order to be able to talk on this verse? Yikes!" :) But you know, every day we are placed in a "furnace" of sorts...trying & difficult circumstances. Sometimes they're minor trials such as being stuck in traffic or dealing with a crying baby. But other times the heat gets cranked up hotter than normal and we're faced with much more serious situations-whether it be a terminal illness (for either you or a family member), the loss of a job, or maybe even the betrayal of a friend. If we look back at Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego, these three leaders had just moments before been on King Nebuchadnezzar's good side. Daniel tells us that several years earlier, they were chosen to serve in the King's court, and had even found special favor in his eyes. So why the sudden, drastic change to where they were now being threatened with death? Several of us are familiar with this story, but some may not be, so let's look back at the first part of Daniel, Chapter 3: "King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue ninety feet tall & nine feet wide & set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then he sent messages to the princes, prefects, governors, advisors, counselors, judges, magistrates, and all the provincial officials to come to the dedication of the statue he had set up. When all these officials had arrived, & were standing before the image King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, a herald shouted out, "People of all races, & nations & languages, listen to the king's command. When you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, & other instruments, bow to the ground to worship King Nebuchadnezzar's gold statue. Anyone who refuses to obey will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace. So at the sound of the musical instruments, all the people, whatever their race, or nation or language, bowed to the ground & worshiped the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up." I doubt that in that large of a crowd, that SM&A were the only 3 men who didn't agree with worshipping an idol. Surely there were others!? They were just the only 3 who didn't give into fear & chose to do what was right. They didn't allow the possible outcome to determine or sway their convictions. I'm sure that some of the people in the crowd that day held what they believed to be "rock-solid" convictions & beliefs too...yet when put to the test, they turned out to be more like ice cream which melted in the heat of hardship. How do we respond to trials? Do we get weak-kneed & crumble under the pressure, or do we fill our minds with the truth of God's word & His promises, while rising up under the struggles & placing our trust in God's perfect plan? Honestly though, sometimes we wonder how or why it would be part of God's "perfect" plan for His children to suffer, don't we? But if we look in the book of James, there are some verses that give us a couple of clues. In Chapter 2, vs 21, it says, "For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, & you must follow in His steps." Many times we tend to look at suffering & hardship as punishment-but that's not the case! Sometimes, the furnace heats up because we're doing what's right! It makes Satan angry & he throws things in our path trying to discourage us & cause us to quit. But there are 2 sides to every coin, & God promises in Romans 8:28 to use our trials to bring about good! In Chapter 1 of James, vs. 2-4, it says that we are to consider it "pure joy" whenever (notice it doesn't say IF ever)...WHENEVER we face trials of many kinds. Why? "Because we know that the testing of our faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature & complete-not lacking anything." So if we break it down into bite-size pieces, we can see that 1) trials have a purpose. What do they do? They test our faith. And why does that matter? Because the Bible says that our faith is more precious than much pure gold. And without faith, it is impossible to please God. 2) The testing of our faith develops or brings about perseverance-teaching us not to give in or give up-strengthening our spiritual muscles, so to speak. 3) And perseverance finishes or completes the work in us-maturing us. How do we know when we're maturing? By seeing the fruit-the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness & self-control. Picture a banana still hanging on the tree. You're quite hungry & need something to eat, but the banana is rather small & very green...definitely not "mature & complete." I guess you could eat it, but it would be bitter & probably leave a bad taste in your mouth. God allows us to go through the heat of trials so that our fruit ripens & our lives turn out sweet. For some reason, when God gives me an idea to write about, they normally come as a very simplistic word picture. Another one that came to me as I was preparing for today was baking/cooking. I'm not sure why so many of my thoughts are centered around food lately-other than the fact that my husband and I just learned 3 days ago that I'm 13 weeks pregnant & I've been hungry a lot-but that's another story for another time! ;) Can you imagine if food could talk & carry on a conversation with you? Let's say you're preparing a roast & it starts arguing with you & complaining saying things like, "It's not fair! Why do I have to sit in a 350 degree oven for 3 hours while the cookies only have to bake for 12 minutes??" Or the green beans start whining, "Why do the popsicles get to just sit in the freezer while I have to boil for 15 minutes?" But if you think about it, aren't we really like that spiritually speaking sometimes? We don't like the heat we're having to endure & we start arguing with and questioning God with comments like, "Why did my husband have to leave me while so & so has a 'perfect' marriage?" Or, "Why did you allow my parents to suffer with cancer while you took her dad home without a struggle?" We're constantly trying to compare our struggles against someone else's...getting upset with God for not "baking" us according to another person's "recipe." We all know that each food and recipe calls for individual temperatures and baking times. Can you imagine what a disaster it would be if you cooked all your meals-from fish to cookies to bread to chicken-at the exact same temperature and the same amount of time? Some foods would be burnt, other would be left raw...lots of food wasted! It wouldn't work very well, would it? Remember, God is the Master Chef. He has created each one of us to have a unique look, taste & design. He alone knows the right combination of tests, trials, heat & length of time we need to be in the fire in order for our lives to turn out right. Heat can do one of two things-harden or soften. How are you allowing your trials to affect your heart? Now because we're human, we will not always understand, like or agree with what God chooses to do or allow in our lives. Sometimes the furnace He places us in gets much too hot for our liking and we want out-NOW!!! I know I do! But God's watchful eye is always on us & He will not allow us to be burned up. We can take comfort in the fact that God's word IS true, and that when He is through testing us, we will come forth as gold (Job 23:10). I would like to close by reading my favorite "core verses" which I cling to in every trial I ever find myself fact, I've written them down on index cards and carry them with me everywhere I go. "For the word of the Lord holds true, and everything He does is worthy of our trust." Psalm 33:4; "The Lord says, "I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you." Psalm 32:8; "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Proverbs 3:5-6; "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isaiah 55:8-9; "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11; "And we KNOW that in ALL things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Romans 8:28. I would encourage you also to write down and carry with you Scriptures that God lays on your heart. It's a great way to "feed" on God's word!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Baby Jake...Gone Too Soon

One week ago today, our unborn baby boy skipped this world and went straight to Heaven to be with our Lord & Savior, Jesus. Before I even delivered him, he had already been "delivered." I've had a vast array of feelings and emotions these past 7 days, as have the rest of my family. The morning after I got released from the hospital, my nearly 13 year old came up to me in the kitchen and said, "I feel kind of guilty." Both my husband & I wondered if they (the kids) would take Baby Jake's death personally, so I was mentally trying to prepare myself for that type of conversation. But when I asked him what he meant, he said, "Well, I'm actually in a good mood today. It's kind of like yesterday never even happened...?" Oh how I wish that were the case too! Immediately, this word picture came to mind... Our emotions are like the branches of a tree affected by the weather of our circumstances. On a cold Winter day (up North somewhere of course; not here in hot & humid South TX), the branches of a tree may be heavy & burdened, weighed down by the ice & snow. On a Spring day, the sun is shining, the birds singing, and the branches are gently swaying in the calm breeze. If a thunderstorm comes along however, very quickly things change. It can be brutal and ravage the tree-stripping the leaves off the branches, and even ripping & breaking the limbs. But the root system isn't affected by what's going on above ground. I take comfort in the fact that no matter the "weather" of my circumstances, I am rooted and grounded firmly in the Word of Christ which NEVER changes!!!! I am held by Someone so strong, that even the "winds and waves" of my emotions have to obey Him! "For the word of the Lord holds true, and we can trust everything he does." Psalm 33:4 "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Hebrews 13:8 Jake Lawrence Baker, June 12, 2012, 3:00 p.m., 1.2 oz, 6"