Archive for the “Trials” Category

12I want you brothers and sisters to know that what has happened to me has helped to spread the Good News. 13All the palace guards and everyone else knows that I am in prison because I am a believer in Christ. 14Because I am in prison, most of the believers have become more bold in Christ and are not afraid to speak the word of God.
Philippians 1:12-14 (NCV)

It is often challenging to find God in difficult circumstances. There are some Christians who believe that hardships and suffering are never of the Lord. They believe that the hardship is always sent by satan or the suffering would be overcome if we had enough faith. I reject those teachings, not because of my own experiences, but because of passages like this one.

Paul was in prison because he preached the gospel. That counts as a hardship to me. Paul had a thorn in the flesh. That counts as suffering to me. Jesus’ response to Paul’s prayers were “No, I won’t remove the thorn. My grace is sufficient for you to live with it.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

In the midst of hardship, Paul was able to not only find God, but to find God’s purposes – to see how He was using Paul’s circumstances. Paul saw that God was using his circumstances in two ways – to bring others to Christ, and to encourage believers to be more bold in their walk with the Lord. And in that, Paul finds the joy of the Lord. Not joy in his circumstances, but joy in the Lord in the midst of his circumstances. And the joy of what God is doing overwhelming exceeds the difficulties of his circumstances.

Paul wanted the Philippians to understand that – to grab hold that truth. He didn’t want the Philippians to be praying prayers of discouragement and defeat (“Oh Lord, we pray for our brother Paul and ask you to encourage him as he labors in the prison. Lord, he’s been there so long…”). No, he wants them to pray bold prayers of victory and thanksgiving. (“Lord we praise you and thank you that you are using Paul’s circumstances to bring jailers to the love of Jesus. Thank you for the boldness of the believers who see Paul’s witness. Lord, may their impact spread beyond the prison to all of Rome.”)

Imagine the impact the two different kinds of prayers have on the pray-ers? One leaves them defeated. The other leaves them trusting and walking in the anticipation of see God’s hand at work in their lives.

I fell into a trap awhile back in which I realized that I was praying the discouraged and defeated prayers of the Philippians. Here’s the notes I made in my prayer Journal:

Every day I pray for wisdom to balance my many competing priorities.

This morning, I realized that I make that prayer in an attitude of anxiety.

Anxiety does not equal faith.

The Lord honors faith.

The Lord is worthy of my faith

I’m changing the words I use and the attitude with which I pray them.

God will provide.

God will enable.

God will guide.

God will rescue.

But if He doesn’t, He is still God. (And what appears to me as not rescuing is simply rescuing a different way from what I am expecting. After all, that’s what the gospel is all about. The Jews expected a conquering Messiah. Jesus came as a suffering servant who died for my sins.)

So today, I take a deep breath, put a smile on my face (a real one, not a plastic one) and I thank God for his direction throughout my day.

Because He has solutions to all of it.

All of it.

Friends, how we pray makes a world of differences in how we live our lives. Paul wanted the Philippians to pray for him with boldness. He wanted them to see the victory that perhaps they weren’t seeing. He didn’t want them to see poor Paul stuck in prison. He wanted them to see God moving in the lives of Paul and those around him and producing miraculous results in the salvation of the jailers and the boldness of other Christians.

Lord, help me see You at work, not my earthly circumstances. Especially when things don’t seem to be going right. And prick my spirit when I forget to be thankful for all those circumstances.

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God created each of us uniquely – we’re all wired differently. When life causes those wires to get twisted, things inside us begin to go haywire. A few days and we’re just a little out of sorts. A week or two and satan is there at our side ready to capture us with temptations to return to old sinful patterns or try new ones. I’m sure you’ve been there. Too much work, too many crises, too much isolation or too little adventure and you’re ready to jump at change.

Usually that change isn’t following God. Yes, God can bring us to a state of holy discontent which launches us into a new ministry or new level of intimacy with Him. A holy discontent isn’t the same as a life that has gone haywire.

Whether we like to admit it or not, it is routine (which sometimes become tradition) which grounds us, and it is that grounding that we need when our wires get jumbled.

This morning, I returned to my Saturday morning pattern of sitting in my reclining chair alone with God. For a number of years, I have reserved my Saturday mornings for time with God. It was His idea – He began waking me up early on the only day of the week I could sleep in. And I love to sleep in. At first I was frustrated every week when I awoke early no matter what time I went to bed Friday night. Eventually I remembered one of my life rules – if something out of the ordinary happens repeatedly and it’s not sin, it must be God! It’s not rocket science, but sometimes I’m a bit slow at recognizing the hand of God.

So I started getting up when God woke me and going to my reclining chair, sitting, reading, writing and praying. It had become such a special time each week.

Then life got really crazy. I remained consistent with reading and praying throughout the week, but I missed my Saturday mornings with God.

This morning, after taking the dog for a walk, I am back in my reclining chair with my laptop. Ahhhh….I feel grounded in a way I haven’t for a couple of months. Simply being here, reading, writing, and praying has calmed me in a way I’ve been missing. That’s what grounding is. It takes the negative sparks of energy and dissipates them. Ahhhhh…..

My daily reading and prayer ground me, but they are more of a maintenance level grounding. My Saturday mornings are my reboot and refresh level grounding.

Each of us is grounded by many things throughout the day. Here’s just a few of things other than Bible reading and prayer that ground me throughout the day:

  • I like to stir my tea. Most people stir their coffee or tea or hot chocolate once and then take the spoon out and drink their tea. I leave my spoon in and before I take each sip I stir my tea. The motion of stirring the tea is very calming for me.
  • I pause to kiss my husband and tell him how important he is to me.
  • I stop what I’m doing and evaluate my to-do list and schedule. That causes my husband stress. It grounds me.
  • I take a dance break when a great song comes on the radio at work. (Fortunately, I am not subjecting coworkers to my dancing. Typically I am working alone or with my husband in our basement office.)

How about you? What is it that grounds you? Perhaps a date with your husband or dinner as a family are things that calm your world. Maybe it’s reading a good book before bed or exercising or cooking or cleaning. (Man, I wish cleaning calmed me. It doesn’t.) Maybe it’s snuggling with your children at night or sitting on the porch in the morning with your Bible and coffee. It’s important to take time to do the things that bring calm into your life.

It’s critically important that connecting with God be a part of your grounding. There are a number of ways to do that:

  • Read your Bible and pray daily. This daily connection with God, even if it is shorter on some days than on others, keeps you grounded on a regular basis. It needs to be enhanced by those weekly, more intense times with Him, but it provides a minimal safety net when life goes crazy. If I had not maintained this pattern over the past few months of craziness, I can’t imagine how off-kilter I would be today.
  • Meet with God’s people regularly – go to church! Some think that attending a regular Bible study is a substitute for church. I would caution against that. There are few Bible studies that provide the corporate worship experience that a church gathering does. That experience includes worshiping together with other believers and being inspired and instructed through His Word. Each one of those activities are part of our grounding with God. Each provides a different interaction with Him. Most Bible studies provide fellowship and study, lacking intimate worship and inspiration.
  • Enjoy a weekly Sabbath. God created and commanded the Sabbath for many reasons, but one of them is as a gift to His children – a gift of time set aside to reconnect with Him – to become fully grounded before facing the world for another week. Read more about the Sabbath and the joy of keeping it in my series of blogs that start with this one.

For me, the above three activities are non-negotiable for staying grounded in God. Do I miss reading my Bible some days? Yes. Do I miss church some weeks? Yes. Do enjoy a weekly Sabbath every week? No. I’m not perfect in anything yet. Still, I protect each of those activities pretty fiercely, committing to them even when it’s inconvenient or I just plain don’t feel like it. Because God is faithful and will meet us when we make the sacrifice to meet with Him.

So, friends, I ask again: what is it that grounds you? Is God in the mix? Does He play a prominent enough role in your grounding routines? Let me encourage you to find those things that ground you, and especially those things that connect you to God, and make them part of your routine. Then fiercely guard those routines. Because life without grounding isn’t pretty or fun!

Symptoms that you need more grounding:

  • Impatience – When I’m in the car and all the drivers around me seem to be out to get me or determined to make me late, I need more grounding.
  • Quick to become annoyed or angry – When clients call with routine inquires and I get annoyed, I need more grounding.
  • Always tired – When everything seems a chore because I’m just so tired, I need more grounding. (You might think it’s sleep that I need – it is – and when I’m well grounded, I sleep well.)
  • Lacking in creativity – When I have no solutions to the challenges of life, I need more grounding. It means I’m just going through the emotions and grounding dissipates the negative energy and infuses us with positive energy. Positive energy brings creativity.
  • Seeking escape – When all I can think about is getting away or vegging in front of the television after work, I need more grounding. Grounding is our escape and takes away the need for an escape.
  • Always making excuses – That’s called sin. “The woman you gave me caused me to do it.” Those were Adam’s words to God after he also ate the fruit of the tree. He was blaming both his wife and God with that single statement. When I am well grounded, I am able to call sin “sin.” I am able to confess my sin to God and others and enjoy forgiveness and freedom.

If you looked at this list of symptoms and recognize that you experience many of them (and perhaps made excuses for why you experience them), you need more grounding in your life. Yes, your life is hectic and crazy; and yes, there may be others in your life that impact your ability to develop your grounding routines. But God – those magically inspiring words – but God can change that when you ground yourself and your life in Him. Find those grounding patterns, create those grounding patterns, and fiercely protect them.

You will be honoring God and He will honor you. You will begin to experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. Perhaps not tomorrow – because some of us need a major rewiring before we can become grounded – but God can and will do it! He’s that creative with solutions and He’s that good!

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Living God's HeartLiving Gods Heart
In the previous blog in the Living God’s Heart series, I wrote the following:

A broken heart is painful. A broken heart is a good thing.

It may be hard to agree with the second sentence – is a broken heart really a good thing? According to Scripture it is.

The LORD is near to those who have a broken heart,
And saves such as have a contrite spirit.

Psalm 34:18 (NKJV)

That’s a good thing.

A broken heart is meant to draw us near to God – to help us hang on to Him and to help us understand, even if just a little, the tremendous price He paid when He suffered for each of us even though we had broken His heart.

If we’re not careful, though, a broken heart can be our downfall. If we choose to hold on to the pain of the broken heart, it drives us further and further from God and the purposes He has for our lives. I can’t love my neighbor when I am nursing the pain of a previous betrayal. I can’t give pour out my heart for others if I haven’t allowed God to heal it and fill it back up. I can’t even show sincere kindness if I’ve allowed my broken heart to become brittle and easily offended.

A few months ago I wrote about having an unoffendable heart and quoted this passage in Ephesians:

1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

If we allow the brokenness in our heart to hold on to an offense, we cannot live a life of love. We cannot give ourselves up as a fragrant offering and sacrifice by loving others.

Are you struggling with a broken heart right now? One Scripture I like is this:

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4:8 (NASB)

Sure, the first half of the verse is a lot more comforting that the second half, but both apply here. When your heart is broken and you are struggling with forgiveness (of others, yourself or God), don’t pull away from God. Draw near to Him. When you do, He promises to draw near to you. There is peace and forgiveness and healing at the feet of Jesus. Draw near to Him.

If you are struggling to let go of a hurt or forgive an offense, you are on the edge (or perhaps already over the edge) of sin. You are most likely double-minded – desiring to follow God’s commands and forgive but finding it difficult to do so. I’ve experienced that see-saw battle that wages as we seek to forgive what feels unforgivable. Double-minded is a good word for that condition. So draw near to God, confess your struggles and your sin, cleans your hands, purify your hearts. God will draw near to you.

Broken heartedness is painful. But, yes, it is a good thing if we choose to let it bring us to the feet of Jesus.

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2Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:2-4 (NLT)

It seems to me that a study of joy would take us through a study of suffering. I haven’t done such a study so I can’t say that definitively, but the two seem to be intermingled frequently in the New Testament.  In this passage, James writes that “when troubles come” – because they surely will – “consider it an opportunity for great joy!” Anyone who preaches that life after Christ will be free from troubles is not preaching true to Scripture. Don’t listen to such preachers. They are not honestly and accurately delivering the Word of God.

When trouble comes, we to consider it an opportunity for great joy! That amazes me a bit. If you were to ask me “what opportunities for great joy are you seeing in the coming months?” my answer wouldn’t include the troubles I see on the horizon. (Obviously, I haven’t internalized and “owned” this teaching yet.)

By the way, that’s a great question to ask yourself periodically – “what is coming in the months ahead that will bring me great joy?” It’s also a great question to ask others. It helps to refocus us from the troubles of the moment to the blessings of God. But I digress.

My answer to the question would tend toward the more natural – I expect business to improve, I am looking forward to the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I am participating in a mother-daughter pageant with my mom in a couple of weeks, I am looking forward to just being with my husband and hoping for some special time with him, I am expecting to learn some new skills in the next two months. All those things have the potential of bringing me great joy.

You didn’t find in my list the challenges I see in the coming months. But James tells us that those challenges are opportunities for great joy! Imagine how different my outlook would be if I considered those opportunities I listed and the challenges I anticipate as opportunities for great joy! How much better my outlook for the future would be!

Faith Requires Energy
Verse three tells me that the challenges I anticipate in the next few months have the potential for increasing my endurance. Endurance increases as we increase our ability to maintain a higher level of energy. So whether running longer or standing in faith longer, we’re building endurance. Faith requires energy! It is not a passive thing. It requires actively engaging our faith muscle. And challenges increase our ability to do that. It increases our endurance.

I am not a marathon runner, but I have some friends who are. As they train, it is hard work, but they are so joyful when they have reached the finish line of their marathon. Exhausted, yes. But joyful at the accomplishment. How much more joyful can we be when we remain standing after battles that have challenged our faith? Yes, the training is hard, and yes, the battle is exhausting. But the victory in Jesus is sweet and precious and joyful!

So Let Your Faith Grow!
The phrase that stopped me in this passage this morning was “So let it grow.” I tried to keep reading, but I couldn’t. “Let it grow” Scripture says. Don’t do anything to hinder the growth of your faith or to limit the increase in your ability to endure. Hang on to faith and let it grow.

What might we do to hinder the process. Well, worry is the first thing that comes to my mind. When I worry, I am not increasing my faith muscle. I am increasing my ability to distrust God. I am feeding the thing inside me that believes that satan will win and God will not be my Savior and Redeemer and Protector and Giver of Life. I am feeding my unbelief. How can my faith grow in that environment?

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me”
John 14:1 (NIV)

Wow! Two blogs on the same subject in two days! I guess God is trying to get my attention. Or perhaps yours! I thought I had gotten over my tendency to worry. Perhaps I’ve fallen into old habits. Perhaps at an underlying level I am stewing (aka worrying) over things I shouldn’t.

“Let your faith muscle grow”, God is saying. He’s got a good reason for saying it:

4So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
James 1:4 (NLT)

As I grow in faith, as my ability to faithfully endure the challenges of life, I am made more perfect and complete in Christ. That’s the place I want to be.

This week, my personal assignment is to settle into God regularly throughout the day, enabling His peace and wisdom to be the place I live. More about that in upcoming blogs! For today, let your faith grow!

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One would have to be in a pretty bad place for prison to be considered a promotion…at least as we view things. Perhaps, however, we’re not seeing with God’s eyes.

The story of Joseph is an interesting one. Sold by his brothers to traveling merchants, he ended up in the household of the Pharaoh’s (King’s) Chief of Security, Potiphar. He was quickly promoted to being Potiphar’s personal assistant and placed in charge of his entire household. Potiphar’s wife found Joseph quite attractive and begged him (repeatedly) to have sex with her. When Joseph refused, she accused him of trying to rape her. Without any investigation or even listening to Joseph’s side of the story, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into prison. For the second time in his life, Joseph was dealt a tremendous injustice.

I don’t think there are any of us who would consider Joseph’s change in position a promotion. Yet when we see the whole of the story, we can see that it was.

Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.
Genesis 39:22 (NLT)

In Potiphar’s home, Joseph learned how to run a home. In prison, Joseph learned how to run a prison. He got practical experience in how to manage the prison for the Pharaoh of Egypt. Yes, he was a slave in both cases, but running a prison is a much larger responsibility than running a home.

Being in prison also put Joseph in the place he needed to be to receive his next promotion. It was in prison that he met the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and baker. It would be the cup-bearer who would introduce the Pharaoh to Joseph. It would then be Pharaoh who promoted Joseph to Prime Minister of Egypt. It is this promotion that put Joseph in a position to save his brothers (yes, the very brothers who had sold him into slavery) and his father from dying of hunger during the severe famine. He learned and refined the skills he needed during his time as Potiphar’s assistant and head of the Pharaoh’s prison.

In each situation, God was preparing Joseph for his next assignment.

I can’t imagine that Joseph was happy about being sold to Potiphar or being thrown in jail. Nevertheless, he was faithful to God – which means more than praying – he was faithful to do his best in the situation God had placed him.

It’s painful to realize that it is God who has placed us where we are when we’re not where we want to be or where we think we deserve to be. I remember an exceedingly painful time in my life when thinking that God had allowed what had transpired to happen only magnified my pain. Joseph’s situation was worse than mine. I may have been betrayed, but I wasn’t sold to others and I wasn’t thrown into prison for staying faithful to God.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
Romans 8:28 (NKJV)

But “working things together for good” is a process. The start of a project – whether it’s a painting or a building or cleaning the house – is often messy. And those involved in a project from the start can get pretty messy before they receive accolades for the finished product.

Our role in all this is to remain both faithful and full of faith – faithful to be obedient to One who knows the end before we even see the beginning and full of faith that He is good and is working for our good.

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)

Are you being challenged to be faithful or full of faith today? Don’t give up. God is working – in you, in those around you, in the situation and in your future. In the meantime…

  • Focus on God, not on your situation.
  • Remember His goodness and His faithfulness.
  • Know that His ways bring blessing even if your current circumstances seem to prove otherwise.
  • Remain thankful. Look for opportunities to be thankful.
  • Practice the sacrifice of praise – praising God in the midst of challenging times.
  • Find a church family whose love will help you through to the other side.
  • Seek His presence regularly.

These things sound like platitudes, but they are foundational actions that will help you remain steadfast during the challenging times in your life. They will help you remain both faithful and full of faith.

By the way…did you notice that all the words first words in the above list are verbs – action words. Be proactive when you’re in challenging situations. Work at staying close to God. Work at staying faithful and full of faith.

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I saw billboard the other day – “Practically Scarless” it promised in large letters. It carried the picture a woman in a bikini caressing her abdomen – she was so proud of the perfect body she had – if there were scars on her body, they were too small to notice. The billboard was advertising some kind of “practically scarless” surgery. Quite frankly, I found it a bit offensive.

The extreme emphasis on physical perfection in our society isn’t healthy. It creates incredible insecurity in young girls that grows to maturity as they become young women. It portrays beauty as an external thing, when true beauty is found in how we live and love. Besides…

I like my scars! I’ve got a number of them on my body, and they serve as reminders to me of God’s tremendous goodness!

I have a small scar on my hand. There is absolutely no reason I have this scar. Phil and I had taken his mom and aunt with us on vacation to Cozumel, Mexico. There was a mix-up with the rooms (as in the hotel didn’t have the reserved rooms and there were none available on the island). While we tried to sort things out, Gladys and Velma went and sat poolside at the outdoor bar. Phil eventually joined them while I waited at the front desk. When I joined them, I cut a corner too close as I entered the open air bar and scraped my hand against a wicker chair. No big deal, right? Right. My hand was cut and bleeding a bit, but nothing a napkin and some pressure couldn’t stop. A few band-aids and a few days later I had a small scab that eventually healed – into a scar that is still with me today. It’s about an inch long on the back of my left hand. Which means I can see it every time I look down at my hands when I’m typing. And I type a lot. This scar is an “imperfection” that reminds me of the many vacations we’ve been blessed to enjoy, which reminds me to be thankful. It also reminds me of the great mother-in-law Gladys was…which reminds me how much Phil misses his mom, which reminds me to pray for him.

Thank You, Lord, for giving us such wonderful times together. Thank You that we were able to share many of those times with Gladys and Velma. Lord, draw near to Phil when he misses his mama. Comfort him and bless him.

I have a rather large and ugly scar on my right fore arm. It’s the result of two surgeries that were required to put an elbow back together that the doctor described as looking like someone had taken a sledge hammer to it. Shattered as it was, my elbow required plates and screws to hold the pieces of bone in place while they healed. Fifteen months later the plates and screws were removed to provide me with greater movement and use of my arm. This was a hard one – a difficult time during which I spent three months living in a dark room because the pain meds made light unbearable. But it was during those long dark nights that God met me in a more tangible way than He ever had before or has since. I clearly remember one night. Phil was sleeping on the couch to be near me. (I was so thankful we had a reclining chair for me to live in during those months.) I was awake and we had worship music playing softly. I so wanted to wake Phil but he was getting precious little sleep as it was. So I began to pray – to cry out to God in my pain and loneliness and fear. And the presence of God became so strong in that room – I reached out with my good arm believing I would physically touch Him. Of course, I didn’t, but what an awesome thing it was.

When I see the scar on my arm, I remember God’s awesome presence that night. I also remember that three doctors told me I’d be lucky to have 50% use of my arm after it healed and I would probably live with pain. I have 95% and essentially no pain. My scar is a beautiful reminder of God’s nearness and a beautiful testimony of His power.

Finally, there are the internal scars we all have. Rejections. Disappointments. Accusations thrown against us and believed by others. These scars can be the ugliest or the most beautiful. They are the ugliest when we allow them to fester or solidify – that is develop poisonous roots or harden our hearts. When my elbow was healing, the doctor had me massage it many times a day. It hurt to massage it, but he assured me that it was this massaging that would stop the buildup of hard scar tissue that would limit my future movement. The same is true of those internal scars. We can’t simply stuff them down, cover them over or ignore them. We need to work through them – let the Holy Spirit massage them with healing balm of Gilead.

Perhaps you’ve heard that African-American spiritual:

“There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole; there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.”

The balm of Gilead refers to verses in Jeremiah (8:22 and 46:11) in which God says there is no healing for the Israelites, even with the balm of Gilead. The spiritual brings in the New Testament and declares that the Holy Spirit revives us – Yes! There is a balm of Gilead. (Click here to hear a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing it.)

Often, perhaps usually, healing is not something we can accomplish on our own. It takes the supernatural work of God in our life. When my elbow was healing, despite my best efforts, that scar tissue began to form. The doctor was impressed by how little I had, but it was limiting my movement and I could tell it was a precursor to a painful future. I went to a healing service one night and God supernaturally touched my arm. One moment the area around the scar was hard and limiting; the next moment, the area was soft and pliable and my arm became flexible again. Praise God! He supernaturally completed the work that the surgeon had started and I’d been continuing.

After Jesus was tempted by satan in the desert for forty days, he returned to his boyhood home of Nazareth. “He went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures.” (Luke 4:16b) He read the following passage from the Old Testament:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
Isaiah 61:1 (NRSV)

He concluded His reading by proclaiming that the Scripture was fulfilled that very day. In other words, He was the fulfillment of that Scripture. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free. You can experience that healing and freedom in Christ. He can do for you what He’s done for me. He can heal wounds, both physical and emotional and spiritual. Seek His face, do what you know to do and trust Him with the results.

Yes, it would be nice to live in a world in which nothing caused scars – no injury severe or deep enough to create the trauma that results in scarring. But without the trauma, there can be no opportunity to experience God’s tremendous healing power.

I’m not looking for scarless perfection. I’m looking for a God who heals. The scars are a testimony to that healing.

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If you’ve been reading along with us using the Resting at the River’s Edge reading plans, for the past week or so you’ve read about Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meschach and Abnego facing death a number of times. Have you noticed the results of those situations? I knew that in each case they were unharmed, but there’s more to the story. Let’s look closer.

Daniel Faces Execution (Daniel 2)
King Nebuchadnezzar had a terrifying dream. “He called in his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers, and he demanded that they tell him what he had dreamed.” (verse 2, NLT) Notice that the king didn’t tell them his dream and ask for an interpretation. He expected the one who would interpret the dream to first reveal that they new the dream without being told it. That would be his confirmation that their interpretation was from God.

Then he went a step further: Any of these “wise men” (as he defined the term “wise” – as believers in the One True God, we would not apply the word “wise” to magicians, enchanters, sourcers and astrologers) any of these “wise men” who could not tell him the dream and its interpretation would be “torn limb from limb, and your houses will be turned into heaps of rubble!” (verse 5, NLT) That’s not good.

Of course none of them could tell King Nebuchadnezzar what his dream was. That made the king “furious” and he “ordered that all the wise men of Babylon be executed.” (verse 12, NLT)

That would include Daniel and his friends, even though they hadn’t been asked to interpret the king’s dream. When Daniel learned why he was going to be executed, he went to the king, requested more time to interpret the dream, and then gathered his friends to pray and seek the Lord. The Lord gave Daniel the dream and its interpretation. Daniel then told the king what he had dreamed and its interpretation.

The result? The Lord saved not only Daniel’s life, but also the lives of the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers. But that’s not all.

46Then King Nebuchadnezzar threw himself down before Daniel and worshiped him, and he commanded his people to offer sacrifices and burn sweet incense before him. 47The king said to Daniel, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the LORD over kings, a revealer of mysteries, for you have been able to reveal this secret.” 48Then the king appointed Daniel to a high position and gave him many valuable gifts. He made Daniel ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all his wise men. 49At Daniel’s request, the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be in charge of all the affairs of the province of Babylon, while Daniel remained in the king’s court.
Daniel 2:46-49 (NLT)

Daniel was instantly snatched from the threat of execution to being appointed ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief over all his wise men (that would be the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers who served false gods). In addition, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were given positions of authority.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Face the Fire (Daniel 3)
King Nebuchadnezzar became taken with his own importance. He made a gold statue ninety feet tall and nine feet wide and required all people to bow to the ground and worship his statue. Anyone who refused would be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, whom I’ll call the three amigos, defied the king’s command. When brought before the king, they confirmed their defiance saying “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.” (verses 17 and 18, NLT)

Kings generally don’t respond well to being defied. King Nebuchadnezzar had the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual and then had the three amigos thrown into it. Moments later, however, when Nebuchadnezzar looked into the fire, he “jumped up in amazement and exclaimed to his advisers, ‘Didn’t we tie up three men and throw them into the furnace?… I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” (verses 24 and 25, NLT)

(Woohoo! This is shouting material!)

The Lord not only saved the lives of the three amigos, He danced with them in the fire! And when the were taken from the fire, they weren’t singed and they didn’t smell of smoke! But that’s not all.

28Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel to rescue his servants who trusted in him. They defied the king’s command and were willing to die rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. 29Therefore, I make this decree: If any people, whatever their race or nation or language, speak a word against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, they will be torn limb from limb, and their houses will be turned into heaps of rubble. There is no other god who can rescue like this!” 30Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to even higher positions in the province of Babylon.
Daniel 3:28-30 (NLT)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were instantly snatched from certain death to being given even higher positions of authority in Babylon.

We see the following progression of events in both of these situations:

  • God’s servants faced certain death
  • God’s servants gave testimony – in advance – that God was their source
  • God visited His servants – Daniel through a dream and the three amigos through a physical manifestation of His presence
  • God rescued His servants
  • King Nebuchadnezzar privately and publicly proclaimed God as above all other gods
  • God’s servants were promoted

Did you notice that were it not for the dire circumstances – that is facing certain death – God would not have been glorified and the servants would not have been promoted.

Let me put it another way: the dire circumstances were the vehicle God used to bring glory to Himself and promotion to His servants.

That sure raises some questions worth our attention:

How do you view your dire (and not so dire) circumstances?

  • Are they opportunities to give testimony to others that God is your source?
  • Do you recognize them as opportunities for God to receive glory?
  • Do you have the positive expectation that they are opportunities for God to promote you?

My confession is that my faith is not as great as I would like it to be. I get stuck in my circumstances sometimes and forget that they are the vehicle God wants to use to promote me. I want to change my thinking – I want to expect God to be God! That’s what Daniel and his three amigos did! They expected God to be God in each circumstance, and the result was that He received glory and they were promoted. I want to face and experience the challenges in life as an opportunities for God to receive glory and for me to receive benefit. Living with that perspective isn’t living for personal or selfish gain, it’s expecting God to be God. Let’s do it!

What challenge are you facing right now in which you need to expect God to be God? He wants to be God in your life. Trust Him. Give testimony to His faithfulness. And wait for Him to rescue. Then rejoice in the glory He receives and enjoy your promotion!

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The topic of the first part of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians is suffering, and I was so blessed to spend a little time in it recently. The Corinthians had been suffering and Paul wrote to bring encouragement and a bit of teaching about suffering. And that’s a lesson we all need some times.

This letter is from Paul, chosen by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and from our brother Timothy. I am writing to God’s church in Corinth and to all of his holy people throughout Greece.
2 Corinthians 1:1 (NLT)

God has chosen us – some to be apostles, some to be evangelists, some to be teachers – but all to be His sons and daughters and joint heirs with Christ. And although He has chosen us, He also gives us the opportunity to choose Him. He doesn’t force His will upon us, but allows us to choose. Scripture is clear that it is not God’s desire that anyone die without first choosing to make Jesus their Savior, but He allows it. Because love doesn’t force one’s will on another. Love is giving, not controlling. John 3:16 tells us how much God gave –

16For God so loved the world , that he gave his only begotten Son , that whosoever believeth in him should not perish , but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
John 3:16-17 (KJV)

We have all been chosen by God’s will. Paul says he was chosen to be an apostle. You may not be an apostle, but you have been chosen by God’s will to have a relationship with Him and you’ve been chosen to serve Him.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3 (NLT)

In verse 3 we begin to get to the meat of Paul’s letter and although he is going to address suffering, He begins with praise, setting the example to us. When we face suffering of any kind, making praise our starting place changes our focus and enables us to see the goodness of God. It also opens the door for God’s presence to walk with us through the suffering.

Paul quickly gets to the point, though and tells the Corinthians that God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. Do you need comforting? Go to God – because He is the source. When we are comforting a friend, the best thing we can do for them is help them turn to God – the best thing we can do is take them to the source of all comfort. Because any comfort you or I can offer is a pale comparison to God’s comfort.

I love verse 4 – it tells us that our suffering has purpose – that it isn’t useless and we’re not useless when we suffer….

He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
2 Corinthians 1:4 (NLT)

First, notice the word “all” – He comforts us in all our troubles. Not just some of them. I can take all my troubles to Him and He will comfort me.

He doesn’t just comfort me for my benefit – although that’s wonderful. He comforts me so that I can comfort others. That tells me that my suffering has purpose. When we’re suffering, it can be very tempting to ask “Why me?” Paul gives the answer to that question. My suffering and receiving God’s comfort will enable me to comfort others who suffer.

Don’t waste your suffering, friends. Don’t waste your sorrows – use them as an opportunity to receive comfort from God and then pray for opportunities to share that comfort with others. People around us need to hear about the comfort God can give when they are suffering.

For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.
2 Corinthians 1:5 (NLT)

Paul turns to encouragement here. Having just said that our suffering has purpose – that is, so we can comfort others, it’s almost as if he takes a step back and remembers how hard it is to suffer, so he encourages the Corinthians – the more we suffer, the more God showers us with His comfort. What word is used? Showered – the more we suffer, the more God will shower us with His comfort.

When I was a kid and we’d have a bad storm, mom would say it’s raining cats and dogs. In the Kingdom of God, when we suffer, we can say it’s raining God’s comfort, and the more we suffer, the harder it rains God’s comfort.

Paul then makes his writings more personal. He writes about his own troubles:

6Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer. 7We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.
2 Corinthians 1:6-7 (NLT)

Paul shares that even when he and his missionary team were weighed down with troubles, it was for the Corinthians – so that they could comfort the Corinthians and bring salvation to them.

Then he encourages them that again, telling them again that he is confident – confident – that word is important – Paul is confident that the Corinthians will also share in the comfort God was giving him and his team.

The word translated “confident” here is translated “steadfast hope” in the King James Version. I love that translation. Paul had a steadfast hope – a steady, secure hope in Christ that just as God was comforting him, He would comfort those who were suffering with him.

What a wonderful example to us of how to comfort others. God comforts us when we are struggling so that we can say to them “I have a steadfast confidence that just as God comforted me, He will comfort you.”


But Paul seems to think they should know a bit more about the suffering he experienced. Sometimes it helps others to understand our suffering because it reinforces to them that God can meet their needs. If He met my needs when I was in this desperate situation – if He came to my rescue – He will come to yours. So let’s read about Paul’s situation:

8We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.
2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NLT)

Wow! Paul again is giving a purpose to our suffering. What an important lesson is in these verses. Paul is saying that sometimes God allows our suffering to continue beyond what we think we can endure…so that we stop relying on ourselves and learn to rely only on God.

That’s the way God wants us to live – relying on Him, trusting Him for each breath we take. And the truth is that when things are going well…it’s easy to believe that we have everything under control and pretty soon we begin to rely on our own abilities or our own money or our own position in life. God wants us to rely on Him. And when we stray too far from that, in His mercy, He allows us to suffer so that we return to Him.

Paul doesn’t dwell on the point because he ends the passage the way he started it – with a focus on praising God, not on his troubles:

And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us.
2 Corinthians 1:10 (NLT)

Paul says “God came through!” God did rescue us! And not only that! He will rescue us again! We have placed our confidence in Him and He will rescue us!

That is the best place to be, friends – placing our confidence in Him, knowing that He will rescue us. Trusting God, relying on Him not only for our daily needs, but for our eternal need – for salvation. Trust Christ, put your confidence in Him and He will rescue you. In this life and for eternity.

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1 Give thanks to the LORD and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. 2 Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. 3 Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the LORD. 4 Search for the LORD and for his strength; continually seek him. 5 Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, 6 you children of his servant Abraham, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones.
Psalm 105:1-6 (NLT)

We can never be reminded enough to give thanks to the Lord, proclaim His greatness, tell of His wonderful deeds, and seek Him. The world bombards me with information to process and issues to deal with. It holds innumerable bright shiny objects that catch my attention. It is so easy to go for hours without giving thanks, proclaiming God’s greatness, telling of His wonderful deeds or seeking Him. I don’t think it’s meant to be that way!

Lord, let all that comes into my life be a catalyst for turning to You!

I want to turn to Him when I’m frustrated. I want to turn to Him when I’m rejoicing. I want to turn to Him when I experience sadness. I want to turn to Him when I experience love.

How do you do it? What prompts you to turn to the Lord? I’ve found two mainstays that keep me returning to Him: habit and triggers.

Habits are not bad things – when the habits are good ones. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I want to be in the habit of turning to God in all circumstances. To develop and strengthen the habit, I must repeat it regularly. That’s where triggers come in.

My computer hasn’t been acting quite like as peppy as it should lately. Today I growled at it as I took the monitor in both hands and mimicked shaking it! Just about that time, one of my very favorite worship songs played in my Pandora playlist. (Thank You, Lord.) I immediately went from frustration to worship. As I type the previous sentence, I first typed “I immediately transitioned from frustration to worship.” Nope. There was no transition. I simply let go of my monitor and raised my arms in praise (while in the back of my mind wondering what my employee must be thinking of such inconsistent behavior). Needless to say, worship music is a trigger that causes me to praise God.

What makes you turn to praise? It might be a picture, a person, a piece of jewelry, a sound, a knickknack, a sensation – anything that breaks you free from focusing on the world’s agenda to focusing on God’s.

Let’s brainstorm some unlikely triggers. It might take a little work for you to develop these circumstances into triggers that cause you to praise God, but I know it can be done.

  • Your child – especially when he or she is coming to you with the hundredth challenge of the day. Can you learn to thank God for your child – and the wonderful things God’s done in your life through that child – each time he or she comes to you throughout the day? What kind of difference would that make in your life? Even more important, what kind of difference would that make in your child’s life?
  • Pain – I shattered my elbow about twenty years ago. God did a miraculous work putting it back together. Yet after working on a computer an average of ten hours a day since the accident, I’ve begun to have pain more regularly than I’d like. Can I learn to remember God’s tremendous goodness to me each time my elbow twinges? I believe I can. I just need a little reminding from time to time.
  • Frustration – I am guessing that your weeks are filled with regular frustration – situations that repeat themselves daily or weekly that cause you frustration. Can you find the good in the situation and praise God for it? As I age, there are a number of things that frustrate me that never hit my radar when I was younger. Either they didn’t exist or they were so minor they didn’t bother me (or dare I say that my tolerance of some things seems to diminish as I grown older). I try to turn those things around. My husband and I frequently look at each other and say “we’re achieving our lifelong goal!” What we’re referring to is that when we were young we regularly told one another that we wanted to grow old together. Lord – You have done great things in my life. Thank you for allowing me to grow old with my husband. (OK, let me set the record straight…I’m not old yet…but I sure seem to be getting there faster than I used to!)
  • BillsThank You Lord, that you have provided in my life so faithfully. Business has had its ups and downs, but You have been faithful. The various bills we have are a direct result of God providing abundantly. My mortgage payment comes from owning a home (OK, buying a home – I don’t own it yet). Having electric bills means I have electricity. My telephone bills are the result of living in a time when I can immediately contact loved ones and friends.
  • Taxes – While we don’t enjoy paying taxes, Phil and I have always said that paying more in taxes means we made more money last year. Thank You, Lord. And thank You for the protection and services that are provided to me by my government.
  • Interruptions – Are you convinced the Lord is in control of your day? He has allowed the interruption – what do you think His purpose for it is? I can’t answer that question, but I do know it isn’t to cause us to grumble and complain!

These may be unlikely triggers, but when we learn to use them as reminders to praise God – to tell ourselves and others about His wonderful deeds, to sing His praises and exult His Name – our lives will be transformed and our God will be honored. A Psalm comes to mind:

 Teach us how short our lives really are so that we may be wise.
Psalm 90:12 (NCV)

Our lives are too short to let the frustrations of life pull us from the goodness of God and the life He’s given us. What negative triggers are you going to turn into praise this week?

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God is challenging me to believe His Word. I mean really believe it. That challenge has just started, so I’m sure there will be future blogs about it, but let me give you a taste of what God’s been whispering in my ear lately.

In Matthew 9:29 Jesus said the following to two blind men as He healed them:

“According to your faith let it be done to you.” (NRSV)
Matthew 9:29b

This is not blog about healing, healing faith or faith healing,  and I don’t want to take the verse out of context. On the flip side, I don’t want my lack of faith to limit God’s work in my life.

Do you believe this…or that…

God can heal you…or that you have a condition that you’ve had all your life and at best God can alleviate some of the symptoms sometimes?

God can give you favor with a boss…or that your boss hates you and you will never succeed until he or she retires?

Your marriage can be the most satisfying relationship you’ve ever imagined or…that things will never change?

You can change (set you free from) that habit that keeps you from moving forward…or have you tried so many times and been unsuccessful that you believe it’s a hopeless cause and you just have to keep fighting

While I would like to say that I believe everything on the left side of these equations, I’m afraid some of my actions would suggest that my “faith” falls on the right side. You see, we act upon and react based on what we believe. Our actions are based on our beliefs – our faith! The old adage “actions speak louder than words” is true. Our actions (and inactions) demonstrate our faith.

So when things don’t go quite as I had planned or hoped, do my actions say “I trust God’s Word to bring the outcome He’s promised” or do my actions say “I lost this and will never…” or “I don’t know if…”

What kind of faith do you have?
In the above “this…or that” examples, we see two different kinds of faith. The first might be called “positive faith” and the latter “negative faith.” (1) Positive faith believes God and lives in such a way that our trust in Him is obvious. Negative faith has more confidence in the enemy’s ability to thwart God’s plans and blessings and is just as obvious to those around us. These two kinds of faith are very different but have at least three things in common:

  • Both kinds of faith are obvious to those around us people around us can see from our actions and hear from our conversation that we are trusting God or have given up hope that God can/will impact our situation.
  • Both kinds of faith impact what actually happens! In Matthew, Jesus didn’t say “According to your positive faith let it be done to you, but your negative faith has no impact on the situation.” No. He said “According to your faith let it be done to you.” While I believe that God’s grace and mercy transcends all, I also believe that when we have no hope – no confident expectation – that God’s impact is muffled.
  • Both kinds of faith have an influence on those around us that goes beyond the blessing they receive when our faith was more active. In other words, others are seeing us stand for and take action based on a confident expectation that God has spoken and God will do what He says…or they are seeing us accept (believe) that the enemy has won. Our actions impact their faith and actions. I want my faith to help others grow in their faith. The alternative is that I am a person who makes it harder for them to believe. Lord, please help me be the positive influence!

Friends, this is impacting my spirit so strongly. I am seeing things in every area of my life where I have exhibited negative faith – where I have been a “doubting Thomas” – and God is opening my eyes to how that very well may have limited God’s blessings in my life. Let me give you two examples from my own life.

  • I have written a Bible study on the book of Jonah. While I wrote it quite awhile ago, I have not finished formatting it for publication. That process is nearly complete. I’ve been heard saying “I don’t know if anyone will want the study when I’ve finished it, but…”

Wait a minute! Or as Phil would say “roll back the tape!”

>  Do I believe that the study holds powerful truths gleaned from a book that holds more sovereign acts of God per page than any other book of the Bible? Yes.
>  Do I believe that God gave me those studies? Yes.
>  Have they impacted my life? Yes.
>  Have they impact the lives of others who have seen the material? Yes.
>  Do my actions demonstrate that I believe those things? Uhhh…no, not really. My actions say that I’ve not made this a priority and probably even say that I’m a bit afraid to actually release the study.
Where is my confident expectation in God?

  • We’ve owned our business for 23 years. During that time, our income has been very cyclical – we have a good year, then we have a not-so-good year. During the good years we save. During the bad years those savings are depleted. While God has blessed us by keeping our business alive through years when many of our competitors have failed, we’ve not see the kind of steady growth we would like. It has occurred to me as God is teaching me about faith that I have believed that this cycle is “the nature of our business” – I’ve fallen into an expectation of prosperity followed by lack. Don’t get me wrong – God is always blessing and even in our lean years we are blessed more than most of the world. We started this business, however, to be a conduit of blessing to the church – believing that God would use our business and businesses like ours to fund end time ministries. I am seeing my negative faith impacting our business…and therefore all who would be blessed through it.

Laying Aside That Which So Easily Entangles
Now if you’re like me, this also brings up questions and objections. I am laying those aside for now! I am confident that God is speaking to me about faith. I don’t want to stop that flow by throwing in all my “yeah, buts.” I am confident that God will teach me a proper perspective and throwing the “yeah, buts” into the mix right now will simply interrupt the Teacher. It’s not that the Teacher can’t answer my questions, it’s that He knows the best order to present the material. I’m confident that some of those “yeah, buts” will get answered. I’m also confident that some of them will end up on the “you’re too young to understand” list. (Don’t tell me your mother didn’t use that line on you!)

Joining the Great Adventure
This is an exciting journey, friends. Imagine what might happen if the Church (yes, that’s you and me) really believed God’s Word and acted upon that belief. I know God has a great adventure in store for me. He also has one in store for you…will you join Him in the great adventure? I hope so!

(1) One of the books God is using to draw my attention to positive and negative faith is 10 Curses that Block the Blessing by Larry Huch, Whitaker House Publishing.

682080: 10 Curses That Block the Blessing 10 Curses That Block the Blessing By Larry Huch / Whitaker House Publishers
Have you been suffering with depression, family dysfunction, marital unhappiness, or other problems and been unable to overcome them? Within the pages of this book, Ten Curses That Block the Blessing, Larry Huch shares his personal experience with a life of anger, drug addiction, crime, and violence. He shows how he broke these curses and reveals how you can:

  • Receive dominion – what it is and how to use it
  • Recognize the signs of a curse,
  • End cycles of abuse and violence
  • Be set free from generational curses
  • Bring your children to Christ

You might also find these books by Larry Huch helpful. Click on the title to learn more:

84282: Free at Last--Book and CD Free at Last–Book and CD By Larry Huch / Whitaker House Publishers
You can break free from your past! Don’t let what’s happened to you and your family hold you back in life! You can find freedom from depression, anger, abuse, insecurity, and addiction in Jesus Christ. Pastor Larry Huch reveals powerful truths from Scripture that enabled him and many others to quickly break the destructive chains in their lives and receive God’s blessings. Learn the secret to true freedom and you, too, can regain your joy and hope, experience divine health, mend broken relationships, and walk in true prosperity – body, soul, and spirit. A study guide and teaching sermon are included on a CD.
741187: The Torah Blessing The Torah Blessing By Larry Huch / Whitaker House

Discover the Jewish roots of your Christian faith in The Torah Blessing. Author and pastor Larry Huch takes you on a incredible journey through the hidden truths in the Torah and God’s Word. You’ll learn deep spiritual truths from Israel’s heritage which will connect you to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus in new powerful ways.


742580: Unveiling Ancient Biblical Secrets Unveiling Ancient Biblical Secrets By Larry Huch / Whitaker House Publishers
In Unveiling Ancient Biblical Secrets, Pastor Larry Huch reveals God’s ancient blessing for your life, such as: destruction of the curse of poverty, healing beneath the wings of the tallit, the covenant of success and more. By understanding and tapping into these timeless truths, Christians can rediscover the destiny that God intends for His people.

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