Thursday, December 20, 2012

Were I One of The Wise Men

The Three Wise Men Follow The Star of Christ
Matthew 2:1-12

The Magi Visit the Messiah

 "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

 When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.  When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
 “‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
  are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.” 


Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route."




WERE I ONE OF THE WISE MEN

Were I one the Wise Men that came from afar
Seeking for Christ in the Heavenly Star,

My finest riches I would bring
To lay before the Lord, my King.
I would sacrifice my life
To give my priceless gifts to Christ.
I would travel many miles

Through endless storms and fiery trials;
Face many dangers, toiling hard
Just to give my gifts to God.


Over mountains I would climb
Falling down time after time,
But getting up and moving on;

The journey would seem ever long;
But always there to lead and guide,

The Star of Christ up in the sky.
Always to rejoice the heart,
The Star of Christ to light the dark.

Were I one of the Wise Men that journeyed far
That never took their eyes from the Star--
When tempted to trade their gifts for sin,
They never took their eyes from Him--
And if their journey took many years
They never gave up through doubts and fears;
They clung to God’s promise revealed in the Star,
To their love for Christ, the King of their heart.

They clung to their hope in Christ their Dream;
Someday to Him their gifts they would bring. 

Someday at last they would find the place
Where they would see Jesus face to face.




Adoration of the Magi by Gentile da Fabriano


Prayer


Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the priceless gift of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. Please give us the undivided hearts of passionate love for our Savior that the Magi Kings displayed for Christ when they left all to follow His Star to give Him their precious treasures. These foreign kings seemed more devoted to the promises prophesied in Your word than some of Your own people.
The passage of two thousand years has not tarnished their example of faith and love for You. May You give us such hearts to serve You in passionate commitment, come what may, on our own journey to meet You someday face to face. Thank You, Lord. In Jesus' name. Amen


"Were I One Of The Wise Men" Copyright 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least Of These


Illustration Source: Internet

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Thankful Journal






The Strongs Concordance entry for the word "THANKFUL" in the Bible
has several definitions worth meditating on as one studies God’s word and its many exhortations to us to be thankful.
·      Thankful in one sense in the bible means literally to hold out the hand;
·      Thankful can also mean to (physically) throw something like a stone or an arrow
·      Thankful also means to revere or worship with extended hands;
·      Another meaning is to praise and give thanks.
Thankfulness is giving to God something of ourselves; hence, the sense of throwing a stone or arrow-aiming our specific praises at the One who has given us so much, rather then just being vague in our praise and worship.
In this sense we are telling God why we are thankful. Each stone we cast, each arrow is a gift of praise from our lips to our God who has given us such wonderful things to enjoy.
These stones, these arrows of praise are aimed directly to God Most High.
If our thoughts are wandering in worship these stones or arrows of praise and thanksgiving we are casting up to our God are not going to Him at all.
Our lips are out of sync with our heart and thoughts.
Jesus says quoting Isaiah, "This people draw near to Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me." Matthew 15:8
God desires that we be purposeful in our praise, worship, and thanksgiving.
“And when you make an offering of praise to the Lord, make it in a way which is pleasing to Him.” Leviticus 22:29
 St. Paul in Ephesians 5:10 admonishes us to, “Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.”
It is not only important to thank God but also to tell Him why we are thankful every day. Rehearsing our blessings from God focuses our minds on positive things and gets our minds off our needs. One of the best ways to begin this practice is to start a “Thankful Journal.”
A Thankful Journal helps us to record the specific ways God has blessed us each day and gives us opportunities to express our gratitude to Him for those blessings. We can LET these expressions be our arrows, our pebbles that we cast up to God.
Gratitude will bless us in many ways. Ephesians 5:20 admonishes us to “give thanks for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Gratitude awakens humility in the soul. A grateful heart is a humble heart.
Another benefit of keeping a Thankful Journal is that whenever we feel discouraged we can read over the times when God has blessed us or has come through for us, rehearsing the victories in our life. It will remind us that He is ever faithful to keep His word and that He will come through for us again no matter what the present circumstances are. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits” Psalm 103:2
"And be ye thankful." A heart of gratitude toward God is a heart that loves God.
There is a passage in 2 Timothy that makes me shudder every time I read it.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” 2 Timothy 3:1-5

Ingratitude is a defining hallmark of people living in the last days. It goes about wearing the face of dissatisfaction in the person who practices it. People will be dissatisfied with what they have and always craving after what they think is better.  They may be dissatisfied with their body, their gender, talents, mental abilities, health, social status, their house, job, their spouse, their kids, parents, education…The list is endless of things people can find fault with in their lives! People who are habitually negative and critical, though they achieve the things they imagine will satisfy them, will still find something to complain about no matter what quality of life they attain. For ingratitude is a soul sickness and one who practices it will never be satisfied with whatever they achieve or are given.
St. Paul warns us, “Be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you. So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear.” ~Hebrews 13:5-6
 My earnest prayer day and night is that the sin of ingratitude will not define me. But the sad fact is, when we focus on our needs and wants and never take time to reflect on the blessings God has already given us, Paul accurately portrays what we can become apart taking the time and effort to thank God daily. For how easily we can descend into the muck of the flesh without hearkening to the Holy Spirit within us.
Gratitude helps us to focus on the positive and transforms our attitude the more we practice it into a heart of humility. God draws close to the humble, but the proud He knows afar off. To know God better, we must begin to thank Him!
To become more like Christ, we must practice the habit of thanking God in all things even as Christ Himself did. In the Upper Room at the Last Supper on the eve of His crucifixion our Lord gave thanks to His Heavenly Father as He broke the bread that symbolized His body that He would give for the life of the world. Though His heart was troubled and His betrayer was in the room, still our Lord gave thanks to God.
Likewise, even when our circumstances are not ideal, even when we are going through terrible trials may we be like our Lord Jesus who still gave thanks and praise to God. The bible says that Jesus even sang a hymn after the Last Supper. (Matthew 26:26-30)

Keeping a Thanksgiving Journal will help us to focus on our blessings rather than our needs; it will help us to set aside a special time for giving thanks to God daily, and will teach us to make gratitude a habit. Thanksgiving will indeed renew our minds into the image of our Creator as we practice it daily, drawing us ever closer to His heart of love.

Lord, we love You! Thank You for giving us Yourself! Help us today to give thanks to You and praise Your name. For You, Oh LORD are good. Your unfailing love continues forever, and Your faithfulness continues to each generation. (Psalm 100:4-5)

“The Thankful Journal” Copyright © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least of These



Friday, November 9, 2012

THE RESCUE

"Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah" John Martin 1854
 
  “Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD earlier. He looked off toward Sodom, Gomorrah, and the entire plain, and he saw smoke rising from the land like smoke from a furnace. And so it was that, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, He remembered Abraham and brought Lot out from the midst of the destruction when He overthrew the cities where Lot lived.” Genesis 19:27-29 (ISV)

      In Genesis 18-19, the Bible tells us the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. These were cities where every type of sin was practiced. God, disguised as an angel along with two other angels, came to visit Abraham one day and told him that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was so grievous that He had personally come down to see for Himself the whole magnitude of its wickedness, and if it was as bad as its outcry He would destroy it. (Genesis 18:20-21) 


As I meditate on this story I see a powerful metaphor. For there is a sense in which God wants to rescue each of us from our own personal Sodom and Gomorrah. 
Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family lived there. St. Peter says of Lot that he was, “a righteous man who was greatly distressed by the immoral conduct of lawless people—for as long as that righteous man lived among them, day after day he was being tortured in his righteous soul by what he saw and heard in their lawless actions.” (2 Peter 2:7-8)
Peter goes on to say that since God rescued Lot from such a destruction “then the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their trials…” (2 Peter 2:9)

Though St. Peter calls Lot righteous, Lot was still a sinner. God calls all of us sinners. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  (Romans 3:23)
For what it’s worth, sin is sin. It is all ugly to our holy God. And it cost the life of His precious Son. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned, each of us, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
But the beautiful message of the cross is that, “But God commends His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us…” Romans 5:8

When St. Peter calls Lot righteous, he means that Lot was not immoral like the rest of Sodom and Gomorrah.
God condemned Sodom and Gomorrah because it was totally depraved. He promised Abraham that if He could find 10 righteous persons there He would not destroy the cities, but He could not even find 10! (Genesis 18:32)
These cities are synonymous for one type of sin, but God would not have destroyed the cities for one type of sin. You don’t have the exterminators bomb your house for cockroaches if just one room is infested, but only if the whole house is infested then you must have the entire house bombed to get rid of the roaches to make the house livable again.
So it was with Sodom, God would not have totally destroyed it for just one type of sin. The whole place was riddled with every sort of sin imaginable and unwilling to believe in God or to repent.

We may not like to think it, but we are all lost in our own personal Sodom and Gomorrah until we ask Christ into our hearts. Even if we are very religious people and don’t seem immoral at all like the people of those ancient cities. Not everyone there was depraved. Peter called Lot righteous! Yet apart from Christ the bible says all our righteousness is like “filthy rags.”
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like a filthy rag; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our iniquities sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6

The bible says we are all sinners because of Adam’s and Eve’s (the first man & woman’s) sin. We sin because they broke God’s law, and so do we. We have a conscience to tell us when we are doing something wrong, a built in moral compass or inner guide from our Creator. Yet, we can squelch that compass.
We can also think we are just fine by keeping a set of religious rules and think they will make us holy enough for heaven.

God did not leave us without guidelines. He gave the Law through the Jewish people. Then He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. He says in His word:
“Behold, all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekial 18:4
And, “Under the Law almost everything is cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of the blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22 (ISV)
Jesus Christ Crucified (Source:Photobucket)
Our God knew we could never be good enough to save ourselves. So He prepared for Himself a body that could bleed, became a living sacrifice through His Son Jesus Christ for the sins of those He had created, suffered and died for all humankind, and said that everyone who believed on Him and accepted Him into their hearts would be saved from everlasting death and given eternal life. (John 3:16)

Sodom & Gomorrah can be seen as a type of the sin and death that every sinner is rescued out of by the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lot and his family were not immoral according to the scriptures before their rescue.
According to the story, God sent the two angels into the city to warn Lot and his family and to rescue them.
The people of the city were so depraved that they did not recognize the angels as divine beings. Spiritually blind, the angels had to physically blind the townsmen to protect themselves and Lot from their wickedness.
If we are deeply rooted in sin we too will not recognize God or His messengers when He comes to us to warn us.
In the days of Noah when God destroyed the world and preserved Noah and his family alive the bible records that “God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart.  Genesis 6:5” MSG
This is the way it was with the people in Sodom. They could not think good thoughts. Not even toward God’s angels sent to help them. 
The bible records that Lot tried to persuade his sons in law to join them in escaping God’s wrath; he warned them that the towns would be destroyed. But they thought he was joking  (Genesis 19:14)
Those these young men were "good people," they were swept away in the destruction of the cities because of their unbelief.
For some reason Lot and his family kept tarrying and so finally the angels grabbed them by the hand and pulled them away from the city!
Today, if we hear God’s voice, we must not hesitate to leave the land of sin that God is calling us out of. He is calling us to come to His Son, to salvation, away from the certain destruction and death of the sinful life that we are in. “Today if you hear His voice, harden not your hearts…” Hebrews 3:8
Our lives may not even seem sinful. Lot’s certainly didn’t. We can be such “Nice people.” It does not matter. We are sinners nevertheless.  Our superficial “goodness" is merely a deception, for apart from Christ, we are headed for certain destruction.

FLEE FOR YOUR LIVES!
God’s instructions through the angels were to “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back or stop anywhere on the plain.” (Genesis 19:17)
God wanted them to run to the hills. But Lot begged to be allowed to go to the nearest town.
Our God is merciful and compassionate. He meets us where we are. He will never test us beyond what we can endure.
“As a father pities his children,
So the Lord pities those who fear Him.

For He knows our frame;

He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14

It is God’s will that we repent and run as far as we can get from the sin that binds us. But God also knows our hearts. We must not judge each other for our imperfections and weaknesses. We each are answerable only to God. He is dealing with each one of us on an individual basis and rescuing us according to His way and time. As long as we have taken that first step of confessing our sins and inviting Jesus into our hearts, He will lead us by the hand out of the burning town to that first town away from the destruction, and step by step toward His likeness. It is a journey, a process. None of us will become perfect overnight. Not till we get to heaven will we all become fully like our Lord. We are all still sinners saved only by the grace of God. The righteousness we have been given is a gift, a beautiful robe that matches Christ’s own. We do nothing to earn it. Christ's blood paid for it. We have been forgiven our sins and given the power now to follow our Lord and say no to sin, but it is always one baby step, one choice to follow after the Holy Spirit at a time. 

Camille Corot "Escape From Sodom" 1857
Lot’s Wife
Once God pulls you out of the land of sin, do not look back! Keep going with Him. Keep your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of Your faith.
If God gives you a vision keep focusing steadily on that vision: never lose sight of it.
Instead of focusing on the vision that God had given to her of her new life in a new place with her family, instead of being thankful to be alive, Lot’s wife chose to linger behind her husband and daughters. She continued to listen to the voices of fear and doubt in her mind: What would Lot do, they would have to start all over. She kept looking at the past: her old friends, her wonderful home, Lot’s great job. The future was unknown.
But God says, “I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Jeremiah 29:11

In refusing to trust God, somehow Mrs. Lot’s stony heart of unbelief petrified her whole being until she became paralyzed and could not move forward.
Immobilized by unbelief, she became a pillar of salt, frozen for all time in the desert. 

Her family, horrified by her fate, had to leave her behind along with everything else. Mrs. Lot's death was to ultimately have a devastating impact on her family.
Unbelief will rob you of all your dreams, decimate your relationship with God and ultimately destroy your life; it could very well destroy the lives of those you love and even have a negative impact on millions of lives for hundreds of generations into the future.
Such was the fate of Mrs. Lot. Her lack of faith not only robbed her of her life, the void she left by her death destroyed her family's morality. Lot, paralyzed by fear, could not stay in the small town he'd begged for refuge in. He ran for the hills and isolated himself in a cave with his two daughters. By the end of the story he had descended into alcoholism and incest. The children born to him from his daughters were the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites who became nations that were enemies of Israel whose idol worship involved human sacrifice. 

Our choices affect other lives for good or for evil. Our willingness to trust God and obey Him will bless not only ourselves but all those around us. If we allow Christ to save us, we must choose to keep walking with Him and not turn back to sin.  For as you can see from the story of Lot and his daughters, Sodom and Gomorrah is not just a physical place, it is a place of the heart. God can rescue us out of there but it is up to us to stay out.
We must not isolate ourselves from others. If we do, we will go no farther in our walk with Christ. If we stop growing in Christ, we shrivel up spiritually and die. Jesus says, we must abide in Him for apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Jesus Knocking (Photobucket)
There is no hope for Sodom and Gomorrah. One must flee it if one is to live. Jesus Christ offers the only hope for eternal life.
He comes to us to rescue us out of our own personal places of sin and destruction to give us this wonderful gift of life. He is knocking on the door of every person’s heart.

Today if you hear His voice, open the door and let Him rescue you from your burning town.

Dear Lord Jesus, I would like you to come into my heart today and rescue me from the  personal Sodom and Gomorrah where I so blindly abide. I would like to trade my filthy rags of righteousness for Your beautiful robe you give to all who trust in You for salvation. Take me by the hand now and deliver me even as the angels delivered Lot and his family. You are my Deliverer from all Destruction. Thank you Lord Jesus. I love You! Amen.

“The Rescue” Copyright 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved
Unto The Least of These

Thursday, October 25, 2012

God's Friend

James Tissot (1836-1902) : Abraham Bowing Before God and the Angels
  Abraham was God’s friend. One day the Lord came and visited him in person.
“The Lord appeared again to Abraham near the oak grove belonging to Mamre. …Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent during the hottest part of the day. He looked up and noticed three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he ran to meet them and welcomed them, bowing low to the ground.” Genesis 18:1-2

I wonder if God decided to disguise Himself as a human and came to visit one of us as He did Abraham that day along with two of His angels, would we recognize Him as Abraham did?
I believe one way we can always recognize God is to daily abide in Him as Jesus commands us.
“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me… for without Me you can do nothing. “ John 15:4-5
 We abide in Christ by setting aside time for Him each day for worship and studying and meditating on His word, and praying for others.

Abraham said to God,  “My Lord, if now I have found favor in your sight, do not pass by your servant, I beg of you.
 Let a little water be brought, and you may wash your feet and recline and rest yourselves under the tree.
And I will bring a morsel of bread to refresh and sustain your hearts before you go on further—for that is why you have come to your servant.” Genesis 18:3-5 (AMP)
I love that verse…"for that is why you have come to your servant.” (verse 5)

Abraham De Gelder 1685: Abraham prepares God a Feast
Abraham figured God had come to visit him to be refreshed, encouraged, and comforted (according to one version) before going on in His journey.
He actually believed that though he was just a human, he could somehow bring comfort and encouragement to His Creator through providing a meal and hospitality for him! I love this man’s faith!

 Abraham was worshiping God in the natural world but we worship God in the Spirit. What if our worship and our praises somehow brought comfort and encouragement to our holy God who loves us with measureless love and longs to fellowship with us?
Abraham and God were true Friends! God is no respecter of persons. Jesus says we can be His Friends too!
Jesus says to His disciples in John’s Gospel, “You are My friends if you do what I command. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13-14 
Jesus gave His precious life for every one of us.  He wants very much to be our holy Friend even as Abraham was God’s friend. Jesus says in Revelation 3:20:
 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.”  (Rev. 3:20 NLT)
William Holman Hunt (1853)

If God came to visit me clothed in flesh, would I be as hospitable as Abraham? Would God be blessed, comforted and encouraged by the banquet I prepared for Him? Or would I say, not now God, I am too busy with my projects, with work that must be done! Don’t you see Lord, I have a project deadline and a boss that has no mercy? My kids come first, they have activities you see, there is this meeting I must attend or that thing I must do…the list of excuses is endless and they all seem so reasonable and so important and of course God won’t mind, after all, He is God, He is love, and there is ALWAYS tomorrow, or after the meeting or the project, or the activity, or whatever I am doing that is so much more important than meeting with the Lord.

But then Abraham was not too busy for God. He went out of his way to make God and the angels a feast! He dropped everything on his agenda. In fact, he even seemed to have been waiting for God from the very first verse of the chapter as he sat in the doorway of his tent in the heat of the day. 

Rembrandt: Abraham, God & the Angels
“So Abraham hastened into the tent to Sarah and said, 'Quickly get ready three measures of fine meal, knead it, and bake cakes.'
And Abraham ran to the herd and brought a calf tender and good and gave it to the young man [to butcher]; then he [Abraham] hastened to prepare it.
 And he took curds and milk and the calf which he had made ready, and set it before [the men]; and he stood by them under the tree while they ate.” Genesis 18:6-8 (AMP)

If we are too busy to wait on God, to have a special time set aside for regular worship and bible study, then we are too busy. We will not get to know Him or grow closer in our relationship with Him.
The truth is, God already has come down and clothed Himself with flesh and blood in the person of every single child of God through His Holy Spirit!
We have the incredible privilege of having the Spirit of the living God, our holy Creator abiding daily in our hearts! 

“Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20

“Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.” Ephesians 4:30 MSG

There is a haunting painting by James Tissot that draws my soul to worship whenever I see it. It portrays an image of Jesus Christ peering from behind a garden lattice, looking longingly at the viewer. He seems to be hoping that we will take the time to fellowship with Him. For He suffered death and hell to redeem us so that me might become His very own garden. He longs to meet us in the secret place of our hearts and draw us ever closer to Himself. It is difficult to see His face, so obscured by the lattice work of the window. Yet if we will focus our attention on Him instead of the many lines and shapes that want to obscure Him, we will see Him looking back at us.
And that is so like our lives; if we will but take the time to sit still and look for Him amidst the clutter of all our activities, we will see Him peering back at us. "Come here," He says. "Come sit a while with Me."
James Tissot: Jesus Peering Through a Lattice Window
 It should be the greatest desire of every child of God to want to bless our God when He comes knocking at our door to visit us, to “share a meal” with us!
“Let all that I am praise the Lord;
  with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
  may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins
  and heals all my diseases. 
He redeems me from death
 and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things.  My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!” 
Psalm 103:1-5 (NLT)

To bless means to thank, to praise, to call on God, to adore Him, to acknowledge Him.
Abraham was God’s friend. He knew God and God knew him. 
Jesus said, "And this is eternal life: that they might know You, the only true God, and the One whom You sent--Jesus the Messiah." John 17:3 (ISV)

Dear Heavenly Father, please help me to willingly make time for You every day even as Abraham did. I want to know You, and Your Son Jesus Christ; to love You with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to be Your friend.  I want to bless Your soul and encourage Your heart with the banquet I prepare for You, just as Abraham did when you stop by for a visit to my tent! In Jesus’ holy name. Amen.

"God's Friend" Copyright 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least of These 

*James Tissot (1836 – 1902) Commented on the Inspiration behind his painting "Jesus Looking Through a Garden Lattice" He said it was inspired by a verse from the Song of Solomon 2:9: "My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice."
"Jesus Looking Through a Garden Lattice"  (gouache (14 × 18 cm) — James Tissot: 1886 - 1894  Brooklyn Museum, New York City





Thursday, October 11, 2012

YOU WANT A PORTRAIT OF YOUR WHAT?!

 

The bible says “A man’s mind plans his way but the Lord directs his steps.”
One day a couple years ago, I went to the Optician to have my glasses prescription filled.
His assistant wanted to know what sort of work I did so that she could prepare my new glasses accordingly.
“I’m an artist,” I said rather absently. Lately I had not felt much like an artist. I hadn’t been able to work as much as I’d liked and I was feeling discouraged.
Only a few years before I had been healthy and strong. I could work hours on end at my desk or easel without pain or fatigue and I hardly knew what a headache was.
I was working as a freelance illustrator, writing and illustrating my own book projects, attending conferences, and I had even created my own website. I walked 6 miles a day and stayed busy all the time. 

But then in 2006 all that changed when I caught what seemed to be an ordinary virus. Only three days later when it should have gone away, it didn’t.
After two weeks, my legs were cramping when I tried to walk, my arms were going numb, and my hands were so weak I could barely hold a pen or pencil. If I tried to focus on reading or drawing, my eye muscles would go into spasms and I would immediately get a migraine headache. Anything it seemed; noise, bright light, strong smells, the weather could provoke a migraine. I had rarely ever suffered from any headaches before so this was excruciating for me. I had to sit in my house for months in a darkened room with a mask over my eyes and just be quiet and still. So I listened. I listened to God. 

At first I was very upset with Him. I could not understand why God would let this happen to me. Had I not been serving Him faithfully? I loved Him with all my heart. God had given me many gifts and dreams of serving Him along with those gifts. Every day I had prayed that I would glorify Him.
God spoke to my heart. “I’m not punishing you, I love you very much. But I need to teach you the truth. Be still now and patient.”
I saw a vision of God sitting on His beautiful throne. He was majestic! As bright as if clothed with the stars. He said, “I will heal you.”
I sketched the vision with what strength I had in my hands. The lines were very timid and faint though. I wrote His promise and the date. My head hurt like nails were boring through my eyes for the rest of the day but I had to record that vision!

The Lord Jesus drew me very close to Him during that time. He said He broke me for a reason.
I had relied on my strength instead of God’s strength in me to do His work. I valued myself more for what I did than for who I was. I saw myself in terms of my profession, rather than the person inside who God created. I did not love me for myself. Nor did I think anyone else would either. Nor did I think God would. I felt God’s love was performance based, as if He loved me for what I could do for Him.

The parable of the ten talents haunted me. Every time the preacher preached on it I would think, I am not doing enough for God; I might be burying my talents in some way and so I would work all the harder. I was the proverbial workaholic.
Jesus said He wanted my heart more than my works.
He says to those who have done great and mighty works for Him but have not truly known Him or His true will, “…depart from Me you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you…” Matthew 7:23
He told me as I sat a captive audience before Him, “You don’t have to win My love with your good works. You’ve already got it.”

When this happened to me, the last thing I wanted to do was be still.
I had so many unfinished projects I wanted to work on!  But God said no.
“Wait on the Lord, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. Be still and know I am God!” I learned to truly wait on God during those long months of stillness.

It took 4 months of physical therapy to get my hands back to where I could properly hold a pen or pencil again. 
My first painting after 4 months of illness
How I praised God when tests came back saying I did not have anything fatal. What Doctors finally did conclude was that I had had the Epstein Barre virus that had triggered an auto-immune disorder in my body called Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. It would take several more years before neurologists discovered that this disorder also caused a chemical imbalance in my brain that triggers periodic seasons of chronic migraines.

The Lord kept His word and slowly healed me. After about 6 months I went into a period of remission.
I was not completely restored to my former strength though. God told me I was always going to need to be careful to work within my body’s new parameters so that He would be glorified in me. He wanted me to trust Him now. He wanted me to rely on His strength and not my own. He said that I would complete every work that HE had ordained for me to create for His glory. As always, my husband Mark was an invaluable helper and blessing. His patience was amazing. Periodically I might have setbacks when I have worked beyond my body’s limits, but never would I become as ill as I was during that first six months of waiting on God. God has been faithful to His promise.

That afternoon, when the Optician's clerk asked me what I did, I wanted to say I used to work as an artist. But that would not have been true because I still drew and painted and had in fact started my own greeting card company featuring my artwork.
I was feeling very discouraged though for I had entered another season of headaches, similar to those I’d experienced before my daughter’s wedding, only these were not nearly as severe, due to the Lord’s mercy and faithfulness. 

Still, I was often tired and could not do as much as I wished.  The assistant immediately wanted to see a sample of my work. So I gave her an encouraging card.
She then asked me if I would consider making a portrait of her mule of all things!
I looked up at her incredulously. “Your what?”
“My mule; he’s a beloved member of my family and I would love to have his portrait made.”
A portrait was the last thing I wanted to paint. Especially a mule’ s portrait! Nothing could induce me to paint such a thing. Suddenly the Holy Spirit nudged me. Uh oh. No God…please….
“Ask her how much she’s willing to pay for such a portrait….”
“Absolutely NOT!” I wrestled in my heart with God. I have no intentions of painting a mule. You know I can’t paint a mule. Besides, I have not painted anything but flowers in a month. And folks are weird about things they love, they are never satisfied! No! No! No!”
But the Holy Spirit insisted, “Ask her how much!”

Have you ever wrestled with the Lord? You know that story in the Bible about Jacob and the angel wrestling all night in prayer? Oh, I know how that must have felt!
I know how Moses must have felt in his conversations with God about not wanting to go to Egypt and feeling not qualified. God does not give in very easily when He wants you to do something and believes in you even when you don’t believe in yourself.
I reluctantly obeyed the Lord and said to the woman, “So, how much are you willing to pay for a portrait of your mule?”
“How much do you normally charge for portraits?” the woman asked me.

I did not really feel up to painting the mule.  “Lord,” I prayed, “I am going to ask for a price to paint her mule's portrait that will totally discourage her-- then I will know it is NOT your will for me to do this!”
I gave the woman the price, which, though a fair price for a "people" portrait which I was comfortable doing, at the time it seemed an amazing amount to ask for an animal portrait. It didn't matter anyway, I  knew she would never agree to it so I breathed a sigh of relief.
To my horror she looked at me and said, “I want you to paint my mule! I will pay that price to have you paint him. He's like a beloved member of my family. I want to remember him forever.”
I could not believe my ears. Before I left the optician's shop that day I had a photo of her beloved “pet,”  and I’d given my word to paint a portrait of a creature I could barely distinguish from a horse.

“Oh Lord,” I prayed, “how did you get me into this? You know this is too hard for me!”
“Nothing is too difficult for God,” He assured me. “I will help you! Trust Me!”
“I have too many headaches to be painting a portrait... I can paint people…but mules...This is beyond me…I know nothing about such creatures! This is just too stressful.” I felt like crying.
But God whispered in my heart, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

Every day I would trust God and invite Him to work with me on the picture. Feeling bad that I charged so much for the commission, I decided to add the owner's portrait in with her mule so that it would be a double portrait. When I finished the first set of preliminary sketches, the woman cried when she saw them. She said I had "captured" her mule whose name was "Stormy." In my heart I knew that it had to have been God’s hand because I could never have drawn him on my own. And every time I worked on Stormy's portrait, I would pray for him.
Some days I had too much pain or fatigue to work, but on those days God just blessed me with prayer songs to comfort me. When I was able to work, God was always faithful. He encouraged me to keep trying even though I felt so inadequate for the task. Even though I kept worrying that the woman was not going to think it was good enough. In the back of my mind I had always heard that no one is ever really satisfied with a portrait. 

Every time I went to work I prayed, “God, you broke me for a reason. Work through this broken vessel so your glory and honor can be displayed more brightly.”
God guided my hands. He gave me peace. He gave me joy as I worked with Him on the picture. 

Finally after many months and long hours of hard work, perseverance and faith the painting was at last finished.
Detail of Portrait of A Mule © S.D.Harden All Rights Reserved
God's faithfulness to see me through was my greatest joy. It was worth the struggle to learn that when God makes a promise to help us do something we think we can’t do because we feel unqualified or inadequate, He makes up for our weakness in every area where we fall short. He will not fail us. 


 Heavenly Father, Thank you for such love that will never fail nor forsake us.
Thank you that your grace is always sufficient for us. Thank you that though we are weak, Lord Jesus, You are strong through your Holy Spirit within us. 
Thank You for that mighty strength that brings us victory in every challenge as we rely on you!
I love you! Amen.

"You Want A Portrait of Your What?" © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. 
Unto The Least Of These

Thursday, October 4, 2012

GOOD TEACHER

"One thing thou lackest:
go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, 
and give to the poor,
    and thou shalt have treasure in heaven:
  and come,
take up the cross,
and follow me.
And he was sad at that saying, 
and went away
grieved: for he had
great possessions."
— St. Mark 10:21-22 KJV


Good Teacher, What Must I Do? 

Poem © 2012  Suzanne Davis Harden

 “Good Teacher,” said the young man,
“What must I do to be saved?”
And Jesus looked in His eyes
He loved the young man He’d made.

And Jesus looked in His eyes,
Though rich, the man was a slave;
Now seeking the things of God;
Jesus loved the man He had made.

And Jesus looked in His eyes
“And so you seek to be saved…”
Keep the commandments of God—
All of the ones He gave…”
The young man stood up tall
And He looked at the Lord with pride,
“I’ve kept them all from my youth,
Yes, since I was a little child.”

And Jesus peered in His eyes,
Looked deep in His very soul,
“One thing, My son, you lack,
And then you’ll be made whole.”

The man looked up at Jesus,
His eyes a puzzled stare,
“Give all you have to the poor, My son,
Then follow Me everywhere.”
Trade your earthly riches
For those you cannot see…
Let go of all you have, My son,
And come and follow Me.
My son, come follow Me,
And give to Me your life,
And I will meet your every need;
I’ll never leave your side.
Don’t trust in what you see,
Don’t trust in what you have;
Trust in One who gives good things
To those with faith to ask.
 
 My love will carry you
Down every path you take;
I’ll carry you to heaven,
Your heart I won’t forsake.”


The young man looked at Jesus,
Then sadly walked away.
He would not trade His riches
For the Savior’s path of faith.
He would not trade His riches
For the heart of Jesus’ love,
And He walked away from Jesus
Choosing wealth over God above.

"He went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions."
 Lay Up Treasures in Heaven

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal;  but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  
~Matthew 6:19-21

Do Not Love This World
 "Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever." 
~1 John 2:15-17

Heavenly Father, thank you for all of the wonderful things you give us to enjoy every day! You love to give good gifts to Your children and take great delight in blessing us. But when our possessions become more important to us than You or other people, help us to see that we have become slaves to them. 
Lord, help us not to lay up treasures for ourselves on this earth, but to seek first Your kingdom and Your righteousness. For where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.
Oh Lord, may You be our true heart's treasure. May we love You more than all things. In Jesus' name. Amen.


                                       Illustrations
"Christ and the Rich Young Ruler"~ Painting by German Painter Heinrich Hofman (1824-1911)
"For He Had Great Possessions" Painting of Rich Young Ruler by George Frederick Watts (British Portrait Painter 1817-1904)
"Good Teacher, What Must I Do?" Poem © 2012 Suzanne Davis Harden All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least Of These