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The God of Restoration

Religion can be so detrimental to attaining an understanding of God’s ways. The essential elements of most religion recognizes the brokenness of the human condition because of sin and that the solution to this brokenness is erecting barriers to keep people from sinful action. The true revelation of our Scriptures is that what separates us from fellowship with God is not just what we ‘DO,’ but what we ‘ARE.’
The brokenness of our human condition is exactly the reason we need the promise of God’s restoration to be so clear. On an individual level, when Jesus was here, He extended a healing hand of restoration to people who had no hope of being whole or holy. On a national level, the story of Israel is so significant because it is the example of God’s continued faithfulness to us in spite of our faithlessness.
One of the lowest moral points of Israel’s history is during the time of Jeremiah. The people had turned away from God to such an extent that destruction and judgement were on their way, and there was no stopping it. However, even Jeremiah, during a time where doom is imminent, and he seems to have nothing but bad news for God’s rebellious people, there is a thread of hope in his message. The promise that even after coming to total destruction, and the rightful judgement of God against His people, He is already thinking about their restoration. Before they have even repented He is already working out their salvation.
“At the same time,” says the Lord,” I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they shall be My people.” Thus says the Lord: “The people who survived the sword Found grace in the wilderness —Israel, when I went to give him rest.” The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with loving-kindness I have drawn you.”…..
“Behold, I will bring them from the north country, And gather them from the ends of the earth, Among them the blind and the lame, The woman with child And the one who labors with child, together; A great throng shall return there. They shall come with weeping, And with supplications I will lead them. I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters, In a straight way in which they shall not stumble; For I am a Father to Israel, And Ephraim is My firstborn.” (Jer 31:1-4; 8-9)
Today, when we see the Jews returning to the Land of their ancestors, we are the witnesses of the miracle of God’s faithfulness both to His chosen people and by extension to us. We have the amazing opportunity to wonder at how faithful our God is in that He would keep His promises to a people who had seemed to have lost all hope, and if He deals so faithfully with them, will He not also deal faithfully with us?
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Freedom is the Goal

We are approaching the Feast of Passover when all of Israel will recall to mind their ancestors exit from Egypt. This was a historical event that took place, but there is a deeper meaning inside the story which we all can relate to. It is the process of our own freedom from bondage.

When Yeshua came the first time, He fulfilled the prophesy in Isaiah which says, “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…”- Isaiah 61:6. Those of us who believe in Yeshua can testify that this is certainly true. Messiah Yeshua has indeed set us free from the bondage of sin and death, in a similar way that the children of Israel were set free from Pharaoh’s cruel dictatorship. It was an instantaneous transfer from darkness to light, slavery to freedom, from Satan’s dictatorship to relationship with God. But perhaps you are asking yourself the question, “why then do I still experience bondage in certain areas of my life?” 

I believe the answer to that question lies also in the Exodus story. The transition from hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt to becoming a responsible freeman was a long process. It was a journey of lessons, a rewiring of thinking and a never ending walk with God. God led them through the desert towards the promised Land to teach them who He is so that one day, they would be a nation of freemen who would exemplify who He is to others. 

For the children of Israel, the journey took much longer than God had originally intended due to the attitudes of their hearts. They needed extra time to learn His ways and to learn obedience before they were ready to inherit the promise. It’s true of us also. If we discover an area in our lives that is enslaving us and keeping us from inheriting God’s promises of life and freedom in Yeshua, we would do well to evaluate where the root cause of the bondage comes from. For the people of Israel, it was a matter of wanting something other than God. When God had them fasting food and water, they missed their land of bondage where they had leeks and onions. When they hadn’t experienced God’s miracles for a while and their leader hadn’t come down from the mountain with a fresh word from God, they grew weary and impatient and turned their hearts toward idolatry. When they had grown tired of the journey and bored with God’s provision, they grumbled and complained, bringing judgement on themselves. In every one of these instances, there was always a root that stemmed from the heart. 

If there is an area in your life that you are struggling with that is keeping you in bondage, I would encourage you to ask the Lord to show you where it’s stemming from. The Lord is our deliverer who is always after our freedom. If you are willing to deal with the root cause of bondage in your life, He will not only bring you into the fullness of His promises, but you will also become, like the children of Israel, a testimony to who God is. 

 

 

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What Kind of Woman Will You Be?

When my husband and I and our three kids moved to Israel from the Former Soviet Union, we came with nothing. Though I had a degree in engineering, it was of no use to me without knowing the Hebrew language or the culture. I felt paralyzed by the challenges. Many days I sat in my house doing nothing but crying. One day, as I prayed about my circumstances, I realized I needed to make a decision. What kind of woman was I going to be? What kind of attitude was I going to have? If I continued to let my circumstances overwhelm me, my family and I would suffer. But if I began doing what I could to help improve the situation, I knew God would help me each step of the way. I found work cleaning houses and attended classes to learn the language. I studied accounting and when I finished the course, God opened doors for me to find employment. Today, I am not only able to help my family in the area of finances, but also others who are in need.

Woman have an important role to play in the family, the society and also in the work place. As women, we can either lead people to salvation, or in paths of destruction. In the book of Proverbs 14:1, we read, “The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish tears it down with her own hands”.  In scripture, we see examples of both. But let’s focus on the ones who are wise.

Deborah is an excellent example of a godly woman. Her situation, was most likely not as good as many women in the western world have it today. Yet we see the position she held as prophetess and judge for her people and how she was revered even by her leader. When King Barak was afraid to face his enemy, Sisera, in battle, he requested for Deborah to accompany him. The wisdom God gave to Deborah in that time of war, helped save her King and her people. (See Judges 4 & 5).

Another example of a woman who God used to save her people is Esther. When she was taken from her humble life to the exalted position as queen, she was faced with a decision to either be strong and courageous, or to hide in the comforts of her royalty. We read in the story that after days of prayer and fasting, she risked her own life in order to save her people.

There are so many examples in scripture and in history of woman such as Deborah and Esther who by faith, did great things. These women, who, when faced with difficulties, did not panic or become stressed, but instead they turned to God in prayer and became influential. These women are no different than you or I. We too can chose faith in place of fear, prayer in place of panic and responsibility in place of despair.

God is ready and willing to act on your behalf, but perhaps He is waiting for you to take that first step of faith. What kind of woman are you going to be? Remember, our choices do not only affect ourselves, but also those who follow after us.

“”I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants”.- Deuteronomy 30:19

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Purim and Masks

The book of Esther is one of the most beautiful stories in the Bible. The whole story can be viewed as God’s faithfulness even when we are unfaithful. The history prior to the story has everything to do with the story itself.
The nation had fallen under Divine judgement due to persistent rebellion and the practice of idolatry. After slavery in Egypt and experiencing God’s mighty deliverance, the Children of Israel went into the land of promise. But the people continued on a path of rebellion until God had no choice but to bring them under His own judgement. The kingdom of Judah was destroyed, and those who survived were exiled to Babylon.
The book of Esther was written from this place of exile and sorrow; a period where God seemed to have cast away His people and was hiding Himself from them. The Jews lived defenseless and completely at the mercy of a foreign kingdom. If ever Satan was looking for an opportunity to erase God’s people, the time had come. But in all of Israel’s failures, we find a God who remembers His people, and watches over them even while they are under His own hand of judgement.
Mordechai, Esther’s uncle, was a righteous and believing Jew living in that period of exile. In spite of experiencing the pain of God’s judgement with the rest of his people, he made a choice to honor God, regardless of what society around him thought. It was a difficult choice he had to make, but by refusing to conform, to bow down and honor Haman (“the enemy of the Jews” Est 3:10) he became the reason for a legal plot to wipe out all the Jews of the kingdom.
A lot was cast and a date was chosen. A legal decree was signed by the king declaring a set time when all the Jews throughout the kingdom would be killed. There were no protections or government systems to appeal to for justice or mercy, and there was no right to self-defense. The decree was a ‘death warrant’ for every Jewish man, woman and child; to be carried out in the name of the king. 
But God, who was never mentioned by name but was hidden in the story, did not leave His people to the whims of evil men. He may not have revealed Himself as in the former days, but it was He that worked out the great salvation for the Jews against all their enemies. He proved again to His people that He is a faithful God, and remembers them even when they were under His own judgement.
In Purim, we wear masks to remind us that God himself was a masked character in the book of Esther. He never came out to reveal Himself, but was working out His plan of deliverance for His people from His secret place.
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Ashes and Beauty

In biblical times, ashes were associated with mourning. They were an external symbol of death, destruction and tragedies resembling the agony a person was going through. One example from the book of Esther was when the decree of Haman to destroy the Jews went out:

“When Mordecai learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. 2 He went as far as the front of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. 3 And in every province where the king’s command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, and wailing; and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.” (Est 4:1-3, NKJV)grief-2

We live in a fallen and broken world, filled with broken people. The tragedy and pain is not only our own experience but of those around us. We cause brokenness and we ourselves are broken. We may no longer use ashes as a symbol of mourning, but mourning is still part of our lives.

Our Lord knows our brokenness and came in person to carry away our sorrows. Most of His ministry years weren’t spent in the large centers of power and influence, but among the distant, the outcast and the broken. He went through the forgotten parts of the country and spread healing in the places of brokenness. He started out in the distant Nazareth, and declared His mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, 3 To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;” (Isa 61:1-3, NKJV)

Our Lord is still finding us in our brokenness. He still sees our grief and reaches out to comfort those who mourn. But He does more than comfort us; His touch is there to offer an exchange. You see, like in the time of Mordechai, we cannot enter into the King’s courts wearing our sackcloth and ashes. We have to be wearing proper attire to enter into the King’s presence. That is why He exchanges “Beauty” for our “Ashes,” and “oil of joy” for our “mourning.” We can continue to mourn for as long as we choose, but there comes a time where the Great Healer wants to escort us into the courts of the King, and to do so we must accept His exchange.grief-1

If we desire to see the broken made whole, we must change our location to the place where healing takes place. There is a prophesy in the book of Isaiah about the suffering of the Messiah. It says:

“But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed.” (Isa 53:5, NKJV)

The word used in Hebrew for “stripes” is- ובחבורותו-(U-be-Chavurato)- which is also the word for “being together.” So the verse also can mean that “In His presence” or “when being with Him” we are healed. It is His choosing to come and be with us that is the source of our healing, and He comes not only to sit with us in our grief, but to give us garments with which we can walk together into the courts of the King.

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In The Face of Temptation

It was my first time living for any extended amount of time in Israel when I met a dynamic woman who was introduced to me as a prophetess. She was always ready with a word from God to give to anyone she met- believers and strangers alike. On the outset, she seemed incredible, even larger than life. But as I learned her story, something seemed unsettling.

She was a wife, a mother and a pastor of a large congregation overseas. Each time she came to Israel, she left all that she had behind in order to do what she felt “called to do” for several months at a time. A man whom she nicknamed her Boaz accompanied her everywhere she went.

Eventually, the day came when everything she had crumbled. She made the decision to marry her Boaz leaving dozens of devastated families behind, including her own.

“Take heed that you stand lest you fall.”- 1 Corinthians 10:12

While the story is specific to this woman’s life, the temptation is not. Everyone experiences temptation in one form or another. 

Devastation doesn’t often effect marriages, ministries or our lives in forms of instantaneous natural disasters. It comes through one decision off the path at a time. We all love the grandeous ideas of being favored, exalted, doing GREAT THINGS FOR GOD! But those great things are so often Satan’s trap leading to our fall. Jesus’ greatness came in the form of servant-hood. Our great acts for God, our mighty ministries, our pedestal marriages can all fall hard if we are not careful to watch over them.

Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are. He was offered the kingdoms of the world. He was offered a way out from the suffering of the cross. He was told by His closest friend that God forbid He die for the sins of the people. But in all these temptations for grandeur, pleasure, and ease, He chose the cross. We have the hindsight to see that God exalted Jesus above all because of that decision. But we are faced daily with a choice of which road we are going to take. In the example above, we see a person who made choices that lead to compromising their commitment to their spouse and church.  Obedience to God’s calling doesn’t lead us to a path that is in opposition to His principles. 

When the Lord opens your eyes to a temptation from the enemy through His word, by His Spirit or in some other way, like Jesus did, resist it with the truth and run in the way of righteousness. Even though the right path is not always the easy one, in the end, you will look back and see those past trials and temptations as markers of victory over your enemy. 

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Growing Beyond The Pot

Have you ever grown a plant in a pot? It’s easy, right? As long as you don’t go away from the house for a few days and forget to water it, it grows. It sits in a place where it gets just the right amount of water and sunlight. No harsh weather to harm the newly formed leaves. It’s beautiful to see it grow in that protected environment where it has everything it needs.

There does come a time that the plant is just too big for the pot. It can’t really develop any further under those conditions. It is necessary to take it out of the pot and plant it out where it can grow. When you take it out of the pot, you can see how the tangled mess of roots has grown into a clump, rather than out. Planting the plant out in the open allows the plant to expand its root base out, going deeper in search of the nutrients it needs to flourish. Those expanded roots also create the support base it will need to carry the weight of the growth of the tree developing above ground.

This was similar to my experience when I was first a Christian. I gave my life to the Lord at a young age, and for the first few years I was in an environment that was much like the potted plant. I had my challenges, and I went through a certain amount of growth, but my ‘root system’ wasn’t challenged beyond the protected soil of the pot I was in. One of the handicaps of the pot stage of my growth was that I became arrogant in my walk, not realizing how I was being judgmental about others from the comfort of my own protective state. Little did I know that I was soon to be planted outside my ‘zone’ of protection.

When I left home after high school, I went and worked on an agricultural community in Israel. Form there I went and joined the army, in an infantry unit. This season was about five years where God stripped away all the things that had supported my faith like the pot the plant first grows in. The new challenges I faced, the experiences I was going through didn’t fit any of the nicely formulated theological or doctrinal answers I had. They were harsh, tough and messy. I was in a constant state of being bombarded by an environment I felt ill-equipped to deal with. In my desperation and need, I had to dig, to go deeper, wrestling with God for the blessing of His presence.

This season broke my pot and forced me to expand my root system in search of the resources I needed for survival. I couldn’t rely on the knowledge about God; I had to get to the place where I experienced Him. In this process I found God’s Amazing Grace. In my brokenness He was finally able to reach me. God declared who He is and how He deals with us:

“Now see that I, even I, am He, And there is no God besides Me I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver from My hand.” (Deut 32:39)

Allowing God to break your pot is the only way you can become the fruitful tree you are destined to be. The wounds He wounds us with are those of a faithful friend (Proverbs 27:6), and His purpose is to plant us where we can grow. That is why we are exhorted:

“My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.”

If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons.” (Heb 12:5-8)

This is how God brings us to the place of being like the blessed one who is described in Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper.” (Ps 1:1-3)

But you will have to let your pot be broken.

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God’s Heart for the Lost

“Hurry, hurry, hurry! Let’s be on time today, girls!”, I said as I shoveled my children out the front door. It seems that no matter what time we wake up in the morning, there’s always something that comes up at the last minute. Having females in my house means those “somethings” are usually wardrobe related. Or hair. Someone always forgets to do their hair.

But this time, the hold-up was out of the ordinary. I couldn’t find my keys! I have a designated place where I keep them, and since my purse is not the sterio-typical endless pit where anything could get lost inside, I was perplexed. I quickly scanned every pocket and then every memory of my brain to figure out where they could possibly be. In the short time we had to get out the door, I didn’t manage to find them.

Thankfully, I had a spare set to the doors of the house. So I grabbed those and got the family to where we needed to go. But for the next 24 hours, my mind could not rest. I simply HAD to find those keys! I’ve read countless stories of God speaking to people in thoughts of wisdom as a direct result of prayer. And quite honestly, I have had my fair share of those times as well! So I knew that the all-knowing God could help me if I just quieted myself for a moment and prayed.

“Lord, You know where my keys are and You know how important they are to me. Please speak to my mind direction of where to look for them.”

The very next thought I had was a picture of my jacket. I went searching for it, but couldn’t find that either! Now I was REALLY perplexed. I began calling places I had recently been. I turned over everything I owned looking for it. Finally, I had exhausted every possibility. The next morning,while doing household chores, I asked the Lord again for help. I felt desperate to find what I had lost.

When I got to my kids bedroom, something caught my eye. Jetting out beneath a pile of the kids laundry was what looked like the sleeve of my jacket. I pulled it out and sure enough, it was! I grabbed the pockets of either side and found my missing keys.

In an instant, I went from feeling despondent to exuberant! All I could say, as I got on my knees was, “Thank You, Lord! Thank You, Lord! Thank You!”

Isn’t it just like God to care for things that are lost? Yeshua, God’s Son, gave us many examples of the Father’s heart concerning this matter.

“Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”- Luke 15:8-10. 

The story before this in the same chapter was of a shepherd leaving all to find his one lost sheep. And after these comes a story of a father rejoicing over the return of his prodigal son.

Friends, this is the heart of our God. He is pursuing people with His love so that we might find our home in Him. And He invites you and me to be a part of the search and also the rejoicing!

If you are praying for a loved one to come to know Jesus as their Savior, don’t give up! God is at work through your prayers and desires for all men to be saved. Perhaps you are the one who feels you have lost your way? Friend, it is never too late to run home. The Father is always watching, always waiting for you to return to Him. And friends, if you have never had a heart for people who don’t know the Lord, I encourage you to ask God for His heart of compassion. As much as I felt restless until I had found my keys, how much more does God earnestly desire for the lost of this world to be found, at peace and to rejoice in knowing Him?

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God Will Never Forsake Us in Times of Trouble

I have worked and served at CBN Israel with widows, single mothers and families in economic crisis for many years. Throughout this time, I have come across many difficult stories, but I can honestly say that I have never seen even one of these righteous ones abandoned or forsaken by God in their time of trouble.

I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or His descendants begging for bread.“- Psalm 37:25.

People always feel they are on the edge of their circumstances, but God always has a hope and a future in mind for us.
For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

When I see people willing to change their attitudes and decide to take responsibility for their life, I see the hand of God reaching out to help them.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”- Philippians 4:4-7

When people choose to look beyond their circumstances, at their full life and not just the missing parts of it, they discover that there is always something to be thankful for.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”- 1 Corinthians 10:13

Nowhere is it said that we will not undergo trials and tribulations, but yet, God promises to make a way for those who trust in Him.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, and there be no fruit on the vines, though the yield of the olive should fail and the fields produce no food, though the flock should be cut off from the fold
and there be no cattle in the stalls, yet I will exult in the LordI will rejoice in the God of my salvation.The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like hinds’ feet, and makes me walk on my high places.” –Habakkuk 3:17-19

When everything is difficult and you feel frustrated, the way to fight it is to come closer to God, being thankful and worshiping, and to rejoice in what you do have. Focusing on the negative pulls you down, but a positive attitude and thankfulness builds hope.

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The Monuments of Life

In the book of Joshua there is an emphasis on monuments. The children of Israel have been redeemed from slavery in Egypt and God has been working on them in the wilderness for 40 years under the leadership of Moses. During this time, all the memorials that they have are holidays and feasts that they celebrate, or commandments they do. These are to remind them of God’s work in their lives and their covenant with Him. But because they are wandering in a land that isn’t destined to be where they settle, there are no monuments.

Joshua is different in this sense. There are multiple monuments that Joshua places where God showed his people a significant work. These are ‘memory triggers’ and God wants his people to remember what He did in their lives. The purpose of each monument is that it would be a reminder to them and a way to teach their children about God’s work.

When they cross the Jordan River and God holds back the water, they take stones from the midst of the river and set it up as a memorial. This was a sign of the supernatural way God made for them to enter into the land of their inheritance. The people could have worked out for themselves a way to go across the river, but God wanted them to know that it was He that made the way. So they took 12 large stones from the middle of the river, smooth stones that would have been out of place if you set them up away from the river. These became the monument and they were to be a physical reminder for them to teach their children of how God’s faithfulness made a way for them to inherit the Land.

Monuments of victory are easy to set up and even something we like to maintain. But there were also memorials that reminded the people of their failures. Joshua chapter 7 is the story of Achan and how his sin caused the Children of Israel to lose their battle at the city of Ai. The story ends with a large pile of stones that became Achan’s grave. The valley where this happen was called the valley of “Achor” (Josh.7:26) God knew that the failures were just as important to remember as the victories.

There is a tendency to think that people will value us more if we only talk about the monuments of victory in our lives. But I have found that people value the honest memory of failure and the story of how God used it in my life just as much as the victories, if not more so. By hiding the monuments of our failures we also hide who we really are and cause people to have a distorted picture. I can now thank God who has turned the failures of my life into my most valued defense against pride and self-sufficiency.

The wonderful thing is that later on in the book of Hosea, the prophet talks about God’s promise of restoration to His people and doesn’t mention the monuments of victory, but He takes the people to same valley of failure, the valley of “Achor,” and says:

‘Therefore, behold, I will allure her, Will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; She shall sing there, As in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt. And it shall be, in that day,” Says the Lord, “that you will call Me ‘My Husband,’ And no longer call Me ‘My Master,‘ –Hos 2:14-16.

If you allow God to take a hold of your failures, He will cause them to become the place where you discover that He is “your Husband” and no longer just “your Master.” It is in the valley of ‘Achor’ and the valley of your failure that will become the place where you will discover your intimacy with Him.

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