By Faith…

The 11th chapter of the book of Hebrews is an honor roll of the Patriarchs of Israel. In this chapter Paul lists many of the fathers and mothers of Israel and describes what they were able to accomplish through faith in God and by looking forward to the hope of the Messiah yet to come. As I was turning to another chapter of Hebrews, I noticed an old comment that I had written in the margin of my Bible. It said, “By faith, Susan…” I don’t recall what preacher suggested that the congregation make that notation in their Bibles, but I am certain that he or she was encouraging Christians to read this passage with our hearts and minds open to what God wants to accomplish in us through faith. Seeing the comment prompted me to read Hebrews 11 with a fresh perspective.

The chapter begins with a very familiar verse, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) I have heard and quoted that verse numerous times, yet I rarely give proper consideration to the next verse. Yesterday it was the one that really resonated with me. Hebrews 11:2 says, “For by it [faith] the elders obtained a good testimony.” As a Christian who seeks to honor God with my life, I want to obtain ‘a good testimony.’ So I read through the first half of Hebrews 11 intentionally seeking to identify what faith in God will allow me to do and accomplish. I compiled quite a list in only the first dozen verses of the chapter.

Faith allows us to:
– obtain witness that we are righteous (v. 4)
– continue our witness after we are dead (v. 4)
– please God (v. 5)
– obey God, even when we cannot see His plans (v. 7)
– become an heir of righteousness (v. 7)
– go where God leads, even when we don’t know where He is taking us (v. 8)
– wait and believe for blessings that take a long time to come to pass (v. 9)
– do the seemingly impossible (v. 11)
– give birth to new nations/ideas/companies/ministries even when we believe we are too old/infirmed/lacking/incapable (v. 12)

I want these things to be accomplished in my life. I want to have a good witness that my life has honored God; I want to be an heir to righteousness; I want to obey and please God; I want to go where God leads; I want to wait patiently for blessings God has promised; I want to be part of the seemingly impossible; and I want to see God birth new ideas and ministries through me despite my limitations. These verses tell me that these things will come to pass to those who have faith in God. Thankfully, I have a strong faith, built over decades of serving the Lord and seeing the blessings that come to those who seek to honor God with their lives.

Perhaps you want God to move in your life, but you feel your faith is weak or is lacking altogether. Fortunately, faith is available to everyone. Paul tells us in Romans 10, that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” (v. 17) Our faith is formed as we hear and read God’s Word. It also comes as we share testimonies of the wonderful, and often miraculous, things God is doing in our lives.

If you want to have faith, or to grow your faith, you must spend time in God’s word and you must spend time with Christians whose faith in God is strong. As you spend time reading God’s Word, praying, and hearing testimonies of what God has done for others, your faith will increase. As your faith increases and you seek to honor God, God will empower you to accomplish great and mighty things that would otherwise be impossible and, in doing, so you will obtain a good testimony.

Isn’t is exciting to think about the amazing things God will be able to accomplish through your life as your faith grows and you allow Him to lead you into new and wonderful areas of ministry and service?

Am I the Only One?

A Facebook friend recently started a post with the question, “Why do I feel like the only person left in this country who…?” The rest of the question dealt with an issue of morality and modesty. She sparked a highly opinionated discussion. One side argued the rights of adults to do whatever they want without concern about what others think. The other side argued for the right to be protected from a constant barrage of nudity and immorality in very public places. I whole-heartedly agree with the questioner and her supporters; our country is far too liberal and immoral and it is becoming increasingly difficult to raise children to be modest and moral in our society. However, continuing that Facebook argument is not the point of this post.

I want to address her opening phrase, “Why do I feel like I’m the only one?” It was, of course, a rhetorical question. The writer is fully aware that many others agree with her opinion. She is also fully aware, however, that she is in the minority in our society. Everywhere we look, we can see evidence that our society is increasing moving away from God and towards a more liberal, sinful society. It is easy to blame Hollywood, and certainly much of the blame rest of on the shoulders of Hollywood producers who have ‘pushed the boundaries’ of morality and acceptability since it’s inception. Hollywood claims to reflect society, but many of us recognize that Hollywood is, and has been for decades, a highly influential molder of society’s values. Christians and others who desire a more moral society are losing the battle.

In the Old Testament, we read a statement similar to the question in the Facebook post. Elijah was facing a desperate situation. The Jewish nation had turned its back on God and chosen instead to worship Baal. Elijah alone stood up to the 400 prophets of Baal and defeated them. Afterwards, Queen Jezebel threatened to kill him. Elijah felt like he was fighting the battle alone and ran for his life. God sent an angel to care for him. Later God questioned him about why he ran away. Elijah replied,

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19:10.

God responded that Elijah needed to go back and continue the fight and that God would supply others to help him in the battle. In fact, God told him that there were 7,000 others in Israel who had refused to bow to Baal and were serving the Lord God.

It is easy to get discouraged when everywhere we look we see the decaying of our society. But, like Elijah, we must continue the fight. We must fight for a return to traditional values and standards of behavior that reflect the high value God places on each individual. But that is not enough. We must train our children to love the Lord God with all their hearts and souls and minds. God’s Word must be the foundation on which we base morality and standards of behavior.

Christians are in the minority in American society today. Yet, none of us are alone. There are millions of Christians fighting the battle against the darkness of this world everyday. And the Lord God fights with us, as He fought with the Israelites. Let us be inspired by the words Moses instructed the priests to use to send the Israelites off into battle:

Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.” Deuteronomy 20:3, 4

No, my friend, you are not the only one.

Where He Leads Me

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One of my favorite songs is the hauntingly beautiful Where He Leads Me, by Twila Paris.  The song speaks about discerning God’s still, quiet voice among all the noise of the world and following our Great Shepherd wherever He leads us.  

Lyrics to Where He Leads Me

by Twila Paris

There's a great, broad road, through the meadow,
And many travel there,
But I have a gentle Shepherd,
I would follow anywhere,
Up a narrow path, Through the mountains,
To the valley far below,
To be ever in His presence,
Where He leads me I will go.


And there are many wondrous voices,
Day and night they fill the air,
But there is one so small and quiet,
I would know it anywhere,
In the city or in the wilderness,
There's a ringing crystal clear,
And to be ever close beside Him,
When He calls me I will hear.
Where He leads me, I will follow,
When He calls me I will hear.

There is a great, broad road to nowhere,
And so many travel there,
But I have a gentle Shepherd,
I would follow anywhere,
Though the journey take me far away,
From the place I call my home,
To be ever in His presence,
Where He leads me I will go.

 

Jesus told his disciples, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”  (John 10:27).  Daily I pray that I will hear the Shepherd’s voice leading and guiding me along the path He has laid out for me.  Where He leads me is where I want to go and where I will go.  He will not lead me astray, and His plans for me are wonderful. 

The Great Shepherd has a wonderful plan for you, too.  If you are feeling lost, turn to Him and let Him take control of your life.  If you are confused by all the voices of the world trying to lead you astray, take time each morning to spend time reading God’s word and praying so that you will be able to discern His voice from others.

 

You can listen to “Where He Leads Me” on YouTube at:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjV2Fc15oQ0

Preach the Word

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“Preach the Word:  be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge the duties of your ministry.”  2 Timothy 4: 2 – 5

I read these verses in my devotional time this morning while doing a self-study on patience.  I was struck by how appropriate these verses are for our times.  It seems that almost daily I read about laws being passed or courts rulings being handed down that are opposed to God’s Word. Yet, those making the laws and the rulings claim to be acting for the best interest of our nation and trying to do what is ‘right.’  I believe that most of them do believe they are acting to correct injustice and bring about fairness.  The problem is that they are using human reasoning without basing their decisions on a foundation of truth.  As Paul told Timothy, they have found ‘teachers’ who will tell them what they want to hear, and these teachers provide them with justification for making decisions that are contrary to God’s teachings.

Most of these decisions have to do with morality.  Sexual immorality is not merely tolerated, but celebrated, as the freedom to do as one pleases.  Abortion is hailed as giving women the right to have control over their own bodies.  Divorce allows couples to easily dissolve their unions and go their separate ways in the search happiness.  Proponents of these views include many who claim to be teachers of the gospel.  Rather than teaching, correcting, and rebuking those in their charge, these false teachers have given into liberal viewpoints and and political correctness; they are seeking to build their own kingdoms by telling their congregations “what their itching ears want to hear.”

Paul charged Timothy to preach the truth.  Biblical truths are not meant to ease our conscience and allow us to sin without guilt or remorse.  Instead, they were given to convict us when we go astray and lead us back onto the straight and narrow path that leads to God.  Those called to be ministers and evangelists are charged with correcting, rebuking, instructing, and training their flocks and to do so “with great patience and careful instruction.”

In the previous chapter of this letter, Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3:16-17   If we are to become the people God intends us to be, we need to spend time daily in God’s Word.  We need to read the Bible and allow it’s truths to penetrate our hearts–to rebuke us when we go astray, correct us when we are in error, and instruct us how to live in a manner that pleases God.  And we need ministers who will teach sound doctrine–the truths of God’s Word.  In this way, we will avoid chasing myths and can be equipped to do the good work that God has called each of us to do.

Resilience Despite Mistakes and Adversity

I have just finished chapter 5 of Jodi Detrick’s book The Jesus-Hearted Woman.  The chapter is titled ‘Resilience.’  In it Detrick discusses the need to continue fulfilling the tasks God has called us to even when (1) we make mistakes, (2) others hurt us, or (3) life throws curve balls our way.  Detrick refers to these events as My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad.  Her discussion questions at the end of the chapter focused on Joseph and the resilience he needed in order to become the leader God desired him to be. Unfortunately, Joseph experienced a number of My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad moments along the way.

As a young man, Joseph had a dream that his brothers bowed down to him.  Unfortunately, sharing the first dream was one of Joseph’s ‘My Bad’ moments.  His brothers already were angry with him because he brought a bad report about them to his father, and they were jealous that their father loved Joseph more than his other sons. This dream added fuel to the fire.  Genesis 37:8 tells us, “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”  If this wasn’t enough, Joseph had a second dream in which not only his brothers but also his parents bowed down to him.  And, of course, he shared this dream with his father and brothers–another ‘My Bad’ action. His brothers were angry and wanted revenge on Joseph.

Joseph experienced a ‘Their Bad’ moment when his brothers sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmaelites.  Joseph was bought by Potiphar, a captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s army.  God favored Joseph, and he rose to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s household. Apparently Joseph wasn’t yet ready for the leadership role God had in store for him, as he was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior toward his master’s wife and thrown in prison–another ‘Their Bad’ moment.

We don’t know how long Joseph was imprisoned, but we do know that thirteen years passed between the time his brothers sold him and when Pharaoh released him.  At least several of these years were spent in prison.  It must have been difficult for Joseph to sit in prison year and year waiting for God to deliver him.  I am sure that he recognized that he and his father bore some responsibility for his brothers’ hatred toward him, but he was completely innocent of the charges brought against him by Potiphar’s wife.  It would have been easy for Joseph to become bitter about the circumstances of his life.  He could have convinced himself that God was against him and that his life was over.  But Joseph didn’t get angry and he didn’t give up.  He persevered.  He was resilient despite all the adverse things that had happened to him.

Genesis 39: 21 – 22 tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.”  Joseph’s rise in the prison to a position of leadership did not come overnight.  He had to prove to the keeper that he was reliable and responsible. As he did, his responsibilities increased until Joseph was running the prison.   After some time had passed, the king’s chief butler and chief baker were imprisoned.  Joseph interpreted dreams for each of them which came to pass just as he had foretold. Joseph had shared his plight with the butler and asked the butler to mention his situation to Pharaoh.  How he must have hoped that his release from prison would come soon.  Yet, we read in Genesis 41:1, that another two years passed before the chief butler remembered Joseph.  ‘Too Bad,’ but again Joseph was resilient and persevered.

Eventually, however, Pharaoh had a dream which his wise men could not interpret.  It was then that the butler remembered Joseph.  Joseph interpreted the dreams, being careful to give all the glory to God.  He shared with Pharaoh that God was giving him an opportunity to prepare Egypt for the coming famine.  Pharaoh appointed Joseph to a position of great power, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Joseph was used by God to save Egypt and Joseph’s own family from starvation.

We can only surmise as to why God delayed Joseph’s release from prison.  Certainly, in prison Joseph was developing the leadership skills he would need later as a leader over Egypt.  During those years, Joseph continued to serve the Lord and God’s favor was on him.  As the leader of Egypt, Joseph had grown and changed much from the arrogant teenager his brothers had sold into slavery.  When Joseph appeared before Pharaoh, he was humble and quick to give the glory to God.  God opened Pharaoh’s eyes to see that Joseph was the right person to lead Egypt through the coming famine.

Any one in leadership positions faces My Bad, Their Bad, and Too Bad situations on occasion.  The challenges Joseph faced prepared him for more leadership responsibilities. Like Joseph, we must be resilient and allow the adversities we face to help us develop as leaders.  As we do, we will be able to do more and accomplish more, until we complete the work God has called us to do.

Discerning God’s Will for You

We are two Sundays into the new year, and I have heard two sermons related to accomplishing God’s will for your life.  The first Sunday my brother Andy was the guest preacher at our church.  His sermon focused on not allowing sin to creep into our lives.  He used Samson as an example of someone who allowed the ministry God had given him to be destroyed by sin.  Sin separates us from God and prevents us from hearing from God and accomplishing God’s will for us.

The focus of Pastor Jackson’s sermon this week was that God does have a purpose and plan for each of our lives.  He used Jesus as an example.  Jesus followed the will of His father and perfectly accomplished all that the Father planned for him in only three short years of ministry.

So, it seems more than a coincidence that while organizing our home office that I should come across notes I took 5 years ago on finding God’s will.  God had my attention.  So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to doing the will of God so far this year.

Here are some of the steps I go through to discern God’s will for me.

1) Maintain regular contact with God through prayer, reading the Bible, worship, and listening. I cannot know God’s will for me if I am not spending time with Him each day.  I usually begin my time with the Lord with a few minutes of worship and a quick prayer asking Him to open my heart to what He wants to say to me.  Then I spend some time reading the Word.  Generally some portion of what I read will stand out and I write it in my journal.  I end with prayer, asking that God will guide me through the day and help me to honor Him in all I do.  During the day, I catch myself whispering quick prayers and listening for what God is saying to me.

2) Hold everything up to the light.  When I believe God has spoken to me, I consider if what I believe I heard is in accordance with God’s word.  God will NEVER ask me to do anything that goes against the instructions He has given us in the Bible.

I recall a story on a major evening news show many years ago in which a woman was interviewed for making an ‘unusual’ life change.  The woman claimed God told her to leave her husband and children to become a stripper; she said she was sharing God’s love with those who patronized the night club in which she worked.  WRONG! This woman was clearly acting in opposition to God’s will for her and her family, yet she seemed to firmly believe in what she was doing.  The problem was that she was following an idea that popped into her head, without spending time in prayer and reading God’s word.  If she had communicated with God, He would have revealed to her that her behavior was wrong.

3) Seek input from other Christians. Share what you believe God is saying to you with your close Christians friends and/or your pastor. Ask them to pray with you for you to clearly discern God’s will. Proverbs 15: 22 tells, “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.”  Ideally, you will get godly counsel and your friends will also pray for your success and may even assist you in fulfilling the work you have been called to do.

4) Fast and pray.  When the disciples wanted to hear from God, they typically spent time in prayer and fasting.  An example of this is found in Acts 13:2 -3, “As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.”

5) Ask God to close the doors you are not to go through.  Often we are presented with multiple opportunities which seem to be equally good.  Examples would include being offered jobs by two different companies or being accepted at more than one college.  In these cases, there may not be a wrong choice, but often there is a best choice.  When I was applying to college and when I am looking for a new job, I specifically ask God to let me only get one acceptance or job offer, so it will be absolutely clear where He wants me to be.  In the case of applying for colleges for undergraduate and graduate school, God made it clear to me where I was to go and I only applied to one school each time.  There was some risk to this strategy, as the colleges could have rejected me. But, I was absolutely certain that I had heard from God and was accepted into both schools.  Of course, when I am job hunting, I apply to multiply companies.  God has been faithful to let me be rejected by all by one possible employer.   Knowing God was guiding me, I have been able to go to job interviews with confidence.  God has not let me down.  I have loved each job I have held and knew that God put me there.

God does have a plan for each of us.  As we accomplish tasks and grow in our faith and our dependence on Him, He is able to give us bigger tasks to complete.  I encourage each of you to earnestly seek God’s plan for your life.  His plan will be more amazing and fulfilling that any plan you could device.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

Letting Go of A Dream

Tonight I am contemplating how difficult it is to let go of dreams, even when it is clearly in one’s best interest to do so.  This spirit was brought on by watching You’ve Got Mail.  I love this movie and have watched it many times.  It is a romantic comedy and, as such, it ends on a happy note. Yet, much of the movie deals with the struggle of a young woman to keep afloat the children’s book shop her mother opened 42 years earlier.  Eventually she makes the difficult decision to close the shop. She feels that her mother’s dream has died. She expresses her despair to her Internet pen pal as, “People are always telling you that change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is that something you didn’t want to happen at all… has happened.”

Store closingDifferent life

 

The movie resonates with me because I know the feeling of having to decide to discontinue being in business.  In our case, we sold our business rather than closing it. Several years ago my husband and I opened a restaurant in a small town.  We had high hopes and great expectations that this business would be enjoyable, support our family, and be handed down to our children.  The business was profitable but not exceedingly so.  We worked hard and it consumed most of our family time.  There were days we enjoyed it, but many days it just felt overwhelming.  Over time it became apparent that we were not cut out to be business owners, and  we decided to sell the restaurant.  It was not an easy decision.  On many levels, we felt like failures.  Fortunately, a buyer was found and we walked away with our finances and credit in order and returned to more traditional employment.

I watched You’ve Got Mail many times during the months we agonized over what to do and the ensuing months between putting the restaurant on the market and closing the deal.  We weren’t being forced out of business, yet I empathized with Kathleen Kelly’s struggle and felt her despair.  Ironically, after watching the movie tonight, I got on Facebook and saw that a local business woman has decided to close her business after 10 years.  I am acquainted with this woman and know how hard she has worked to make her business a success.  She is a gifted seamstress and makes unique and interesting handbags.  However, her business was hurt terribly when the economy crashed and, although the economy has recovered somewhat, her business has not.  Many people in our area are concerned about another government shutdown and/or furloughs.  Others have seen their insurance premiums rise as the Affordable Care Act proves to not be the solution to the healthcare crisis.  Many others are simply more cautious with their money, having struggled through significant periods of unemployment.  I am sure that other factors played into her decision to close the business.  My heart aches for her, even as I recognize that this is not the end of the world.  It is, however, the end of this particular dream.

My husband and I have had a good life since selling the restaurant.  I don’t regret the decision at all, yet there is still a twinge of pain in remembering the death of that dream.  Neither do I regret the decision to open the restaurant.  New doors have opened for me because I have had the experience of being a business owner. Today I assist others in evaluating whether business ownership is the right decision for them.  If they decide to move forward, I assist them in writing their business plans, applying for loans, developing marketing strategies, and making other decisions about their businesses.  I have valuable insights to share from my experiences in opening, running, and selling my business.

My friend will move on and find new dreams to follow.  I hope that she will look back on her period of business ownership as a good experience and that she will have learned many valuable lessons that will guide her as she moves forward.  Someone posted on her Facebook page the comment, “When a door closes…a window opens!” That was certainly true in our case.  Closing the door on our dream of restaurant ownership opened other doors and allowed us to choose a path that was better for us.  And I believe it will be true for my friend, as well.

My husband and I are blessed to have built our lives on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ.  We know that God has a plan for our lives and we trust Him to guide our steps.  Some times the path is rocky and filled with trials and disappointments; other times the path is smooth and filled with triumphs and joy. Either way, our hope is in the Lord.  In Jeremiah 29:11, we read, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.'” We don’t know what the coming year holds for us.  We look forward to it in anticipation of new dreams and plans as we strive to follow God’s leading.

Whether you have let go of a dream or are trying to make a new dream come true, please know that God has a plan for you.  He wants to help you make the dreams He has for you come true.  I pray that 2014 will be a year of letting go of old dreams and making new dreams come true.

What dreams is God placing in your heart for the coming year?