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.

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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?

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?

No Whining

When my children were growing up, one of our house rules was “No Whining.”   Usually their inclination to whine was in reaction to being told to do their chores  or to help around the house. I worked diligently to help them realize that (1) whining was not going to change anything–they would still have to do as they were instructed–and (2) the tasks they were whining about generally required less time and energy than they expended in whining.  My sons are grown up and highly responsible men now.  I am proud that they carry out their responsibilities without whining or complaining.

Whining is not restricted to children, however.  Many adults have fallen into the bad habit of whining about the difficulties life throws at them.  Life is never easy, and God never promised that it would be.  Most of the time, life seems pretty good or at least manageable. However, there are times when it seems we can’t get a break.  One crisis follows another with barely enough time to recover in between them.   How we respond during those difficult times determines whether we build character and perseverance or we figuratively ‘throw in the towel’ and give into whining and complaining.

I heard a story yesterday of a woman, Linda, who had been through a very challenging time several years ago.  She had decided to take a risk and start her own business.  A few months later, her husband was severely injured.  The doctors estimated that he would need three months to recover.  His actual recovery took nearly two years. Six months after his injury, their daughter was deployed and left with them her infant daughter.  Linda was now responsible for a helpless baby and her recovering husband, as well as trying to maintain and grow her fledgling business.  It was a challenge that many people would not be able to handle.

Rather than whining or giving up her business, Linda allowed her circumstances to motivate her to take control of her life. She developed her time management skills and created systems that work for her.  Her business is helping people get organized.  She helps people sort through paper, clothing, household items, and other belongings to determine what adds value to their lives and what is cluttering up their lives. Due to the skills she has developed, she was able to expand her business to teach people time management skills in addition to clutter management.  Rather than whining about her circumstance, Linda responded positively and grew as a person and a businesswoman.

I have known Linda for a few years, yet I had not heard this story.  Linda was speaking to a group on time management skills and shared her story only to demonstrate how important these time management skills were during this challenging time in her life.  Her skills are insightful and I plan to share them in another post.    I appreciated that Linda could share her story without trying to elicit sympathy, but rather to encourage each of us in the audience to know we can handle much more than we think we can if we manage our time properly and focus on adding value to our lives.

Philippians 2:14 tells us to “Do everything without complaining or arguing.”  This doesn’t mean that we will always be happy about our circumstances.  Linda certainly was not happy that her husband was hurt or that his recovery period was much longer than the doctors had predicted.  However, she knew that she could not change her circumstances by complaining.  She could have whined to God and to the doctors that these circumstances were too difficult, that she didn’t have time for these challenges with a new business, or that life simply was not fair.  Linda did not choose to whine.  She chose to move forward without whining or complaining.

Life is challenging.  You may be going through a challenging circumstance right now.  If now, you will be soon, I can assure you.  When life gets rocky, remember to keep your eyes firm fixed on God, as He is the only source of help.  Keep doing your best each day with God’s help.  And remember, “No Whining.”

Symphony of Prayer

“Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”   Matthew 18:19-20

When I read this Scripture, I always envision a group of people joining together in prayer. For example, in our church, we often surround a person who has requested prayer and physically reach out and touch them while praying for them.   At other times, we hold hands and pray.  Of course, we can agree in prayer over the phone or even through emails.  Yet, I tend to think of Christians praying together in one place.

Tonight I was introduced to another way of thinking about this verse.   In his book Secrets of a Prayer Warrior,  Derek Prince offers a picture of Christians harmonizing in prayers, much as a symphony harmonizes.  Prince calls this harmonizing “the prayer symphony” and uses it to build a foundation for effective prayer.

According to Prince, the word translated as ‘agree’ comes the Greek word sumphoneo, or symphony.  He also states that ‘gathered together’ literally means ‘have been led together.’  As Christians, we are led by the Holy Spirit.  “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) Therefore, Prince writes, this verse is telling us “that any time two or three have been led together by the Holy Spirit into a meeting place, which is the name of Jesus, then they can count on His presence.  Additionally, if these ones shall symphonize–come together in perfect harmony–concerning anything that they shall ask, then it will be done for them.”

If we think of agreeing and coming together as being led by the Holy Spirit to pray in harmony , we can come together in the spirit of prayer wherever we are and pray as we are all lead by the same Holy Spirit.  Prince likens Christians being led in prayer by the Holy Spirit as a conductor leading an orchestra of musicians through a musical score.  The conductor is the Holy Spirit, the musicians are the Christians being brought together, and the score is the Word of God.  As the read the score, His will is revealed to us so that we know how He would have us pray.

Prince continues, “With these components in place, the Holy Spirit lifts the baton of His authority and unites the playing of many different instruments.”  He then encourages each of us to consider prayer as “taking your place in the orchestra and playing your instrument.  You are not confined to one instrument, of course, although you probably have an affinity for a particular one.  These instruments are praise, thanksgiving, worship, petition, intercession, supplication, command, commitment, dedication, persistence, blessing, and cursing.”

I am excited to continue to read this book and discover more about prayer and the secrets of becoming a true prayer warrior.  As I come to the Lord in prayer, I will be encouraged to think of millions of Christians around the world joining in the Symphony of Prayer and playing their particular instruments as we agree together according to His Word.

A Timely Word


Proverbs 15:23 says, “A person finds joy in giving an apt reply— and how good is a timely word!”  That verse sprung to mind this morning as I spent a few minutes on Facebook yesterday.  I had awaken up feeling a bit overwhelmed and burdened.  The last couple of months have been more stressful than our normal life.  

Some of the stress, such as dealing with the declining health of older loved ones, is a normal part of life.  It’s not pleasant, but it is unavoidable. Other stress is productive, as it pushes us to accomplish tasks that need to be done.  Some other stresses are really external to my life, involving loved ones walking through difficult situations.    Those are not really my burdens to bear.  I can’t affect those situations except through prayer and offering godly wisdom when I am asked.

Even though I knew all that, I awoke feeling the weight of those burdens.  I was feeling a bit ‘woe is me,’ and went so far as to ask the Lord, “Can’t we just have a couple weeks without so much stress?”   That’s what I was feeling when I opened Facebook and the first status update I read was from a dear friend Joe:

So………. to all my friends………… remember and repeat after me,
“THIS!……… is the day that our Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad!”Let no one define you today but you. Think about this, if you were writing the story of your life, why would you give the pen to someone other than yourself?

You are valuable and worth much to your Father in Heaven!. and to me too.

jus sayin’


Wow.  What a timely word.  As if that wasn’t enough to get me back on track, I skimmed down further and read a post from my friend Becky.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” 

Another very timely word. I am so thankful that God knows just what we need to encourage us as we walk through the trials of this life.  Sometimes He speaks to me through His word, and other times He allows someone to speak a timely word to me.

Have you noticed God speaking just the words you need to hear at the time you need to hear them?

Letting Go and Letting God

The phrase “let go and let God” has been popular in Christian circles for many years.  It simply means give your problems, concerns, and worries to God and allow Him to take care of them for you.  It’s a catchy phrase–easy to say and easy to remember.  However, it’s very hard to put into practice.  More times than not, I find myself praying about a situation and then spending many hours or days trying to work out a solution on my own.  A beloved former pastor of mine calls that “picking the problem up again.”

Yesterday I read a great blog post by Pastor Tim Burton entitled “Get Rid of Self-Imposed Limitations.”  (http://readfreshmanna.blogspot.com/    January 7, 2013)  Pastor Tim addressed this very issue and his struggles with “letting go and letting God.”  In this post, Pastor Tim described a situation in which a friend confided to him before the Sunday morning church service that he had been laid off from his job and asked Tim to pray for him to find a new job.  Pastor Tim agreed to pray for his friend and provided him with the name of a contact who might be able to assist him.

Pastor Tim had been supportive and offered his friend useful information.  His sole responsibility at this point was to pray for his friend.  However, as he tried to worship, his mind kept trying to come up with solutions to assist his friend.  I could relate to Pastor Tim’s experience.  Too often, I ask God to handle a problem and then begin working out the ways God could best accomplish the task.

Pastor Tim reported that he had come up with three possible solutions when he felt God reprimand him with these words, “You are trying to solve what belongs to me. Can you see how limited your thinking is? Stop your limited thinking and turn this over to me! There are no limitations for me and you could not figure out how I will be directing his life.”  

To his credit, Pastor Tim immediately stopped interfering and stepped back to allow God to work.   This simple story illustrated to me that when I spend time trying to solve a problem that only God can solve, there are two unintended consequences: (1) I waste my time and (2) I put limits on God.

Isaiah 55:8 says, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord.”  This tells me that God has plans for me, or my friends, that I could never fathom.  If I will get out of the way and allow God to enact His plans, the results will be far better than any I could come up with on my own.

I believe that this illustration will help me to truly be faithful in letting go of the problems I bring to God and allowing God handle them in the way that He knows will be best for me and will bring Him glory.

Do you find yourself asking God to help you and then not allowing Him to work?  If so, I hope that Pastor Tim’s inspired words will bless you and help you to let go and let God.

Lessons Learned from a Former POW

This week I had the opportunity to hear former POW Paul Galanti speak about his experiences during nearly 7 years of confinement in North Vietnam’s Hanoi Hilton.  It’s hard to imagine a tougher situation to find one’s self in, yet Commander Galanti began by saying that there were positive aspects of his confinement.  Although he mentioned some of the extreme hardships, he focused his remarks on those positive experiences. 

The men who were confined together, some for as long as 9 years, formed bonds that are strong nearly 40 years after their release.  They keep in touch and hold periodic reunions.  No one complains if the service isn’t perfect at the reunions–they know what hardship is and it is not having a meal that is less than perfect.

Although Commander Galanti did not reference God or faith in his remarks, it was evident that the men were sustained by faith.  They had faith that they would survive the ordeal.  They had faith that the government and their loved ones were doing all they could do affect their release.  They also had faith in the human will to overcome the darkest of situations.

The most fascinating  part was when he described how strong his memory was during the days of solitary confinement.  All the lessons from his college courses came back to him in minute details.  Later, when he was reunited with a larger group of men, the college-educated among them taught what they had learned to the others.  Upon release, former prisoners were awarded up to 120 credit hours for materials taught to them by their fellow captives.

So, what lessons can we learn from Commander Galanti and his imprisonment.

1)  The mind needs periods of silence. Commander Galanti was able to recall his college lessons clearly only because he was in solitary confinement and spending long periods in silence.   The Bible teaches us  to ” Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10)  We need periods of silence and solitude to reflect on God’s Word and to hear his voice.

2) We can survive whatever life throws our way.  Commander Galanti and the other men in the Hanoi Hilton faced hardships that most of us cannot even fathom.  Yet, they not only survived but they rose above their circumstances.  God promises that He will be with us in all circumstances and “He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.”  (1 Corinthians 10:13)  There must have been many times when the prisoners were tempted to give up, but they remained strong and determined to survive their terrible circumstance.

3) Being connected with others is important.  For the prisoners of war, communication with each other was their life blood, despite the extreme punishment they endured if caught.  Through their clandestine communications they got to know one other and encouraged each other in the darkest times. The Bible teaches Christians that they should “not give up meeting together” but should “encourage one another.”  (Hebrews 10:25)  We need the support and encouragement of our Christian brothers and sisters.

4) It is important to be optimistic and have hope.  The prisoners were confident that their confinement would end one day.  They were sure that the end was in sight and would come within six months or a year.  They continued to be optimistic as the months  stretched to years.  They looked forward to the day they would be released and returned to their families.  God wants us to have hope, too.  He has promised good to us, even though we may be going through a dark period.  Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that God has “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” 

5) Good can come out of terrible circumstances.  The men who were held captive in the Hanoi Hilton could have become bitter and angry about their circumstances.  But they didn’t.  They chose to redeem their time to help one another and to better themselves.  Several of the former prisoners, including Senator John McCain, have served in prominent positions in our government.  The Bible teaches us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Romans 8:28)

We often face difficult circumstances, but most of us will never face the hardships that compare to those of the American servicemen imprisoned in Vietnam.  We should strive to follow their example of rising above our circumstances to look for the good in life and be all that God has intended us to be.

It was an honor and a privilege to hear Commander Gilanti speak.  I was uplifted by his message of optimism.  Nearly 40 years after his release, he continues to spread his message and improve the lives of others through his work.  He serves as an inspiration to all of us.

What hardships are you facing today?  Will you strive to rise above your circumstances and face the world with hope and optimism, striving to be the man or woman God created you to be?  Will you allow God to give you hope for a better future?