Hold On To Faith

“When everything is gone and all you have left is faith, hold on to faith” I wish I had said this, but no, it is actually is a line from a television series I am currently watching. Let me put it into context for you; one man presumably the son- although it hasn’t been revealed as such yet- is complaining to the older man (his father) that he has lost everything that mattered to him. To which the father replies he too has in the past lost everything that mattered to him, BUT. And this is where the line comes in, he learned that he did still have faith, and that is what sustained him while he was held prisoner for several years. he bent down to his son and encouraged him by telling him to hold on to faith.

So, maybe you think that’s just for cinematic effect, that’s not real life. But, let me assure you it is every bit real life. Recently, I heard about a family who’s son was involved in a car accident. The accident did not take his life, but has left him paralyzed. They are now preparing for his return home, but realizing their home needs quite a bit of modification before he can return such as a wheelchair ramp and the widening of doors. Although this family is no doubt thankful for the sparing of their son’s life, there is still loss and grief they must go through. Loss because their lives will not be as they had thought. They might have to give up on dreams they had for their son, or perhaps their own in order to provide care for him.

There are many kinds of losses in this life and not all involve the death of someone, although that is definitely a more difficult one to process and grieve. But, there are losses when we change jobs, move, watch our kids grow up and leave home. Friends change, relationships end, dreams die. These are all losses and at times they can feel as if we have lost everything.

Have you had losses like this? I would be more surprised if you haven’t. That is what this blog is about for me, changing times in life and how to handle them by living a life of faith. I really wish I could say I have all the answers to how to deal with losses, but I am still in this processing stage myself. That is why lines like the one I shared from the television series can stand out to me and be a helpful reminder to “Hold on to faith”

The Bible as well gives encouragement to our holding on to faith when all else seems to have left. Faith in God sustains us, builds us up, and keeps us going when we just want to give up. Maybe you have heard of this passage from Jeremiah 29:11; “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” Wow, so good, maybe you’ve even memorized this verse, own it on a plaque on your wall, or used for your graduation verse for high school. Well, do you want the good news or the bad news? At least this seems to be what God does with this passage in Jeremiah.

See, before you get too comfortable with this much quoted verse, maybe we should unpack the context of it and take a closer look at it, so we won’t misapply it. Jeremiah was a prophet and it was his job to tell those in charge what God was about to do. So we find this verse is a part of a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the elders and priests who had been captured and taken away to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. So, you might say of the people he was writing to, they had lost everything. They had been kidnapped and sent to another country. Yeah that’s the bad news, but wait there’s more! In verse 28 God tells them they will be there for 70 years, and THEN when the seventy years it up, He will come get them. So, like I said there’s the good news and the bad news. The bad news; “You’ll be exiled for 70 years, but the good news, it’s all going to work out and I’m going to rescue you because I have a plan” So, while this verse is a good one to memorize, remember it’s original context next time. It was encouragement to sustain the people.  Just think about it, seventy years is a long time. Most of us would rather not have the seventy year wait. I know I wouldn’t. I would prefer only the good news, not the bad. We believe God has a plan, but we don’t anticipate the losses in life, the hardships in life, the waiting in life. So, when we find ourselves in those times, when it feels like we have lost everything, yet, we have faith. Faith sustains us, it is our hope and our anchor. Sometimes it is all we have and we have to cling to it for dear life, like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver thrown out to him. When all you have left is faith, hold on to faith. -God bless– Nancy

The Truth About Gratitude

The rain has been falling steadily this morning, so I have been taking my time to get ready for the day. Rainy days make me want to stay inside and enjoy a second cup of coffee in the morning. Growing up on a farm, I know the importance these Spring rains are for the crops. The rain loosens the soil and softens it, enabling the plow to carefully til the soil for the seeds to be planted. So, sometimes the rainy mornings are good for the soil of our own hearts as we can be willing to slow down and take our time before heading out for our day.

This morning was like that as I was watching a streaming program as I slowly enjoyed my second cup of coffee. The program I was watching provides a Bible teaching that has practical application for the everyday life. But, for this morning the programing was about the previous year’s(2018) outreaches that this ministry had been involved in. I have to admit that watching the recap of the natural disasters from last year, made me realize how soon I had forgotten about these. There seems to be so many of them so often, that I have become complacent about them.

But the real message I began to think about as I watched was how much outreach had been provided. Thousand of gallons of water, food and supplies were given. Hundreds of people were helping to load cars with these supplies after having unloaded large semi trucks of donated goods. Groups were carrying buckets full of supplies on foot to homes that could not be reached by car. Volunteers were sifting through the rubble of burned out homes to find valuables for the home owners who had lost everything to wildfires. Many of these teams spent time praying with the homeowners to encourage them and offer hope. So many people were helping in the video, it began to spring up a bit of guilt in me. I wished I had helped out too.

But, what also struck me as I watched was how this particular ministry is criticized because it is run by a woman. In the past I have heard many criticisms from fellow Christians such as she has had plastic surgery, owns a mansion and has a private jet. Or that she teaches prosperity. But the truth is there in what she does as a fellow Christian reaching out to those who are in need. No, this isn’t a plug for her either, but just a realization, that should we should all be challenged to do something for others. We might not have the financial means to give a thousand dollars to over seven hundred and fifty families who lost their homes to fire, but we can do something. It starts with a grateful heart.

But honestly, it’s not about being thankful for what we have, or that its not us that is being affected by a disaster. That’s really not the motivation that I am talking about. It’s the motivation that we should have towards what God has done in our lives. The gratitude that comes from realizing what Christ did on the cross for us, to save us from ourselves. To save us from being separated from Him forever, the thing we deserved, but He took instead in our place, defeating death, once for all. That’s the kind of gratitude we need to have. That is the motivation we need to help others.

Colossians 3:15-17 offers a look into what this attitude should be like; “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts toward God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (NIV).

It’s a long passage, but it offers us an idea of how we should be doing life. If we find ourselves faltering in being grateful and thankful, which according to the passage should be our attitude in what we say or do, it offers the direction to stay in the Word, letting it dwell in you. In other words, reading your Bible, keeps you grateful. Probably because you can be reminded just what you have to be grateful for. It has challenged me today to check my attitude. Have I been grateful lately? Not just thankful. Not just counting my blessings. Not just thankful for what I have. Gratitude isn’t about being thankful for the what in our lives, but the who, Christ, and what He did on the cross. Maybe this upcoming Easter season, we shouldn’t be celebrating new beginnings, but thanksgiving and gratitude, letting God’s Word soften the hardness of our complacent hearts, much like the Spring rains softens the soil, making it ready for planting. -God Bless -Nancy

a.) or b.)

When I first began college I was 48. By some, still young and by others too old to start my education. I did all of my classes online and despite new technology, I found that the tests were the same as when I was in High School, some decades ago. Online tests were either made up of multiple choice or true/ false. I’ve got to be honest; I like multiple choice. With a choice of four to five correct answers, the odds of being right are better than with true/false that only gives you a fifty percent chance of being right. Or being wrong. Multiple choice gives you the opportunity to eliminate the answers that are clearly wrong, or if you’re guessing, the most wrong possible answers. Yes, I admit, I did a lot of guessing.

I finished my undergrad degree in a little over five years and for me, I think that’s pretty good, since I attended part- time. Now I am in the early stages of graduate school/ seminary and I am once again facing the dreaded multiple choices.

But, I don’t mean the tests. I find myself, trying to decide what my next steps are. Do I stick with my degree plan, change degrees, stop school, stay in school, find a job, find a job in my undergrad field, write, or just go on vacation, and not have to decide? Whew!. See there’s the problem. I have made everything more complicated than it has to be.

Thankfully, I was able to be encouraged this week by another believer. If you’ve read my post last week, I shared how we need to inspire and encourage each other as believers. I was challenged by her to choose to believe. That might sound an oversimplification, but its the truth. We all need to CHOOSE to believe and not let our own fears, doubts and worries drive us to confusion and anxiety. Such confusion, worry, anxiety, doubt and fear never comes from God, but from our own thoughts fueled by the enemy.

How should we choose to believe then? In the simplest answer: by changing our thoughts. In Romans 12:2 there is the perfect instruction; “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God”. The best place to start this renewal is found in reading the Bible. From it, we can learn what pleases God and what He thinks about us and how He wants to help us. I am reminded that I need to choose to believe that God has a good plan for my life. I do not have to fear that somehow I might make a wrong choice and miss God’s will for my life. The world teaches us to be anxious about everything; to worry over money, careers, health, aging, status, but the Bible teaches us to trust God. I’ve realized my stress is coming from a place of fear, not faith. Of anxiety over making the wrong choice. You might be facing a similar situation, it seems like there are always multiple choices in life. So, here’s a easy way to remember what to do when you are overwhelmed; you can choose a.) Anxiety or b.) Believe. I’m going to choose b.) it’s the best answer. -God Bless- Nancy

 

Inspire

What inspires you? Or maybe I should say who inspires you? If you’ve been a Christian for some time you might answer this question with “The Bible of course!” But aside from a typical Sunday school answer, let’s consider other ways we can be inspired: from each other.

Recently I visited my sister in law in her new home. As she showed my husband and I around the house, she pointed out all the improvements she had done. She had painted the walls, added tiles to her bathroom and kitchen and decorated each room carefully. She and my brother in law had recently moved in and she was taking the time she had while looking for a new job to decorate her home.  After seeing their home, I left inspired. I began to think of what changes I could make in my own home. My husband and I moved into our current home about eight months ago and we really haven’t done much to change what was already in the house. In our last home, we did many projects and updates in anticipation of downsizing and selling it. So, we were tired of doing projects and updates and our new home looks much the same as when we moved in.

Sometimes it takes a visit to a friend’s house to get inspired for change. Or, to a local home improvement store to get inspired for changes in our homes, but what inspires your faith? Do you ever find yourself just going through the motions in your faith life? It’s just the same old thing? Well, aside from reading the Bible which IS a great place to start to read about others who have gone before us and learn and be inspired from them; we can find faith inspiration from one another. An example of this is found in Hebrews.

The Book of Hebrews was written for a group of believers who needed inspiration. They had been recent converts from Judaism and needed to understand that their new beliefs were on track and that they could continue on hoping in Christ, even if their circumstances seemed difficult. The author of Hebrews writes; “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another- and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25, NIV). It wasn’t just the author of Hebrews job to inspire and encourage, but he was asking the Hebrews to encourage each other. To spur each other, to inspire each other if you will.

So, maybe we should ask ourselves, “How are we inspiring others?”  instead of asking ourselves why we are bored in our faith. Sometimes we need to take the focus off ourselves and how we are feeling and examine how we are influencing and inspiring others. My sister in law might not have realized how she was inspiring me, but she did. As Christians, we need each other to grow and be encouraged in our faith. Be sure to share your ideas, your stories, and your own inspiration with others. You never know just how they might have needed to be encouraged today. God Bless- Nancy

Setbacks

Some of the best ideas I get when deciding what to write in this blog come from my family. Just last night my Husband made a very good observation; we have a bike seat but no bike and pillows but no bed. Let me explain what he meant. See a couple weeks ago I ordered an exercise bike. Nothing fancy, just something to help my husband get back in shape. Oh, and me too! After reading all the reviews online I decided that we also needed a gel seat thingy to go on the bike. Well, the gel seat arrived, but the bike never did. They lost it. Just how do you lose a 76 pound box with two day shipping is beyond me. Oh well, so we have a seat and no bike.

Later that same week we ordered a new mattress and yesterday the delivery company called and said they have the pillows, but the mattress wasn’t loaded on the truck. So…. I will have pillows but no bed. The mattress will be delivered sometime later in the week, but until then its just the pillows.. And the bike seat.   Have you ever had something like this happen? We make our plans and purchase our items, but then there is a setback. A wait. How do you handle the wait?

I have had many setbacks over my years on this planet. Some turned out to be really good, like issues with infertility. We now have three grown children, but I recall the times when everyone I know was getting pregnant. It was tough. To wait. The biggest thing I have learned is that no matter how upset or angry I might get when things do not turn out the way I want when I want them to is it doesn’t change a thing.

I have also learned that people can make mistakes with orders and getting upset and angry at the other person, whether it is a store or a delivery company, doesn’t do much good. For one thing, it doesn’t make a lost bike reappear, or a mattress suddenly load itself on a truck. It doesn’t change my mood either. But, showing grace towards others can. We all can make mistakes, so wouldn’t it be nice if someone would extend some grace towards us when we mess up? And how we handle the wait when we have a setback is what God is trying to help us with. To grow us up, so we won’t get upset over the little things in life. He is helping us to learn to trust Him.

If you have felt like learning to wait and trusting God is difficult, you’re not alone. King David wrote about trusting God in the Psalms. It is a good book of the Bible to read when you’re struggling. It has helped me. In Psalm 20:7 David writes, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of our Lord our God” (NIV). Sounds good huh? But then keep reading to chapter 22 when David cries out to God and exclaims “Oh my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer” (vs. 2, NIV). So, what’s up with that? Well, what you’ll find is David’s heartfelt conversation with God in prayer and praise. He complains at times out of his desperation, but then remembers how God has been there for him in the past and ends up praising God for His goodness.

See, sometimes we want to believe all those people in the Bible were so perfect and so spiritual without major problems or setbacks, but in reality they are like us. Or we are like them, if you will. As you read the Bible you will discover that the people God worked through were not the mighty spiritual giants, but just people like us. The ones that make mistakes and the ones who have setbacks. The ones without bikes for our seats or beds for our pillows. The ones who have to learn to trust Him and not ourselves. God Bless -Nancy

Easy Faith?

There was something about Mary. No, she wasn’t in a movie by that title. She wasn’t famous or rich. She didn’t drive a nice car or even wear nice clothes. But, she always looked nice and showed up to her work on time. I remember she would wear a zip front polyester blouse with a floral design. Her pants, also of polyester, would be of whatever color matched the flowers in her blouse. She drove an old car and made sure we always had the most delicious molasses oatmeal cookies after school. No, Mary wasn’t my Mom, but an older lady who took care of my brothers and I while my Mom worked alongside my Dad on our farm. She picked us up from school, helped my Mom make meals, and took care of everything my Mom couldn’t while she was driving trucks or tractors with my Dad.

So, what was it about Mary? She suffered from severe asthma. She often would have to sit down in the middle of work and grab her inhaler and catch her breath. Even when she felt her worse, she would still take the time to walk to the barn to find my Dad to relay a telephone message. (there weren’t cell phones back then!) I used to feel bad for her when my two older brothers would dial the home phone from an upstairs line and she would run to pick it up downstairs, only to find they had hung up when she answered. This usually sparked an asthma attack. Yet, she kept loving on us as young children. Why? It wasn’t because she had an easy life. She had lost her husband to death by alcohol, had no children of her own, lived alone, and had asthma. Mary had faith.

Faith was what kept her going and kept her attitude in check. I didn’t become a Christian until I was 13 so I didn’t understand anything about faith or God when I was young. But, as a young child I saw it in her. I saw her attitude of selflessness,of loving, forgiving and serving others even when it was difficult for her, even painful for her. She attended Mass at her church faithfully and she gave of her small earnings. I witnessed faith in action in her life.

What is faith to you? Is it the definition found in Hebrews 11:1? “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (NIV). Or does it describe your particular religion or denomination? Is it found in weekly church attendance, or does it describe your belief IN a God? If you read all of Hebrews 11, you’ll find quite a list of people who had faith. It’s often called the “Hall of Faith”, but few ever bother to read all of the chapter down to verses 35b- 40, that begins “There were others” This a contrasting statement and  an introduction to look at the others, the ones who didn’t have everything work out perfectly with faith. The ones who were tortured, chained, killed. poor. Yeah those ones. So, why would the writer of the Book of Hebrews put that there at the end of the wonderful story of faith that recalls all the good things that happened to those who had faith? Because that is the real side of faith. Faith isn’t believing in it is believing. Romans 4:3 says “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness”(NIV). Abraham didn’t just believe in a God, but he believed God. That is he believed what God said, even when things looked difficult or impossible. That isn’t easy. It’s not easy faith. It is hard faith.

My youngest, Chris, who is a sophomore in college and an aspiring filmmaker, has taught me quite a bit about film making. I credit him for telling me about the hard faith film genre. Maybe you havn’t heard about it either, but it is starting to get recognition in Hollywood with films like “Generational Sins” by Third Brother Films. I haven’t seen it yet, so this isn’t an endorsement, but just to let you know that hard faith is a thing. It does not wrap up the Christian life in an easy package.  It depicts reality, not just what we want reality to be. It is not wishful thinking.  It is the difficult faith like the faith of those in Hebrews- the “other” ones at the end of the chapter. It is the hard faith of real life. it is life in all its ugliness, imperfectness and unanswered questions. It is the faith found in a woman named Mary, who demonstrated it in front of a family who at the time didn’t have a faith in God. She never got healed of her asthma, never got rich, and eventually grew old and passed away. But, she like the “others” of Hebrews now have something better. And though she didn’t receive greatness here, she made a big impact on a young girl, who would later write about her. That is real faith, not that you believe in God and what He can or could do in your life, but that you believe God. Trust Him, that He’s got this, even when life is hard and difficult. When people aren’t healed and storms cut lives short. Faith is what can keep our attitudes in check and is what others can see demonstrated in us and through us as Christians. Don’t show just an easy faith, show them what faith is like when things aren’t going your way. When you find yourself as one of the “others” of Hebrews 11. That’s my challenge for you for this week. -God Bless -Nancy

Adequate

So allergy season has begun in the southeastern part of the United States where I live. How do I know? I am feeling the physical effects of the yellow pollen covering the ground. Just like the foggy layer on my car’s windshield, my head seems to be in a fog as well. My throat scratches, my eye blurs, my nose stuffs, and my head hurts. Yay for Spring! Actually, I really love Spring; it is my favorite season. Everything feels fresh and new and I enjoy planting flowers and planning for the summer ahead. I remember my Mom used to plant a large vegetable garden and in early Spring she would draw a map of her proposed garden, designing each row according to the size and shape of the plants she would have. I like to do the same, so I guess in that way I take after her.

Yesterday I was standing in my driveway, when I noticed all the weeds that had popped up in the small flower bed alongside. I was already feeling bad, but thought to myself, “Maybe I can build up immunity to allergies if I just expose myself to them more.” So I decided to spend the afternoon weeding out said flowerbed, despite my headache, stuffy nose and scratchy throat. It was great until after dinner, when I felt worse. So much for the immunity theory. I can tell you it doesn’t work. So around 7:30 p.m. I faced a dilemma: go out for a walk as I usually do in the evening, pushing through my allergies, or just put on my jammies and go to bed early. What would you do? Are you someone who pushes through no matter what, or do you realize you have to stop and rest sometimes?

I’m sure you’ve seen so many commercials that advocate just pushing through everything. No pain no gain, just do it, winners never quit, let nothing hold you back, pain is fear leaving, etc. Yeah, those are great and there is a time to push past the pain and struggle. There is even the Christian motto; I can do all things. Which is so often used for exercise and sports themes, we begin to think we really can do everything, and that we MUST do everything. But, what some people don’t realize is that the Apostle Paul wasn’t talking about sports at all in this passage. He was talking about contentedness, and about Christ’s strength, not his own. In fact, he was actually talking about money.

If you’re not familiar with the passage, here it is from Philippians 4:13; “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (NIV). Some Bible versions, such as the English Standard Version, ESV, substitutes the “this” with “things”. But what is the “this”  Paul is referring to? Well, it’s not about lifting weights, running marathons, or going for walks. In verses 10 through 12 he explains he had learned to be content whether he has money or is poor, and whether he has eaten or is hungry. See, when Paul wrote this letter to a church in the city of Philippi, he was in jail and he was thanking the church for sending him money and encouragement. And he was reminding them he could only do this (be content) with Christ’s strength, not his own. He had learned that only through Christ’s strength, could he trust in God’s provision.

By the world’s standards Paul would have seemed like a failure, like he didn’t measure up. He had planted many churches, yet here he was in jail and was talking about not having money and even of being without food. We can assume there may have been times when he didn’t have a place to live. He did freelance work as a tentmaker. So, in the passage he is admitting, he had at times been inadequate and lacked money and food. He also mentions he had learned to be content (verse 12). It must have been a process to go through these times of supply and lack so that he realized he could only be content if he relied on Christ. It wasn’t about self-motivation at all.  You have to wonder if Paul would have “learned” to be content, had he not had shortcomings in his finances. It’s easier to trust God when everything is going our way. So, this brings me back to my dilemma.

I’m sure you have times when you realized, you didn’t measure up. You felt inadequate. When everyone around you is doing great and everything’s going their way. And here you are, not quite up to the standards, struggling. Maybe even like Paul, you’re struggling with finances or even health problems. You reflect on the times you had plenty and the times you had food or felt great. And that is the secret to finding contentedness, remembering those good times. In fact Paul uses the word “secret” in verse 12; “I have learned the secret of being content”. It is not pushing through, but realizing God’s provision. It is not about doing everything with an attitude I am going to do this because I can if I just try hard enough. It is about recognizing how to be content when you can’t do everything. The secret is relying on Christ for strength to find peace and contentedness despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. And sometimes it is about just putting on your jammies instead of going for a walk. Allergy season will pass. God Bless- Nancy