Category Archives: Hope For The Faint Of Heart

Dry Bones

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The hand of the Lord came upon me and brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley; and it was full of bones. Then He caused me to pass by them all around, and behold, there were very many in the open valley; and indeed they were very dry. And He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

So I answered, “O Lord God, You know.”

Again He said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! Thus says the Lord God to these bones: “Surely I will cause breath to enter into you, and you shall live. I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the Lord.”’”  Ezekiel 37: 1-6 (NKJV)

Lord God, cause me to come face to face with the God I know and breathe Your life into these dry bones. . .

 

It’s Complicated

Below is an essay from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” When she first sent me the rough draft to look over, I was emotionally moved by what she wrote. Now, I will be the first to admit that I have never read Wendell Berry; had not even heard of him before my daughter told me that he was the focus of that semester’s Honors College at Belhaven University. I know, this admission shows me to be a severely under-educated individual; there is clearly no limit to the number of things I do not know.

My daughter’s life has, like the rest of ours, had its share of “complications.” It has been part of my job as her mother to help her navigate some of the rough rapids on the river of her life. Occasionally, she has been summarily dumped out of the boat and into the water, leaving her hurt and floundering. Each time though, she has climbed back into the boat and kept on paddling.

It has been a privilege to watch my daughter grow in her faith.  She has met the complications in her life by doing what we all should do: turn to the Lord first.  She truly believes that life has a “happy ending,” not because she has a false ”Pollyanna-like” attitude, but because she has chosen to place her faith in the surety of her God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her in His Righteous Right Hand; her goal is Heaven. She has been learning that she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use those events in her life that have left her bruised, for His purposes and the maturing of her faith.  And, while her life has had no shortage of “bumps in the road,” she has learned, as have I, that there is only one place we can go to find help.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” John 6:68 (ESV)

I trust that you will be encouraged by this essay. It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget that God is Sovereign; we begin to fear that we are on a path that has no good end. Just as in the Wendell Berry story referenced below, our Father comes and straightens out the mess we make of our lives and He does so with a deft and gentle Hand. His mercy, His grace, His love are always ready to lift us out of the quagmire, setting our feet on solid ground.

It’s Complicated

This was my first honors essay of the semester. The short story referenced is from Wendell Berry’s That Distant Land, a collection of his short stories.

In his short story, “Don’t Send a Boy to Do a Man’s Work,” Wendell Berry describes the consequences of complications. The main character in the story, a twelve-year-old boy named Athey Keith, has been left in charge of overseeing a hog-killing while his father, Carter Keith, is out-of-town. Carter Keith has laid specific plans and enlisted the help of knowledgeable men to make sure the work gets done efficiently and well. However, several complications arise during the hog-killing, which turn the Keiths’ well-laid plans upside down and cause the story to turn in an unexpected direction. The rest of the story hinges on how Athey and the other men deal with the complications.

Complications are hardly an uncommon event in our day-to-day lives. The dictionary built into my computer defines “complicate” as such: “[to] make (something) more difficult or confusing by causing it to be more complex.” Complications, or problems, as we more often call them, seem to arise with impeccable timing whenever we least desire them. Yet it seems that although complications may be sometimes unwelcome and turn our story in unexpected directions, our stories, once finished, become clearer and more illuminating as we reach the end of the book.

The plot’s driving force in Berry’s short story is the three complications and how Athey and the other men handle them. While Athey would certainly have had a much more productive hog-killing and a less harrowing day without any such complications, such a plot (or lack thereof) would not have made much of a story. Stories are driven by conflict.

When I was part of a fiction-writing group in high school, my teacher (a fiction author) had to remind me over and over again that I needed more conflict in my story. What I was writing would have been nice to live, but it was boring to read. There was no impetus to drive the plot forward. I resented her correction, because I wanted to write stories like I wanted to live, sweet, delightful, and all with happy endings. That’s still how I would like to live my life. But I am old enough now to begin to realize that my life is not going to go in a carefully plotted way to reach its happy ending. It’s going to take its twists and turns, and complications (whether small or large) are going to arise.

If I believe the promises of Scripture, that God works in all things for the good of those that are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28), then I can navigate the bumps in the road with confidence. But questions still remain, and I am sure that I am not the first person to raise questions such as, “Is there any way to avoid complications? If I can, should I? Do all complications arise from sin? Even if they do, can they still turn out all right in the end (and preferably before the end too)?”

Athey could not have avoided the particular problems that came his way, all of which began with other people. He could not foresee them, nor could he escape them. The only thing he could do was be prepared for them, in the sense that he could be ready to deal with any problems that might occur. But when the complications came, he was not ready. The somewhat cocky young boy that he was, his pride and fear caused him to react in a way that allowed the originally small problems to become big ones.

I don’t think there were any complications in the Garden of Eden. Life there must have been like the story I tried to write—boring to read, but wonderful to live. Like in Berry’s story, the first Biblical complication came from another person. The complications Athey had to deal with all began with other people, but his fear caused him to react in a way that exacerbated the problem instead of solving it. Neither did Adam and Eve begin the first complication in this world, but they chose to yield to it instead of standing up and resisting. This first complication resulted in the fall of man from perfection, and now the human story is, well, complicated. At times it’s positively messy.

I don’t think there’s any way to avoid complications altogether. If there were, someone surely would have found a way by now! We can’t force others into our perfectly molded stories for ourselves—they’re going to bring complications, and sometimes we aren’t going to like the results. But neither our stories nor Berry’s story ends with failures to handle problems correctly. Fortunately for young Athey, his father came back—to a mess, it’s true, but he was quite up to handling the challenge and soon put things back to rights.

The human story doesn’t end with failure either. Although Adam and Eve didn’t have the power to put to right the wrong that they had done—that took someone with the proper authority—our Father sent His Son to earth to handle the challenge and put things back to rights. Unlike Carter Keith, He never has to go on a business trip, leaving us in charge. If Keith had been present at the hog-killing, the complications that arose would have been handled differently, and the resulting problems avoided. Likewise, because the Lord is present, we have the ability to handle the complications that come our way correctly. Not that we always will (in fact, many times we won’t), but we can, through His power. What is more, we have the guarantee that our stories will have happy endings. There might be cliffhangers after some chapters, and plot twists, and some pages might have tears on them. But in the end, we will close the book with a sigh of relief and meet our Author, the finisher of our faith.

Author: My Soul Found Rest (Used with permission)

Original Content: Copyright © 2013 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Crossing The River

After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, it came to pass that the LORD spoke to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, saying: “Moses My servant is dead. Now therefore, arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, to the land which I am giving to them—the children of Israel. Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given you, as I said to Moses. From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the River Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, “Pass through the camp and command the people, saying, ‘Prepare provisions for yourselves, for within three days you will cross over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess.’” And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh Joshua spoke, saying, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.’ Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But you shall pass before your brethren armed, all your mighty men of valor, and help them, until the LORD has given your brethren rest, as He gave you, and they also have taken possession of the land which the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it, which Moses the LORD’s servant gave you on this side of the Jordan toward the sunrise.” So they answered Joshua, saying, “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. Just as we heeded Moses in all things, so we will heed you. Only the LORD your God be with you, as He was with Moses. Whoever rebels against your command and does not heed your words, in all that you command him, shall be put to death. Only be strong and of good courage.” Joshua 1 (NKJV)

What fears are keeping us from entering into God’s promises for us?

What areas of disobedience impede our progress towards what God has purposed for our lives?

What faith is required in order for us to walk into what God has ordained?

We make choices every day that determine whether or not we will “take possession of the land” which God has given us.

Each of us must first put our foot into the water in order to cross our “Jordan River.” The rapid water and the rocks can not be allowed to deter us.

No one can do this for us. We will never make it to the other side unless we do.

Joshua had a choice to make: faith, courage, and obedience OR fear, cowardice, and disobedience.

Joshua chose faith, courage, and obedience. As a result, God went before him, making a way where there did not appear to be a way. Joshua submitted to God’s Word and took possession of the land which God had promised a generation before. Were there battles? Absolutely, but God’s mighty hand brought victory for each one until Joshua, Caleb, and the Israelites took possession of the land.

When God makes us a promise, we have a part to play, just as Joshua did. Our faith, obedience, and courage will be required to take possession of it.

What would happen if we took God at His Word?

What would happen if when God spoke to us, we said: “Yes, Sir!”

Would God go before us and bring victory to the battles that we face?

Would we too enter into the “land of milk and honey” which God has planned for us?

Would God’s ultimate purposes then be accomplished in the earth?

Just as it was for Joshua, I believe that choice is also ours.

God’s Hand will fulfill what His Word has ordained.

Copyright © 2012 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Peace, Be Still

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 1:6-9 (NKJV)

I had a rather unusual experience at work towards the end of last week.  In the course of my job, I travel from floor to floor with my computer and all my worldly goods on a cart, much like a “gypsy.”  My challenge is always to find a place to work: a corner, a chair, and a place to plug in.  As I am a visitor to the nursing units that I cover, I have no designated spot where I can audit the medical records I must review each day. Generally, I try to sit in the same place so that, if I am reviewing a chart that is needed by a doctor or another nurse, they know where to find me.

On one my units, the nursing director put a large display in the place where I would normally sit, so I had to go hunting for another place to work–something of a challenge in a place where space is always at a premium.  I found myself sitting at the end of a hallway just opposite the doorway to some stairs; not a bad place to work. It was quiet, out of the way, and yet visible.

As I returned to my newly found “office” after returning a chart that I had just finished, I sat down and became aware that something was different. There was a palpable stillness in my little corner of the world–nowhere else on the unit, just there. As I was puzzling over what I was sensing, recognition began to dawn on me: this was God’s peace so profound that it was physically palpable. I hadn’t been looking for it, I hadn’t been expecting it, and yet there it was: a gift far more precious than I could have imagined.

These past two and a half years have been extremely difficult for our family. Long periods of unemployment for my husband, punctuated by all too short bursts of contract work, have left us financially devastated.  There is no way to describe the terror, humiliation, and shame associated with the harassing letters and phone calls, threats of foreclosure, and the inability to provide for more than our daughter’s basic needs. In addition, we were betrayed by a good friend, who stole a business idea that would have resolved our financial issues.

We are not alone these days. Many others have gone through (or are still going through) what we have. There is an old saying: “If you are going through hell, keep going!” So many times we considered just making it to the end of each day a major victory.

I know the tide has turned and the season has changed for us, even though things may not appear that much different on the surface. I know that we are now standing on the back side of this “wilderness experience.” I can “smell” the change of season in the air, just as I used to be able to tell that Fall was coming as a girl growing up in Wisconsin: there was something detectable in the air, something that told me autumn was on our doorstep.

I know it is the love of God that allowed us to go through the experiences of these past two and a half years. We are not the same people we were then. We are grateful for that.  God allows tests and trials into our lives to grow and prove our faith. Our faith is precious to Him.  As we press into Jesus during those hours in the middle of the night when we can’t sleep, our faith is tried and proven. Our faith becomes an offering of praise to the God who sustains us even during our darkest hours.

At the end of each day, everything is about bringing praise, honor, and glory to Jesus. We need to be grateful for even those small things which God provides for us every day; those things we so often take for granted. We must come to the place where, no matter what is going on around about us, we are able to say like the old hymn: “It is well with my soul.”  It is there that the “peace that passes all understanding” resides. It is there that our faith grows and brings honor to God. It is there that we are sustained and upheld in His righteous right hand.

It Is Well With My Soul

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

But, Lord, ‘tis for Thee, for Thy coming we wait,
The sky, not the grave, is our goal;
Oh trump of the angel! Oh voice of the Lord!

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Hymn by Horatio Spafford; Composed by Phillip Bliss

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 understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-8 (NKJV)

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

The Now And The Not Yet

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”  Isaiah 30:12 (NKJV)

Answer From The Lord

Sometimes I ask the question, “My Lord, is this your will?”
It’s then I hear You answer me, “My precious child… be still.”

Sometimes I feel frustrated, because I think I know what’s best.
It is then I hear You say to me, “My busy child… just rest.”

Sometimes I feel so lonely and think I’d like a mate.
Your still small voice gets oh so clear, “My child, please wait.”

“I know the plans I have for you, the wondrous things you’ll see.
If you can just be patient child, and put your trust in Me.”

“I’ve plans to draw you closer, I’ve plans to help you grow.
There’s much I do you cannot see, and much you do not know.”

“But know this, CHILD…I LOVE YOU. You are precious unto Me.
Before I formed you in the womb, I planned your destiny.”

“I’ve something very special that I hope for you to learn.
The gifts I wish to give to you, are gifts you cannot earn.”

“They come without a price tag, but not without a cost.
At Calvary I gave my Son, so you would not be lost.”

“Rest child, and do not weary of doing what is good.
I promise I’ll come back for you, just like I said I would.”

“Your name is written on My palm, I never could forget.
Therefore, do not be discouraged when my answer is: ‘NOT YET’.”

“Praise the Lord. How good it is to sing praises to our God; how pleasant and fitting to praise Him.”   Psalm 147:1 (NIV)

Author Unknown

Edited by Susan E. Johnson

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Pampered Pets

“Then Joshua said to the children of Israel: “How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the LORD God of your fathers has given you?” Joshua 18:3 (NKJV)

I had an experience a couple of weeks ago at work that left me annoyed. A couple of days ago, I had a repeat of that experience, which left me angry. These experiences consisted of brief conversations with a fellow employee who sought me out to ask me a few questions.

This employee’s opening comment to me (in our first conversation) was, “I understand that you are really religious. I am thinking about checking out a new religion and I wanted to ask you about it.” So, to be perfectly honest, my hackles immediately go up because I detest the phrase “really religious.” She went on to explain that she was brought up in a particular denomination (one which I was familiar with) and wanted to check out this other “religion.” However, she did not know that this “other religion” was also a Christian denomination.  I tried to briefly answer her questions and sent her on her way, leaving me shaking my head at what I had just heard.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago.  She sought me out again to tell me that she hadn’t yet visited this other “religion,” but that she had gone to hear a couple of preachers (who are actually affiliated with this denomination). When I told her that she had already met her goal of checking things out, she was surprised. I knew then what she was looking for. She was looking for a “show.” She was expecting something akin to “rolling in the aisles and foaming at the mouth,” and when she didn’t see what she was expecting, she didn’t know the difference. I found out later that this woman’s primary interest in this denomination had more to do about gaining favor with the man she was currently intimate with, than any real interest in matters of faith.

I realized that she was playing games with Christianity and it made me angry–really angry.

For most of my life I have been willing to “go along to get along.”  Of a socially reticent nature, I have always wanted to “play nice in the sandbox” because I never wanted to “rock the boat.” Conflict and anger were something I studiously avoided. I was too insecure and fearful to do otherwise. I became the ultimate in “stealth Christianity.” I couldn’t bear the thought of a disagreement with anyone about anything. I realize now that I have been afraid of the offense of the Gospel and inadvertently became a spiritual “pampered pet.”

But you see, God has no “pampered pets” in His Kingdom.  God’s prevailing principle is this: “For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:48b)  The multitude of talents and abilities each of us have been given, are for a specific purpose: to advance God’s Kingdom. We didn’t do anything to earn them; we didn’t do anything to deserve them; they were a gift and we have been given the responsiblity to use them wisely on His behalf.

Christians in the rest of the world know far better than we do that God has no “pampered pets.”  In most countries, there is a real price to be paid for faith in Jesus Christ. These Christians are willing to pay the price to hold tight to the great gift of salvation they have been given through Jesus Christ, no matter what it costs them.

The American church, for the most part, seems to have forgotten this. We sit in the ease of our comfortable churches, with our pretty pews, sweet songs and lengthy liturgies, listening to pastors preach soothing sermons. We come out of our Sunday services feeling good about ourselves, but no one can tell we are much different for the experience. If the sermon being preached on any given Sunday doesn’t make us squirm a bit and cause us to change, it hasn’t done its job. We should be called to repentance; we should be called to prayer; we should be called to action when the Word is preached. Our pastor’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Most of us are far too comfortable and satisfied in our Christian lives; we aren’t being “afflicted” nearly enough. What would happen if we actually met the power of the Living Word on any given Sunday morning? Would we ever be the same? Could those around us ever be the same?

Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them.  Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. But whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.” Exodus 34: 29-35 (NKJV)

There was no doubt in any of the Israelite’s minds that Moses had spent time with God. It was visible. In fact, when the Israelites saw the power of God manifested on Moses’ face, they were afraid. When was the last time we came out of church and people saw that much of the power of God on us?

God has given each of us specific talents and abilities and He has put us in a place of influence in which to apply them. It doesn’t matter whether God has given us great intellect or He has given us simple talents. Our work, whatever it might be, is part of our act of worship. Our work is also the act of taking dominion in this world that God has entrusted to us (just as Adam was commanded to do in Genesis 1:28).  Work is not a curse. Adam had a “job” before the fall of man and sin entered into the world. The work of our hands should flow out of our love, gratitude, and obedience to the God Who gives us breath. And as we do His work at His command, God’s presence will be manifested to others through us.

I believe that it is time for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work in changing the world around us with the Good News of the Gospel, instead of sitting around waiting for the “rapture” to yank us out of this mess. Over the last couple of weeks, I have heard phrases of an old song by Steve Green rolling around in my heart.

Do you think God is trying to tell me something?

The River

There’s a river ever flowing, wid’ning, never slowing and all who wade out in are swept away. When it ends, where it’s going, like the wind, no way of knowing until we answer the call to risk it all and enter in.

The river calls, we can’t deny. A step of faith is our reply. We feel the Spirit draw us in. The water’s swift. We’re forced to swim. We’re out of control and we go where He flows.

There’s a river, ever flowing, wid’ning, never slowing, and all who wade out in are swept away. When it ends, where it’s going, like the wind, no way of knowing, until we answer the call to risk it all and enter in.

Danger awaits at ev’ry turn. We choose a course, we live and learn. As we surrender to His will, we’re at peace but we’re seldom still. He is in control and we go where He flows.

There’s a river ever flowing, wid’ning, never slowing and all who wade out in are swept away. When it ends, where it’s going, like the wind, no way of knowing until we answer the call to risk it all and enter in.

Words and music by Jon Mohr and Randall Dennis
Copyright 1998 Sony/ATV Songs LLC, Randy Cox Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Tunes LLC and Molto Bravo! Music, Inc. All rights admin by Sony/ATV Music Publishing, 8 Music Square West, Nashville, TN 37203.

Copyright © 2011 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved