Tag Archives: Faith

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. . .

 

Complications

Fear Has Big Eyes--Wikipedia

Recently I received  notification congratulating me for six years with WordPress. It’s difficult to believe it has been that long since I timidly began this little adventure. And while the posts have been a bit sparse lately due to some major life changes, thoughts of this blog are rarely far away.

Several days ago, I was checking my “stats” and noticed the following post had received some attention. I went back to re-read it and realized how much I needed to hear my daughter’s wisdom that day, my life having acquired a few of those “complications.”

It is my hope that you too will find encouragement as you read, and be reminded as I was, that God really does have all things under His control. No matter what the mess, He is well able to see us through.

Don’t Send a Boy To Do A Man’s Work

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 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 this 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 God and His Word to her. She knows that no matter what this life brings, her Father continues to uphold her; her goal is Heaven. She has learned she doesn’t have to fear the future, she can trust God to use the events in her life which 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 her father and I have, 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)

It is easy to get bogged down in the trials and tribulations of our lives. We lose our focus; we forget God is Sovereign; we begin to fear 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 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 © 2016 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Pathway To Belief

Spurgeon- That Is Faith

 

For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the Lord.  1 Samuel 1:27-28a (NKJV)

My daughter has given me many reasons to be proud over her almost twenty-five years of life. This post from her blog, “My Soul Found Rest,” is one of them–an example of her courage and character.

I asked her if the timing of this “faith reconstruction” coincided with the death of her father a little over two years ago. That type of life event often triggers a “crisis of faith.”  She states it actually began a month earlier with the start of  graduate school and an introduction to new perspectives on long-held beliefs.

I have learned over and over God is never threatened by our questions, our doubts, or our fragile faith. He patiently hangs on to us even when our grasp on Him weakens.

I trust Hannah’s journey will bring encouragement as you trod your own pathway to belief.

My Soul Isn’t Finding Rest

What do you do when your soul doesn’t find rest? What do you do when you’re so deep in reconstructing your faith you feel you have nothing to stand on? Two years ago, I started a process of deconstructing and reconstructing my faith. Oh, it started slowly at first, but those things snowball on you. First it starts with one belief, and then you realize that if that belief is up for grabs, maybe the rest are too, and so it begins. Combine that with a growing appreciation for mistakes and flaws in humanity, and you soon have a recipe for unbelief. It looks like this:

Take one tablespoon of “hm, this seems odd,” and mix it with a cup of “that doesn’t make sense” and you get a recipe for “what the &%$* do I believe, and why would I believe something that sounds so incredible again?”

I mean, let’s put this bluntly. We believe that a being that we can’t see, can’t touch, can’t hear, and won’t be able to see, touch, or hear for as long as live, somehow created the universe, plus us. All this was fine and dandy until we screwed up, cue every horror ever perpetrated in history, which is only our fault, not the being’s. Said being only talks to certain people at certain times in certain ways, and then we get to the central part of the story, where said being hops down to earth, becomes human, dies, rises from the dead (!) and disappears, leaving a couple hundred people to put together a religion and travel all over the world with it.

It sounds like a highly convenient fairy tale, which is great when you have the little-kid gloss over your eyes. But what happens when you get to be an adult and the response changes from “Wow, that’s so cool! How’d he do that?” to “What the #$*!”

That’s when you get to the frantic slipping foundation stage of it all. Apparently, after doing some reading, this deconstruction thing is actually a thing, by which I mean to say that it’s considered a legitimate stage of faith over a lifetime. Roughly, you have the little-kid stage of total acceptance, then the mid-stage of blind acceptance, then the next mid-stage of @#$&, then the last state of total acceptance. I’m paraphrasing and condensing, but that’s basically it. The problem is that the church glorifies stages one, two, and four, without accepting (although this is changing) that there’s a stage three in there, and that stage four can’t be reached without going through stage three. The usual timeframe for stage three is early adulthood, so it’s not like I’m going through something weird or unusual. In fact, it’s a good thing… it just doesn’t feel like it in the moment.

However much of a good thing it might be, I’m still stuck here, now, fighting it out. Which brings me to my original questions—what do you grab onto when you feel there’s nothing left? Whatever is graspable is different for everyone; for me it’s the fact that the world is just too perfect and too beautiful for chance, and that I’ve been friends with the Lord for so long I can’t imagine leaving my best friend. Some days that really feels like all I can grab, and that’s okay. I staked my path to His years ago, and He’s gently reminded me He’s staked His to mine too. That’s why He said He wouldn’t leave us alone, that He would come to us, because this walk is much too difficult to do without help.

I confess I debated writing this for a number of reasons; one, doubt is still considered weakness in the church instead of a pathway to belief, and two, it’s just my own journey, and to blog about it seems pretty self-centered. But I chose to write it because it’s those voices online who have been my solid foundation recently, the ones who write of the same doubt process, the ones who aren’t afraid to say that faith is hard work but they’re slogging it out. It’s rough not being at rest, but Proverbs says that the first side of the story always seems right, until the second comes along and questions it. Truth can survive any amount of questioning, and so I hang onto the fact that despite all my fears and questions and doubt, and yes, unbelief, that the truth will out. Like murder, the truth will out, and this isn’t forever—rest will come again.

My Soul Found Rest
Used with permission

Original Content:
Copyright © 2015 by Susan E. Johnson
All rights reserved

Messy Places Require Tidying

The Basement--Photobucket

“Messy places require tidying and permanent cleanness requires God.”

We all have “messy places.” God has been busy lately showing me where all of mine are. One of God’s great desires is to get into the deepest recesses of my heart, dispelling the darkness that resides there. And when He sweeps those nasty, dank places clean with the power of the Holy Spirit, I am clean indeed.

The following is from my daughter’s blog, “My Soul Found Rest.” I am so grateful for all that God has been doing in her life and for her willingness to let Him do it.

The Hidden Place

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I brushed away the cobwebs from the doorway and peered into the gloom. A chill breeze brushed past me, and I shivered. The thought of venturing into such a forbidding place was unthinkable. I stood in the doorway, teetering with indecision.

Musty rooms, cobwebs, chill breezes: such are the components of a bad horror story. But this is no horror story; it is a vivid picture of what goes on inside me. That doorway is the door to my heart, the deepest place inside me where I fear to tread. “Here there be monsters,” reads the saying, and that’s exactly what it feels like.

What’s inside? What squashed hopes, unfulfilled dreams, thwarted longings, long-held grudges, impassioned jealousies, and gripping fears might turn into terrible beasts and leap out at me from the shadows? What holds me captive and prevents me from accepting the truth that has penetrated only so far as my mind? Do I even want to know?

The truth is that sometimes I don’t. If I’m totally honest, life seems a lot easier when I can cover over and tidy the entrance to the messy places. With a little paint and dim lighting, it looks almost respectable. But when God digs deep within, and the lamp of the Lord lights up my innermost places, then the façade is shown for what is.

I tremble when I hear the “suggestion” of the Lord: “Daughter, let’s go down here. What’s in here?” The question is for my benefit–it’s not as if He doesn’t know. I don’t want to answer His question or follow His suggestion. But messy places require tidying, and permanent cleanness requires God, not my shabby painting skills. Clinging to Him, I follow the light of His lantern through the doorway.

I am willing, Lord, because Yours is the hand that does the tidying…

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  Psalm 119:105 (NKJV)

“The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, searching all the inner depths of his heart.” Proverbs 20:27 (NKJV)

By My Soul Found Rest
Copyright © 2012
Used with permission

Letting Go

Candle-65814_640--Pixaby

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Hebrews 12:1-2 (NKJV)

For the little over a year since my husband’s unexpected death, life has taken some rather interesting and unexpected twists and turns. Some of these changes have been joyous (like my daughter’s marriage to a wonderful young man), while others have stretched me to capacity.

I have had to let go of much: a husband dearly loved, a job I would never have left had circumstances been different, a daughter whose focus is now a husband (as it should be); said good-bye to family, dear friends, a beloved church, a beautiful home, and all the hopes and dreams for a life which can no longer be. Doors I thought God was opening, have been clearly shut, leaving me with a life I never wanted.

And yet, I am filled with hope for the future.

Looking over this past year, I am overwhelmed with God’s incredible love, grace, and mercy. He has protected me more times than I can count. I see how each one of these closed doors has been an expression of His great love for me. And while life often seemed like shifting sand, an Anchor held me through it all.

When I am tempted to let self-pity sneak in, I remind myself of all Jesus Christ let go of in order that we should be reconciled to the Father. How could I give much importance to my losses in comparison?

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:5-11 (NKJV)

This is the season when we easily become distracted by so many things: shopping, Christmas parties, family get-togethers, plus a thousand non-essentials. The pressure to fit everything in becomes overwhelming and exhausting.

Maybe it’s time to let go of what we have come to expect of ourselves and others and focus on what is most important.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.” Hebrews 12:14-15 (NKJV)

Copyright© 2014 by Susan E. Johnson
All Rights Reserved

May also be found at Gospel Blog by FEBC
http://blog.febc.org/letting-go-focusing-on-whats-most-important/

 

More Bits Of A. B. Simpson

Quill Pen And Ink

Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919) was born in Canada to Scottish parents. He became a Presbyterian minister and pastored several churches in Ontario before accepting the call to pastor the largest Presbyterian church in Louisville, KY.  During a revival meeting at that church, he experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Author of 70 books on vibrant Christian living, he founded the The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  This was a man who had a heart for bringing the gospel to nations.

Difficulties and obstacles are God’s challenges to faith. When hindrances confront us in the path of duty, we are to recognize them as vessels for faith to fill with the fullness and all-sufficiency of Jesus.

God does not so much want us to do things as to let people see what He can do.

 I would rather play with forked lightning, or take in my hand living wires with their fiery current, than speak a reckless word against any servant of Christ, or idly repeat the slanderous darts which thousands of Christian are hurling on others.

As long as you want anything very much, especially more than you want God, it is an idol.

We must learn to live on the heavenly side and look at things from above. To contemplate all things as God sees them, as Christ beholds them, overcomes sin, defies Satan, dissolves perplexities, lifts us above trials, separates us from the world and conquers fear of death.

Holiness of heart and life. This is not the perfection of the human nature, but the holiness of the divine nature dwelling within.

We may not preach a crucified Saviour without being also crucified men and women. It is not enough to wear an ornamental cross as a pretty decoration. The cross that Paul speaks about was burned into his very flesh, was branded into his being, and only the Holy Spirit can burn the true cross into our innermost life.

One of the special marks of the Holy Ghost in the Apostolic Church was the spirit of boldness.

God is not looking for extraordinary characters as His instruments, but He is looking for humble instruments through whom He can be honored throughout the ages.

Often we want people to pray for us and help us, but we always defeat our object when we look too much to them and lean upon them. The true secret of union is for both to look upon God, and in the act of looking past themselves to Him they are unconsciously united.

There is no harm whatever in having money, houses, lands, friends and children if you do not value these things or ones for themselves.

Our God has boundless resources. The only limit is in us. Our asking, our thinking, our praying are too small. Our expectations are too limited.

There is no wonder more supernatural and divine in the life of a believer than the mystery and ministry of prayer…the hand of the child touching the arm of the Father and moving the wheel of the universe.

Like a chain which depends upon its weakest link, if God’s Word is not absolutely and completely true, it is too weak a cable to fix our anchorage and guarantee our eternal peace.

There are two ways of getting out of a trial. One is simply to try to get rid of the trial, and be thankful when it is over. The other is to recognize the trial as a challenge from God to claim a larger blessing than we have ever had, and to hail it with delight as an opportunity of obtaining a larger measure of divine grace.

You will have no test of faith that will not fit you to be a blessing if you are obedient to the Lord. I never had a trial but when I got out of the deep river I found some poor pilgrim on the bank that I was able to help by that very experience.

 

Original Content: Copyright© 2014 by Susan E. Johnson
All Rights Reserved

 

 

Bits Of A. B. Simpson

Last Light--Photobucket

Albert Benjamin Simpson (1843-1919) was born in Canada to Scottish parents. He became a Presbyterian minister and pastored several churches in Ontario before accepting the call to pastor the largest Presbyterian church in Louisville, KY.  During a revival meeting at that church, he experienced the fullness of the Holy Spirit. Author of 70 books on vibrant Christian living, he founded the The Christian and Missionary Alliance.  This was a man who had a heart for bringing the gospel to nations.

We begin life with the natural, next we come into the spiritual; but then, when we have truly received the kingdom of God and His righteousness, the natural is added to the spiritual, and we are able to receive the gifts of His providence and the blessings of life without becoming centered in them or allowing them to separate us from Him.

One touch of Christ is worth a lifetime of struggling.

We must never forget that Christ did not suffer just during His three years of public ministry or the last few days of His life when He was crucified. No, He suffered throughout His life on earth. He who was without sin lived daily with the corruption and sinfulness of lost humanity.

Christ is not a reservoir but a spring. His life is continual, active and ever passing on with an outflow as necessary as its inflow. If we do not perpetually draw the fresh supply from the living Fountain, we shall either grow stagnant or empty, It is, therefore, not so much a perpetual fullness as a perpetual filling.

Aggressive Christianity is the world’s greatest need.

Perils as well as privileges attend the higher Christian life. The nearer we come to God, the thicker the hosts of darkness in heavenly places.

The sanctified body is one whose hands are clean. The stain of dishonesty is not on them, the withering blight of ill-gotten gain has not blistered them, the mark of violence is not found upon them. They have been separated from every occupation that could displease God or injure a fellow-man.

God means every Christian to be effective, to make a difference in the actual records and results of Christian work. God put each of us here to be a power. There is not one of us but is an essential wheel of the machinery and can accomplish all that God calls us to.

The Christian that is bound by his own horizon, the church that lives simply for itself, is bound to die a spiritual death and sink into stagnancy and corruption. We never can thank God enough for giving us not only a whole Gospel to believe, but a whole world to give it to.

The chief danger of the Church today is that it is trying to get on the same side as the world, instead of turning the world upside down. Our Master expects us to accomplish results, even if they bring opposition and conflict. Anything is better than compromise, apathy, and paralysis. God, give to us an intense cry for the old-time power of the Gospel and the Holy Ghost!

When you become satisfied with God, however, everything else so loses its charm that He can give it to you without harm.

The human body has been called the microcosm of the universe, a little world of wonders and a monument of divine wisdom and power, sufficient to convince the most incredulous mind of the existence of the Great Designer.

God is preparing His heroes. And when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment. And the world will wonder where they came from.

Original Content: Copyright © 2014 Susan E. Johnson
All Rights Reserved