Wednesday
Jan102018

The Weekly Encourager – January 10, 2018 – Joy in Thankfulness

If you slip in the mud and fall down, what is your first thought? Earlier today I slipped and fell. Being fully aware of my past history of breaks and sprains, my first thought was, “Thank You, Lord, that I didn't break anything or sprain anything this time.” The human tendency we all share is to be angry, upset, or annoyed when something bad happens. But over the past couple of years, God has been teaching me a different tendency. A habit of thankfulness has transformed my life, leading to so much joy!

After acknowledging God's goodness to me in that nothing was broken, it was only a few steps away to think of many more reasons to be thankful. First, I was glad that I had just read an article on “how to fall safely” so I remembered to fall on the “meat” of my body rather than on a bone. There's plenty of meat to fall on since I'm so well fed. Although all my clothes got muddy, how fortunate that this is not my only outfit: I have other clean clothes to put on. And how nice that I have a washer to do the job, and electricity to run it. Knowing that many people around the world struggle to find clean water, I already thank God on a regular basis for the blessing of fresh water. Mud in the yard means that the ice has melted, and I do appreciate warmer temperatures after the frigid weather we've had. Also, having a yard in the first place is a great gift from God. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I was not born with the tendency to be thankful. I was born with original sin like everyone else, plus I grew up in a family that tended toward negativity. But that was my family of origin. My new family is the family of God, those who are called by Jesus Christ to live in a radically different way, a way of life absolutely transformed by grace. He who has begun a good work in me is bringing it to pass, molding godly character, changing my heart and mind. Not feeling it? We can't do it on our own, but we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. He is the one who gives the ability to be thankful, yet our obedience plays a part.

Being thankful is a discipline. The more I read and study the Bible, the more I learn about God's love, power, wisdom, kindness, mercy, and every other fine aspect of His holy nature. The more I learn, the more I pray that I will see His character at work in my own life. The more I ask God for eyes to see His supreme beauty, the more I see. The more I see, the more I thank Him. God inhabits the praises of His people, so when I thank Him, I feel Him right there with me, filling my upheld cup with joy. I have just begun to learn how central thanksgiving is to the Christian life. Thankfulness is the cup held out to receive whatever the Lord brings. It is confident trust that whatever happens, be it a simple fall in the mud today or cancer last spring, it comes from the hand of God, because He is sovereign. It is an essential part of my journey and therefore to be sanctified unto Him. And because He is not just sovereign, but good (always and forever), how blessed we are to receive each thing from such a loving Father!

His mercies are new every morning. Shouldn't our thankfulness be new every morning, too? This is how we find God in the tough situations, by small but heartfelt acknowledgments of gifts He is happy to bestow. And when He's happy, we're happy! Over a year ago, I began posting a positive quote on Facebook each morning – my own tiny effort to counteract some of the harsh political posts of others. After a couple of months of that, I started posting “inspiring art of the day” and got an overwhelming reaction. People didn't want more quotes. People love to see these works of art. Our world can be so ugly, so full of hate, that people are longing for the good, the true, and the beautiful. They are crying out for justice, compassion, rightness, honesty, respect, cleanliness, hope. We as Christians have a wonderful opportunity to bring beauty to our little corner, wherever God has placed us. We can draw people's eyes up. But we are unfit to lift the eyes of others if our own eyes are stuck on the ground.

He brought me up out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a Rock. God pulled me out of a deep muddy hole when He called me to be His own. He has given such beautiful blessings that I can't help but thank Him from the heart. He continues to bless every day of my life. Let him who has eyes to see contemplate the perfect essence of God in all things, for He holds it all together, and it's all about Him. May our first thought be thankfulness each day, each hour, each moment. May we open our hearts to receive all the good gifts of the One who loves us best. Thank You, Lord!

God is faithful,
j

Copyright 2018 Janet A. Marney. I welcome your comments below.

Friday
Jan052018

The Weekly Encourager – January 5, 2018 – The Crown

Have you seen “The Crown” on Netflix? It's an absorbing drama about Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip. After Season 2 was released, some people were eager to correct mistakes in the Netflix rendition. While it was based on historical events, I had no illusions about every detail being entirely factual. This is entertainment, folks, not fact.

Halfway through Season 2 of “The Crown,” it was Christmas Eve. That evening, a good friend wore a shirt with a large, colorful crown on it. After the year I've had, seeing the Crown of Life depicted in such a beautiful way brought tears to my eyes. Like “The Crown,” this rendition was only an artist's interpretation of events. But the concept was based on fact from an unerring irrefutable source, the Holy Bible. No media personality is going to write a blog post pointing out inaccuracies. This art was not entertainment, but edification: a reminder of truth to give us hope.

No matter what kind of year you've had, there is hope! God promises “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.” - James 1:12 How appropriate to consider the crown of life on Christmas Eve! This is what it's all about, all the grief and all the joy: living for the crown. Because the King of Kings came to earth to wear – for us – the horrible crown of thorns, we can look forward to a royal crown of life in eternity. From His suffering will come our joy.

I've been comparing and contrasting Queen Elizabeth's crown with the one God promises. In the Netflix series, the writers depict the constant duty of a modern monarch. Service rules her entire life, influencing every decision. As followers of Christ, diligent service to God should permeate our whole life. Also, the queen's calling is stressful: her life seems full of landmines both political and personal. In a broken world, you can expect problems from your closest relationships to the most distant parts of your realm. That much is similar to what we have in our lives. However, worldly kings and queens will not carry their crowns into eternity. They work “with strict discipline...for a crown that is perishable, but we do it for a crown that is imperishable.” - 1 Corinthians 9:25.   In Heaven, the first shall be last. If Queen Elizabeth has a high rank in that place, it will a reward from God for faithful service to His crown. She must bow to a higher throne.

One interesting aspect of the Netflix series is the essential importance of Balmoral Castle in Scotland. This royal home is where the queen retreats for short periods to rest. The highlands seem to be the one place where she can relax and truly be herself. For us, the prayer closet is our Balmoral.  To live for the crown, it is essential that we go there on a regular basis. We retreat to the “high places” to find God “in the mountain of His holiness.” Private prayer is the one place where we can truly be ourselves in every aspect, free to express any thought or feeling or desire or heartache. In God's holy presence we are fully known, yet fully forgiven and fully loved. We dwell on the holy mount now only in prayer, but one day we will dwell there in body and soul. We will enjoy the privileges of royalty forever!

How can this be true? That is the miracle of Christmas: God loves us. In the Bible we read that the Lord “made [us] a little lower than the angels and crowned [us] with glory and honor.” - Psalm 8:4; Hebrews 2:7. This is the God “who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.” - Psalm 103:4. Jesus, the High King, says, “Do not fear what you are about to suffer….Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” - Revelation 2:10.

O Lord, “You crown the year with Your goodness, and Your paths drip with abundance.” - Psalm 65:11

Happy New Year!  Live for the crown!

God is faithful,
j

 

 

 

Thursday
Dec212017

The Weekly Encourager – December 21, 2017 – Joy in Giving

Do you consider yourself to be a generous person? Would others say that about you? What would God say?

It's Christmas; have you pondered God's extraordinary generosity in sending His only Son?

I was not raised to be generous. My parents grew up poor and worked hard for everything they got. Accordingly, I was taught to shop carefully, to take good care of possessions, and to save everything possible for later use. There was an unspoken sense of fear that we might not have enough at some point in the future, so we'd better stock up now and never give anything away. Hard work, self-reliance, and saving are good traits in many circumstances, but not helpful in others. I'll never forget wanting to share a snack with the girls from next door, and my mother saying, “We're not feeding the neighborhood.” It was only as an adult that I figured out that other people routinely offered food and drink to every visitor!

When I became a Christian and started reading the Bible, I got new input. The New Testament gives several examples of Christians who gave generously both to support the work of the gospel and to provide for the practical needs of fellow believers locally and in distant lands. The people who gave were not always the wealthy members of the congregation, but regular folks who gave sacrificially out of loving hearts. They didn't wait for “a better income” to give to the church. Whether giving “the widow's mite” or feeding dozens in large, well-appointed homes, all were commended for liberality.

In studying Jesus' life, I learned that generosity is one of God's traits, and therefore to be emulated. This “Prodigal God” is generous with resources, calling men to “come ye buy and eat, without money.” Salvation is full and free for any who desire it. Certainly at Christmas we see how generous God was with His Son. We see the preeminent model of sacrificial giving. Love was the motivation of the triune God. This love would demand the highest price, yet it was given willingly. One of my favorite hymns is often sung at Christmas:

Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor;
Thrones for a manger didst surrender
Sapphire-paved courts for stable floor.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour,
All for love’s sake becamest poor.

When I became part of a church as a teenager, I saw many examples of generosity in action, from the wealthy people in the congregation who established large funds to help people in need, to the dear saintly older widow who gave Dave a “love gift” to help him pay some bills he could not afford. She said she didn't want him to pay her back, but to help someone else down the line. What a fabulous witness that “love gift” was to us when we were dating! And yes, he has paid back that gift many times.

Our pastor at the time, Steve Smallman, preached a series of sermons on Money which made a big impact on me and Dave. He gave a Biblical rationale for tithing which became our standard practice. Of course, tithing is not to be a forced, legalistic task, but a jumping off point, a place to start. “God loves a cheerful giver.” The spiritually mature will desire to give more and more, and God will bless their labors to that end, so that they are enabled to give more. Steve also said that what we do with our money reveals our priorities in life. Hearing that at age 20 was interesting, and now at age 60 I can testify that it's true. I've seen that, even when your resources are quite low and every human instinct says to hoard what you have, the more you give, the more God will provide. He is able! He is faithful! He is generous!

Marrying Dave was another way the Lord used to transform my stingy habits. At first I was pretty disturbed at how much my new husband wanted to give away, but I learned over time to respect this godly quality that the Lord had given him. Meanwhile, Dave respected the good training I had received in saving and managing money; he soon delegated the bill-paying to me. [This is one example of how opposites can benefit from one another in marriage.] I began to pray that the Lord would make me more generous with my money and possessions. Sure enough, He who began a good work in me is working to complete it.

Fast forward to Christmas 2016, one year ago. God had prospered us tremendously over the years. Yes, we started with next to nothing (“a bed and a piano”), but with hard work and God's provision, we saw our capital grow. Two key Biblical principles of careful management and generous giving can go hand-in-hand. Last Christmas I had the most wonderful time writing a bunch of checks! Instead of my fleshly nature filling me with fear for our future, the Lord of the Universe filled me with great joyfulness. Instead of a duty, it was a privilege to bless others. I'm not saying I have learned this concept perfectly yet (I am hanging on way too tightly to way too many things), but I can see the Holy Spirit working in me.

This Christmas is a bit different, since Dave's job ended just before Thanksgiving. Here is a test of faith, and what will we do? We're giving the same amounts as last year, and I get to write the checks! It is my JOY to tithe and to support various missions and causes in the community. It is my JOY to trust that God will provide a new job for Dave. It is my JOY to be obedient to Christ. It is my JOY to try to model my life after the Scripture, and to carry on the tradition of saints who were generous to me. He who did not spare His own Son will give us everything else we need. If I can trust Him with my salvation, I can trust Him with my money.

Are you generous with what God has given you? May this be a season of joy in giving, to the glory of God.

A Blessed Christmas to you all,
j

Copyright 2017 Janet A. Marney. As always, I welcome your comments below.
Thou who wast rich beyond all splendour, written by
FRANK HOUGHTON (1894-1972).

Friday
Dec152017

The Weekly Encourager – December 15, 2017 – Joy in Waiting

I recently heard a sermon about Advent as a season of waiting. In fact, our whole lives on this earth are a season of waiting, and Advent is just an annual reminder of this truth.

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting to meet that special someone? Are you waiting to find a job, or a place to live, or a church home? Are you waiting to finish a degree or a major task? Are you waiting for recognition, approval, or acceptance? Are you waiting for friendship? Are you waiting for an apology? Are you waiting for justice and vindication? Are you waiting for healing? Are you waiting to finally conquer some besetting sin? Are you waiting for grief to abate after the loss of loved ones? Are you waiting for death?

In this world we struggle with trouble and suffering. We have broken bodies and broken relationships and broken finances and broken governments. We want it all to be fixed, right now! But God says, wait, My child, as a weaned child rests on his mother's breast. If we let tragedy get to us, we'll be sucked down into a dark, stagnant pond of despair. But the gospel brings us such hope! The people walking in darkness – you and I – have seen a great light, and that Light is Jesus. He is God's Son who came to live a holy life and to die a holy death for His people. He's the One we're waiting for, for He alone can free us from sin and all its terrible consequences.

We're all waiting for someone or something in our lives to change for the better. But how do we wait for these things that seem to take forever? King David had the same question: “How long, O Lord?” and the answer was, “But I have trusted in Thy lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Thy salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me.” - Psalm 13:1, 5-6. David's in trouble, but he takes time to remember that the Lord has been good to him already. The way of waiting is prayer and praise. It is thankfulness and joyfulness. People have asked me, how do I get thankfulness and joyfulness when I don't have what I'm waiting for? Here's the answer: You have all you need already. “Faith comes by hearing, and that by the word of God.” You get faith by learning God's word, resting on Jesus, and asking the Holy Spirit for faith to believe in His promises.

In one sense, this life is just one big waiting room. If you've ever taken a little toddler (a weaned child) somewhere and asked him to wait an hour, you have a picture of how we must appear to God. Will the child whine, get angry, be sad, or have a meltdown? Will she rebel and try to escape the room? Will he destroy property or hit other people out of frustration and boredom? Or will the child cheerfully accept the waiting as an opportunity to be productive, or maybe see an extra chance to cuddle with her beloved parent? The wise parent will plan ahead to make the best use of the waiting time, by bringing little puzzles, games, coloring books, or story books to keep the child occupied. The good parent will stay nearby to direct the child's thoughts and activities. The loving parent will reassure the child that good things are coming. God our Father has provided all of this and more for us.

“God rest ye merry, gentlemen; let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born upon this day, to save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray. O tidings of comfort and joy!” We are to rest merry, in other words, wait with joy, be at peace until Christ comes again. Remember, you can't expect to have joy if you're not regularly in the word. Here are some promises to consider while you wait.

“You should have as little real desire for this world as a dead person does. Your real life is in heaven with Christ and God. And when Christ who is our real life comes back again, you will shine with him and share in all his glories.” - Colossians 3:3-4

“Trust him all the time. Pour out your longings before him, for he can help.” - Psalm 62:8

“No good thing will He withold from them that walk uprightly.” - Psalm 84:11

“Every good thing the Lord had promised to them came true.” - Joshua 21:45

“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” - Revelation 21:4

“There is no question that he will do what he says.” - Hebrews 10:23

“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words remain forever.” - Matthew 24:35

“Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother, my soul is like a weaned child within me.” - Psalm 131:2

So what are you waiting for? Now would be a good time to thank our good God who has dealt bountifully with you.

Wishing you comfort and joy in this season of waiting.
God is faithful,
j


Wednesday
Nov292017

The Weekly Encourager – November 29, 2017 – Joy in the Job Search

Earlier this month, my husband lost his job. Due to restructuring, his position was eliminated (along with most of his department).  The good news is that Dave saw the writing on the wall and was already thinking of looking around for another position, hopefully with a shorter commute. However, he is a 61-year-old white male, so maybe not the first choice of every employer.

I'm not really worried about his job at this point (more dreading the insurance hassle, #firstworldproblems). I'm confident that God will provide an even better opportunity for Dave, not just because Dave is a highly qualified worker, but because God's name is Jehovah-jireh, Yahweh Will Provide. If I have moments of doubt, I can just look to our history and see how He's always provided for us in the past. Thanks be to God, we have some savings, so we're still tithing and supporting Dave's brother as well as various missions. My husband is a very generous man, and I've learned that the more we give, the more God blesses us. We're doing fine!

Dave decided to keep a job search diary, and he'd like to share what he wrote a few days ago:

Day 6

Thanked God for arranging the timing of this. As a Christian, I know that God has something much greater planned for us than we are typically expecting. We lose a job, and immediately we think that all that God has in store for us is to get us another one. That's probably true, but God is also probably planning for us to meet new people through that job who we otherwise would not have come into contact with, or planning for us to have an impact in a situation involving something much more consequential than a mere job.

God is advancing His kingdom day by day. Our ultimate job is to serve Him and that means our primary occupation is kingdom-building. Working for our daily bread is a secondary occupation.

To the non-believer, this just appears like wish-fulfillment: you believers don't know what the future holds, so you just say that God is superintending over all of it, so no matter what happens, it was "God's will". This is superficially correct. We don't know what the future holds, and we do believe that God superintends over it.  

But we do so not because we need a convenient excuse, but because this is explicitly promised in the scripture, and it is directly experienced in our personal lives. Time and time again, we see God leading us beside still waters, even in the shadow of death itself at times. 

To believe that God is sovereign is, indeed, just a hope as long as we walk in this mortal life. But it is not an unfounded hope, nor a merely convenient one.  

We're heading into the Christmas season with hope, joy, and prayer. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” - James 1:5 “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!” - Philippians 4:4

God is faithful,

j