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

 

Friday
Nov172017

The Weekly Encourager – November 17, 2017 – Joy Observed

As most of you know by now, I was diagnosed with breast cancer last May. Now I'm ready to give a good report to all my readers! By God's grace, I've been able to have a good attitude about the whole cancer experience. After all, I have a sovereign, loving Father who brings only what is best for me and His kingdom. With each problem that comes along in my life, whether physical, relational, financial, emotional, etc., I try not to complain. Yes, I feel intense grief at times, but I know that constant complaining is an affront to God and His perfect plan. I can have real sorrow yet still be satisfied in Christ. Discontent with one's lot in life is a sin which helps no one and only makes life worse for me and everyone around me. Instead, I try to ask, what does the Lord want me to learn through this? How can I give Him glory in this? How can I have joy? How can I encourage others?

People have noticed my attitude since May. Let me be clear, I'm not saying this because I'm some kind of super Christian, or because I have a naturally cheerful personality. The truth is that I've messed up just as much as you have, and I've struggled with Major Depression (yes, that is my actual clinical diagnosis) since I was a kid. I'm the same woman who wrote in this blog about a time I almost committed suicide, but cried out to God instead and felt Him hold me. This unexpected, unexplainable joy I have now is all about the Good Shepherd who loves me “with an everlasting love.” He has promised that “I shall not want” no matter what happens.

It's surprising how many people are watching how I am responding to circumstances, from the first x-rays and diagnosis, through surgery, radiation, and now hormonal therapy. I've gotten many comments over the last months, and not just from Christians. I'm hearing from the people in my exercise class, my quilting friends, the people I sing with in a community chorus, unsaved relatives and friends, and even strangers. And everyone in my life now knows I am a Christian. Because of the pain of early persecution for my faith, I've been quite reticent to share the truth with unbelievers. I've always felt my main ministry is to encourage the saints, and let others do the work of evangelism. But the Lord has given me a new boldness this summer, and I'm speaking out. I just can't stop smiling.

One friend said, “You have a strong faith and that will see you through,” almost wistfully as if she wished she had such faith. I sure wasn't born that way, so how did I get such faith? Here's the game plan: We respond well to trials by responding well to trials. We grow strong in faith by exercising faith muscles. We feed it good fuel (Bible truths) and get good workouts (trials and tribulations). We consult the best coach (pray to God for wisdom). We commit to a community of fellow athletes (local church) who surround, guide, help, inspire, and encourage us in our regular gym workouts. We seek out one or two close friends who will challenge us and hold us accountable in the hard stuff. Yes, faith is a gift of God, but we play a part. We can't skip our exercises, stay home in bed and expect to have faith full of joy!

People say, “You have a good attitude and that helps,” but the truth is, “I have a good God, and He helps.” He is the One without Whom I can do nothing. This joy is not from me, but supernatural. Are you facing some terrible trial today? Here's some good news: Anyone who trusts in the Lord Jesus can experience this kind of joy. This week I read James 1:1-11. James doesn't mention his high position in the church or the fact that he's the Lord's half-brother, but describes himself as a servant of God. Then he says, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials.” Joy! But it's not just dropped into your lap like a pear falling from a tree. No, you are not the master who expects to have things brought to you, but a servant who follows the plan laid out for you. You have to look up, reach up, and pick that fruit by faith. This is your job. You must develop the self-discipline to “consider” it joy, especially when the situation is not joyful in itself. You must set your mind on things above, and dwell on what is good and pure and true and noble in your circumstance. A mind that “considers” produces a heart that is content.

As we approach the holiday season, Dave and I are going through hard things, and so are some of you. How wonderful that there is still one holiday not totally co-opted by our culture. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to exercise our faith muscles by responding well to trials (some of which may happen around the dining room table on Thanksgiving Day). By God's strength we can lift our weights with smiles on our faces. We can move mountains! Others around us will see our joy. We can bless believers while making unbelievers wonder what's going on! Do your friends, colleagues and neighbors know you're going through trials? Do they know you belong to Jesus? What conclusion can they draw from your witness? Will God get any glory in your gym?

May God strengthen us all in the true faith. May He bring us joy!

God is faithful,
j

Copyright 2017 Janet A. Marney. [For any who wish to follow my cancer journey, I have a page on Caring Bridge: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/janetamarney ]

Wednesday
Nov012017

The Weekly Encourager – November 1, 2017 – My Testimony

Recently, Dave and I were asked to write our Christian testimonies in 300 words. For me, this was a great opportunity to reflect upon how the Lord drew me to Himself many years ago, and how far I've come by His grace.  I highly recommend this exercise for every Christian.  I'm sure you will be encouraged in the Lord!  You may also be enabled to encourage someone else He puts in your path.

My Christian Testimony (short version, September 2017)

 I was raised in an upper middle class household in Northern Virginia. My parents, both of proud, independent, hardworking Scots-Irish heritage, were raised on rural farms in Appalachia. After putting themselves through college, they married and moved here to find jobs in the big city, leaving the Southern Baptist faith of their parents behind. My main exposure to Christianity was going to church with my grandparents a few times each summer.

 In general, my home life was not happy. My parents were very critical, perfectionistic high-achievers, and they raised me to be the same way. There was little affection and no positive reinforcement for doing well, only punishment for not performing. Some of what happened would be called child abuse today. My brother and I fought constantly; my parents took his side. At age six, I was sexually abused several times by a male babysitter, but I never told my parents, knowing that they wouldn't believe me. Later I was abused by others. Also at age six, I was a latch-key kid, responsible for picking up my four-year old brother from preschool.

 When I was a teenager, my combative parents got divorced, and we kids lived with my mother. After about a year, they re-married on April Fools Day, but it didn't last, so they divorced each other for the second time when I was 16. I was alienated and sad. I did not feel loved or valued by my family.* Consequently I looked for love from friends, sometimes making mistakes I regretted. I couldn't trust my family; I had learned how to lie, cheat, and steal.

 In seventh grade, another student invited me to a worship service. The House of Bread was a large charismatic fellowship meeting in the basement of Truro Episcopal Church. When I got there, I immediately saw that they had what I longed for: love, joy, and peace. I was looking for love and they offered total unconditional acceptance. I began going regularly, reading the Bible, and learning dozens of Scripture songs. I was searching for a reason to live and they told me, “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you.” I would come home from school and read the Bible for hours and compose songs to God. Reading the New Testament in order, I was saved – gradually – somewhere around I Corinthians. The Holy Spirit used the love of believers, the gift of music, and the power of His Word to reach my heart with the amazing truth that God loved me, forgave all my sin through Christ's death and resurrection, and had a plan for my life.

 A high school friend invited me to McLean Presbyterian Church, where her father was a respected elder (Ed Keck). I was baptized by Pastor Steve Smallman and became an active member, soaking up all the truth and love I could. My parents were not pleased. For about two years, I experienced persecution from my own family: they mocked me, would not allow me to go to church on Sunday mornings, etc. However, an ex-nun was teaching science at my school, and I joined her after-school Bible study, which was wonderful. I continued to read and pray on my own. God was always with me.

 While I was in college, both parents abandoned me (long story). I became not a ward of the state, but a ward of the church. When I was at school, the Charlottesville Mennonite Church had a huge influence on my life through their teaching, lifestyle, and hospitality. When at home, members of MPC took me in, stored my possessions, drove me to summer jobs, helped me pay for college, etc. In addition to meeting very real practical needs, they taught the Bible, encouraged me, counseled me, prayed for me, loved me. I was showered with kindness. In a very real sense, the church had become my family.

 I could not write enough books to tell all that the Lord has done in my life since I was saved at around age 13-14. My boyfriend Dave was saved and Steve Smallman married us. We were given two wonderful sons, then helped found New Hope Presbyterian Church, where we had many good years rich with God's blessings. I am 60 now, and the Scripture songs I learned as a pre-teen have rescued me, encouraged me, and pointed me back to Christ many times. I have had struggles and sorrows, but the Lord has been with me through them all. Each time, my faith has been strengthened. I have never doubted His love for me. I have been blessed to see how the Lord has used my experience to encourage others. God is faithful.

 Here are a few of my life verses that sum up my testimony.

 “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.” - Psalm 27:10

 “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” - Hebrews 13:5

 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” - Jeremiah 31:3

 “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 1:6

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” - I Corinthians 1:4

 [* Footnote: After he left home, my brother called me to apologize, I forgave him, and we moved forward.  I am so thankful now to have such a wonderful brother!  By God's grace, all three family relationships were eventually restored. Much healing has taken place, to the glory of God. God is faithful!]

Wednesday
Oct252017

The Weekly Encourager – October 25, 2017 – Dave's Testimony

It's been a while since I've written an Encourager. I have plenty to say, but no time to sit down and write it!

Recently, Dave and I were each asked to write a brief Christian testimony (about 300 words). Today I'm sharing his. One Scripture sums it up: He [the Lord] brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, And He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm.” - Psalm 40:2

My Christian Testimony

By Dave Marney

I grew up in a family where my father and all of my siblings were atheists. My mother, however, believed in Catholicism as a kind of a "who knows?" insurance policy, so we all attended Catholic school. I was a little unusual in that I was always interested in matters of faith, from my earliest memories.

 It was a young nun at the school who first told me that it's not enough to just go through the motions, one has to actually believe. The questions I had about God pestered me all through my childhood.

 When I started high school, I interviewed a priest, a rabbi, and a protestant pastor and asked them if they really believed in God. The priest told me yes, he believed, but the important thing was to follow the sacraments, that's what they're there for. The rabbi said no, he didn't believe, but it doesn't matter if God exists or not, it's what you do with your life that matters. The pastor said yes, of course God exists, and you should be looking for hard evidence of it. If God really created the universe, you should be able to see it in the universe. If God really created man, you should see it in historical accounts.

 The pastor's answer really struck me. It wasn't enough to convince me to be a believer, but it was enough to give me a way to answer my questions.

 Later on, I started socializing with a small group of students who had all become Christians around the same time. Some of them were musicians as I was, and they sang Scripture songs constantly, most of which I can recall word-for-word to this day. They were very different from other students, not quite so caught up in themselves, more thoughtful and kind. A very attractive group.  

 After I graduated, I got a job as a pianist on tour in Canada. The life of a touring musician sounds glamorous, but it really wasn't for me. Being on the road, separated from everything, working until 3AM every day is a very lonely existence. But I loved the music, it was my life.

 After about six months, I started coming back to the States to visit with a young lady of interest from that school group, Janet, who later became my wife. She was a Christian, and so I followed her to church every Sunday at McLean Presbyterian, then meeting in the much smaller facility on Balls Hill Rd.

 Every time I would visit, I would run into people like Carolyn Frickel, people just sparkling with the joy of the Lord. It was quite a culture shock. At that time, Janet was going through a very hard time with her family, and was kicked out of her own home. She was adopted on the spot by one of the church families, the Harrises, who became my role model for what a functioning Christian family looks like.

 So, when I would visit her, I wasn't just visiting a person or even a church, but an entire family and community of believers. Then I would go back to my job on the road, playing in yet another beer-soaked bar in Canada. It was like God was showing me two very different paths I could take, almost night and day.

 So, I left Canada and came back to the States. I started reading the Bible and other Christian books in earnest, because these questions would just not let me go. It took a very long time. I am a hard-headed person.

 Finally, I remember sitting in the front pew of MPC one evening just thinking about everything, when a good friend of mine, Jay, who was visiting for the weekend walked up and sat down next to me to say hello. And I just unloaded on him. All the questions I had, everything I had concluded, the Bible passages I had been studying, everything.

 And he said to me, Dave, you may think these questions are unanswered, but actually they're not. Based on what you've told me, you are a believer. You are a Christian. You should just pray right now and thank God for everything He has done to lead you to this point and accept it.

 When he said that, it kind of stunned me, but I realized he was absolutely correct. God had won my heart over. It had happened very slowly over years and years, but I had passed from death to life.

 It took a while to convince Janet and the rest of the people in my life that I was a new person, because I was pretty incorrigible. But it was true. From that point forward, my life took a very different path.

 As a child, I had learned how to read music by sitting around my grandmother's dining room table and singing through the Southern Baptist hymnal. My aunt was the director of music at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, and she would take me to church concerts with a score, and help me follow along.

 So, my first introduction to music was to sacred music. Later on, I realized that God had been using music to prepare my heart from childhood. I loved music because it combines creativity, intellect, and beauty -- all traits of God Himself, I later realized.

 When I became a Christian, I immediately turned my musical interests in a religious direction. I started taking hymns that had wonderful words, but the tune didn't really express them very well, and replacing the tunes with my own melodies. This turned into a lifelong hobby of mine, and over the years I have written a fair number of hymns which I publish at www.newhymns.org.

 I've gone through times of great sadness in my life, great difficulty, and I've always turned to music and to hymn writing at those times to work out those emotions and seek the reassurance that God is there and He cares for me.

 Looking back on it, the threads are clearly music, which God used to draw me in by beauty, intellectual curiosity, which God used to draw me in by my mind, and friends and church family, which God used to draw me in by loving relationships.

 God took me when I felt I was being sucked down into a pit, like in a pit of mud, and He lifted me out and He set me on a rocky ledge. Literally my entire waking life God has been drawing me to Himself.

 And that's my story.

 

 

 

Tuesday
Aug012017

The Weekly Encourager – August 1, 2017 – An Offering

Here is a thoughtful poem which is a follow-up to my previous post about giving all our talents and blessings back to God for Him to use when and how He pleases.

An Offering by Eileen Berry

O Christ, who spared not any cost
Nor any grace withheld,
But poured forth Your redeeming blood
In love unparalleled;
What would You have me offer, Lord?
What must I count as loss
That I may taste the fellowship
That brings me near Your cross?

Why should I cling to gifts You give?
Why grasp in foolish pride
What You, who gave Yourself for me,
Now bid me lay aside?
To know You is my highest gain,
Worth any sacrifice,
A treasure worthy to possess
At any earthly price.

Yet if behind my open hands,
My heart shrinks from the cost,
Teach me that nothing offered You
Is ever truly lost.
A hundredfold reward awaits
In one glimpse of Your face,
My sacrifice forgotten
In the riches of Your grace.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him.” - Philippians 3:7-9a

John, beloved of Jesus, wrote, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” - John 3:30 Oh, let me understand this!

God is faithful,
j

“The Offering” has been set to lovely music by Dan Forrest. He describes it as “a musical unfolding of the balance between anything we could possibly offer and Christ's supreme sacrifice.” To hear it, visit http://danforrest.com/music-catalog/an-offering/

My thanks to Holly Novak, who sent me this poem.

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