Friday
Jul212017

The Weekly Encourager – July 20, 2017 – Earthly Failure, Eternal Gain

Has God taken away an ability you once had? Do you feel a sense of loss that you can longer do what you once did well? Was it something that made you feel good about yourself? Something that others admired? How have you dealt with this loss? Are you angry, sad, or resigned? The Scripture calls us to be thankful in all things. By God's grace, can you turn this circumstance into praise?

God gifted my friend Amy with a beautiful singing voice. Her lifelong dream has been to use her musical talent to record an album, but she got very sick. For several years she has suffered from serious health issues.

Amy wrote, “I can boast in my weakness and in my sufferings because His strength is glorified in it. When I am weak, He is strong. This week I made a recording of a song and sent it to a very few trustworthy friends. I had several people who lovingly corrected me on my singing capability. It may be one of the kindest things to have had friends who spoke the truth to me. But I have to thank God Himself right now, due to the reality check that I had to have with myself.

“First, I only have to be one thing in this life and it is me. While others may be capable of more in an area, I am only called to do 'me' and that is enough. Also, there is nothing wrong with disappointment, frustration and earthly failures. It is a gift of God in weakness to keep me humbled in Him. What a relief that God does indeed maintain my spiritual walk with Him far more than I do. Ultimately what is earthly failure can be eternal gain.

“Lastly, I'm grateful that God has allowed me to use my music talents for Him at all. It is a gift of God to desire to serve Him, though in weakness. Three years ago I was in a hospital dying...back then the doctors predicted that this malignancy would prove fatal earlier in life. I'm grateful that He's allowed me any progress at all.

“My confession today is that I can boast in this vocal weakness because the Blood of Jesus has set me free to do so. I don't need to be better than anyone else vocally. I need Jesus. That's about it. But in this life, Jesus gives us more than just Himself. He often gives us our hearts' desires, particularly when placed in His hands, but not always.

“So today, I commit that my voice is His. My pride is gone. I don't need to sing well. It's is merely a desire of my heart, that I have believed to be from Him. However, I am OK with me. I know that I want Him to make my voice do whatever He wants, even if it is to stop. May His will be done in my voice as it is in Heaven. My desire is not enough pleasure to me to displease Him. I don't need man's approval, but I do need His.”

Amy's public confession had special significance for me. I have had to wrestle with the fact of losing my professional singing voice and career, a career which brought me a lot of satisfaction, as well as the admiration of others and a decent income. Amy feels that if she is not completely willing to give up her talent, then He can't use her, either by giving opportunity to use her voice, or by enabling her to accept the answer No. She doesn't want to become resentful, but to remain “tender” in her heart, even through loss.

I remember one time as a teenager when I was a guest soloist at my voice teacher's church. After the service, an older lady I didn't know came up to me and complimented me. Then she said something I will never forget, “Use your voice for the Lord.” God is sovereign over all things, including the gifts He gives us to honor Him.

“Do not fear, O land, rejoice and be glad, for the Lord has done great things….So rejoice, O sons of Zion, and be glad in the Lord your God...I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the creeping locust, the stripping locust, and the gnawing locust, my great army which I sent among you. And you shall have plenty to eat and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you.” - Joel 2:21-26

This is the same God who created us from dust to rise up and breathe deep and serve Him with thanksgiving! We “come before His presence with singing” even if He takes away our voices. He will make up to us any loss that we endure in this life. He will restore all that was lost, and it will be better than before.

So give Him all your honest emotions. Be completely willing to give back your gifts, your education, your health, your money, your time, even your loved ones. Fight the good fight, grateful for whatever ministry He provides. In Christ, who died and rose again, losing everything only to gain it back with glory, earthly failure can be eternal gain.

God is faithful and good,
j

Quotations above are from a conversation with my friend Amy Fortner Nelson and her friend Donna Miller on Facebook, June 18-19, 2017. Used and edited by permission.

 

 

 

 

Thursday
Jun292017

The Weekly Encourager – June 29, 2017 – Church Covenant

What are the responsibilities of church membership? Did you make a promise or take vows when you joined your church? Have you reviewed those vows lately to see how you're doing? Last weekend we visited a church we like down at the beach. In the bulletin was a copy of their “Church Covenant,” which was thought-provoking. Even though I'm from a different church and a different denomination, I found it beneficial to read their document. Hope you will, too!

Church Covenant

Having been led as we believe by the Spirit of God to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and on the profession of our faith having been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, we do covenant by the grace of God:

1. to walk together in Christian love, dealing with any disagreement or conflict that might arise in a timely and biblical manner.

2. to promote the spiritual welfare of others within the church.

3. to be sensitive to the physical needs of others, and to do what we can to meet those needs.

4. to attend faithfully the services of the church.

5. to support the church faithfully with our tithes and offerings.

6. to participate, as the Lord directs and provides, in the ministries of the church.

7. to live a life separated from worldliness and separated unto holiness.

8. to control the use of our tongues for the furtherance of the will of God, and not to participate in speech that could be considered as backbiting, gossip, or divisive.

9. to be zealous in our attempt to reach the lost.

10. to constantly keep before us, as we are making decisions as a church, the one overriding question that is at the center of every decision - “What does God want us to do?”

–--
Did any of these convict your heart? Numbers 1 and 8 are particularly good reminders for me. How do I personally deal with disagreement or conflict in my church body? Do I seek to resolve issues promptly, or do I let them fester? If there's a problem in the church, do I complain and gossip to my friends, or do I address the church leaders with respect and gratitude for their service? Is my conversation honoring to God and kind to others? And one more thing that this covenant (above) leaves out: am I praying for the leaders of my church on a regular basis? They have a tough job, and they need God's help.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as your see the Day drawing near.” - Hebrews 10:23-25 ESV

God is faithful,
j

This “Church Covenant” was from the June 26, 2017, bulletin of Still Waters Independent Baptist Church, Nags Head, NC (edited).

Thursday
Jun222017

The Weekly Encourager – June 22, 2017 – Thankfulness

This week's post could be called Under the Influence, Part 2, because I'm sharing some Scriptures that should influence us in a positive way.

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” - I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Do you suffer from the sin of ungratefulness, complaining, murmuring, and whining? Do you cause others around you to suffer by your lack of thankfulness? If so, repent and read these Scriptures. It may be wise to memorize some of them. Our thoughts need to be under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and He is characterized by thankfulness.

Facing persecution and possible death, “Daniel...continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God.” - Daniel 6:10

David said, “I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” - Psalm 34:1

Paul encourages us to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” - Ephesians 5:20

Again, “in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” - Philippians 4:6

“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” - Colossians 3:17

Do you feel as if God owes you something? Have you been treated unfairly?  A Christian woman told me that, in her marriage, her husband had gotten a better deal than she had. I was so shocked I couldn't speak. Her evident pride in feeling superior to her husband in several ways, including spiritually, was a far worse sin than the faults she complained about in her husband. Lord, let me never think that my husband got a better deal than I did in our marriage!

“Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults. Also, keep back your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not rule over me, then I will be blameless...” - Psalm 19:12-13

“By Him therefore, let us offer the sacrifice of praise continually...” - Hebrews 13:5

Has God taken away something that you loved? Is He asking you to give up something or someone that your heart desires?

Job lost everything and everyone that was important to him, yet he said, “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I shall return there. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” - Job 1:21

“Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” - Psalm 37:4

“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things will be added to you.” - Matthew 6:33

Note that no extenuating circumstances are given in any of these verses! There are no good reasons in the Bible to be ungrateful. There is no Scriptural support for any of us feeling like we have a right to complain about our lot in life. That's Satan whispering into our ear, or the world, or our own deceptive hearts. Of course there is a place for sharing our struggles with a selected few in a godly way, particularly in the context asking for prayer or wise counsel. But attitude is everything. Circumstances may humble us, but we fall on our knees and thank God still. He is good, He is wise, He is loving, He is fair. Never doubt who He is, and who we are before Him! In everything give thanks.

God is faithful,
j

Wednesday
Jun142017

The Weekly Encourager – June 14, 2017 – Under the Influence

It's graduation season. Are you driving under the influence of alcohol? After surgery on Friday, I was told not to drive while under the influence of narcotics I had been given. Since then, I've been thinking about what other influences I may be under.

A Christian brother shared about the negative influence of depression in his life. We reminded him that many of these thoughts are whispers from Satan. Having suffered from depression myself, I have learned that many of the Downer D feelings – depression, discouragement, destruction, doubt, and their denizens – come straight from the Devil. As Bible teacher Kay Arthur says, we need to “Philippians 4:8 it.” In other words, put a filter over your ears to reject whatever is not pure, noble, good, and beautiful.

As people who follow the Lord, we must take every thought captive to Christ. Lots of folks wear earbuds these days. We need to let the Word of God act as a permanent earbud, filtering everything we hear before it becomes ingrained as a pattern. This is especially true of negative self-talk. Any time we catch ourselves thinking what horrible people we are, having already repented of sin, we can counter that lie with Truth. Counter D with T. God sent His only Son to die for us, forgiving us of every sin (yes, even the ones we struggle with the most). We are wholly accepted and beloved in Christ, adopted into His family for all time. God is able to pour His power into our hopeless situations; nothing is impossible with God; when I am weak He is strong. Thanks be to God!

Such positive promises of Scripture are our lifeline in the Downer D times. But if we're too far down, we may forget to reach for that lifeline. At that point, Satan steps in the door and asks, “Where's the beer?” Resist the human tendency to welcome this salesman into the house for a party! We need to be ready at all times for whatever the world, the flesh, and the devil may throw at us. We need to operate under the influence of God's Word at all times, whether driving a car or lying in bed, whether alone or interacting with other people.

I saw this on Sunday evening when two friends stopped by unannounced. I had no warning of their visit, so I had no opportunity to get my mind prepared and to pray that I would be a blessing to them. I wasn't particularly under a godly influence at the time either – my mind was wandering as I watched a series on Netflix. (Did I mention that this series, while very well done, is kind of a Downer?) The two well-meaning friends caught me unaware, so I had few filters on my speech, and I ended up saying some hurtful things to dear friends who came only to show me kindness! What a shame that I wasn't more gracious. Next morning I had to send out an apology.

How do we build godly earbuds? I love what Pastor Steven Lawson said, “Do you want to hear the audible voice of God? Read the Bible out loud.” Certainly, reading the Bible is the place to start, and it's even better if you can do it out loud. Studies say there are many different kinds of learners, so use whatever method works for you. You may learn best by reading aloud, listening, writing it down, studying it, acting it out, telling others about it, drawing a picture of it, or some other method. Not sure how you learn best? Try them all. (Parents, note: your child's best learning method may not be the same as yours.) Ask the Lord to help you develop the habit of interacting with the Word morning and evening, even if it's just reading one verse. As a bonus, I've found that reading the Bible as I go to bed at night is helping me to get better sleep, which is a real answer to prayer!

Sing to the Lord! I can tell you with confidence that music is a very powerful learning tool. We all know it's much easier to memorize lyrics of popular songs than silent lists of dreary facts. Let's use this gift of song which God has provided to learn His promises. Here's part of my personal testimony: At age 13, I was saved through the influence of neighbors who invited me to a charismatic fellowship. There I learned dozens of songs whose lyrics were straight out of Scripture, and those songs have stuck with me for decades. Time after time, the Holy Spirit has brought those words to mind at just the right moment when I really needed help. God's word will not return void. It's always a good influence.

Who or what has the greatest influence on you at this moment? Jesus, help us to be under Your influence.

God is faithful,
j

Copyright 2017 Janet A. Marney

 

 

Wednesday
May312017

The Weekly Encourager – May 31, 2017 – Can't Afford a House?

This week I feature a guest contributor. I've asked my husband Dave to share the story of how his coworker bought a house. That experience had a big impact on us.

"Family Finances" by Davide C. Marney

When it comes to deciding how to support a household financially, there is really only one rule: money coming in must exceed money going out.  Both sides of that balance are equally important. Saving money is exactly the same as making it. For example, choosing not to buy a new car @ $300/month vs. buying a used one @ $150/month is exactly the same as if you had gotten a $1,800/year raise.

Finances should be looked at in terms of net value. Net value measures not only how much you saved or earned, but how much it cost you to do so. For example, a young family where both parents work full time outside the home will need to pay for child care. The additional cost of that care must be subtracted from the additional income of the second job. The remainder is the net value of the income.

When I had my first real job after college, I worked alongside a man whose wife had a very nice, high-paying job, making making much more than either of us were. His family had a toddler and an infant at home, as mine did. We lived in equivalent neighborhoods. However, my wife was working as a homemaker.

One day my coworker asked me how it was that I, on my one income, was able to own my own home, yet he wasn’t able to rub two pennies together. So, we sat down with side-by-side spreadsheets and we ran the numbers on our incomes and expenses. What we found was that I was slowly making money over time, but he, with more than twice the income, was actually losing ground.

The reason was simply this: his life was far more expensive than mine. They had to pay for full-time child care, which for an infant is very expensive. They had much larger clothing expenses, because they both had to maintain professional attire. They had to have two cars, and they both had to be in good repair. They were exhausted after working all day, so they rarely made meals at home, and paid for food delivery or went out to restaurants. Many repairs had to be paid for out of pocket. They took nice vacations because they were both completely stressed out and felt they needed it.

And the list went on. For literally every expense category his were either larger, or were for expenses I and my family just didn’t have. It was quite an eye-opener.

A couple of months later, he left the company and moved to Texas. And six months after that, he wrote to tell me that he had moved because of that spreadsheet exercise! He had found a job where they had on-site day care as a benefit. His wife found a job where she could work partly from home. They sold both cars and bought one for cash. And within six months, they were able to put a down payment on a new house that was only 20 minutes from work. Their new mortgage was half of what had been their rent. Yes, their new combined incomes were lower, but they were higher than their new expenses. They were now making money over time.

So yes, it is possible to “make it” on one income -- even today. You must run the numbers for your particular set of circumstances, and see where you can save as well as earn. You have to start small; you can’t expect to immediately move into the kinds of houses your parents own -- remember, they didn’t start off in that kind of house, either! 

To Dave's article above, I'd like to add that, after running the numbers, he and I decided to live on one income while I was home raising our kids.  Before we had children, we deliberately chose a starter home that we could afford on one income.  We cooked our own food, shopped at thrift stores, drove used cars and vacationed with relatives most of the time in those early years.  We put a lot of "sweat equity" into that little property, which enabled us to sell it for a significant profit.  

By God's grace, that profit became the down payment for our second (much larger) house, where we still live today. Following Spreadsheet Finance, we were able to pay off our mortgage several years ago.  Choosing a simpler lifestyle early on made all the difference in our being debt-free now.  Another note: we've been tithing at least 10% to the Lord since the day we were married, yes, even on one very small income.  It is possible and it is the Biblical path to financial blessing.  

God is faithful,
j

 

 

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