Does God Provide? Part 3

In part 2 of this mini-series of posts, I mentioned that it’s not always easy to rely on God’s provision. I’m pretty sure this resonated with many people. And it continues to be a lesson I’m learning, too. Again and again . . .

Like the Psalmist, who among us hasn’t gotten to the point in our relationship with God, averie-woodard-123975when over troubles related to health, family, job or money, we’ve thrown up our hands and cried aloud, “What do you want from me, God?”

Actually, although that’s likely a sentence wrung from extreme emotions, it’s the perfect place to start, or even the perfect hand-hold to find on the arduous climb up the steep mountain of faith.

What does God want from us?  In Micah 6:8, we read an answer: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Great answer, Micah, and it looks terrific on a plaque we hang in our family rooms, but what exactly does that mean?

Jesus gives us a little more insight in Mark 12:30-32: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

It’s still not a step-by-step manual, is it? And to be honest, I could write a book on this topic (thousands have done just that; go to the Christian Living section of any faith-based bookstore). But let’s start here. to love someone, anyone, the first step is to get to know that person. God desires to be known by us. This is basically the theme of the Bible. He yearns for us to be so close to Him, to find intimacy with Him, to seek it with our whole beings. Only then can we even begin the process of loving Him.

What you will find is that part of the nature of God and how he expresses His love is His desire to provide for us. He is drawing us closer by asking that we rely on Him, and as we grow in Him, He will ask us to depend on Him more and more. It means relying on God rather than humans, banks, institutions, jobs, pay checks, book sales, IRAs, 401(k)s, insurance . . . none of those are evil, in and of themselves, but when we put our faith in them above God, they take on an unhealthy role in our lives and in our faith.

This is not something we learn once and live out forever. It’s a daily activity, sometimes hourly, even. For me, personally, I have to be reminded frequently.

The other day, my daughter brought me the money for her phone bill. She’s living at home and works, but I know she doesn’t make a lot. I asked if she was sure she wanted to pay that bill just now; I could carry her a bit, if it would make things easier on her.

“No, I need to do this,” she replied. “I have the money right now, and while I want to just hold onto it, I feel like God is asking me to let it go and trust Him.”

I was convicted by her words, because I’d needed to hear just that. I was reminded of something I’d read years ago: if we are holding onto something tightly, it is impossible for us to receive what God wants to give us. Try it. Make a fist, and try to catch something–anything. It’s virtually impossible.

This means that God wants us to be givers so that we can be receivers. Giving out of lack is a recurring theme in scripture, which means it’s something Jesus is asking us to do. If He asks something from us, it’s for our good. He doesn’t ask us to do things out of petty caprice. Each and every command is for our protection or growth.

I’d challenge you, then, if you are feeling a lacking or anxious about anything regarding what you have, act against conventional wisdom. Give. Give so that God may provide for you. Give so that He may bless you even more than you have given away; God will never be out-given.

I think of the widow, giving her last coin in the temple. I remember a story Catherine Marshall shared about a woman who owned a motel that she had dedicated to the purposes of God. She found herself with unbooked rooms for a long time, and her coffers were emptying fast. While praying, she felt moved to send the last of her funds to a ministry in New York.

Any financial advisor would call this madness. But God’s wisdom is often unappreciated by the world. In faithfulness and trust and obedience, this motel owner sent off the check.

That very night, every room in the motel was full, and so it remained for weeks, giving her more than enough to pay her bills. God will never be outdone by our generosity!

I’m embracing this lesson today. I urge you to try it. Give out of what you have. Open your hands and see how God will fill them. Trust, have faith and obey. Let Him bless you, even as you bless others.

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Does God Provide? Part 2

Writing about God’s provision is easy . . . when everything is good, when there is money in the bank, food in the pantry and fridge and a comfortable assurance that all needs will continue to be supplied well into the future.

annie-spratt-96529But what about when your bank account balance is in the single digits, you’re running out of ways to convince your family that Spaghettios really do embrace all food groups in one handy can, and there’s no prospect of improvement any time soon? Can you still claim that God provides?

Sometimes believing in God’s ability and willingness to take care of us is stretched.

Although we’ve been face-to-face with this reality over the course of the past year, it’s not new to us. Clint and I have been married for thirty years, and during the majority of that time, we’ve struggled financially, partly because we chose to live as a one-income family so that I could be home with the kids, partly because of some decisions we made . . . the whys aren’t important here.

Yet we’ve never gone hungry or been without a roof over our heads. In point of fact, we’ve been tremendously blessed, and we’ve had experiences and opportunities that defy belief.

Still . . . there have been, and continue to be, hours and days and weeks of quiet desperation. There are times when we cannot see how things are going to work out: when there’s no paycheck forthcoming–or it’s so small, it’ll be gone before it’s had time to settle into the bank. Or when the bills are mounting, and that one check you were counting on to cover those bills doesn’t show or doesn’t appear on time.

It seems as though it would be efficient and easy if the equation worked the way we’d like. We have a need. We tell God about it. He comes through, preferably delivering a check to our bank account–a surprise refund, an unexpected bonus or something else like that. We’re grateful, and everyone’s happy. Right?

But does it ever happen that way for you? Because it doesn’t usually for me. Instead, much more often, it seems that things get worse. A payment I expected doesn’t show up or some catastrophic expense arises–can you say the car needs a new fuel pump? Or the air conditioning in the house is shot? 

You see, when it comes to providing for us, God tends to see a bigger picture. There are a few constancies I’ve found in my life of trusting Him: in God’s economy, He doesn’t want to just supply our needs; He wants to grow us, to grow our faith. He wants to do more than just get us through our current crisis. So usually, we’ll end up coming out on the other side of the situation with a greater capacity for gratitude and a clearer vision of the path where God is leading.

I often find that it’s helpful to think of a parent’s relationship with her child when we consider how God sees us. When a baby is beginning to learn to walk, we don’t run to make sure the child has everything she needs at her fingertips. We might actually move a toy across the room, to encourage her to toddle over there on her own. It’s not cruelty; it’s love. So it is with God.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s not all sunshine and roses, and it’s often painful. But sometimes, knowing that this isn’t in vain or capricious helps to get us through. What does God want from us, ultimately? Our complete reliance. He knows that therein lies our truest happiness and peace. So He’s teaching us to do just that, training us to turn to Him first, to trust Him, to be content with Him.

Baby steps. That’s how it’s done. Thanks be to God for His patience with us as we learn to walk–with Him.

Does God Provide? (Part One)

aidan-bartos-313782

This is a topic that has been on my mind for . . . well, decades, if not longer. God has brought some interesting insights to me lately, and it seems it’s finally time to write this post, which will be in at least two parts (maybe more).

I need to go back to the beginning, or at least, to my beginning. I was raised in a family with a strong Yankee work ethic, a sense of do-for-yourself-and-keep-a-stiff-upper-lip. You earned something or you did without, and being financial savvy (read: making what the world says are smart decisions) was next to godliness. Heck, it might have even been godliness.

There is a still a large segment of today’s church who hold that same mindset, the idea that part of being a Christian is working hard at all costs to earn a lot of money and then investing wisely, being insured and passing that money onto the next generation. Sure, donations are part of that, and charitable giving is encouraged, but taking care of one’s self and one’s family is priority number one. That standard has been woven into the fabric of American Christianity until it seems impossible to extricate the church from the idea that God wants everyone to be successful–in terms of worldly success.

There are people who would never associate themselves with the term ‘prosperity gospel’, but who are in fact living it out, whether or not they are aware of it. They hold a subtle belief that God blesses us through material success. They hold those who achieve that success on a higher level of respect than they do those who do not.

Now let’s talk about how Jesus did it.

When the Son of God went looking for a group of guys with whom He would share His moments of deepest intimacy, instruction, and vulnerability, He didn’t seek out the movers and shakers of His day. He didn’t stop by the palace and ask Herod to hit the road with Him. He didn’t swing over to the synagogue to invite the Pharisees or scribes to be His wingmen. No, Jesus went to the edge of a lake and recruited simple fisherman. Laborers. Men who worked hard for a living and weren’t ashamed of it.

The disciples whom Jesus chose didn’t have bank accounts or 401(k)s. They didn’t wear rich robes or ride horses. They barely scraped by, and they walked everywhere.

Sure, Jesus did hobnob with some of the rich and famous of His day and area. The point isn’t that He focused on only poor or the ‘less successful’; the point is that He didn’t care about wealth or status–unless it stood in the way of salvation and redemption. See the meeting with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-27:

“As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.” Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”  But at these words, he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.”

Jesus didn’t say that riches necessarily precluded inclusion in the Kingdom of Heaven, but in this case, He saw that money and property were an obstacle to redemption, and since His way is always to help us see what encumbers us and to cast it away, He offered the answer.

Somewhere along the line, we in the American church have forgotten that–or we’ve chosen to look the other way.

Like Jesus, I’m not saying that having money, property or material riches keeps anyone from being a passionate follower of the Way. No, it’s how we feel–our heart attitude–about such things that can cause the trouble.

God wants to provide for us. He wants us to be aware that everything we have comes from Him and His graciousness. I’m reminded of the sentence we used to utter at the offering, from 1 Chronicles 19:14: “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.”

When we begin to have a sense that we’ve done something right that has resulted in our blessings, material or otherwise, we’re starting down a dangerous path. When we have a sense that someone else has done something wrong that has resulted in a lacking, we’ve placed ourselves in the seat of God, the judgement seat, where He does not want us.

So that’s my point here in part one. God wants to provide for us. He wants to give us everything, and He wants to us to realize that He has done this, because a posture of gratitude is a healthy one. It’s a place where we are open to God’s leading and to being used by Him as He has planned.

This is a lesson we’ve learned yet again over the past eight months.  Last year, we took a deep breath and committed to go where and how God would lead us. We made this vow with open hearts, knowing that sunshine and roses don’t always follow in the wake of this sort of choice.

God took us at our word. He asked if we would be faithful and trusting and obedient. That meant not seeking paid employment, even when we didn’t have a means of support. It meant humbling ourselves to ask for help, so that others can be part of His ministry and plan, too. It meant giving up the idol of a regular paycheck. It meant believing that when God says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you,” He really means it. When He says, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness and all these things will be added to you,” that’s for real.

Obedience and trust are daily decisions. There is no long-range plan, and that makes some people nervous. (We’d be lying if we didn’t say it can at times make us nervous!) After all, we’re not young kids with our lives in front of us. We are both in our fifties, and we have older kids, and we don’t have a trust fund or savings to fall back upon.

But what we do have is even more precious and trustworthy. We have the promises of our God, and His very near presence.

I have many stories I could share (and some I will, in the next parts), but this one is most recent. Just now, we’re doing okay, but not great. We’re waiting on some promised payments. The publisher who held most of my books until recently owes us money, and they are very late in paying. These are the times when trust becomes more difficult, and we begin to wonder again . . . are we really hearing from God? Is this truly what He is asking of us?

Last night, Clint preached at retirement village where he ministered as a hospice chaplain years ago and where he’s preached often in the past. A dear lady we’ve gotten to know there sat next to me, and apparently, at some point, she tucked a note into my purse. When I got home and pulled it out, the note read:

Dear Kandle Family,

You are all such a blessing to so many people. The Lord loves you and sends this gift to you through me.

Now, please know, we’ve never said anything to anyone here in this village about being in need. We have talked a bit about our ministry, but never in detail. But this is not the first time God has spoken to us through others, sending a word of encouragement and confirmation: Yes! You are hearing me. You are faithful, and I will never allow you to out-give me. I am faithful, too. I love you with an everlasting love, and I treasure your obedience. Follow me and trust me.

Follow . . . trust . . . obey . . . believe.

A component of our ministry is to give freely to all who seek help. We also welcome partnership with others in whatever way God leads, including donations if you feel God is leading you to do so. 

You can donate to The Community Chaplain here or via Paypal here.  You can also visit the Facebook page to see what exactly we’ve been doing lately.

Does God Provide? (Part Two) is coming soon. In that section, we’ll discuss HOW God provides for us . . . as in, what do we do when the rubber meets the road?

God’s Recipe for Manna?

I’ve been mulling over a sign I’ve seen on one of our local churches for a few weeks now:

God hasn’t forgotten the recipe for manna.

I wasn’t sure right at first why it kept catching my attention.  We know from the book of Exodus that when the Israelites escaped Egypt they endured hardships and grumbled, even suggesting they had been better in slavery if they would only starve in the desert.  So the Lord told Moses that he would rain down bread from heaven.  For some, the message of the manna tells of obedience and that’s an important lesson of course.  But as I thought of that church banner, my heart was focused on the faithfulness of God.   What is his recipe for manna?

just as much

We lost my sister suddenly about nineteen years ago this coming Thanksgiving.  It was my first year of marriage and my husband and I were out of town with his family.  Meanwhile, my family was gathering at my parents’ house.  A undiagnosed aneurysm took eighteen-year-old Cori that afternoon with all of my family there.  All but me.

Circumstances were such that I couldn’t get back home until the next morning.  I was devastated when I heard the news.  I remember screaming and throwing the phone.  I spent that evening crying in bed, clutching my rosary and wondering how this had happened and begging God to help me.

My mind was hazy and my heart lost as I board the airplane early the next morning.  But the moment I stepped off the plane, His strength bolstered me, cleared my mind.  He nourished me with “just as much” as I needed to take care of my family in those days of laying my sister to rest.

Unequivocally, it was Him, not me that saw us through that.  Because I was a broken soul, so lost in my grief that I would have had no ability at all.  But he was my manna in my hour of need.  But too, He made me the manna for my family.

And I thought of this, of the manna that nourishes our souls daily.  Sometimes without us even knowing it.  Because there is never, ever a day that he fails to rain down for us.  But sometimes we are as the Israelites, grumbling about what we don’t have when we have only to look up to see the truth.

My husband and I have had a rough year.  We’ve been embroiled in lawsuits within our community that pitted people we once considered friends against us.  We moved here to our lake home seeking a community to which we could enjoy his retirement years.  In some ways, it began to seem like our bane instead of our dream.

I’ve been using my new series as a cathartic release for my anxiety, hurt and my anger.  And it’s helping, but the one area I’ve had the most trouble with is my anger.  And because of that, I’ve found it hard to offer forgiveness.  In fact, I’ve rebelled the idea of forgiving.  I’ve held my fury in my hand and shaken my fist towards the heavens in abject rejection of forgiving the hurts… but lately, I’ve felt this little whisper in my ear that I have to let it go.

So God provided the manna.  Earlier this week a post appeared on Faithful.live with a big banner that said: “as we Forgive those who trespass against us.”  And I wept as I read it because I knew that my Lord was speaking to me.  And after that I pronounced in my heart that I forgave those who wronged us (if you read the article you’ll understand that I haven’t yet forgiven them.  But I’ve opened my heart to God’s grace so that I will eventually.)

Copy of Copy of -I have set you an example so that you should do as I have done for you.-

I’ve realized more lately how blessed I am to have my husband by my side.  We’ve often joked over the years that we take turns if one of us isn’t feeling well or has a bad day, the other picks up the slack.  But isn’t that His gift, to give us our helpmate in times of need?  Again, the manna in the form of a partner for our lives.

And now that God is working on my heart, I know that now my husband and I can work together so that we can both reach the point of forgiveness.  And so that someday soon, we too will discover the peace that can only be had by our Lord within our hearts.

So today the lesson of the manna is twofold.  One, that I should always try to be open to receive whatever nourishment he provides.  But also, just as importantly, that I should accept God’s calling that I be His manna.

candace

Not Forgotten

I had a completely different blog post to write today. I had it roughly planned in my head to talk about what happened with us with the church five months ago and what’s been going on since then. But God had other plans.

(I will write that one, but apparently not today.)

It’s been a long five months since my husband and the church where he served parted ways. There have been happy days, and days that are peaceful, and there has been growth and learning and listening to God. But there have also been hard days–weeks–painful times, anger, hurt, sorrow and feelings of desperation, fear and the painful sense of being cast aside.

There are times when we have felt the presence of God so strongly, and times when we’ve felt as though He’s forgotten us.

This morning was one of those latter times. Nothing was wrong, per se, except that we’re working hard not to be anxious about provision or lack thereof, and we’re struggling to meet needs of those who have reached out while still being conscious of giving time and attention to our own family and to each other.

I was talking to Olivia, and I suddenly had a flash of a scene from the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. It was the part where Joseph is in prison, wrongfully accused of having tried to rape the wife of a high official in Egypt. He’s interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, but they have forgotten him.

toa-heftiba-278088Close every door to me, 
Hide all the world from me

Bar all the windows
And shut out the light

Just give me a number
Instead of my name
Forget all about me
And let me decay
I do not matter,
I’m only one person
Destroy me completely
Then throw me away
I picked up my Bible, intending to look at that part of Genesis. As I set it on the table, the book fell open . . . to that exact chapter and verse. (Genesis 40:23)
The commentary in my study Bible noted: “Humanly speaking, Joseph was a forgotten man, stuck in prison with no hope of ever getting out. God alone remembered his existence.”
An hour later, as I folded laundry, I realized I was humming a hymn I traditionally associate with Thanksgiving:
We gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing;

He chastens and hastens His will to make known;
The wicked oppressing now cease from distressing;
Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not His own.

There it was again. He forgets not His own. 

I love it when God reaches out to give us reminders, if only we’ll open our eyes to see them. Even as I sat here at the table, struggling to hold onto His words, Clint got a phone call from a friend. It wasn’t anything that changed where we are or how we’re doing, but this man reached out to check on us, subtly letting us know that he had not forgotten about us.

We are not alone.

All of us have plans and dreams and a certain route we’ve mapped in our lives. We see how things should go in the World According to Us. It seems so clear, so simple, that when our journey veers from that plan, it’s hard to accept it or to reconcile our ways with His ways.

Isaiah 55:8: “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.…”

Stubbornly, I want things to go MY way. I reason with God: “It would really be nice if . . . I can’t see why this can’t happen . . . Seriously, just give us this and we’ll make it work.” But what I’ve learned is that if we have told God that we are handing Him the reins, he’s taking us as our word. He’s going to lead us the way He knows will bring us the most growth, the most blessing (ultimately) and the greatest most efficient fulfillment of HIS will.

Thy kingdom come, THY will be done . . .

It’s not our timing. It’s not our way. It’s His. And what He asks of us is trust, obedience and whatever confidence we can manage to dredge up.

Lamentations 3:25-26  “The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,  to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”

Folks, I’m here to tell you, if you haven’t experienced it yet . . . this isn’t easy. It’s painful, this stretching and stripping and growing. It hurts. It tears us from friends and family and comfort and contentment and a sense of belonging. It can mean sleepless nights, days of tension and uncertainty about what comes next . . . it’s not for the faint of heart.

God’s economy is such that He will never accomplish just one thing when He can affect more than one. He loves to bless as many people as possible and grow as many as possible. That’s why HIS timing is so important. That’s why He calls us to wait on Him.

So today, I’m clinging to that promise. He hasn’t forgotten us. Remember what happens with Joseph? Pharaoh has a dream, and finally, the cupbearer remembers that Israelite down in the prison, who was kind of good at interpreting these things. Joseph, who could’ve been forgiven for expecting never to see the light of day again, tells Pharaoh what God is saying, and his foresight and faith are rewarded when he is elevated to the highest position in the land under Pharaoh.

What’s more, he is eventually reunited with his family and comes to know great blessing. God used Joseph: if Joseph had not been sold by his brothers, kidnapped to Egypt, wrongfully accused and put into prison, he wouldn’t have been in a position to guide Egypt and to help his family during the famine.

For we know we shall find
Our own peace of mind
For we have been promised
A land of our own.

I’m holding tight today. I am not forgotten. God doesn’t forget His promises or His people. Will you pray with me and for me?

Scoot Over, Jonah

I’m right behind you!

Why is it that we wait until the seas are turbulent and the waves are crashing before we finally hit our knees and ask God for help? Man, we’re stupid! At least, I know I can be. Maybe you’re not and if that’s the case, please let me know your secret.

I recently had a situation where I truly felt like I was drowning. Even now, there are days when I cough up water and my chest aches from the pain. Life went to crap. Plain and simple. Family warred against family, businesses split, and walls were built- literally. I spent two days nailing up pickets so that I could block myself in and keep others out.

How did it all start? Well, I decided to save the day, of course. It’s my nature to fix things for people. I have an empathetic spirit and when I sense someone’s pain or frustration or desperation, I want to help. I want to get in there and make it all better. Unfortunately, that’s not always the best practice.

Things went down hill from there. Which is usually what happens when we try to tell God how to fix situations in our lives. I see such a tiny speck of the world and He sees everything. Yet, somehow I thought I was smart enough to tell the creator of the universe how this problem should be fixed. My solution was to step away from what God called me to do and step into a role I had no business filling.

See, I believe with all my heart that God called me to write. I may not be the next big thing, but within my soul is a desire to create stories that transport the reader away from reality, if only for a short while. I understand the need for that blissful reprieve from being JoAnna: mother, wife, daughter, business woman. Escaping into a good novel is one of my life’s simple pleasures. Years ago, I knew God was calling me to give that same gift to others.

Just like Jonah, I ran from that calling out of fear for quite a while. I was taught to get a real job, one that came with a weekly paycheck and stability. Artsy-fartsy hobbies were nice, but they didn’t deserve as much attention as a true career in the real world. And being a writer meant that someone might actually READ something I’d written–EEEEEK! OMG!

What if they didn’t like it? What if it sucked? What if, what if, what if, what if…

All the while, God was there, gently pushing me in the right direction. He said, “Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down.” Philippians 4:6.

I prayed about publishing. I prayed about what I wrote and just as promised, God’s wholeness settled me down. Ten books later, I’m glad that I didn’t give in to worry and doubt. Through the process, He showed me that when I follow His guidance, my steps were ordered.

Right up until I pulled a Jonah! (You know it’s bad when your name becomes a verb…just sayin.)

Jonah didn’t want to obey. He didn’t want those people to be redeemed or saved because he thought they were bat-crap crazy. (They needed Jesus, so I would assume that is a safe description.) He kindly tipped his hat, said peace out, and went somewhere else. As my redneck husband would say, “He gone.”

Yep, that was me! I know what you told me, God, I do. But see, I know these people and they need me to fix their issues. I know you said to keep your nose out of it. I heard you. But you clearly don’t understand what it takes to deal with this, Lord. I’ll do it my way. Thanks.

That, my friends, is how I ended up in my proverbial whale, surrounded by stinking junk of my own making. I ran from God’s directions. I did it my way. I failed.

One of my friends even asked me, “Jo, do you remember what happens to people who run from God?”

I broke down crying and said, “I don’t want to get eaten by a fish!”

It was too late by then. I was already sitting side-by-side with Jonah. Idiots, both of us.

Aren’t you thankful that God doesn’t leave us in our crap? Woohoo!

Just like Jonah, I cried out for help. There was no way I could do this on my own. My family was suffering, my finances were pathetic, my friends were worried. I was in a pit of my own making with no way out.

The thing that hits me about Jonah’s story is that he was puked up after he cried for help. Do you remember that little detail? He didn’t float miraculously on a cloud from the open, clean mouth of the beast he’d tamed, wearing white and his hair blowing in the wind. He was spewed like rancid meat. Gross!

Even after we ask the Lord for help, even after we cry out and lay it down at His feet, we still have to climb out of the crap we’ve created. It’s not always a swift clean up. There is no clapper for miracles. I’ll be honest, I’m still peeling off the seaweed and fish bones. I might even stink a little. Sorry.

But Jonah and I have one thing in common: We’ve both vowed to do what God has told us. God told me to write, and I think this is a great time to remember that calling. It just so happened that as I had this epiphany, my wonderful friends asked me to be on this blog. Funny how God works, isn’t it?

The rest of Jonah’s story is pretty interesting. You should read it. He’s a stubborn fellow. I guess I’ll have to see how much more we have in common as the days pass. Who knows, maybe I’ll see a great host of people turning towards the Lord because I obeyed? Wouldn’t that be sweet!?

**JG**

 

Faith in the Fire

Last night, my husband and I re-watched the movie Contact with our youngest daughter who had never seen it. (She was only two when it came out 20 years ago.) It’s always been one of my favorites, but I hadn’t seen it in a while; it’s not one of those movies you can turn on while doing something else. It requires concentration and focus.

depositphotos_40956519_original.jpgIt’s rather a conundrum of a story: an atheist scientist (played by Jodie Foster) is obsessed with making contact with other life-forms in the universe. She ultimately does hear something that leads her, along with the rest of the world, to a situation wherein they build a machine designed to take her to Vega, the genesis of the message. What happens there is life-altering to her, but ultimately can never be proved, because there is no video, no audio, nothing tangible which she can produce to make her claims concrete.

In a twist of fate, she, who had always scoffed at believing what she couldn’t touch, finds herself asking others to take on faith something that they find preposterous.

Watching this movie was timely for me. I firmly believe that if we allow it, God uses everything in our lives to guide us, to assure us and to inspire us . . . and after a rough few weeks, we needed a little affirmation. Because, you see–and perhaps you know this–living on faith isn’t always easy.

When my husband’s position at the church was eliminated five months ago, on Epiphany, we were in shock, we were hurt and we were reeling. We’d been abruptly and without warning cut off not only from his ministry and his job, but also from the church we’d been attending for seven years. The rhythm of our lives was destroyed, and we couldn’t see the future.

However, underpinning of all of these feelings was a foundation of faith. First of all, in the week leading to Christmas last year, we had fasted together, praying that God would lead us, open doors and show us His plan. Now, this wasn’t particularly the outcome we had anticipated, but it was undeniably His path. Several other things happened that made it clear that He had gone ahead of us, as He promises (more on that in another post).

But of course, we had immediate needs, too. The knee-jerk reaction to losing a job is usually to find another one, right? But I felt very strongly that God was asking us to do something new. So instead of jumping into a new church, a new chaplaincy position or anything else, we purposed to wait on Him, to see where He is leading.

To say it hasn’t been easy is a gross understatement. These five months have been painful on a level we haven’t experienced in a very long time. There have been personal hurts, as those we thought of as spiritual brothers and sisters struck out in attacks that leave me breathless–and not in a good way. There have been days when God has seemed silent, and Clint struggled, wondering if he was hearing God at all. There have been days that are so painfully empty, they echo.

In addition to that, having no reliable income has been a challenge. Thanks to a royalty check in February, we were all right for a while, but the longer we are unemployed, the harder it becomes, as anyone who has been through this can tell you. My own book sales, which we’ve hoped would rise to help sustain us, haven’t been great, and there is quite a gap between what I earn each month and what our bills require.

This is me being brutally honest, folks. I’d love to be able to report that God provided so mightily that we never had a worry. I’d love to say no bill has been late or unpaid. I’d love to say we’ve gone from the strength to strength. But that’s not the case. It doesn’t mean God isn’t faithful–He is. It doesn’t mean we don’t trust–we do. But this is the kind of faith that the world really can’t understand. It’s a faith that is at war with our rational selves, and it’s contrary to American cultural.

You see, the hard truth is that in this country and this age, we support faith in God for some things, but when it comes to money–that makes us uncomfortable. We’ve definitely learned this in the past months. People want Clint to have a job. They want him to be employed. When we say we’re trying to be faithful to God’s call and that means not seeking paid employment just now, they sometimes become agitated. They don’t like it.

And in God’s economy, when He provides, he doesn’t simply cover one need. Usually, in our experience at least, He provides using another person to minister to him or her and He makes sure we can see His hand in the provision . . . and He teaches us something else, too. Because, you see, the point isn’t the provision–it’s the trust.

I don’t believe God wants us to be living moment to moment because He’s capricious. This is an exercise in growing us. He wants us to rely on HIM, not on jobs, salaries, health insurance, royalty checks or anything else. He is a bountiful God, and His desire is for our growth and our well-being.

I remind myself of that on days when I can’t see how things are going to get better. Right now, I can’t see how bills are going to be paid next week. Right now, the coffers are pitifully empty. Clint’s looked for jobs, and all we’ve gotten back are tumbleweeds; it is glaringly obvious to me that God wants him to continue in this ministry to those to whom no one else is reaching.

(If you want to see what we’re doing, check out The Community Chaplain on the website or on Facebook.)

BUT . . . God is good. Will the bills be paid? Maybe . . . and maybe not. I don’t delude myself into thinking I know what He knows or see what He sees. His plan is greater, and that’s where my faith has to be anchored. If God doesn’t provide as we hope He will, and if we end up living on the street, does that mean our faith is misplaced? No. It means we haven’t seen the end of the plan yet. Will we like it? Probably not. But it doesn’t mean our faith is wrong or that His promises are empty.

I can’t explain this kind of faith. It reminds me of an exchange from the movie last night:

Palmer Joss:
Did you love your father?

Ellie Arroway:
What?

Palmer Joss:
Your dad. Did you love him?

Ellie Arroway:
Yes, very much.

Palmer Joss:
Prove it.

Like love, faith is one of those glorious intangible. I can’t prove it. But I can trust it, and I can believe.

I hope you will, too.