“Encourage one another and build each other up.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Did not realize how sensitive the head is until I experienced a head injury a few months ago. I have hit my head a number of times on taxi doors and my car but not until a cold night in February did the impact of my head against the doorframe bruise my scalp so bad to cause nerve damage. Thankfully, I did not blackout and do not have neurological damage. But, over the past few months, I have struggled with pain in my head, light sensitivity, and nerve pain particularly on my forehead and other parts of my face and behind my ears. While I am so thankful for the lessening of the nerve pain and my doctor saying the nerves will heal, it has been incredible frustrating to “feel off” and not be able to complete the book that I am so close to finishing.
During this time, God has led others to encourage me in the moments when I needed it and taught me that I need people regularly praying for me so that they can fight for me in the spiritual realm. I know that the Lord allowed this injury and want to learn what He desires to teach me during this time. The enemy has used this to delay my writing and put pressure on me through pain and his voice of discouragement. But, I have felt strengthening through the prayers of a few friends and family members. With head injuries, your head feels heavy, so the lightness that I have experienced as I continue to heal feels heavenly. The burden of this pain feels so much lighter as others help carry my burden through prayer.
Hearing the voice of preachers say since I was a teen about receiving nourishment through the Lord’s Supper has made me want to experience that more. With nerves quite active one Sunday evening, I sat on the back row of my brother’s church. During the Lord’s Supper, I experienced more of the fullness of that nourishment in ways that I have never experienced- the warmth of God’s presence smoothing the pain and lightness in the form of joy not just on the inside but I felt like my whole body was alive. I walked out of the service feeling like I had been to a doctor. This happened at a small PCA church during a normal Sunday service. My point for saying that is: God meets us in our daily lives in extraordinary ways.
It has not been an uphill climb with my progress as there have been some dips. One Saturday, a headache hit me harder than I had ever experienced. Then on Tuesday though it was much better, I did not realize since I have a high endurance factor and positive attitude how I needed to let God more into my pain. In a safe space with a loving friend and physical therapist, I allowed myself to release the pain built up on the inside. I did not know this was a common experience a part of facilitating healing for a head injury. I laid it all out on the table with God that day, and then the next day God showed me that He sees my pain and need for encouragement. Someone reached out to my about an opportunity that could be very rewarding and make a difference in other’s lives and further God’s plan for my book.
Often we think that God will do big things when we are feeling strong and doing well. But, in our weakness He is strong. I realize that I will have to rely on His strength to finish my writing enduring nerve pain. He sees all of this and allowed me to finish my writing pushing through pain with His strength. There are many more things that God will teach me from this experience. The number one thing that He wants me to tell you today is: God sees you and will encourage you through your pain.
– Mary Carmen
“Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.” Luke 1:45 NKJV
Thank you for going on a faith journey with me this year. Now, it’s time for a faith test.
Do you really believe that all you are working for will work out? It seems like an easy yes, but look a little deeper. When you work hard for something you assume there is a possibility that it will work out. Otherwise, why would you invest the time and effort? I thought my faith was soaring at a 10 out of 10 until until something actually worked out and I was stunned. Why was I stunned that the highest and best possible outcome actually happened? Do I pour out my life with the expectation it won’t go well? Then, why all this effort? What good is faith if you don’t walk in the peace of true expectation.
When the angel appear to Mary and told her she would be the mother of the Savior of the world, her reaction was pure belief. In my speak, she responded, “Let’s do this.” Her faith was a 10 out of 10. I get her. At the beginning of a recent journey where I know I hear the Lord call me out into a new season far beyond my expectation and own ability, I believed. I acted on it. Then, the journey got long. The initial excitement of the new adventure morphed into work, a lot of work. I began working out a God-sized dream in my own strength, and apparently my expectation faded.
Now it’s time to test everything I claim to believe.
- Do I really believe in heaven? The answer is in my view of death. Do I fear it, or not?
- Do I really believe the Lord works out all things for my good and His glory? The answer is in my worry, or freedom from it. What am I worried about?
- Do I believe “there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told [to me] from the Lord?” The answer is in my restlessness, or rest. Am I at rest in His great peace, or wrestling with myself?
How will you respond to good news?
Take the faith test and continue the great adventure!
In His Unfailing Love,
“Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.” II Kings 4:3-4
We began reflecting on Preparing for the Impossible Part I in April by looking at the story of the precious widow in II Kings 4 who finds herself unable to pay her debts. A creditor is demanding she turn over her sons to be his slaves. She needs a miracle and appeals to the prophet Elisha to help since her husband faithfully served his ministry.
Elijah instructs her to borrow as many empty jars as possible from her neighbors. Then to go into her house, shut the door, and with her sons help, pour her single flask of olive oil into the multiple jars, being sure to set each aside after each is filled.
What?! Elisha, did you not hear the inventory of what is in the house? That would be only ONE flask of olive oil. Maybe Israel’s spiritual state is causing you to go over the edge?
Let’s also think about the possibility of awkwardness or even ridicule. This precious widow approaches her neighbors asking them for empty containers. The nosy neighbor down the way inquires, “What are you doing with the container?” “Oh, I have a flask of olive oil I am using to fill up more containers.” “But if you transfer the olive oil from your flask to this jar, what’s the point? I know you are distraught over losing your husband. Perhaps you need to talk to someone.”
When I ponder about how God is about to do the impossible in her story, I see several ways the widow made room in her heart and circumstances for Him to do so.
*Belief that God operates in the realm of the impossible. When Elisha directed her to go to her neighbors and fetch the containers, the widow did not shut him down or search for another plan. She remained opened to unusual results from ordinary actions.
*Belief that God will work through people around her to bring about the impossible. The widow enlisted the help of her neighbors to lend her the containers and her sons to help fill them. Notice that God gives her sons the joy and awe of seeing the impossible as she exercises faith.
*Belief that God will take care of her reputation even if others respond with misunderstanding, doubt, or laughter. She doesn’t have control over how others respond and so she surrenders how she looks in the situation.
Like the widow I can resonate with being in financial distress at times as God gives me the opportunity to trust Him by faith. My salary and ministry expenses are met through donations from faith filled believers to Sacred Story. Thankfully I have not found myself facing the stress of creditors coming after me! However, there are times I look around, only seeing a “flask of olive oil” and think, how am I and the ministry going to keep making ends meet?
During these times I look to God, offer my small flask of faith and pray for Him to come through in ways that only He can. I can testify to many impossible financial situations becoming possible over the years. People’s generosity toward the ministry are like the gifts of containers from neighbors. Then God uses the joining of generosity and faith to overflow blessing to those who receive the oil of the Holy Spirit’s encouragement through the ministry.
Almost half way through the year, I am looking at the ongoing financial needs for the ministry for 2018. It feels impossible right now and yet I continue to offer my “flask of olive oil” by faith, however weak my faith may be. I also let go of how people view me; sometimes that’s more easily said than done.
Have you received encouragement from Sacred Story through the blog entries, women’s stories, materials, retreat, equipping for your sharing your story and/or connection to others? If so, will you prayerfully consider giving a “container for the oil of hope” to reach others by making a financial contribution? I am looking to the Lord for about $4500 for the remainder of the year. As you feel prompted follow this secure link to donate online. All gifts are tax deductible.
I’ll be honest – when I began writing this post, sharing about financial needs was the farthest thing from my mind; however, as the Spirit leads I sense Him asking me to take the faith step of doing the “normal” or “familiar” thing by asking you to consider giving. I am trusting Him to make all things possible once again in the financial area. Thank you for thinking about this and praying for God’s provision!
Like our sister in II Kings who trusted God may we continue to offer our faith and obedience to the One who delights in doing the impossible.
“…Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt. 4:4
Some time in my twenties I made the decision to read through the whole Bible. I found a plan and I checked the box each day I read a chapter from the Old Testament, a chapter from the New Testament and a Psalm or Proverb. I got off track several times and had to make up days when I didn’t read my assignment. Sometimes (a lot of times) I found myself skimming passages just so I wouldn’t fall far behind in my reading. Needless to say, I finally finished the “plan” and completed my Bible in about 18 months.
When I look back I readily admit my reading through the Bible was mostly from a sense of obligation mixed with pride. Bless my heart. Legalism never produces joy and I was clearly motivated by works and approval, from both God and man.
Twenty years have passed and I have studied many books of the Bible mixed with periodic attempts of reading through the whole Bible again. I have tried a few daily reading plans and checking boxes. Usually somewhere around Leviticus I fade out and eventually give up.
In more recent years I have pondered the bigger question: why should I read the whole Bible? Is it something I need to do as a Christian or is there a grander purpose? Is it okay to just continue studying specific books of the Bible (in women’s Bible study or in church sermon series) without reading through the whole Bible?
Seeking to turn from legalism, I thought about these questions and prayerfully came to some conclusions. I truly want to know the Lord more deeply–His ways, His character, His wisdom, His truth. The best way to know Him more fully is to read His entire Word. It is easy to keep going back to the books in the Bible where life application is obvious and I don’t have to think so hard and wrestle with the challenging aspects of an infinite God. But I know there are things the Lord wants to teach me in Obadiah, Nahum & Leviticus.
Reading through the whole Bible gives me the broader perspective on each of the individual books as I study them. It all fits together as one story and if I leave some of it out, I’ll miss out on understanding the bigger picture of the Lord and His purposes.
God’s redemptive story of reconciling a broken, sinful people to Himself through Jesus is seen through every book in the whole Bible, not just in parts. In some books it is not as obvious. It takes thought and time. Like any good story, one part builds on the next. In order to fully appreciate the New Testament books, we need the backdrop of the Old Testament books.
As I thought through these conclusions I began observing how my husband was going about his Bible reading. Almost every night when we got into bed he would pick up his Bible and read. Some nights he read several chapters. Other nights he would read just a couple. He would miss a night here or there but–get this–there wasn’t a plan. He just read what he could and there was no pressure. No boxes to check. No getting behind or ahead.
Once I discovered his genius non-plan plan, it was like a light bulb went on and I realized this was the answer. Isn’t this the way we read every other book? We don’t sit down with a book and a plan to get through it. We read as much as we want or can at the time and enjoy it. Obviously the Bible isn’t just any book. It is alive and powerful (Heb. 4:12) which is an excellent motivation to read it. It is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproofing, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It is the only book that has the power to set men free (John 8:32). It can change lives, make them wise, revive souls! (Ps. 19:7). It is the only book that gives comfort, life and hope (Ps. 119:50).
This is how I read my Bible now. I read the Bible whenever I can for as long as I can. I started reading Genesis again earlier this year but I don’t know the day. It’s freeing to not care (no box to check)! Currently I’m in the book of Deuteronomy. I am also trying to read a psalm slowly and just take a few verses and meditate on them after I read the longer chapters I’m going through. Currently I’m meditating on a few verses Psalm 86.
My hope is that this will be my routine for the rest of my life. Once I finish Revelation, I plan to start back with Genesis again. I’m thankful for a wise husband who demonstrated for his legalistic leaning wife a grace-oriented way to approach the Scripture. To be clear, however you choose to read your Bible, reading plan or not, God blesses the reading of His Word. May the Word of God dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16) and may His Word thoroughly equip you for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:17).
“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.” Psalm 55:22
At the turn of the new year, the Lord asked me “Will I find faith in the earth?” I knew faith had to start with me, right here in my own heart. He then showed me how faith acts Resolutely Now because Faith Forges Ahead. After all these messages you would think fear is a thing of my past. Truth is, fear still creeps in disguised as control. Here’s how.
- I want to be a great mom. What can I do for each of my kids that gives them what they need in this season of life?
- I want to be a great leader. What can I do to motivate everyone to their best?
- I want others to know the great love of God. What can I do to reach them?
These are all noble pursuits, but there is a fatal flaw in my approach to each one. Can you see it?
Did the Lord call me to be a good mom, put me in positions of leadership and tell others about Him? Yes. Did he tell me to figure it out on my own from here? No. Consider the Israelites after they entered the promised land. Did they inhabit it in their own strength?
“We have heard it with our ears, O God; our ancestors have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our ancestors; you crushed the peoples and made our ancestors flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.” Psa 44:1-3 NIV
It was not by their own strength, determination, grit and weaponry, but by God’s strength and great love for them.
God calls himself the great I AM. He has never changed. His great love for the Israelites then is the same love for you and me today. It is present and active. His strength never fails. It is present and active. Why do I take one step of faith and try to figure out the rest without Him?
How will I figure out how to resolve this conflict? No, I AM.
How will I make financial ends meet? No, I AM.
How will I ever trust again? No, I AM.
How will I finish my degree? No, I AM.
How will I conquer this disease? No, I AM.
How will I love my enemy? No, I AM.
How can I make my life matter? No, I AM.
I AM, by my right hand, my arm, and the light of my face, that is turned toward you, because I love you.
Lord, you called me across the Jordan into the Promised Land of your very presence. You gave your life for me. I give my life to seek first your kingdom and you will bring victory. You never let the righteous fall.
What care can you cast on Him today?
In His Unfailing Love,
“In the spring at the time when kings go off to war, …. David remained in Jerusalem.” 2 Samuel 11:1
How can God seeing our struggle with our desires help us to seek Him in times of temptation? Not once but for the third time has God drawn my attention to the cover of David’s sin with Bathsheba in the past few weeks. Why draw my attention to David? David was a good guy- a man who loved God and sought to do what it is right and work for the greater good day in and day out.
The Bible describes David as a man after God’s own heart. I think that God wants to show us from this story that the best of us fall. Yes, we fall and we fail: no one is immune from failure. Most sermons on David and Bathsheba do not mention David’s sin until he slept with Bathsheba. Let’s take a step back. Sin begins well before sleeping with her. I do not think that David woke up that morning and thought I am going to sleep with another man’s wife. Sin is more subtle and progressive. 2nd Samuel 11:1 tells us that David remained in Jerusalem when kings go off to war.
Why is this so significant? David was supposed to be at war, not at home. He was probably so exhausted in every way and lonely, so it seemed natural to stay home instead of going out to war. When we are tired, we are more vulnerable to temptation. He never would have dreamed that staying at home would have lead to so much sin and the death of one of his closest friends. Being in the wrong place reveals more the condition of his heart. Had he been talking to God about his loneliness and exhaustion would Bathsheba have been so enticing? We are most vulnerable when we are not open with God about our struggles and desires. If we are not seeking God to fill and fulfill those desires, then we will try to meet them in the way that we want.
Have you been to the wrong place too, and it led to a heap of trouble? Our first reaction is to say that I wish that I had never been there. We shift the blame to going there or another person. We can go back to a place that we had a bad experience another time and have a good experience. Why is that? It is not about the location, but who you seek in that place: Do you seek God to fill your desires, or do seek to fulfill your desires in your way and in your time? We can trust that God sees our desires and failures and will help us to align our desires with His and forgive our failures.
– Mary Carmen
“What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?” “Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied. II Kings 4:2
I stared at the flier in my hand where the theme for the upcoming retreat stared back at me, “The Possibility of the Impossible.” Having chosen my word for the year as possible, I thought “THIS is my retreat!”
The retreat was targeted to “mature” singles from my church which basically means older. Lord, how did I get here? As I shared in an earlier post called Moving Possible Mountains the area of singleness and my desire for marriage is one of the mountains I can be tempted to doubt God can move in my life.
My dear friend and I loaded up our stuff – more than enough for two nights (we women need options!) – and headed down 59 North to the retreat center in east Texas. The speaker, Ken Brumley from Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, brought insightful and moving messages about God’s work in the realm of the impossible as he taught based on I Samuel 17, the battle of David and Goliath.
At one point, Mr. Brumley brought up the reality that we do not see the impossible because we fail to prepare. David practicing slinging stones for many years before his time arrived to sling the stone at Goliath and hit the exposed place between Goliath’s eyes, the only place that his armor didn’t cover.
I begin to think about preparing for the impossible and what that looks like. While asking the Lord to teach me more, the story from Scripture which surfaced in my mind is the widow in II Kings 4:1-7.
The chapter begins with the widow’s dire distress of being unable to pay her debts and the nightmare of her sons becoming slaves to pay off a creditor. She calls to Elisha, asking him to remember how her husband was loyal to him and feared the Lord. Elisha asks her what she has in the house and the widow replies “nothing at all” – except a flask of olive oil.
This dear lady feels helpless as she is being threatened by loss. Loss of her sons. Loss of her home. Loss of her dignity. She is facing intimidation from an enemy which tells her she will not see the impossible.
Notice how she and her family have been preparing for the impossible. They seek the Lord and have done so for years. I am confident this is not the first time they need a miracle. I would guess they’ve not only invested time but also contributed to the needs of Elisha when they had resources because his ministry represented the Lord’s purposes in Israel.
It is clear to me that one of the ways to prepare for the impossible is faithful perseverance even in the mundane. Praying for a friend or family member to come to Christ, loving people through words of encouragement, memorizing and praying Scripture, staying open to growing through relationships, stepping out to broach spiritual topics with your friend/neighbor/family member when you feel less than courageous, serving in capacities that are not recognized, giving to God’s purposes when finances are tight. . .
I also see that Elijah’s direction to the widow teaches that preparing for the impossible means recognizing God works through what is already known and available – when it seems far from enough or there is little potential. The widow had nothing left except the olive oil. I imagine she used olive oil on a regular basis and was familiar with how it was bought and sold. God asked her through Elijah to open her eyes to what He had put in front of her. Even when it is only a small amount she willingly offered it.
What seems too familiar to think God can work to bring about the impossible? Perhaps a musical gift that is underdeveloped, a stagnant relationship, a struggling business or ministry, a message that is stirring but there aren’t opportunities to share it, a dream that has yet to materialize, a budget that is too tight, a child or family member who isn’t interested in the things of God. . .like the widow, we look at what God has placed in our lives and offer it to Him in faith instead of just looking at the deficit.
Sister, join me in standing against the intimidation of the enemy who wants us to believe there is only loss and struggle in our future. I am asking God to prepare me for the impossible by giving me the perseverance to be diligent in the daily things of God. I am asking Him to open my eyes to see by faith the familiar things before me that He can work in and through to do the impossible. There is more to learn from this moving story of a widow in need so stay tuned as I will pick back up in May. Please encourage myself and other sisters by sharing an impossible situation you are looking for God to turn around or one that you’ve already seen become a reality. Read Preparing for the Impossible Part II
“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.” This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” So this is what the soldiers did.” John 19:23-24 NIV
Every Easter the journey to the cross reveals something new about our Savior. The intensity of the story is loaded with details, each with eternal significance. This year I noticed a detail that came alive in a whole new way. John tells the story of the soldiers dividing Christ’s clothes. I could never see through the shocking humiliation of my Jesus being stripped bare to notice his undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom. It remained untorn.
Lord, you are My Undergarment on which layers of life rest.
Seamless, you are the only piece of me that doesn’t require extra stitching.
Woven, heaven and earth intertwined by the love of our Father, piercing my sin over with mercy, under with grace, over again, under again, loop by loop.
Saturated, with blood-filled sweat of your willing sacrifice.
Bought, at a price I can never repay.
Removed, that my sin would be exposed and hung on the back of the Perfect Lamb.
Redeemed, that I may be enrobed in righteousness.
At the end of my days, when all the layers are stripped away, My Undergarment will remain, and you will usher me into eternity.
Thank you for making a way for me and all those who call you Savior.
You are risen, indeed!
In Your Unfailing Love,
“From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Ps. 61:2
Two months ago I shared my prayer for the New Year, More of Jesus. Like some of you, I began 2018 feeling overwhelmed. I had lost sight of the fact that the Lord promises to walk with me through the struggle. I forgot that He is the one orchestrating my life events and providing the opportunities to prove how much I truly need Him.
As I prayed about these things, I discovered I was simply not turning to the Lord throughout my day to give me help, perspective and wisdom. I had been slogging through in my own strength. No wonder I felt so defeated. It was such a revelation for me when I clued in that I was such a needy mess and He stood ready to help.
When was the last time you were forced to realize the need for Jesus hour to hour? Perhaps you are facing a physical struggle and you need His presence to remind you of His care for you. Maybe you are dealing with a difficult relationship issue, even in your marriage, where you don’t know how God is going to resolve and bring healing. Some of you may be at the end of your rope financially or facing deep loneliness.
These are such hard experiences to endure but they are all invitations to come to the feet of Jesus, sit in His presence and invite Him into all of the sadness and need. He meets us in our desperation. He is exalted in our weakness. He is glorified in our dependence.
One of the reasons for my discouragement was the realization that I was in way over my head parenting our three year old. I had not understood what a strong-willed child really was until I had one of my own. How I have been humbled! And how I have repented for judging others for the way they have parented their “spirited” children! When I can understand my desperate need for Jesus, I can have a conversation throughout the day and continually ask Him for wisdom. The Lord’s involvement in my day doesn’t mean He takes the hard away but He offers me hope and encouragement as I turn it over to Him repeatedly. And as a byproduct, my peace returns and I’m more able to enjoy the ways the Lord has made my son–full of passion and life.
I need more of Jesus in my daily life. I need to involve Him more in my thinking, my doing, my relationships, my motivations, my words, my attitudes. Once again my heart is drawn to an old hymn that says it all.
“I Need Thee Every Hour”
I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord;
No tender voice like Thine can peace afford.
I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior,
I come to Thee.
I need Thee every hour, stay Thou nearby;
Temptations lose their pow’r when Thou art nigh.
I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain;
Come quickly and abide, or life is vain.
I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will;
And Thy rich promises in me fulfill.
I need Thee every hour, most Holy One;
Oh, make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son.
Lyrics by Annie S. Hawkins, 1872
More of Jesus. This is my continued prayer.
“However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” Luke 18:8
The Lord has a specific plan for each of our lives. When we come into relationship with him and abide in his presence by reading his word, he reveals his dreams and visions for our lives. A passion comes alive in us that requires greater strength than we possess. Thus, his desire to walk with us is satisfied because we need him. That’s where the faith journey begins.
In January my soul was pierced with this one question, “Will I find faith in the earth?” Yes, Lord, find it in me, I quickly responded. And the journey began.
I know the God-sized dreams the Lord has called me to. How does faith act? Resolutely. Now. I learned in February to take specific actions and not hesitate. Faith does not question or look back. Here I am in March staring out into an open field of Promised Land. What I do next will determine if faith will be found in me.
Not knowing the end from the beginning, which is how I would much prefer things, what is the best next step? Have you ever been here? Can you feel the tingling that starts in your toes and works up through your body as you walk farther and farther out onto a limb away from the perceived security the thick trunk has to offer?
“If I perish, I perish,” resolved Queen Esther (Esther 4:16). Knowing that the Lord is sovereign to deliver his people, whether it was through her or someone else, she seized the opportunity to live out the greatest purpose for her life.
Determined to forge ahead, I was wide awake at 2:20am thinking of all the things I could do to help God with this dream. Rest came from His word this morning. “The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O LORD, endures forever – do not abandon the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8
Are you working sufficiently in your own strength? Whose dream are you fulfilling? If you have no need of greater power to accomplish your plans, it might be a good idea to reevaluate.
Esther took many steps of faith to move from orphan to palace but could have entirely missed her greatest purpose. What is your next step of faith?