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Thanksgiving: A Time of Reflection

Thanksgiving Day is fast approaching.  All too soon, if not already, you will begin your preparations for whomever, whatever, and however you will be spending the day.

A friend of mine said recently, “I’m not interested in Thanksgiving or Christmas. I’m just not looking forward to the holidays.”

I can understand the lonely feeling that is often experienced by singles during the holiday season; I was single once myself and away from home during several Thanksgivings and Christmases. It’s nice to be with family or a special someone to celebrate these holidays. Neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas began as a celebration of “me”, but rather as recognition of “us” and “Him”.

How did Thanksgiving begin?

There are several different scenarios regarding the original celebration of “Thanksgiving” on American soil. It is thought that the Spanish were first to celebrate a day of thanks in 1565 in St. Augustine, FLA. Later, in 1619 the Virginia Colony held a Thanksgiving feast in celebration of the one-year settlement of that colony. The Pilgrims in Plymouth, MA celebrated a good crop year with a feast of Thanksgiving in 1621.

Thanksgiving was established as an annual national event in the midst of the Civil War in 1863, by a presidential proclamation from President Abraham Lincoln, as an offering of thanks to God for His provision and preservation of the United States. It was thought that establishing a national day to observe the giving of thanks would help to foster a sense of American unity between the southern and northern states.

So you can see, Thanksgiving as a celebration was about “us” (a group of people) and “God” and our gratitude to Him.

This also demonstrated that during earlier times in our country there was a belief in “Someone” to thank, besides the federal government.

Thanksgiving Day is a time to reflect. There are many things for which I am thankful; some of which are the following:

  • my relationship with my heavenly Father through His Son, Jesus, who came not only to die for me on the cross, but also to show me what God the Father is like
  • a Christian husband who loves me and treasures our relationship above all other human relationships
  • family members – parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews
  • our “heart adoptions”

Though I was pregnant a couple of times, I was unable to maintain pregnancy; so God brought children into our lives, first as youth group leaders and in a youth pastorate. Then a “daughter” came to us in a more permanent relationship; she is like a birth daughter to us.  There are two other young women, foreign students, whom God brought into our lives who lived with us for several years – one as a teen and the other as a young adult – who are family to us. All three of our “daughters” now have husbands and families of their own. There are quite a few more loosely connected “daughters” in our lives.

In this we follow the pattern set for us in our own lives: my husband was legally adopted by a wonderful couple as a child of five years of age.  And after my parents died, a pastor and his wife took me as one of their three adopted daughters.

We also have a few “sons”, “nephews”, and “nieces” whom we have taken into our hearts along the way. There are others as well who have adopted us as their parents. I sometimes feel like the barren woman mentioned in Gal. 4:7 & Ps. 113:9:

“Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”

  • Friends

We have many dear friends that we have made over the years, scattered across the country and around the world; people whose absence of years fades away immediately each time we are reunited with them. Plus there are many friends from our two pastorates. Some of these people are closer than birth family in our on-going relationships with them.

  • Opportunities

God has given me many personal opportunities over the years to develop and use my gifts of music, writing, public speaking, and spiritual ministry to bring others to Him and to encourage the body of Christ, across denominational lines. I’ve traveled up and down the east coast, in the mid-west, in Canada and in several other countries to share my faith in Christ with others. It has given me a broader picture of the body of Christ. There have also been opportunities for television work in my early ministry and for co-hosting a radio program with my husband for a couple years. I’m thankful for the ability to express faith in God through my current writing venues.

  •  Challenges

I am thankful for the many challenges in my life that have tested, tempered, and firmed my faith in a loving God who is worthy to be entrusted with my life. Losses, health issues, lack of regular income, disappointments, and some temporary discouragements have been a few of those challenges. They have served to secure my faith-walk and deepen my peace.

I trust that as you see Thanksgiving Day approaching you will get your eyes off of the minor disturbances of your life, and train your eyes to see the good things that often are obscured by petty irritations and worthless drains of spiritual and emotional energy – things that tend to empty your life of peace and joy, rather than to fill it with awareness of the good gifts of a loving God.

Ask God today to show you how you can add to someone’s experience of Thanksgiving Day – a call, a note or email, a visit, or an invitation to share Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Be sure also to share with someone else the things for which you are thankful.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Hands Off: I Can Do It Myself!

As we enter this New Year – 2013 – I’d like to encourage you to ask, and allow, God to direct your life this year. This article is a re-post from two years ago; I believe most of us need a reminder, from time to time, to place our life in the Potter’s hands – and fully trust Him to shape us according to His master design. Enjoy and apply.

Have you ever taught a Sunday School class? There are priceless lessons to be learned there from the children.

One Sunday I taught a group of kids in our junior church hour.  Due to a shortage of teachers, it was necessary to combine those of kindergarten age with the kids up through 4th grade.  We were talking about God keeping His promises to us; when He says something, He does it.

I asked the kids to list some of God’s promises on the dry erase board.  Of course, everybody wanted to write on the board, including one very precocious 5 year-old named Hannah, who was just beginning to print. She went confidently to the board. I asked her to write, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  She said, “I don’t know how to write that.”  So I assigned an older child, Katie, to assist her.

Katie proceeded to take the marker from the younger child, but I stopped her and suggested that she place her hand over Hannah’s hand to help her to form the letters to spell the words.  As Katie attempted to move Hannah’s hand in the shape of each letter, Hannah persisted in trying to move the marker in a different direction.

“Hannah,” said Katie, “make your hand like Jello so I can move it.”  It worked for one letter, then, Hannah tried to take over again, though she had no idea how to spell the words.  Frustrated with the process Katie again gave the directive, “Hannah, make your hand like Jello.”

The two girls worked through the short verse, but at the last word, “you”, Hannah insisted she could do it by herself.  Katie removed her hand and Hannah formed a Y without the tail, then, a very good O, followed by an upside down U.  Katie took the marker from Hannah, added the tail to the Y, and put the U right-side up.  I did not miss the obvious lesson in that “team” endeavor.

Sometimes we think we know what we are doing and charge full-steam ahead on our own strength or know-how.  Then we realize we “don’t know how to write that”.  However, we don’t want to turn the marker over to God, so we let Him “help us”.  But the battle has just begun; we shift back and forth between letting Him guide our hand and taking the control back into our own hand.

After a while, God says to us, “let go of the controls” – in other words, “make your hand like Jello”.  When we do become Jello, things turn out well.  But we get tired of not being in control, so we attempt to take over again.  Finally He says, “Okay, do it your way.” And we proceed to do our immature, barely legible job while He stands patiently on the side-line, knowing He will eventually have to add the tail to our “Y” and put the “U” right-side up.

How about you? Is it hard for you to “make your hand like Jello”?

God’s Call and Our Excuses pt. 1

Have you ever sensed God’s call on your life? Did you answer it or make excuses for why you “can’t do it”?

Let’s look at the verb form of the word “call”.  To “call” is to summon a person – as a phone call, when the ring-tone summons you to answer.  To call is also “to select or appoint for a specific office, duty, or employment” – as a “call to arms” gathers soldiers or citizen militias for battle readiness.

So a “call” from God is a summons, a selection, and an appointment to a specific area of service or a special task. A good example of a call is from the life of Saul of the New Testament, who later became the Apostle Paul:

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God . . . “ Romans 1:1.

A “call” begins with a personal experience with God: first He calls us to enter a relationship with Him. Some respond affirmatively to that call – others answer either “No” or “Later”.

For those who have responded with a “Yes” to the call to salvation and are then summoned to a specific duty or ministry office,  this second “call” will be answered with either obedience or disobedience. There is no middle ground to a call of God on your life – you either do what He asks or you don’t.

There are many excuses that I have heard over the years from people whom God has called to serve Him in a particular place, with a special duty or task; I’ve probably made some excuses myself. Why do spirit-born Christians sometimes say “No” to God’s call?

We’re going to look at an Old Testament saint who was called to a specific mission and responded, “No thanks” to God, with a head full of excuses.

In my blog post entitled Rescued for a Reason, we looked at the early part of the life of Moses. We saw how Moses had been rescued from death three times by God.

Now we find Moses, after 40 years of a shepherd’s life, standing before a burning bush in the wilderness. During this personal encounter with the Holy One of Israel, Moses is issued a call by God to a specific task – to go to Egypt to free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s enslavement.

Moses opens his arsenal of excuses and explanations as to why God picked the wrong man.

  • Excuse #1 – Why me?

His first excuse is in the form of a question:

“But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ ” Exodus 1:11

The implication is “I’m nobody”. Did Moses think God was not already aware of that? God frequently takes nobodies and makes them into somebodies in His kingdom plan.  But God, understanding that Moses is really afraid to return to Egypt, answers this excuse with: “I will be with you.” What more can you ask for? Apparently quite a bit more.

Moses has bad memories of his last experience in Egypt when he killed an Egyptian who was beating an Israelite slave. The deed was known among both the Egyptians and the Israelites; neither took kindly to Moses’ rash deed. Another question to delay obedience:

  • Excuse #2 – Is this really you, God?

You can’t blame Moses for asking the question, “Who are you anyway?”  It’s not every day you encounter a burning, talking bush. Sometimes I wish God would speak that clearly to me. I can imagine Moses doing a quick mental scan: he asks,

“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

Apparently, at this point in his life, Moses had not been spending time with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, or he would have known who was commissioning him. It’s only after stepping out in obedience to the call of God that Moses later becomes the man with whom “God spoke face-to-face, as with a friend.” Ex. 33:11

God patiently answers Moses’ question,

“I AM WHO I AM. [In some translations, I AM WHO I WILL BE.]  This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” Exodus 3:14

God then gives Moses his full instructions; to whom he is to deliver the message and exactly what he is to say.

  • Excuse #3 – What if they don’t believe me?

Moses stalls again with the question:

“What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

There are those of us who always imagine the worst outcome when we see the assigned task as a hard one. We call ourselves “realist”. In reality, we’re sometimes just too scared to try. We fear rejection. We fear failure. If you don’t try, you won’t fail, right? But if you don’t try, you also don’t succeed. We seldom think of not trying as a lack of trust in God.

We haven’t yet learned that when God calls us, He will give us what we need to carry out the assignment, even though there can be pain and disappointments in the process. Many people opt out when the going gets tough. If God has indeed called us to a place of service, we’ll never be really fulfilled until we wholeheartedly enter into the call.

God then reveals another part of His plan to Moses: He demonstrates a series of miracles which will convince the elders of Israel that God indeed has sent him. Moses’ staff turns into a snake and back to a staff; his hand becomes leprous and then whole again; then God says that water from the Nile will become blood as Moses pours it onto the ground.

Moses is still not convinced.

We’ll look at the closing arguments between God and Moses in part 2 of God’s Call and Our Excuses. You may see yourself in those closing discussions. Will Moses fulfill God’s call on his life willingly? What will it take to persuade him?

Have you been rescued by God; seen miracles in your life, but remain skeptical that God will take care of you and your family if you answer His call on your life?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Walking in Faith & Passing It On

What’s your faith quotient? How strong is your faith?

Luke 18:8 asks an important question: “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

I’d like to rephrase the question: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith on the earth? If you pay attention to world news – written, audio and visual; if you have conversations with people around you at work, school, community events, or the local grocery store – you would probably answer “Not much.” to that question.

Narrowing the question further: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith in the church? I don’t know about your experience, but it appears to me that the American church seems to give more credence to secular professionals than to God when it comes to personal or national issues; whether it is health problems, marriage issues, financial difficulties, mental health issues, government intervention, joblessness, parenting, interpersonal relationships, etc. For the Spirit-born believer, these are really spiritual issues that need operative faith.  But for many, if not the majority of worshippers in the American church, handling these issues often leaves faith out of the equation.

Let’s make this question personal: if Jesus came back today or tomorrow, would He find faith in your heart  regarding the issues mentioned above? Would He find you trusting Him for personal, national and international problems that seem to dominate the news and our lives today?

Let’s take a look at how faith is defined in the Bible in Heb. 11:1 :

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.  KJV

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  NIV

Faith is not believing in God; it’s believing God.

Faith is a funny thing: you don’t really know if you have it until you need it. It’s only when faced with the opportunity to act on it that you find whether or not you have it.

The Scripture says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because the person that comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him”. (Hebrews 11:6)

2 Cor. 5:7 states:  “We live by faith, not by sight.”

Helen Keller wrote: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.

When is the last time you did something daring, based on faith, not knowing how it would turn out, but entrusting yourself to God – having full confidence that He is not only able, but willing to see that you get what you are trusting for?

Can your life be described as a “walk of faith”? Or would those who know you best say that you tend to be motivated more by anxiety, stress, fear, doubt and discouragement than by faith? Or do you have so much materially that you don’t have to trust God for provision? You’re walking by sight.

Gideon told his soldiers in Judges 7:17 that things would work out in their military maneuver if they would:

“Watch me and do what I do. When I get to the edge of the [enemy] camp, do what I do.”

All sorts of miracles took place in the Bible – because of someone’s faith. It caused them to step out and do – often not knowing exactly what would come next.

Could you say to those who know your life most intimately, “Watch me and do what I do and everything will be okay?” When it comes to faith, you can’t pass on what you don’t have.

The eyes of faith look for God in the most obscure places –in the midst of the most challenging circumstances.  I don’t mean to infer that God causes the sickness, pain, failure, or loss – but that God is there with you in it. That He will bring something good out of it. That He will see you through it. That God keeps His promises to His children – as we appropriate them through faith.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever.  Eph. 3:20-21

”Fear not for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Is. 10:41

God wants to bring you from where you are to a better place.  But first He needs to develop in you a faith that is worth giving away – a faith-walk that you would not mind someone following, because you know it will lead them into God’s throne room.

Whatever you have faced or are going to face ahead, God wants to use that in somebody’s life besides yours. God wants to use your faith-walk with Him to encourage others.

What does your faith-walk look like? Does the way you live influence those around you – family, friends, acquaintances – to a deeper life of dependence on God or dependence on people?

More than anything else in my life, if Jesus returns, I want Him to find faith on the earth, faith in the church – and faith in me that “. . .  is being sure of what [I] hope for and certain of what [I} do not see.”

What kind of faith do you have?  What kind of faith do you want?

©2012, Marcy Alves

Finding Hope in the Wilderness: Jacob’s Story

Where do you spend most of your Bible reading time?

I enjoy the narrative portions of Scripture – the stories of the people of God from the Old Testament period; the journal reports in the four New Testament Gospels that reveal the character, ministry, and teachings of Jesus; and the book of Acts which traces the development of the church –the “body of Christ”.  I especially love the biographies and the history of the nation of Israel, the Old Testament people-of-God. Last week I read in Genesis chapter 28 about Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.

Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins. At their birth Esau came out first.  Then Jacob, holding onto Esau’s heel, made his appearance; hence his name Jacob, which means “he grasps the heel” or figuratively, “he deceives’ – and he certainly lived up to his name.

Esau was red and hairy and Jacob was not. Esau became a man of the outdoors and a skilled hunter, while Jacob hung around the tents; he was more into things like cooking.

One day Esau returned from one of his expeditions to the open country and he was famished. Jacob had made a pot of stew and the aroma was more than Esau could withstand – he begged his chef-brother for a bowl of stew. Jacob, being somewhat of an opportunist, saw his chance to one-up his brother.  He offered to give Esau some stew in exchange for his birthright – which was a pretty high price for beef stew. Though he was a twin, Esau, having come from the womb first, was considered the “firstborn” and the rights of the firstborn were his – his “birthright”, which involved such things as inheritance, headship in the family when his father died, and the authority of that position.

Esau replied, “What good is the birthright to me?” The Scripture says, “So Esau despised his birthright.” – it was of little consequence to him when he was hungry.  He was a man who lived by his appetites.

Jacob displays his “grasping” tendency as he takes advantage of Esau’s appetite-vulnerability. And Esau sells Jacob his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Much later, when Isaac was old and his eyesight was failing, thinking his time of death might be near, he sent Esau out to hunt some wild game to make a stew for him. Isaac told Esau that when he returned and served the meal to him, he (Isaac) would give Esau his blessing – the blessing of the firstborn.

Rebekah overheard the conversation between Isaac and Esau (his favorite son), and tells Jacob (her favorite son) to quickly prepare some stew and to serve his father, pretending to be Esau. She thinks of all the details, including gloves of goatskins (to simulate Esau’s hairy hands) and dressing Jacob in some of Esau’s dirty clothes – Isaac said he could “smell” his son Esau when Jacob served the stew.

Though Isaac wonders about the quickness of “Esau’s” hunt, and is a bit suspicious about the timber of Jacob’s voice, Jacob’s deceptive costume and skillful lies persuade his father that Jacob is indeed Esau. Isaac then pronounces a blessing on Jacob, whom he believes to be his eldest son.

Later Esau returns, prepares his dad’s favorite stew and brings it to him. The plot is now exposed and Isaac, “trembling violently” explains that he has already given the eldest son’s blessing to Jacob; a blessing given, even under such deception, cannot be called back.

Esau is furious with Jacob and holds a murderous grudge against him.  He plots to kill Jacob as soon as his own aged father is dead and the period of mourning is over.

Rebekah, getting wind of Esau’s plan, warns Jacob and persuades Isaac to send him off to her relatives to find a “proper wife”. Isaac sends Jacob off with another blessing – a blessing of fruitfulness and prosperity.

The Scripture does not say whether anyone went with Jacob. It seems that he traveled alone, as no servants are mentioned.

In a place called Luz Jacob stops to spend the night, sleeping out under the stars, with a rock for a pillow. He is now estranged from his family, not knowing if he will ever see his aging father alive again. He has no road maps, only the stars and sun to guide him. No streetlights, no friendly faces along the way. He must have felt afraid for he was not an outdoorsman, and as far as we know had never traveled far from the tents of his parents. You might be thinking, “He got what he deserves, the liar, the cheat.” But let’s not be too hasty.  God desires mercy rather than judgement.

Casting blame aside, can you relate to Jacob’s fearful journey? Being forced by circumstances to face a situation you are totally unequipped to handle.  Alone in a place with no one to rescue you?  Knowing that you are vulnerable to wild animals or bandits, without knowledge of how to fight back? Traveling in darkness and unfamiliar territory and heading to a place where you have never been?

There is evidence in the narration that Jacob had not before this time developed a personal faith in God.

Jacob lies down to sleep and has a vivid dream.  In the dream he sees a stairway into heaven, resting on the earth. Angels are going up and down the stairs and the Lord stands at the top of the stairs. The Lord speaks to Jacob and identifies himself as:

“the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.”

The Lord does not say, “I am your God.” Yet, God makes promises to Jacob of blessing, success, prosperity, numerous progeny, and protection. He ends by saying,

“. . . wherever you go I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I done what I have promised you.”

Jacob awakens from his dream and is amazed! In spite of all he has done, taking advantage of his brother, his lies and his deception of his aging father, stealing what was not lawfully his – in spite of all this, God chooses to bless him! He has a destiny.

Jacob’s response is found in Gen. 28:16-19: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ 17 He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” 18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19He called that place Bethel . . .” – which means house of God.

“Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Does this thought speak something to you as it did to me?

Jacob was in a place of danger, all alone, uncertain about his future – a situation he had never been in before – yet, he could say, “the Lord is in this place with me, even though I was not aware of it.”

How about you? Are you living in a place that is unfamiliar territory? Are you uncertain about your future? Do you feel alone in it? Are you afraid? Are you wondering where God is?

If we could only see behind this place we think of as the “real world” into where God and the hosts of angels dwell. If we could get a vision of that realm of timelessness, all of our doubts, frustrations, and fears would end.

Wherever you are, whatever you are going through right now – shattered dreams, broken relationships, sickness, lack of a job, piles of bills with no way to pay them, tiredness and discouragement, ask God to give you a dream or revelation of Him. Ask the Lord to cause you to be aware of His presence in the midst of your troubling circumstances. Learn to call the place where you are, “Bethel” – the house of God – and you will begin to experience His presence there.

God was true to His promises to Jacob and his descendants, as the Scriptures reveal in the Old and New Testaments. And He will keep His promises to those who trust in Him, to those who embrace the life He has given them in the sacrifice of His Son and the gift of His Holy Spirit. And that includes you.

How about you? Have you found God in a wilderness of your experience? Share how God has revealed Himself to you in the midst of bad circumstances. I’d love to hear from you.

©2011, Marcy Alves

Time for a Lane Change?

I was driving home from a speaking engagement last week (actually I was fairly zipping along – keeping up with the flow of traffic, of course) when I came to a section of highway where road repair work seems to be interminable – a section where merges and lane endings act as automatic traffic slow-downs, or fender-benders zones for un-observant drivers.

It never ceases to amaze me that there are drivers who continue their open-highway speed in a lane that has clearly been marked with such signs as “Lane ends in 100 feet, merge right”. I’ve seen drivers increase their speed at the appearance of such a sign, perhaps to get ahead of as many cars as possible before merging? Don’t they realize there is a time to slow down?

Life often requires lane changes or detours at the most inconvenient and unexpected times. Lost jobs, sickness or physical injury, loss of a loved one, a failing business, lost opportunities or abilities due to aging – there are many causes for such life interferences, resulting in failed enterprises or unfulfilled dreams.

What do you do when these slow-downs, lane changes or merges happen on your road from here to who knows where? Do you keep moving on at the same speed? Do you speed up, thinking you can get further along before the inevitable merge?  Do you slow down, move over and keep going ahead? Do you pull over to the side of the highway you’ve been traveling on, get out a map and see what your options are for finding a detour around the confusion?

Do you start questioning God? Asking why He let this happen to you? Doubting that He loves you?  Wondering if He will abandon you to wander along on your own?

I frankly don’t believe that there are accidental merges, lane changes, or detours where God’s purpose for my life is concerned.  I don’t know if our Father plans them, or if – as with Job in the Bible – God allows our enemy, Satan, to run out a bit on his leash. To question God’s ability to manage these “unexpected” events in our lives would be to doubt either His unparalleled power or His perfect love.  I don’t believe that these detours are without purpose – whether they are planned or merely permitted.

More important than our “happiness” or “success in life” is the character that is being built into us – the image of Christ stamped on us.  And, perhaps more important than our character development is the awakening of our spirits to be able to comprehend as much as humans can, the character and nature of God himself, and our relationship with Him as His Spirit-born children.

God does not intend to abandon us by the side of the road, to detour us to a dead-end, to slow us down in order to toy with us. But I believe that He waits on us, just as we wait on Him, to discover what His plan for us is at each particular slow-down and speed bump in our lives. He wants us to look to Him for each mile of our journey here on earth.

Whatever the slow-down, merge or detour is in your life at this time, you will be spared from unwanted fender-benders and fatal accidents by obeying the “yield” sign – conceding to God the right to direct your life, trusting that He knows the road ahead and will get you safely to your intended destination.

One of my recent teabag tags stated, “A promise is a gift in advance.”

Our heavenly Father has given us many “great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4); and these promises are awesome gifts that help us to navigate successfully through life.

One of the best ways to endure these seeming detours, lane changes, and slow-downs is to look for God’s promises in the Scriptures; select a promise that relates to your travel impediment, memorize and meditate on it until it stirs up faith to believe God for the mile you are on. Use those Scriptures as mile-markers in your journey.

My most recent mile markers are:

Psalm 118:2, “God is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength in whom I will put my trust.”

1 Peter 2:6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

What promises are getting you through?

Wherever you are headed this week, have a safe trip.

©2012, Marcy Alves

Life Challenges, Prayer, and a Relationship with God

What is prayer to you? Is it just hopeful or desperate words letting God know you need or want something?

I’m finding that it is so much more.

Despite any questioning, discouragement, or perplexity that my cancer diagnosis of three and a half years ago has produced, today’s morning devotional reading reminds me:

“No calamity will ever bring only evil to us, if we will immediately take it in prayer to God. . . And when we flee to God, taking refuge beneath the shadow of His wing, we will always find more in Him than we have ever before seen or known.” Nathaniel William Taylor

I have been saturating myself with books and music that are faith building, healing, and peace producing. I am learning the daily benefit of ducking under the shadow of His wings at any anxious, disturbing, baffling, or irritating moment; sometimes talking to Him in words, thoughts, or emotions, and other times just being in His presence.

If you believe that prayer only happens when you are kneeling at an altar, or reading words to God from a prayer book (as beautiful or heartfelt as those words may be) than you are missing out on a true delight of the Spirit life.

Although the writer quoted above refers to the “shadow of His wing”, I picture my Father’s arm around my shoulder as I move about doing my chores, chattering to Him. During my listening times He draws me near Him as I sit on the rug in front of my couch, facing the sliding glass door to our deck that overlooks our back yard and adjoining field, with the stand of tall trees at its back edge; focusing my thoughts on the beauty He has created.

I used to turn to God mostly with my troubles and needs, or those of my friends and acquaintances; sending my prayers up to Him and hoping, sometimes actually trusting, that He heard them.  And wondering if He would be pleased to answer those prayers as I confidently recommended to Him my most logical solutions.

I’ve read several awesome books on prayer in the last 3 years – I’ll recommend some of them in my next post. But nothing – including a good “how to do prayer” book – brings us into the essence of real prayer more quickly than personal, on-going challenges, either temporary – or as the Apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” seemed to be – permanent ones.

Prayer is more than having faith – though without faith, prayer seems to be ineffective.

Hebrews 11:6  “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

I believe that though faith is what brings us to God in prayer, it’s trust that gives us assurance that our prayers are being answered in spite of current appearances to the contrary. And you don’t trust someone you don’t know.

God is knowable and wants to be known. The Hebrews passage above points us to relationship with God – “for whoever would draw near to God” – rather than merely sending prayers up or out to wherever we picture God “residing”.

Relationship with God – think about that for a minute – not just faith or belief in God.  “Relationship” shows nearness – like husband/wife, parent/child, aunt/uncle, boyfriend/girlfriend, horse/rider – personal connection.

So instead of picturing yourself in your place of prayer sending SOSes to God somewhere out there, picture your Heavenly Father’s arm around you drawing you to a seat on the couch next to Him – or if that scares you a bit – seated across from you in the stuffed chair.

Hear Him ask you, “Well, child, how’s your day going?”

“Did you receive that gift I sent you yesterday: that call from your friend? That unexpected check in the mail? That beautiful sunset I painted for you?  What did you think of that?”

“By the way, I heard that prayer you said for your friend; he’s in serious trouble. But I’m taking care of him.”

As you let your spirit respond to Him, drawing near and becoming personal, you feel the weights lift off your mind, body and spirit.

Then, hear Him ask, “Now what’s on your heart today? What would you like for me to do for you?”

You pour out your requests; big, small and sometimes ridiculous – being confident from your time with your Father that what’s important to you is also important to Him, because He loves you. That the answers are already there, or on the way – though occasionally He may say, “No. I have a different plan” and often will say, “Wait a while – it’s not time yet.”

This is the next step for faith – this thing called trust – because you won’t put your faith in someone you don’t trust. This is the confident assurance of conversational prayer that is born out of a heart-relationship with the One we’re petitioning – it goes beyond a certain time on the clock, or a ritualistic physical posture, or recitation of words, or a call to religious duty.

So, whatever else our personal challenges do to us, when we trust our Father, we find they also do something for us – they draw us into a deeper relationship with Him, where He shapes our character, changes our perspective, and conforms us to the image of His Son.

How’s your prayer life going? Anything you’d like to share?

©2011, Marcy Alves

*Lifesong by Mark Hall as heard on Casting Crowns album Lifesong 

Dealing with Fear

What are you afraid of?  How do you handle fear? It you didn’t have enough of your own worrying-issues to deal with, there are plenty troubling things going on around the world and here in the U.S.

The past week’s headline news paints a disturbing picture:

  • Fires and looting in London creating fear and mayhem
  • Iran (sworn enemy of the US and Israel) developing a nuclear bomb
  • Thirty soldiers killed in a helicopter shoot-down
  • Shock waves from a roller-coaster stock market (is a tsunamis coming?)
  • A drop in financial “ratings” for US, France, Germany and others
  • Continuing starvation in Somalia
  • Massive joblessness in the US
  • Tight-fistedness in the banking industry in spite of government bailout
  • Gridlock in the US Congress regarding debt ceiling and budget balancing
  • US foreclosure prediction, 1 in 3 homes by 2012
  • Massive flooding, then drought across our nation’s south and mid-west
  • Predictions of permanent deserts ahead in current U.S. drought areas

The fear network is alive and well on planet earth. And the enemy of our souls would like to keep us in a constant state of panic and anxiety, to drive us away from the shelter of our Heavenly Father’s arms, to damage our faith-walk with God, to destroy our peace.

While we can’t ignore the catastrophic events in the US and around the world, we have many encouraging words from a higher authority when it comes to dealing with fear.

49 times in the Old Testament and 17  in the New Testament we are told not to fear.

 Is. 41:10  So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

There are things about fear that we learn from Scripture:

Fear is not from God

2 Tim. 1:7 for God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind;

We are not to fear as the world does

1 Peter 3:14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.

Love combats fear

1 John. 4:18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

A significant passage in Mark reveals a scene in which Jesus and the disciples are facing a serious storm on the lake:

Mark 4:35-41:  As evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s cross to the other side of the lake.” 36 So they took Jesus in the boat and started out, leaving the crowds behind (although other boats followed). 37 But soon a fierce storm came up. High waves were breaking into the boat, and it began to fill with water.

38 Jesus was sleeping at the back of the boat with his head on a cushion. The disciples woke him up, shouting, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re going to drown?”

39 When Jesus woke up, he rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Silence! Be still!” Suddenly the wind stopped, and there was a great calm. 40 Then he asked them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

After Jesus spoke to the wind, he spoke to his disciples: vs. 40 “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

What is Jesus saying?

Faith and Fear are mutually exclusive.   So, how do we go from fear to faith? Here are five steps that I have found are successful combatants to fear:

1.  Pray about it

 Phil. 4:6-7. 6 Do not be anxious [fearful] about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Most of us have yet to discover the power of believing prayer. ABC news a few nights ago shared the story of a young boy attending a beach party with his church who was swept out on a rip tide and could not get back to shore. He was underwater for 15 minutes before divers located him and brought him in to shore. He showed no vital signs. However, the moment he got in trouble with the waves, church members had dropped to their knees and began to pray.  The boy was resuscitated and put on life support; he gained consciousness a short time later with no apparent permanent damage.

2.  Turn your fearful thoughts over to Christ and rebuke fear.

 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 3 For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Fear is defined in 2 Timothy 1:7 as a spirit. Admit to God that you are up against fear, and in the authority of the Holy Spirit, rebuke that fear. Then ask the Lord to remove those thoughts that gave fear an in-road into your mind and emotions.

3.  Change mental subjects – think about good things

Phil. 4:8-9   8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

When we were kids we used to sit out on our porch in the dark of a summer night and tell ghost stories – the scarier the better. But walking alone to the outhouse in the dark after such sessions was terrifying; something fearful lurked in every shadow. We had set ourselves up for fear to take over our thoughts. I did not know as a child how to combat fear with faith.

4.  Get God’s word in you and believe it – memorize Scriptures that counteract fear and speak them out.

 5.  Rely on the character of your heavenly Father. And remember:

  • God is good
  • God is love
  • God loves you
  • There is nothing too big for Him to handle
  • He is the One who says, “Fear not for I am with you. . .”

So, how do you handle fear? Which of the five actions above do you most need to apply?

Expectant Prayer: Looking for Answers?

How big is your God? How expectant are your prayers?

A book came into my hands when I was in college entitled, How Big is Your God? by J B Phillips. I don’t remember much from that book except that it dealt with how the expectancy of answered prayers and the daring in our requests is greatly affected by our perception of God. We pray small because we expect small answers.

Things haven’t changed much since the earliest century of Christianity.

I was reading my Bible one day and came across the following report from the early church:

Acts 12: 5-16:  “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him . . . Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell . . . the chains fell off Peter’s wrists . . . They [Peter and the angel] passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened by itself and they went through it . . . he [Peter] went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were praying . . . and a servant girl answered the door.   When she recognized Peter’s voice . . . she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, ‘Peter is at the door!’ . . . ‘You’re out of your mind,’ they told her . . . ‘It must be his angel [ghost]’ . . . Peter kept on knocking . . . when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished!”

The people had been praying for Peter’s protection and release, but when he stood before them, they were “astonished”!!  Did they not really believe their prayers would be answered?  Perhaps not.

Often in the midst of trouble we pray fervently to God for our need or the need of someone else.  But in that time of calling out to God, do we pray with expectancy?  Do we believe our prayers will be answered?

Prayers should not be merely well chosen words that have only an appearance of faith.

About 25 years ago my husband was serving as youth director at a small church in S. Easton, MA.  One Sunday morning the pastor’s young daughter shared that she had lost her favorite doll while shopping with her mom in a department store. She didn’t notice the loss until they got home from shopping. She was very upset, so her mom went back to the store to inquire about the lost doll. It had not been found or turned in to the lost and found.

That morning I felt moved by the Lord to pray out loud during the open prayer time that Kirsty’s doll would be found to show her how much God loved her.

Later that evening Kirsty’s mom phoned me. She said that when I prayed the prayer she was very skeptical about my request and was concerned that if the doll was not found it would hurt her daughter’s faith and she would have to do spiritual repair work.

However,  at her daughter’s insistence, despite her own resistance,   they returned to the store and discovered that the doll had been found that very day.

We should not be surprised when answers come to our prayers; even the most brazen, audacious requests.  We should have thankful hearts, ready to give praise to the One who invites us to pray, guides us in what to pray through His Holy Spirit, and sends the answer at the proper time.

Father, I thank you for access to Your throne room. I want to learn from You how to use that marvelous privilege of prayer in a way that whispers to Your heart, “I trust You.

My Dad is the biggest and He loves me.

How about you? How big is your God?


©2011, Marcy Alves

Patient: Adjective or Noun?

Ever have those days when you wonder what else could go wrong? Those times when in order for one thing to happen, something else has to happen first? Do you, like so many of us, need to develop patience?

The word “patient” can be an adjective or a noun. We will learn to be patient or become a patient from all the fretting and worrying and grumping at circumstances that are often out of our control.

In that regard, the past few weeks have been very challenging for us.

First, we arrived home from a week at Camp Beebe in Quebec, to find that David’s “cave” computer was no longer working due to a power surge during a thunder storm. (The “cave” is his hide-away place where much play and little work is done on David’s day off.)  However, the cave computer is also used for personal work, like accessing and tracking our home checkbook and personal financial records, paying bills online, etc..

David took the computer to the computer geeks to determine its “fixability”. I need to complete our most recent household financial accounting and paying of bills, because I’m about 2 weeks behind. Meanwhile we ”wait”.

Next, our lawn tractor stopped operating again (third time this summer). It’s a John Deere tractor and the part needed this time is expensive, so David is trying to find a replacement part from a used tractor to save money. Both we and the lawn “wait”.

Then, I inadvertently left the garden sprinkler on for at least 1½ hours a few nights ago and our well began to regurgitate rusty water through our household faucets whenever we turned them on. A trusted friend with expertise in well issues assures us our well will refill with water and the rusty water in the pipes will clear up. In the meantime our laundry has to “wait”.

About 3 weeks ago I suffered a broken crown on one of my front teeth. It now has a temporary cap, but due to expense, the final crown has to “wait”.

Add this to the waiting on the Lord regarding ministry issues and health issues and the “wait” sometimes feels like “weight”.

What do you do with “weighty waits”? When life seem to be one long wait?

We have learned to turn to the One who has written a long love letter contained in 66 volumes, collected in a one-book-library called the Holy Bible. This loving Being who invites us to call Him “Father”, has given us many promises of protection,  direction, wisdom, guidance and provision.

He has also given us the presence of His Holy Spirit who produces spirit fruit in our lives as we allow Him to do the planting, cultivating and pruning. Among those fruits of the Spirit is one called “patience”.

For us, this is a time when the spiritual fruit of patience is so necessary, due to our recent irritating challenges. Of course the “ouch” is that the very things we go through that cry out for patience are the things that actually produce patience. (Rom. 5:3)

The need for the fruit will produce the fruit when we entrust the irritations to the Lord.

Patience is really endurance – holding up through whatever challenges come our way – waiting for resolutions or solutions. We will either learn to “wait” for God’s solution and/or wisdom for the problem, or suffer the consequences.

Our Father wants to produce in us a more secure and confident trust in Him. For this reason, He allows those times that stretch us and force us to slow down and think about things of eternal value, like patience? Problems we can’t solve are fertile ground for miracles, if we just hang in there.

You will either learn to be patient, or become one.  Adjective or noun, it’s your choice.

Where  do you measure on the patience meter?

©2011, Marcy Alves

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