paper map, bible

No GPS Allowed

Hello, Sisters in Christ! I’ve missed my serious writing for this blog! It seems that whenever God is reforming me, I’m sent out into the wilderness to stumble around, crouching in fear of the enemy’s attacks, and at a total loss for words.  Which means – no writing.

Into the Wilderness

My latest journey into the wilderness came as God decided my family needed to leave our church – and church family – and find a new church “home.” Oh, the agony! If you’ve ever been there, you know what I mean! We did not go out rejoicing. In fact, we dragged our feet and moaned and groaned through it all. And when we finally removed ourselves from our comfort zone, we were sent wandering – searching for a new place to rest.

So I wandered, looking for the right way to go to get out of this wilderness. I searched for an elusive signpost pointing me in the right direction.

This wilderness was a dry land at first. I longed for a downpour of refreshing rain, but the most I got is a sprinkle here and there. My hopes soared, and then I came back to a place of resignation and knowledge that I would survive, and I would receive enough hydration to keep me alive, but I would still wander and wait …

My Map

My poor family had to contend with a sack of emotions as I wrestled with my “map.” No GPS allowed! I longed for an audible voice to tell me exactly where to go, and yet I found that the only trustworthy source was my “paper map.”

bible glasses highlighter

 

I’ve used this map as a guide so many times. It’s creased and wrinkled and coffee- and tear-stained. I’ve highlighted routes I already know, written notes in the margins, and circled my favorite locations.

I needed to keep studying this map! It’s never failed to help me find my way out of the wilderness!

Rough Roads Ahead

I guess I’ve had a rough time of it lately because God has been doing a good work in me. God has been faithful in His promise to form (and reform) me according to His purposes. Becoming more spiritually mature means allowing God to send me – wherever – and change my mind about what I think is right and true. It’s so humbling to have to admit that what I professed as truth for years was only a shadow of what God is revealing to me now. It wasn’t all necessarily “wrong,” but it wasn’t complete. It was like looking at my map upside-down. The picture is still the same, I just wasn’t seeing it correctly. It looked like one thing to me for years, but after turning it around and studying it more closely, I can see the lines and the patterns that I’d been trying to follow actually point in a different direction. When I study the parts where the folded crease is rubbed a little raw, I realize I’ve been missing a very important part of the picture.

Sure, we can wander through life, pointed in the right direction, and we can hope to get to our proper location by luck. We can even choose to follow others down whatever paths they’re walking. At least then we have friends to keep us company along the way.

Walk This Way

I know that God has laid out a route specific to me. He has planted people along the way … some to feed me, some He intends for me to help, some He wants me to share my map with, and others who have missing parts of my map – parts I didn’t even know were missing! Sometimes He brings me to a person who is scared. He lets me take their hand and draw them gently through the dark until we come out on the other side, into glorious sunshine! Sometimes He blesses me by bringing me to a person who is meant to travel long and far with me … someone who will stick with me as we go through a dry desert, hungry and dirty, longing for rain. Someone who knows just when to say, “Buck up! We’ll get through this!”

Friends, the bible was written for us. It’s truly a useful guide for navigating life, just like a map. Maps aren’t designed for just one person or group. They’re designed so anyone can use them to find their way from one spot to another. Think of your Bible as your map. Study it so you know where you’re headed and how to get there. Learn it – memorize it – so you can point others in the right direction when they get lost. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand it, and remember that, like a GPS, the audible voices of humans might lead you astray, but your trusty paper map will never steer you wrong.

Grace and peace, Friends.

~ Jane

What Can I Do?

I’m always surprised when I learn about a really incredible campaign that I’d never heard of and find that it’s been around for a while.

Have you heard of the #A21 Campaign? You should check it out at http://www.a21.org. (You can order a “Liberty scarf” as a way to help.) How about #Dressember? What a cool idea!  http://www.dressember.org/. (Be sure to scroll down that page and watch the TED Talk!) Blythe Hill also talks about the International Justice Mission. You won’t regret knowing this exists! https://www.ijm.org/

God has been breaking my heart lately with the staggering statistics of how many of His human beings – created in His image – are literally slaves in this world today.

Women, and children. Girls, and boys. Men.

Slaves. Abused. Stripped of their dignity. Stripped of their humanity.

Whether it’s forced labor or sexual exploitation, these human beings are forced against their will to do whatever another human being demands. They don’t get up in the morning with choices. They don’t go to bed at night with the simple hope for a full night’s rest. Their hope is for something far greater.

I’m not sure what God is asking me to do yet, but I can start here, with a few words, and links to those who already have boots on the ground.

Couragecanbecontagious

Please pray for those being rescued today, and for those who will not be rescued today. And please, please, have the courage to open the eyes of others. It’s when these kinds of things are kept secret that the darkness prevails. Shine the light on them!!! Shine your light on them! Shine His Light on them!

John 1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV)

Forgiveness is Hard

Doesn’t it feel like the theme of forgiveness has been done, already? I mean, like really overdone? Much has been written on the topic of forgiveness and I’m not sure there’s anything new I can say about it … except for this … It often feels like there are so many people who still don’t get it. They still can’t grasp what forgiveness is really about. Why is that? I suppose it’s because we’re human. As humans, we’ll never get everything right, including forgiveness.  People have been making mistakes since the beginning of time … from relatively inconsequential blunders to monumental offenses … and, honestly, forgiving someone is hard to do, especially when we feel justified in our outrage.

But I’m not talking about feelings today. Feelings come and go and can be altered by hormones, sunlight, what we eat or drink, and medications. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling. Rarely will you feel like forgiving someone. Rarely will you feel like someone even deserves to be forgiven. Forgiveness is a skill. It’s an abstract action, like thinking or believing, and, like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it! Just as complaining can become a habit, forgiveness can become an automatic response for someone who does it often and who works at doing it completely.

Forgiveness, absolution, grace, mercy, compassion, Have you ever met someone who seems so at peace with the people around them? You don’t hear them complaining or finding fault with others, even when you’re aware they have good cause to be upset with someone. These people have most likely learned how to forgive quickly. They know how to let something go – right away – rather than letting it fester in their souls. They refuse to allow bitterness to take up residence where peace resides.

It takes a conscious effort to become skilled at forgiving others. You can’t just say the words “I forgive you” without choosing to let the matter go completely. That’s what true forgiveness is. Jesus, of course, is the ultimate example of how to be an expert forgiver. He knew … knew … exactly what he was forgiving. In fact, he knew ahead of time what he would have to forgive: total and complete betrayal by those closest to him, among other sins, faults, and shortcomings. But He chose to let it all go, completely. The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colosse and advised them on how to live a God-based life:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14

When Jesus modeled forgiveness to us, his promise included never using our past sins against us. This is the model we are called to follow: not holding the sins of others against them. And if we’re not “holding” grudges, then we must be letting them go.

No one said it would be easy. But I’m encouraging you to at least try. Whether you start with something small, or start with a really big injustice, my guess is that if you’re trying, you will experience at least a small measure of the peace we all hope for.

Almighty God, thank you for your incredible gift of forgiveness. Please help us learn to bear with each other, forgiving as Jesus does. Fill us with your Spirit so we can be examples of your love, peace, patience, and compassion to those who know you and those who don’t. May the glory be all yours, Lord. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

~ Courageous Jane

Who is God?

Who is God? seek and you will find

Do you ever wonder about God? Do you ever just let your imagination wander, and wonder?

Lately, between books and movies, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about the idea of whether God exists, and if so, what He’s like. I’ve been reading books like …

I also recently went to see the movie God’s Not Dead, and plan to see Heaven is for Real soon. (Yes, I’ve read Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo, too.)

         

Somewhere in the midst of all this reading and movie watching, I had the thought: Who is God?

How would you answer that question? What if you were required to answer it? Do you already have a well-constructed answer? If not, where would you start your research? Who would you ask for input? Do you have friends or acquaintances you’d turn to?

If you ask a variety of people about who God is, you’ll get a variety of answers. Clearly, God is God, no matter who we say He is. Many humans claim God as their own, claim to know Him, and try to explain Him to others. But God is who He is regardless of what we say, do, or think.

We should never base our thoughts or feelings about God on what other humans say (or do!).

So I’m not going to try to tell you who God is … He’s already tried to tell us who He is: through His Son, His Word, and through the things He’s created (which includes … um, everything). I don’t think we’ll just automatically know who He is just because we say we believe in Him. The act of believing doesn’t generate an immediate understanding of all that God is. Honestly, God is too big for any of us to know Him fully.

And just as the act of believing doesn’t bring about an immediate, complete knowledge of who God is, neither does it bring about even a smidgen of that truth. It takes more than just believing He exists.

It takes a desire to know Him. And it takes time, and effort.

I’ve got some ideas about who God is, but He is so BIG, so complex, I don’t think I could ever know it all before I die, which means there is plenty to learn every time I go looking. Since I do want to know Him more, I’ve formulated a plan …

I’ll start by asking God to reveal Himself to me. I believe God is willing to reveal (at least part of) Himself to me if I ask.

My prayer is this simple: Reveal yourself to me,  God!

“I have sought your face with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise.” ~ Psalm 119:58 

Then I’ll turn to His Word – the Bible – and search Him out. I’ll look for Him in the form of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, because I know He is each of these and all of these, all rolled into One. And I know He honors those who search for Him.

  • Proverbs 8:17 – “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me.”
  • Jeremiah 29:13 – “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
  • Matthew 7:7-8 – “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”

I’m sorry if you came to this article hoping to learn the answer to the question “Who is God?” I’m still looking for that answer myself, and wouldn’t presume to try answering based on my limited understanding. I hope you’re seeking the answer to that question, too. Let me know what God reveals to you!

~ Courageous Jane

Dear Friends, Two of the greatest pleasures I’ve ever experienced in my life: receiving my first bible as a very grown adult, and having the opportunity to buy bibles for a few people who sincerely wanted them; people who were asking for their very own holy book. You might be surprised to learn that you can borrow bibles from public libraries or really nice friends. But if you don’t have a bible and would like one you could call your own, I would consider it an honor to gift you with one. All you have to do is ask. Much love to you all, my friends.

What the Birds Are Teaching Me

blue jay, red-bellied woodpecker, red-headed woodpecker, Matthew 6:8, Matt 6:8

 

This has been a long, cold, hard winter in most respects. 2014 has gone on record as the coldest and snowiest our region of Ohio has ever seen. It was a good year to spend some of the budget on birdseed and keep our feathered friends fed.

As I watched at least 7 blue jays, a pair of cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, and countless black-eyed juncos and sparrows feast in my backyard, I recalled the words of scripture that tell us that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without Our Father knowing about it. (Matthew 10:29) Why, He has counted the hairs on my head, so of course He knows what I need and when I need it. (Matthew 10:30) He knows me as intimately as He knows the birds.

I started reflecting more and more on that idea of God caring for our needs.

I’m comforted by the idea that God is taking care of feeding the birds. Probably most could survive without my family worrying about them. But God made me to feel compassion for them and so I help to provide for their needs. Can you imagine if I went out of my way to try feeding the birds, and they rejected the food I put out?

They didn’t ask for it, so they won’t accept it. They didn’t work for it, so they can’t accept it. They could go out and get some themselves, so they shouldn’t accept it. They don’t like the fact that I grumbled about going out in the cold to give it to them, so they reject it. They’re embarrassed that I know they need something, so they’re going to pretend they don’t need anything. They’re afraid of appearing weak, so they won’t accept this gift.

As humans, we can find ways to get our needs met without God’s or anyone else’s help for the most part. Many refuse to ask God, or anyone else, for help. Some are offered help, but deny needing it, or simply refuse the offers. Others aren’t willing to reveal their need, covering it up and pretending it doesn’t exist. Many are just afraid of appearing weak.

Sometimes we know we need help, but we don’t think to or can’t bring ourselves to go to Our Father, or we do decide to go to Him, but we’re so lost that we don’t even know how to ask or what to ask for.

That’s when it’s good to know that He already knows what we need.  (Matthew 6:8)

It’s also good to realize that just like He’s made some to feel compassion on the birds so they will feed them for Him, He has also made some to feel compassion for other humans. There are many out there who are ready, willing, and able, through God’s power, to provide for the needs of others. Some have been through similar circumstances previously, maybe as preparation for helping others in the future. Some have been made strong in certain areas even though they’re weak in others, so they can be used by God just the way He needs to use them. Some have been gifted in ways they never expected because God was equipping them for a job He had prepared for them in advance. (Ephesians 2:10)

… God knows what you need. God sends help. Are you rejecting the help He sends?

Dear gracious and loving Father, thank you for knowing exactly what I need and sending help according to Your timing. Please help me to be weak enough to accept your gifts. Please break me down when I’m trying to be strong through my own powers instead of through Yours. Only by being weak can You make me strong again. Now, I hold out my hands and accept whatever help You want to give. Open my ears to hear Your words of help, open my eyes to see those you’ve sent to help, open my heart to accept Your good gifts. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

~ Courageous Jane

Mama’s Prayers

I know a man who grew up with a faithful, loving, church-going mama. By certain standards, we would say she “raised him right.”

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. ~ Proverbs 22:6

This man grew up, went to college, got married, and had children. And became an alcoholic, a druggie, and a jailbird.

As far as I know, it was not through any lack of prayer or effort on his mama’s part that this man made the choices he did. God gave us each free will, and by golly, some of us are determined to test the limits of that, aren’t we?

Despite his mama’s prayers, this man made choices that took him down an ugly, dangerous road. I’m sure we’d all understand if she washed her hands of him, gave up on prayer, and took up reading juicy novels to fill her time instead. But she didn’t. No … she continued her prayers. She asked her friends to pray. She asked her church to pray. She advocated for her son like no one’s business.

don't pray in the rain if you don't pray when the sun shines... Satchel Paige
^@^ina (Irina Patrascu) / Foter / CC BY

 

But here’s a reality to consider: Mama’s prayers won’t always cut the mustard. Nope. Usually, Mama’s offspring need to put some leg work behind Mama’s prayers and make things happen.

This man wasn’t going to wake up one day and, thanks to his mama’s prayers, not be addicted to alcohol and drugs anymore. He wasn’t going to wake up and just walk out of jail because he’d seen the error of his ways. No, he had to put the work into getting sober, staying sober, making amends, and fixing his life in general. He had to do the work of repairing his broken marriage, rebuilding his career, and learning how to live “right” again.

So, today, I have messages for two sets of people: the praying mamas, and those who know their mama is praying for them. (Or their grand-mama, as the case may be.)

First, for the mamas: Don’t give up! Don’t stop praying. There are no guarantees, but there is still hope. God heard the prayers of that mama mentioned above, and He helped that man to get clean and sober, rebuild his marriage and family, and led him to a new career … as a pastor. The second half of that proverb says “and when he is old … it doesn’t say anything about that time in between childhood and “old.” We mamas are gonna go through some rough patches with some of our kids, and it very well could be the power of our prayers that keeps them alive until they come out on the other side of whatever valley they’re in. Keep praying, Mamas!

And for those who have praying mamas (or grand-mamas): Get busy getting it right. How is your mama praying for you? What is she asking God to do for you? She’s no dummy. She’s older than you, wiser than you, and more experienced than you. She’s made mistakes herself, and has gained wisdom from those. She wants you to have a good life and to enjoy the richness of this world, but if you have a praying mama, then I guarantee she already knows the secret — that the richness comes from the understanding that God has provided it, and she just wants you to know that, too.

God answers prayers. In His way, in His time, according to His Will. But He’s not an earthly magician. He doesn’t say magic words, wave his wand, and presto! Lives are changed in a flash. No, we people have to put in the leg work. God can change our hearts, but we must change our minds, our habits, our words, our thoughts … and sometimes our careers, our friends, and our plans.

Difficult employee ... You never answer the phone -- Moktar Belmoktar (29 May 2013) ...item 2.. Journalist or Arab Propagandist? (Published: June 8, 2013) ...
marsmet548 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

 

I am a praying mama. If you’d like me to pray for you, too, please send me a message at courageousjane@gmail.com.

~ Courageous Jane

P.S. If you are a praying mama who has had to endure the loss of your child despite your earnest prayers, please know that my sympathies are with you, and in no way am I discounting the power of your prayers as well. I continue to hope that we will gain full understanding of God’s ways when we gather together in Heaven someday. But for now, I rest on Isaiah 55:8, which says, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, declares the Lord.”

Beloved

My friend, Katie Wolfe, founder of Get Real inC, posted a question on her Facebook page today asking what the word “beloved” means to us, and would we use it to describe ourselves.

I’ll admit that the word immediately evokes a certain feeling in me, but my first inclination was to look it up in the dictionary to see if maybe I was missing the meaning. I was sure it had to mean more than just someone who is “loved.”

And I was right. The dictionary tells me that beloved means “dearly loved” or “a person who is dearly loved.”

I also went to my bible to see this special word being used. Different translations use it interchangeably with “loved” and “lover” but I always feel a deeper meaning is expressed when the word beloved is used.

God uses the word beloved to refer to Jesus in Matthew 3:17 “and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Do you hear how God talks about his Son?? Paul talks about his Christian brothers in the same way in Phillipians 4:1 “Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.” And Jude, the brother of Jesus, starts his message to Christians everywhere with ” … To those who are the called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. Beloved, … ” And later: “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life.” (Emphasis mine.)

There is obviously deep feeling, strong emotion, that goes along with this word, beloved.

One of Katie’s Facebook followers, Lindsay Ferguson, answered Katie’s question with: “I love the imagery that comes with beloved. Its evokes a sense of a beautiful, intimate, regal, love by someone who treasures their “beloved”. It became a part of my vocabulary after reading “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning in college which frequently referred to us as being God’s “beloved”. As I thought on what that means, I realized that wearing the name of God’s beloved changes everything … how I speak to others, how I act, how I love, and how I see myself. If I am God’s beloved, I don’t have to seek the approval of everyone around me, I don’t have to seek the approval of the mirror in front of me, I don’t have to be the person I was in my past, I can find joy and purpose in my place as His beloved. These thoughts were so beautiful and freeing for me that I wanted to be reminded of who I was daily, so I actually got the word “beloved” tattooed to my wrist so I can see it and be reminded of who I am in Christ.”

tattoo beloved script word

So now here I am, looking for the courage to believe that I am God’s beloved. I know how I feel about my own husband. I would call him my beloved. To think that God feels that way about me, personally? It’s hard to fathom. I can grasp the idea that He feels that way about His Son, Jesus, and His bride, the church. But he thinks of me intimately, with an overwhelming love, with a desire to capture my heart the way my husband has? Oh Lordy! That’s heavy.

And heavenly.

What about you? Do you feel like you are God’s beloved? And let me turn this around … is God your beloved?

Now that’s something to think about.

~ Courageous Jane, Beloved by God