Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Gift Of Faith

The Lord started talking to me about the power of prayer last night. It’s something that I’ve known about since I was born again, but He really started bringing that into focus last night. I’ve been dealing with some stuff in my life that has been draining me, things that I know are things that I need to leave in God’s hands, and I keep talking to Him about them, and asking Him for help, and He’s been giving it, but last night I was at one of those places where I started to wonder again how I could continue to keep trusting and believing when everything I am seeing looks so dark. That’s not really true, actually, I know that there is so much that is not dark – so much that He’s been showing me that is full of light and life, but I feel so weighed down by the burden of these dreams that have not yet come true, so oppressed by the feelings of despairing of ever having real joy again, so afraid to hope because everything seems so hopeless. It was there in that moment when I spoke that to Him that He told me I needed to pray.

I pray all the time, I don’t need to be in church or anywhere near one. I can be walking down the street, on a bus or the subway, in the supermarket, at the thrift store or the mall. I’ve laid hands on people outside of bars, in soup kitchens, in offices and on street corners. I talk to God all day long, and don’t take a step without asking His opinion of which way to go, but when He started to talk to me about prayer last night, He was talking about something completely new.
The first church He ever sent me to was an Assemblies of God Spanish Pentecostal, and I learned how to pray there. But God teaches us how to pray wherever we go to church, and He taught me some things along the way that were things I needed to know. I’ve learned how to pray warfare prayers, to speak in tongues, to pray in the Spirit. But last night He was talking about something else.

There’s a song that I sang in the choir at that first church I attended. The choir Director had given me a solo, and it was a song I hadn’t ever heard before, but she said that when she heard it she knew it was for me. The song was “Encourage Yourself,” by Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers. “Sometimes you have to encourage yourself. Sometimes you have to speak victory during the test. No matter how you feel, speak the Word and you will be healed. Speak over yourself, encourage yourself, in the Lord.” God brought that song back to me last night again. He’d been bringing it back from time to time over this past year, and last night He knew it was what I needed to hear. I listened to it online, and read some of the comments, It still amazes me that the choir Director thought of me when she heard the song because I’m nothing like the singer, but it made me understand something now that I didn’t know then – it doesn’t matter how you feel, it’s what’s inside of you that counts.
There is a fierceness to my faith that I didn’t understand until the Lord started talking to me about it when I listened to that song again. It was that fierceness that the choir Director saw in me that connected me with that song in her mind. I had only been born again maybe two years at that time, but she saw it all the same. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-11, we are told that God gives to each of us special gifts through the Holy Spirit, gifts to help others and edify the church. Here it is in the New Living Translation, “A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another Spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.”

I’ve had the gift of faith since I was born again. It was something that God gave to me even before I knew what faith was, and when I was born again, it was already full blown into maturity. When I looked for the scriptural passage, I found this explanation of it on the website I’ll share a few lines here that made me smile because I always thought that everyone had this thing that I’ve learned over the years is an extraordinary gift of faith. “The gift of faith may be defined as the special gift whereby the Spirit provides Christians with extraordinary confidence in God’s promises, power and presence so they can take heroic stands for the future of God’s work in the church. The spiritual gift of faith is exhibited by one with a strong and unshakeable confidence in God, His Word, and His promises. Examples of people with the gift of faith are those listed in Hebrews chapter 11. This chapter, often called the “hall of faith,” describes those whose faith was extraordinary, enabling them to do extraordinary, superhuman things. Here we see Noah spending 120 years building a huge boat when, up to that time, rain was non-existent and Abraham believing he would father a child when his natural ability to do so had ended. Without the special anointing of faith as a gift from God, such things would have been impossible.”
It is really second nature to me to trust in God’s promises and to hear His voice and believe His Word. It’s not that I don’t have times when I doubt, but when I open up my Bible, or start writing this blog, or ask Him to speak to me and give me a word of encouragement in any way possible, He always does. I always thought that was natural for people who were born again, but I’ve learned that it’s not. It made me smile to read that passage from the website because I don’t think of what I do as extraordinary or heroic. Sometimes I feel pretty foolish for believing in things that look like the end result will be completely different than what I’m saying. I wonder if Noah ever felt foolish, or Abraham. I wonder what they went through when they told people what God had spoken over their lives and those people laughed or acted like they felt sorry for them. I wonder what they felt like day after day when the promise of God didn’t seem to be appearing, and there was no break in the sunshine for Noah or any sign of life for Abraham’s promised child.

I guess I don’t really have to wonder, because that’s the life I live every day. There’s always a promise of God that no one else sees except for me. Sometimes it’s a Word He’s spoken over my life and sometimes it’s for someone or something else. It’s always the easiest for me when it’s for someone or something that doesn’t have to do with me, but I wonder what it must be like for those people I give a Word to. If they don’t have my faith, how could they possibly think what I’ve said could come true? I remember talking to someone about something he’d been worried about that I’d told him I’d pray for, and when I next saw him and things were terrific, I said, “That’s answered prayer!” He looked at me in surprise, I don’t really understand why – I said I’d pray and I did and things got much better. That’s what happens when we pray, and that’s what God started to talk to me about last night.
With everything that I’ve been dealing with lately, there have been so many distractions that have kept me from focusing on the author and finisher of my faith. That’s Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). I just had to have a moment there because when I looked up where that scripture is, I thought it said 12:12. I was born again on December 12, 12:12, so I went ahead and looked up that scripture, “Therefore strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble.” Sounds to me like a word about encouraging yourself. Sounds like He’s speaking to me loud and clear. Thank you Lord Jesus for the gift of faith, thank you that I can encourage myself and allow you to encourage me.

How can I not have faith when He speaks like that? How can I not believe when He tells me so clearly how faithful He is? But I know there are people who don’t have that gift that He’s given me, that the Bible is just words and prayer may or may not be real. And so it’s my job to encourage you if you need encouragement, just as I sometimes need to encourage myself. That song ends, “As I minister to you, I minister to myself. Life can hurt you so, ‘til you feel there’s nothing left.” When you feel there’s nothing left, there is always still Jesus. It’s when we feel there’s nothing left that we can finally really pray. When we feel there’s nothing left, we don’t have to try to do it on our own any more. When we feel there’s nothing left, that’s the time when He can finally show us that He is everything.

Jannie Susan

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What Size Do You Wear?

I’ve been dealing with a friend of mine who is in the transition phase of being born again and it’s been driving me batty and then God reminds me of the mess I was when I first came to the Lord and I have to laugh – not at my friend but at myself for getting all high and mighty. How soon we forget who we really are when we don’t have the Lord helping us with the power of the Holy Spirit. I’ve seen it in church, people acting like they’re all righteous and holy when I know the party life they lived made mine look tame. People who gossip and call it “praying for” someone, meanwhile they’re just airing someone else’s dirty laundry. But I didn’t realize I was in danger of getting on that same path of self-righteousness until I started complaining to the Lord about this friend and asking why I had to deal with such a hot mess. The answer came back, “Because you know what it’s like. You’ve been there.” And He’s absolutely right. God uses people to help people, and I’m the best person for this job because I know exactly what it’s like because I have been there, even though I’d like to forget just how hot a mess I was.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, God has a terrific sense of humor. We don’t always get His jokes until a little while after the punch line, but that’s because we’re just a bit slower on the uptake than He is. The bigger the mess and the more resistant we are, the more we end up being out loud and proud for Jesus, carrying our Bibles wherever we go, quoting scripture like it’s a natural thing for us and telling everyone we meet what Jesus did in our lives and what He can do for them. We become Evangelists and Preachers and Pastors and Teachers and Prophets. We will talk about the love of God and His transforming power to anyone and everyone we meet. We know what He’s done in our lives and we know He’s a miracle worker. We also know that there was no earthly reason for Him to take the time with us at all, because we know what and who we were before He came into our lives.
I can’t wait to see what the Lord is going to do in my friend’s life. I really love this friend even though what’s going on is driving me nuts at times – when the Lord puts someone on your heart there’s no way to get them out unless you decide that you’re not going to love the Lord any more. I actually tried to ask the Lord if He could find someone else to do this job – maybe someone who has more patience – and then I asked Him if He could just do it Himself and let me off the hook. That went on for a day and I actually felt really sorrowful – much more unhappy than my friend ever makes me with all the crazy stuff that’s going on. I couldn’t figure out why I was so sad – I’d decided to let someone go out of my life who was in a big mess – big deal, right? Someone else – maybe God – could deal with it and I wouldn’t have to. But then it hit me that not standing with this friend in faith for what God was going to do meant that I wasn’t believing in God and what He had spoken over this friend’s life. And He had spoken it to and through me, so if I’m not believing in that word that He spoke to me, then I’m not believing in anything else He’s said either.

So now I’m back to standing in faith, trusting in His word, knowing that He can do anything and that He loves to do the impossible. Yesterday morning, after I had decided the night before that I'd had enough of dealing with this friend, He gave me the story of the rich young ruler, the young man who asks Jesus, “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And when Jesus tells him to sell everything and give his money to the poor, he walks away sadly. Right after that, Jesus says, “How hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” His disciples ask Him, “Who then can be saved?” and Jesus answers, “With people it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
That story is found in three of the Gospels, Matthew 19:16-30, Mark 10:17-31, and Luke 18:18-30. There are stories that are found in one or two of the Gospels, but to find one story in three, it has to be an even more important one. There’s a lot that goes on in that story. The Rich Young Ruler recognizes who Jesus is – that He is one with God. He also knows His scripture and follows the scriptural laws and has for his whole life. And yet when it comes down to giving up his possessions and his wealth, and we have to think that societally that meant any kind of social standing that he had, he walked away sadly. But Jesus doesn’t say it will be impossible for him to inherit eternal life, He just says how hard it is for people who have much in the way of property, money and possessions – and again, we also may infer here that social standing was a part of that wealthy lifestyle. But Jesus does not say it’s impossible because He knows that with God all things are possible.

When I came to the Lord I had lost everything, and that is the story for some of us. But for some it is not losing everything, it is just coming to a realization that what we have is nothing or that we're tired of the big old mess of our life we live in or that in spite of all we have, we know that He has something much greater to offer us. However we come to know the Lord, it is always in a way that is personal and unique to us. He doesn’t look at us like one size fits all salvation. He knows everything about us, and He loves us deeply, and the way He begins to speak to us is in the way that we can hear Him best.
I can’t wait to see what He will do in my friend’s life – I can’t wait to hear the testimony. Most of all I can’t wait until I see my friend being even more in love with Jesus than I am, quoting scripture more than I do, carrying a bigger Bible and evangelizing and preaching wherever he goes. Because that’s the greatest gift we can ever have and it's a gift that keeps on giving.

Jannie Susan

Monday, July 29, 2013

Messing With The King

There are times in your life when God wants to do something to heal a part of you that you didn’t realize still needed to be healed. I’m going through one of those times right now, and it’s been really odd and I’ve been feeling really off balance. If you think of the physical wounds we have, we act in similar ways with emotional wounds. If I have an achy shoulder, for example, I may take pain medication of some kind or use an ointment to dull or ease the pain. I’ll start holding that part of my body in a different way to try to take pressure off the ache. I’ll make adjustments with other parts of my body to take on more of the burden so that I don’t feel the pain as much. With each adjustment, the longer that the pain continues, I’ll start to live my life with the pain and the adjustments, and I can even start getting pain in other parts of my body that are taking on extra stress and I may never get that part of the body healed that was hurt in the first place.

Emotional wounds are very similar in the way that we deal with them. We try to compensate in other areas of our lives so that we don’t feel the pain, we try to cover them over and not put any pressure on them, we try to ignore the pain or dull it somehow, sometimes with drugs and alcohol, sometimes with too much work or other things that will keep our minds so busy that we don’t have time to think about the pain of those wounds. Before I was born again, I tried a lot of things to cover over the pain of the emotional wounds I was carrying, and after I was born again, one by one, the Lord started to remove those things that I was using to cover over that pain so that He could start to heal those places that needed to be healed. I had thought that I was done with the healing, silly me. Just when I think He’s finished something, it’s time for Him to go deeper and really get at the place under the scar that I didn't even know was there.
I’ve dealt with bullies all of my life and was never able to face them. I’d cower and try to appease them, I tried to get them to like me or at least to leave me alone. I’d ignore them, I’d be nice to them, I’d do anything rather than stand up for myself because I was always afraid of them. And it was something more too, and that more is what the Lord is taking me through now. He took me through the fear, and I thought that I wasn't afraid any more, at least not the way that I was, but that's not enough for God. He wants us to be strong and of good courage, to know we are walking with the King when we walk with Him, and fear isn't a part of that picture. And this new place He’s taking me also has to do with wanting to be liked, thinking somehow that if I’m nice to the bullies that they’ll somehow come around and be my friend. For some reason I’d gotten it into  my head that it was something about me that was making them bully me, and that if I could somehow just befriend them, we could all get along. But bullies are bullies, and they’ll bully you as long as you let them. They’re never going to like you – they don’t even like themselves – that’s why they’re bullies. Bullies are people who are trying to prove that they’re superior to other people, that they can put one over on you, that they can push you to do anything they want you to do and accept whatever lies they want to tell you or tell about you. Bullies aren’t trying to be liked, they’re trying to have power over you, and the more power you give them, the more you go along with them just to try to get along, the more they’ll bully you.

The devil of course is the biggest bully of all. He’s the one who tells us that we need to go along with the bullies. He’s the one who tells us that we’re not strong enough to face them and that we need their approval. He’s the one who whispers in our ear that we deserve to be bullied, that it’s something about us that makes people bully us. He’s the biggest liar of them all, because he is the father of lies. In John 8:42-44 Jesus says to the people who are questioning who He is and who have said that they are God’s children, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own, God sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
Bullying comes in different forms. Sometimes people are just used to having their own way and when you try to stand up to them they decide to slam you down. Sometimes it’s because of jealousy, sometimes it’s because they want to feel power over you because they’re powerless in other parts of their lives. Sometimes people are aggressive and sometimes they’re passive-aggressive. It doesn’t matter why or how they’re doing it, what matters is how we react or respond to it. For most of my life I’ve let bullies run right over me, just hoping they’d go away or just stop. And there was always that part of me that wanted them to like me and approve of me, so I’d try to be nice and appease them. But God has something else in mind because as Jesus says in 8:31-32, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” And in John 8:34-36, He tells us, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the son sets you free you will be free indeed.”

Freedom in Christ means freedom from sin, freedom from our old way of living our lives, freedom from making bad choices, freedom from going along with the crowd just to get along. Freedom in Christ means that we can stand up to the bullies in our lives and stand for what is right for others and for ourselves. We can let people know that we have boundaries, and that while we will pray for them we can’t let them cross the boundaries they’ve been crossing that have been causing harm to us emotionally or physically. Freedom in Christ means that we can choose what is right for us and that we don’t have to let someone else push us around. Freedom in Christ says that we are God’s children, His beloved, the apple of His eye, and that if anyone treats us as less than that, we don’t have to accept it. Freedom in Christ says we know who we are in Him, and that if anyone else tries to tell us anything else, we don’t have to accept it as truth because it’s a lie. Freedom in Christ says that I don’t need anyone else’s approval because as long as God says He delights in me, I’m on the right track. Freedom in Christ says I don’t need to bow down to anyone else because He is Lord of all. When we come to Christ we can take a deep breath and tell all the bullies in our lives, “I am free,” and we can know that if you want to mess with me, you’re messing with the King.

Jannie Susan

Sunday, July 28, 2013

How To Clean A Lobster

My local supermarket was having a sale on lobster this week, and I had a coupon for an extra $3.00 off my order so I decided to splurge and treat myself. I love fish and all kinds of seafood, and I buy whatever I can when it’s on sale, but lobster is something that seems extravagant even when it’s on sale, so I don’t always buy it even though it’s a favorite of mine. A friend of mine who is a fisherman told me that he ate so much fish – and so much lobster – growing up, that he got sick of it. He still eats a lot of fish because it’s there and he knows it’s good for him, but what he really loves is a good steak. There was a time back when I first met him that I was shopping at a prime meat butcher, and he used to give me fish every week when I’d go by to see him and I’d make him dinner – roast beef, prime rib, filet mignon. Those memories are good ones, but the price of meat has gone up and I don’t live near that butcher now. I miss them and their meat, but it’s just not in my budget or my neighborhood any more.

I don’t eat much red meat anyway – I don’t even eat much chicken, and pork and lamb rarely. Even when I had the butcher nearby I didn’t eat much meat. I loved stopping by there because I love those guys, but I’d buy small amounts of things unless it was a big holiday. Where I live now I can get good prices on pretty good quality meat, and the fish is a good price too. But I don’t eat much of either one so having the lobster was a real treat.
My father taught me how to clean a lobster when I was literally standing at his knee. I’ve known how to clean a lobster for as long as I can remember, and it’s come in handy many times. Years ago when I was a teenager I worked at a catering company one summer, and they did a lot of lobster bakes because we were in Massachusetts. Once when we got back to the storefront, we had crates and crates of cooked lobsters left. The company that was having the party had overbought and everything was paid for, so we started packing up lobsters to take home. I have no idea how many I carried with me that day, but we had a lobster bake of our own at my house that week. Another time in college they had an outdoor lobster dinner, and for some reason not too many people were there so I took a few back to my dorm and made a spaghetti dinner for some friends of mine.

People don’t know how to clean lobsters a lot of times, and if you don’t know how to clean them there is a lot of waste. I’m much lazier than my father was – he’d get every last little piece of lobster meat out of even the tiniest parts of the legs – but I’m still pretty good and thorough, and it’s amazing how much you can get out of even a really small lobster if you know what you’re doing. It is tedious, though, and I’d honestly rather have it already cleaned for me. When I was home visiting my mother for her birthday, I treated myself to a lobster roll and even though it was an astronomical price, it was fun to not have to do any work and just enjoy myself.

My father and I used to have a regular date we’d make together when he was still alive. We’d go out to restaurants that we liked together – he was a great cook and a real food lover and he always knew the best restaurants. They weren’t always the most expensive – he knew a good bargain and found those all the time. He had friends who would take him places and then he’d take me. One thing we’d do a lot was to go to a place he knew to have a lobster dinner. We’d order one big one and share it. Lobster is a mess to clean and it’s much easier to do in a sink, but we’d do it right there at the table, taking our time over a dinner, wearing lobster bibs and using lots of napkins and those little wet wipes to keep our hands from getting too sloppy. Whenever I have lobster I think of my father. It’s one of those things that is inextricably linked to a person and a time and a place. Waffles too, something that I make that not a lot of people know how to make either. One of the first kitchen tools I bought for myself was a waffle iron, and they’re still my favorite thing to make of those breakfasty kinds of foods.
It’s strange and wonderful how time can change difficult memories into things that we can feel good about. My father was a very unhealthy man in many ways, and his waffle making when he decided to do it on a Sunday caused dread in the hearts of the whole family. He always made a huge mess that he’d leave, after getting set off about something or other that no one ever knew what exactly it was but it set him off to the point of having a storming and raging fight with everyone and then leaving, with the mess he’d made all over the kitchen table. When my father and I used to go to dinner I was always worried about his health. He was enormously overweight, and he ate butter and mayonnaise to excess along and all the other things that I knew would kill him one day. I never knew when our dinner together would be our last, and even before I understood what praying was I'd be praying that we'd get through that meal safely. He also loved to provoke people and get into arguments. He knew how to push buttons beyond anything I’ve ever known. He died when he was 72, and I often wonder if he would have mellowed with age as some people do, but I’m not too sure. He was one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever known.

I inherited that stubbornness from him, along with the knowledge of how to clean a lobster. Cleaning a lobster is something that you can learn, but it’s also something that you have to have a feel for. There are a lot of little places where you can find lobster meat in the body of the lobster, but it’s all mixed in with cartilage and shell and other inedible things. Having a feel for what the lobster meat feels like is key. Stubbornness is also something that can be learned, but having a feel for it makes it easier to come by. I remember once a friend of mine told me I was tough like iron – that’s something I inherited from my father, and something that’s come in handy sometimes just like cleaning a lobster.
When I was born again and I started to have the tests and trials that come to us when we start to live our lives for God, I remember a time when I was having such a hard time and I wanted to give up so badly and stop doing what it was that I was doing, even though I knew it was what God wanted me to do. I remember praying and asking Him for help, crying out to Him to change the situation, and He answered, “You’ve been stubborn about other things in your life. Be stubborn for me.” It made me laugh at the time, and reminded me of the qualities He’d put into me from birth – tough like iron, stubborn as they come, tenacious.

I just looked up the word tenacious in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and it has the perfect definition for the quality I’m thinking of: “Not easily pulled apart,” “Tending to adhere or cling,” “Persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired,” “Retentive.” It comes from the Latin word tenax, which means "tending to hold fast."

1 Thessalonians 5:21 tells us, "Test all things, hold fast what is good." The book of Thessalonians is a letter to the Church of the Thessalonians written jointly by Paul, Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy. In chapter 1, they begin with these words, "We always thank God for you, and pray for you constantly. As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ." That is from the New Living translation, and I chose that one because of all of the words that have to do with enduring, constancy, and faithfulness. All of the translations use some form of these words, but this one seems to have a focus on the idea of holding fast, the stubbornness for Christ and for the Gospel that we need to have in order to keep walking forward in the walk of faith. If we can continue on with that kind of stubbornness and tenacity, if we can hold fast to what is good, the promise of God in chapter 5:23-24 is ours, "Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who will also do it." If we can do our part, and God is always faithful to help us do our part, He will do His part because He has called us and He is faithful to do as He has promised.

When the words to the scripture came into my mind, they didn't come completely. I knew there was something that the Spirit was speaking to me about holding fast to the truth and I knew there was a scripture somewhere about that, and so I looked up the words, "hold fast to the truth." I found an article on the website Bible Bulletin Board that was written by J.C. Ryle who lived in the years 1816-1900, The article is titled "Hold Fast," and he was writing about true doctrine and false doctrine, and because historically he was writing at a time when there was great division between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, his message is very heavily weighted on proving that the doctrine of the Church of England was the only true doctrine. I am not writing here about arguments of doctrine, but he wrote something very beautiful at the end of his article that I wanted to share, "Last of all, if it be right to 'hold fast that which is good,' let us make sure that we have each laid hold personally upon Christ's truth for ourselves. Reader, it will not save you and me to know all controversies, and to be able to detect everything that is false. Head knowledge will never bring you and me to heaven. . . . Let us see that we each lay hold upon Jesus Christ for ourselves by our own personal faith. Let us see that we each flee for refuge and lay hold upon the hope set before us in His glorious Gospel. Let us do this and all shall be well with us, whatever else may go ill. Let us do this and then all things are ours. The Church may fail. The State may go to ruin. The foundations of all establishments may be shaken. The enemies of truth for a season may prevail; but as for us, all shall be well. We shall have in this world peace, and in the world which is to come life everlasting, for we shall have Christ. Reader, if you have not yet laid hold on this hope in Christ, seek it at once. Call on the Lord Jesus to give it to you. Give Him no rest until you know and feel that you are His. If you have laid hold on this hope, hold it fast. Prize it highly because it will stand by you when everything else fails."

In my life I have been stubborn about a lot of things. I’ve believed in people long after they have shown me that they couldn’t be trusted, I’ve hung onto jobs and apartments and relationships that were toxic. After I was born again, the Lord started to change all that, but He didn’t take away the qualities of stubbornness and tenacity from me, He just started to show me how to use them in much healthier and productive ways. If I could be stubborn about loving a man who was a pathological liar – and yes, I did do that at least twice – now that my eyes were opened I could be stubborn about loving God and loving the people He wanted me to love, no matter what the situation looked like and no matter what those people were doing or what kind of trial I was going through. Instead of being a fool for love I became a fool for the Lord, not caring what other people said about the choices I was making about who I would love and what I would do with my life, the same way I didn’t care in the past, only now I had the Master Planner telling me which way to go instead of my own stubborn desire to do what I wanted and go against the flow. Now when I found myself fighting resistance it wasn’t because of my own stubbornness, but because the Lord of all the universe was asking me to keep standing in the face of adversity.

People sometimes think that when we come to Christ we have to give up everything about ourselves and become like docile robots. But that’s not what God wants for our lives at all. He wants us to be the best us we can be, and all He wants to take away are the things that are holding us back from the greatest gifts and blessings He has for us. My stubbornness was a liability when I was using it to stay with people and in places that were killing me, but now that I’m stubborn for God and His work, the stubbornness has become something that helps me hold fast and keep on going when I don’t see how things could possibly work out. It’s the same stubbornness that I learned from my father that keeps me listening and learning from God.
And it’s God who has taught me how to love my father, and forgive his trespasses in so many areas of my life. It’s God who has shown me that my father never had the joy of knowing the healing of God in his life, and that’s why he was so often so negative and destructive to himself and those around him. It’s God who has helped me to take the good things that I learned from my father, and to remember the good things and let the others go. It’s God who has cast a much softer light on the past, so that I can eat a lobster and smile and say, "Thanks Dad."

Jannie Susan

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Kindness In A Strong City

I was having another of those days yesterday, a day of doubt and sadness instead of faith and joy. I know intellectually that it’s all in my mind, but when those doubts and fears and woeful feelings come, they seem so real and so normal for lack of a better word. Why should I have joy? I ask myself in those times. Why should my dreams come true? Why should the promises of God that sound so beautiful really be things that I can count on? It doesn’t matter that God does miracles daily in my life, and some of them really big ones, it doesn’t matter that He shows up whenever I call and shows up in such a big way that I can know it’s only Him. When the sorrows come and the thoughts that try to drive out hope, the sorrowful thoughts are the ones that seem the most real and true.

On my way into work in the morning I took out my little red leather bound New King James Bible and it opened to Psalm 30, the perfect Psalm for me to read at that particular time. I won’t put it all here, but do read it – it will bless your heart if you are dealing with anything or anyone that is trying to oppress your faith and joy. It starts with these beautiful lines, “In You, O Lord, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in your righteousness. Bow down your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defense to save me.” When I read that, as sorrowful and low as I felt, I started to smile somewhere deep inside because I knew that the Lord was speaking to me. He knew how I was feeling, and He sent His word to strengthen me.
In verses 19-20, we read, “Oh, how great is Your goodness, which you have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You in the presence of the sons of men! You shall hide them in the secret place of your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.” That image just spoke so deeply to me, when I read it on the train and now again as I write it and read it here. The Psalmist doesn’t just say that the Lord will be good to those who fear Him, but that He has prepared and “laid up” or stored up His goodness - think of how great the goodness of God is! - in preparation for, not only those who trust Him, but for those who trust Him "in the presence of the sons of men." When I read that, all I can think of is the struggle I have been having for many months now, the struggle to keep my faith in spite of what other people are saying and doing around me, the struggle to believe what God has spoken over my life in spite of what other people are trying to tell me is the truth. I know in my heart that some of these people are liars, and at best they are just very cynical people who don’t have faith, but in the face of their lies and in the face of their acts of power and words of cynicism, it has been so hard to trust God in their presence. There are people who will try to oppress other people, and if they see that you are rising up in faith, they will try to knock you down. There are others who are so sad and disappointed in their lives that they can’t believe that faith and dreams are possible and so they try to get you down to where they are. When I read this Psalm, I know that the Lord is telling me that He sees what I have been dealing with, and that His goodness is prepared for me because I have kept speaking His word and I have kept my focus and trust in Him in spite of these people who have been trying to bring me down.

Verses 21-22 read, “Blessed be the Lord, for He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city! For I said in my haste, ‘I am cut off from before you eyes’; nevertheless, You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to you.” Again the vision comes – a strong city – I see a city surrounded by walls and guards, so oppressive that it feels like a prison. Nothing can come in or go out, and yet, He has shown His marvelous kindness to me there. It’s a very powerful thought that He has chosen to show His kindness there – He didn’t take me out and show me His kindness when He got me out, He is showing me His kindness in the midst of that bleak and oppressive place. And when we think of the promise of verses 19-20, He has even more goodness stored up for when He does bring me out.
Verses 23-24 end the Psalm with these words, “Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” When I read that I wept, sitting on the subway, riding out to Brooklyn. When the psalmist talks about the faithful, he’s talking about people of faith. He's not talking about perfect people. God knows that we make mistakes and that we are not perfect. What He is asking of us is that we trust in Him. He is telling us to love the Lord and be of good courage, and He is promising that He shall strengthen our hearts because we have put our hope in Him. He makes it so simple, and it is so beautiful, the way He talks to us when we feel like we can’t go on.

Even so, with all  of those beautiful and encouraging words that spoke directly to my situation and the way that I have been feeling, it was still a tough day, and on my way home last night I decided to walk downtown from the site where I was working. It was all the way up on East 70th Street, but I wanted to save the travel money because it all adds up. But my bags were very heavy, and I was oh, so tired, and even though it was a beautiful day, I kept thinking back to when I first moved to New York and I walked everywhere to save money. I kept thinking that nothing had changed, that I was right back where I had been all those 26 years ago. Of course that’s not true, but that’s what I was thinking. I could have taken the subway, but I don’t do anything without checking with God first, and He said to walk, and so I did. He said I needed the time with Him, too, that it wasn't really about saving the money. I needed to just be quiet and listen and let Him talk to me as I walked. And He did talk to me, in the beautiful way He has, reminding me of all the things that He has already done, and how much my life has changed for the better. He told me that even though I feel like I’m in the wilderness, I’m right on track, and that when I see the way He will work out His plans, the plans and promises He has made for my life, I will be amazed, and my sorrow will be turned to joy.

When I got down to 34th Street and the train that takes me home, there was some kind of delay on the line. A car had gone out of service and there was some switching problem, and there were trains full of people just sitting in the station. I asked the conductors which train would be leaving first and they didn’t know, but then I heard one of them point to a train and say to someone that though they couldn't know for certain, the scheduled departure for that train was supposed to be first. So I walked onto that car as filled as it was, and when I walked on I saw a seat that was empty. A woman had just gotten up because she didn’t want to wait any more, and I sat down, thanking my God who had provided a seat for me on a train that had no seats and no room anywhere, a reminder that He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city many times - that if He can provide a seat on a train with no seats at rush hour when the trains are backed up, He really can do anything, and for whatever reason, not because of anything that is perfect or wonderful or righteous in me, but because of His kindness and love He wants to do these things for me.
It took a while, but the train finally left the station - the one that I was on did leave first - and I was back where I needed to be to start my walk home, physically refreshed because I’d been able to sit the whole time and put down my bags and rest my weary muscles and bones. If I had taken the train downtown instead of walking, I might have ended up in that disabled car in the tunnel. And even if I didn’t end up stuck in a tunnel, I would have ended up waiting much longer than I did. That walk downtown did me good in more ways than one.

Blessed be the Lord, for He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city! Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the Lord. Be of good courage and just wait and see. He shall strengthen your heart because you hope in Him.

Jannie Susan

Friday, July 26, 2013

Walking In Love

A while back someone I know told me, “you walk in love.” She said it to me after I had told her something that surprised her because I had been telling her how much I had been lacking in love in my life. I came from a family that didn’t show love easily or well, and I was the last of a large group of children and I’d been an unwanted and unexpected baby. Over the years of my life I’d done many things to try to gain approval of people – trying to act cool, trying to please people, getting into relationships because I was looking for the warmth of a love I’d never known. Everything I tried always fell flat or worse – sometimes my life would be nearly ruined by a relationship that got me into all kinds of trouble and then turned sour. When I was telling this woman I know about my life that was lacking in love, she looked at me in surprise and said, “But you walk in love!” I had no idea what she could possibly mean because I didn’t feel it and I didn’t see it and I didn’t understand how that could be.

Ephesians 5:2 says, “And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That’s from the English Standard Version, and there is something slightly different in the New Living Translation, “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.” Weymouth New Testament begins, “And live and act lovingly,” God’s Word and the NET Bible say, “Live in love,” and the International Standard says, “Live lovingly.” When the woman I know said I was walking in love, that’s what she was talking about.
There is something that happens to us sometimes when we grow up unloved and unwanted. Not only do we spend our lives looking for love and trying to fill that need to be loved, but we also can become very self centered. We are so much in need of love that we are not getting that everything we do centers around that need to be loved. I pursued acting for many years, and though I enjoyed it as an art form, I think the thing that I really loved was having all those people focusing their attention on me for the ten minutes or two hours or half an hour each night when I was on stage. I didn’t think of it that way at the time, but now when I look back on it, the very act of acting, of getting up in front of people to do a play, is asking them to look at you and you only. The lights in the house are dark, and you’re up there on stage in unnaturally bright light. Everything is quiet except for your voice. It’s the perfect way to be seen and heard, especially for someone who is used to being pushed to the side and ignored, someone who grew up in a family where everyone else’s needs were met and theirs weren’t because they were too young and too small and too quiet.

It’s hard to understand God’s love when you have been used to a family that didn’t have enough love to go around. God’s love is unfathomable even for people who have had a loving and supportive family, so if you’ve been lacking in that area in any way – an absent father or mother, or an abusive one, coldness, strictness, authoritativeness, inflexibility – how can you possibly understand the love of a God who is able to love us all in an equally abundant and extravagant way? It took me a while to take it in, and even now I have a hard time understanding it and accepting it. But that’s all He asks us to do – just accept the lavish gift of His love He gives us every day.
A few days ago someone I love with the lavish love of God said out of the blue, “I love you.” They were words that I wasn’t expecting to hear in that moment because we were talking about someone we both know who is a friend but not a close one, but we had been talking about other things and people too, and somehow in the conversation, things that I had said about people and things had added up to those words being said to me. When I laughed and said, “Where did that come from?” he answered, “I don’t know, it’s just you, your heart.” A week before that, someone I ran into who I hadn’t seen in years said something very similar, only this time it was in response to my describing the kind of work I was doing. He said, “I knew you’d end up doing something like that. You have such a big heart.” I was surprised both times, just as I had been surprised when the woman I know said I walked in love, because I don’t see what they see.

When we can start receiving God’s love and we can let it fill us, it fills us to overflowing, and that’s when we can start to walk in love. His love poured out for us and into us by His Spirit saturates the air around us so that we become a fragrant offering that is pleasing to God. It is really nothing that I am doing that these people are responding to, except for my accepting of God’s love in my life. By accepting that gift and understanding that He has given it freely, not because I deserve it, and no matter what I have done or not done in my life, when I accept His gift He just pours it out, and it keeps flowing like rivers of living water that will never run dry.
In John 7:37-38, Jesus says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” The gateway to the door of Heaven is belief and faith. Sometimes people stumble there because of many different reasons. But whatever the reasons, there is one answer to them all. Love. Simply love. If we can believe in His love for us, no matter who we are, no matter what we are, no matter where we are or where we have been, if we can believe it and accept it, we can walk through that door and begin to walk in a life that is filled with it.

Jannie Susan

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Deus Ex Machina

I needed a word of encouragement yesterday – I always need them, but sometimes more than others and this is one of those other times when I really need them. I’ve been having battle after battle in every area of my life, a victory comes and then the enemy comes right back at me again with something else. That’s something he’s good at doing, and I should be used to it by now, but I’ve been so exhausted by the months and months of stress and strain that even when the victories come it’s hard for me to see them. I had just been writing to a friend of mine in the morning about two areas that I was asking for prayer for – she’s always praying for me, and she knows some of the story of what I’ve been dealing with, but I was giving an update and adding more to the story so she knows everything that is going on. She’s in New Zealand now, so I didn’t know when she’d have a chance to read the email, but just the process of writing it opened up something in Heaven because when I got onto the train to go into the city for work and I opened my little red leather bound New King James Bible, it opened to a passage in 1 Chronicles 5.

If you’re someone who knows your Bible, you might take a pause for a moment there. That’s what I did, because 1 Chronicles 5 is at first glance simply a list of geneology of the tribes of Israel. I’ve always found those lists comforting because part of my heritage is Jewish, so I thought at first that was what the Lord wanted to remind me of – that I had a whole line of people behind me who were warriors before the Lord and worshipers in His temple. I was satisfied with that, but then thought I’d move on to something else that would speak more directly to my situation, but the Holy Spirit kept saying to stay there and keep reading, carefully – that was the key – not to skim – to read very carefully. At first glance I had been skimming, but He said to go back and re-read very carefully. So I went through line after line of name after name, who begot whom, and who was from what family. And then in verses 18-22 I read this, “The sons of Reuben, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh had forty-four thousand seven hundred and sixty valiant men, men able to bear shield and sword, to shoot with the bow, and skillful in war, who went to war. They made war against the Hagrites, Jetur, Naphish, and Nodab. And they were helped against them, and the Hagrites were delivered into their hand, and all who were with them, for they cried out to God in the battle. He heeded their prayer because they put their trust in Him. Then they took away their livestock – fifty thousand of their camels, two hundred fifty thousand of their sheep and two thousand of their donkeys. Also 100,000 of their men, for many fell dead, because the war was God’s. And they dwelt in their place until the captivity.”
Look at those numbers for a moment – the children of Israel who went to war totaled 44,760, and they took 100,000 men captive and there were others who died. Look at the numbers of livestock – 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep, 2,000 donkeys. It looks like an impossible math game, but there is nothing impossible for God, and the passage tells that the battle was His, that in the smallness of their numbers, they cried out to Him, and He heeded their prayer because they put their trust in Him. When I looked up the word “heed,” Webster’s online dictionary says it means “to give consideration or attention to” or “to pay attention.” God gave consideration and paid attention to their prayer because they put their trust in Him, and instead of the 44,760 men being totally overwhelmed outnumbered by who knows how many hundreds of thousands of men, those 44,760 men walked away with men and livestock that totaled exponentially more than they did. They didn’t just have a victory, they had an overwhelming and supernatural one.

When I first read that passage yesterday morning, I had to go back and read it again. When the word of God comes into my heart like that, it’s like life giving water and a shot of adrenalin all at once. All the way on my way to the train I had been talking to Him, asking Him what I should be doing. I know that He’s trained me well – I am a warrior, and skilled in battle because He’s taken me through and shown me how to go to war when I have to. I know my word, I know how to pray. I can speak in tongues and pray in the spirit. I can sing praise and worship, and lift holy hands, and I’ll do it any time anywhere that He wants me to. I’ve been doing all of those things over these months, because He had warned me early on that there was going to be a battle. But today when I read His message to me, I heard His promise that He had heeded my prayers because I trust in Him, and He let me know that the battle was His.
There have been many things these past months that have come to tell me that I shouldn’t be trusting in God’s word. My own doubts and fears have risen up, and my own weakness and lack of strength have allowed me to feel discouraged. Solutions to the problems have appeared, things that would have meant that I’d have to change the course of my own life and take the solution into my own hands, but they were easy to do and at times I have so much wanted to do them. I understand now in a very deep and visceral way why Abraham and Sarah thought it would be a good idea to have Sarah’s handmaid be the mother of Abraham’s child – the child God had promised them – but there was a problem in that scenario, because God had said that Abraham and Sarah would have the child, and so instead of the child of the promise, the maid had a child, Ishmael, who was an enemy of the promised child Isaac who was born as God had promised, and whose descendents were enemies of his children. (Genesis 16)

When God has made a promise to us, there will always come things to tell us we haven’t really heard Him right. People will question us, they’ll offer their opinion without our asking, they’ll pry and probe and try to find something they can hold onto in order to say things to make us doubt. Then if that doesn’t work, other things will start coming against us from other places, things that wear us out and wear us down, things that make us feel weak and outnumbered and ready to give up the battle. It’s at those times that we need to draw even closer to God, to ask for His help, to cry out to the Lord our God. It is at those times that instead of giving up, we need to look up, and let Him know we put our trust in Him.
I’ve come to understand a little something about supernatural math. My father was an engineer, and so I’m used to looking at equations that make no earthly sense and knowing there must be a solution there somewhere. In story telling and play writing there is a term called Deus Ex Machina, which literally means “God in the machine.” It is something that happens at a certain point in a story that turns everything around, and that is truly how God does work in our lives when we feel like there’s no solution except to give up and try something else. If we can hold on to God in those moments, and trust in His faithfulness, He’ll show up in a way that we never expected and we will never forget.

In the past two weeks some opportunities have come up that seemed at first glance like they were the answers to my prayers. They seemed like they would have made things so easy, and that all of my problems and woes would be gone. But as I talked to the Lord and asked Him what I should do, He reminded me that the very things that seemed the hardest were the things that He had promised me, and that if I could just hold on to His promises, He’d show me what He could do.
I don’t know how He’s going to do it, but I know that I can trust Him, and I know I can trust Him to do what He has promised. What seems like the easy way out wouldn’t really be easier in the long run, because that’s not what the Master Planner has planned. His plans are always perfect, and He knows in our weakness it’s hard for us to wait and trust in Him, so part of the way that God works in the machine is to make sure that we have what we need to keep trusting in Him. It’s not about what we can do, and it’s not about what makes sense to us, it’s about His faithfulness and what He can do. And if we can wait on Him and trust Him at His word, we’ll see the answer to our prayers in a way that could only have come from Him.

Jannie Susan

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


When I was on the subway on my way home yesterday, a woman started shoving me while I was standing at the door waiting for the train to stop in the station. I had all of my bags with me that I carry for the work that I do, and it was obvious that I was getting off because I was standing facing the door, not standing in the door facing away from it, but facing it, prepared to get off when the doors opened. She had been sitting somewhere else, and she came up behind me and started shoving me – not leaning on my by accident, but shoving me, trying to push in front of me where there wasn’t any space to push in front of. I turned to her and said, “I’m getting off too,” and she just kept shoving, putting her elbow in front of me and trying to push her way through and push me out of the way. I wasn’t having it, so I said, “There’s no need to shove,” and she, and I’m not exaggerating, she hissed at me through her teeth. It was the strangest thing I’ve ever seen I my life. She was well dressed and neat and clean and had her head phones on – I tell you this because she wasn’t someone who looked like they’d be hissing at people and pushing and shoving on the subway. She was dressed like she worked in a decent job somewhere, but she was acting like she lived in a barn.

People never cease to amaze me, though you’d think at this point with all the junk I’ve seen I’d cease to be amazed. I’d never think of shoving somebody, never mind hissing at them – don’t get me wrong – I’m no saint, and I get annoyed at people who walk slowly in front of me while they’re texting, or who meander around so that I can’t pass. I get ticked off if I’m trying to get on or off the subway and there’s someone blocking the doorway or the staircase for one reason or another. But being ticked off and muttering “Move!” or “Get out of the way!” or “Help me God!” which I have to admit that I do is a whole lot different than shoving and hissing at people who are waiting for the train to stop so they can get off. But then again, in God’s eyes and ears it’s probably not that different, so I guess I shouldn’t be so amazed after all.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Luke 6:37-42 has a similar passage, but this is added to it in verses 37-40, “Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. He also told them this parable: ‘Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.”

One of the most beautiful passages of scripture to me is when Jesus has risen on the third day, and Mary Magdalene comes to the grave to anoint him with oil and spices. When she sees that He is not there, we read this in John 20:11-16, “Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying?’ They have taken my Lord away,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they have put Him.’ At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for? Thinking He was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned toward Him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni’ (which means ‘Teacher’).”
There is so much in that passage that I love, and so much that speaks to me when I am in those places of doubt and despair, those times when I am weeping, wondering where God is. It is in those times that He speaks my name, the name He gave me, in a voice that lets me know that He understands while also letting me know that there is no need for tears. “The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” As I read that now, I think about the ways He teaches me so that I can in turn reach out to someone else in the way that He has reached out to me.

I wonder what would have happened if I had just let that woman get in front of me. Why is it that my ego wouldn’t let her? Why did I have to say anything at all? I could have just stepped back and let her push and shove her way out the door, and I could have even said something kind to her if I’d wanted to say anything at all. Jesus doesn’t want us to be doormats, but He does tell us to give someone your coat if they ask for your shirt, and He does tell us to bless those who curse us. Those directions are given in Luke 6:28 and 6:29, just before He tells us not to judge someone else. Who knows where that woman was going or what had been going on in her day. I can act all holy and righteous, but I know in my own heart, when I’m really honest with myself, that I have been just as bad and worse. If it weren’t for the grace of God over my life and the power of the Holy Spirit, I might be hissing at people too.
It’s important to be honest with myself, because if I’m not, I won’t see the glory of God in my life. There is no reason why He should have bothered to save a wretch like me, but He did, and it’s important to remember that and to be grateful. It’s in that place of not judging someone else, of being honest with myself, that I can be humble enough to receive His grace for yet another day. And God knows I need it, today, tomorrow and all of the days to follow, for the past, the present and the future, grace upon grace upon grace.

Jannie Susan

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

God Is Near

I haven’t written much about my trip to my home town yet, and that’s a serious sin of omission because God showed Himself so faithful that all I should really be doing right now is praising Him. Instead I let the enemy come in and steal my joy by focusing on the nonsense he’s been throwing into my path to make me question the faithfulness of God. The mind is really a very mixed up and messed up place. I can be looking at victory, looking right at a miracle of God, experiencing it in the here and now, not just in the past as a memory, and the enemy comes with something to make me question and doubt and I fall for it. Joyce Meyer wrote a really great book that I’ve already mentioned here at least once, “The Battlefield of the Mind.” She’s written a lot of great books, but that one in particular really says it all to me. The battle is only in our mind – if the enemy can get us to believe that he is in charge, that he has more power than God, then we’re sunk, deep in despair, and we can do really stupid things in reaction to the fear and doubt that mess things up that were going to work out perfectly if we just let God handle it and go on our merry way.

Of course that’s easier said than done, because the devil is no joke. We try to make him one by drawing pictures and cartoons of him in a little red suit with a long red tail, but the reality of it is that he can come as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14), he can come at us in the words and actions of someone we thought we could trust, he can talk to us with convincing words that seem like they make sense and make faith seem foolish. And he’s also very sneaky. He’ll wait until we’re least expecting it and then, blammo. Or he’ll start throwing hand grenades into every area of our life so we don’t know where the next one is coming from and we just want to raise up a white flag and surrender. He’ll use our past and our present, our hopes and dreams, our mistakes, our sin, our friends and family – he’ll use whatever he can to try to get us to stop believing and just give up.
The saying goes that the darkest hour is just before the dawn, and sometimes that’s true. But other times we can be having a feeling of joy and victory and then something happens to make it seem like we were crazy to be shouting Hallelujah. My trip back home went so miraculously well, from start to finish, including the travel and the weather, that there is nothing that I should be doing right now except for thanking God. Instead I got all upset about some emails and calls I received, and got all worried about some promises that God has made when other people who are involved in those promises started acting like we were right back where we were before God ever spoke a word over our lives. I had a lot of dawn moments when I was in my home town, so there’s no reason why I shouldn’t expect that there will be an equally shining dawn for each of these other promises. And yet, the mind is truly a battlefield, and if I’m not aware of that, I can get drawn into believing that things haven’t changed and they never will. I can start believing a lie instead of trusting in the truth that I know is in the word of God.

But even in the midst of my own foolishness and doubt, even when I am forgetting to praise God and thank Him, He still shows up to let me know that He is faithful to do as He has promised. I got a call from a friend on Sunday who I’d emailed a prophetic word to back in May. He had been dealing with a lot of stuff and hadn’t read the email I’d sent, and he started telling me about what he’d been dealing with and it had to do with the word the Lord had given me for him. There was no earthly way I could have known what I had written to him – it literally came to me, into my mind and heart, from the mind and heart of God. I remember that when I was writing the email, I was talking to God and saying, if you say so, because I didn’t understand fully what it was that He wanted me to say to my friend. I didn’t have any basis in my own understanding for sending the message, but it was so strong on my heart to send it, even though the Lord knew my friend wouldn’t have time to read it. The Lord had me write it back then so that we both could know now that yes, God does speak to us, and yes, I do hear Him. You see, I’d given this friend other words from God before, and so this was a confirmation not just for me that I hear His voice, but it was a confirmation for my friend that the words of encouragement I have spoken over his life are really coming from the Lord and not just from me trying to be nice.
God is speaking to us all the time. His voice is the one that says, you’ll make it through, the bills will be paid, don’t worry about that now, take a walk, relax, enjoy your vacation. His voice is the one that says, “We are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us” (Romans 8:37), that there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). It is the voice that says I am well pleased with you, I delight in you, I love you. It is the voice of God that tells us who we are, not what mistakes we’ve made, but who we are becoming as we let Him lead the way. We are becoming every day more and more like Him, and no matter how far away we may feel, He is never far away from us.

One day a few years ago when I was feeling very down and blue, I went to visit a friend in his office. He had other people visiting with him at the time – he’s a very sociable person – and a woman who was just getting ready to leave when I arrived stayed to speak to me for a few moments. Before she left, seemingly out of the blue, she said to me, “God is near. Sometimes we forget that and I just felt like saying that to you just now. God is near.” I’ve never seen that woman again, and I don’t know who she was. But as she said to me I’ll say to you, don’t ever forget, no matter where you are and no matter how you feel, that God is always near.

Jannie Susan

Monday, July 22, 2013

La Pastora

A few years ago I sat down to dinner with a Catholic Priest friend of mine. We had met a few months before at a Healing Mass that he presides over and he had invited me to a Vespers service at another church. We were near the first apartment I’d ever lived in when I first moved to New York more than 20 years ago, and we decided to eat dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant I’d been to many times back then. It was still there and the food and atmosphere hadn’t changed a bit. Surprisingly enough the prices hadn’t changed much either. Ethiopian food is eaten in a communal way – you order several dishes and they all arrive on the same large tray on top of some of the most delicious spongy bread I’ve ever eaten. There’s more bread to use to eat the food – you eat it with your hands, using the bread to pick it up with. I don’t really know if the bread is really that delicious, but the combination of foods that soak into it make it taste amazing.

Over dinner we started talking about the ministry I’d been working with that I had recently left. I had been working with them for three years, in every part of the ministry outreach, as the director of their after school program, and a coordinator for donations for the soup kitchen and other ministries. I was writing grants and organizing and coordinating things, bringing in funding and volunteers. I was involved in so much of the ministry and I was in church almost every day of the week. The Lord had been opening up the windows of Heaven and pouring out blessings and opening doors. And then all of a sudden, one day He told me that I had to leave. My first response was, “But what about the children? What about the doors you’ve opened? What about the work that I have been doing? Who is going to take care of the children? Who is going to be there for them? What are you doing? Why did you send me there only to take me away?” And His response was, “You’re not leaving the children, I’m just expanding your territory.” At the time I couldn’t understand how that could be. As I saw it, leaving the ministry meant leaving the children. But He was so firm that I had to go, and He gave me a word at that time that I’ll never forget. As I rode the bus one last time to the after school program to meet with the Pastors and hand in my keys, He said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24) When Jesus says this, He is talking about His going to the Cross, but when He said it to me, He wanted me to know that the work that I had been doing needed to die in my life so that I could move into the next place where He was taking me. If I had stayed where I was, the work that I was doing would not grow into the work that He had planned for me to do.
As I sat over dinner with the Priest and told him about how difficult it had been for me to leave the children, and how difficult it still was for me because it had only happened a few months before and I had not yet moved into that new place that the Lord had planned for me, he said, “La Pastora,” which is Spanish for a woman Pastor. The moment he said it, I saw a picture in my mind of a book of Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes that my Nana had given me for my first birthday. The picture for Little Bo Peep was my favorite picture always, from the moment I first started to recognize images, before I ever even learned how to read or understand what the words meant. “Little Bo Peep has lost her sheep and doesn’t know where to find them.” The picture was of the shepherdess with her staff, looking off into the distance, trying to find her lost sheep. The Priest I was talking to is Irish Catholic, and so was my Nana. They have similar features, and I could see in his blue eyes, her eyes from years long past. She is no longer alive, but she is the one who used to take me to church sometimes, long before I ever understood what or why people went to church for. She had become Episcopalian, and was very devout, and since I was born again I always feel like she’s smiling every time I take communion. When I was a child and I’d go to church with her, she always took me up to the altar, but she told me that I couldn’t take communion because I wasn’t baptized. I never understood what it was all about, but I always felt as if she were somehow so sad that I couldn’t take communion. Now I feel like she is smiling, beaming, over every part of my life because God is there everywhere and she is right there with Him, seeing the ways that I am growing in Him.

When the Priest said, La Pastora, the tears came so suddenly to my eyes that I gasped. The Holy Spirit comes to me sometimes like that – all of a sudden, in a place or time when I'm least expecting Him. I told the Priest about the picture and my book and my Nana, but I couldn’t speak much more except to say that there was something very deep in me that was being healed right then and there. I felt as if the Lord was speaking to me that the calling He'd placed over my life had been there always, and that He was confirming that calling.
In the work I do now, the Lord has brought back the children. I’m back in their neighborhood and I see them and sometimes work at sites where they and their parents are. And there are more children and more adults, more lost sheep every day that He has me reach out to with His love. I was telling a friend of mine that he is the one sheep that the Shepherd left His flock of 99 to go find (Luke 15:3-5), and there are so many of them that He goes looking for because “He is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). In the Parable of the Lost Sheep, Jesus talks about the way that the Shepherd rejoices when that one lost sheep is found again, and I have had those moments of rejoicing with Him. There are also times when I am waiting for His salvation and His deliverance in someone’s life. There are times when I am praying and praying and doing all that I can do, but what I can do just doesn’t seem enough. Those are the times when I know that I have to trust Him that He will do what He has promised, that the word He has spoken over that person’s life will not return void but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it. (Isaiah 55:11). There are times when He has had me speak that word and other times when He has had me confirm it to someone when it has been spoken already. There are also times when He has me repeat a word when someone He has spoken over has forgotten it.

We are in a battle, for life or death, sometimes people forget about that. We can go to church and praise the Lord, but we can be the walking dead if we have somehow gone astray. We can love God and want to walk with Him but be too weak to do it in the face of temptation or addictions. We can be so caught up in the lies of the enemy that we don’t hear the word of God over our lives, or if we hear it we don’t believe it. A shepherd carries only a staff, but there is power in that staff if it belongs to the True Shepherd. The staff helps to keep us walking, it helps to steady us on rough and rocky ground, it is a reminder of who we belong to and that His great love for us is the most powerful weapon there is.
If you are thinking that God has forgotten you, think again. He will go wherever He needs to go to find you and bring you home again. Sometimes He’ll come in the form of a woman who feels a tug in her heart for a group of children, sometimes He’ll come to find us in the least likely of places. Wherever you are, He’ll find you, and all you have to do is climb into His arms and come home.

Jannie Susan

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Praise In A Dry Season

There are time when we have just had a victory that we don’t even feel like we can enjoy it because there is so much else that is going on that looks like the opposite of a victory. It could be an enormous victory, but we are so caught up in the other junk that is going on that the junk is all we can see. One of the most powerful tools that we have to help us to walk in victory, one of the most powerful weapons we have in the battles we face, is our ability to praise God and thank Him for the victories we have won and those yet to come. The enemy knows this, and so one of his weapons against us is to make us feel like there’s nothing to be thankful for and no reason to praise God.

There is a beautiful prayer of praise in the time of trial in Habbakuk 3:17-18. The title in the New King James version is “A Hymn of Faith”: “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines; though the labor of the olive may fail, and the fields yield no food; though the flock may be cut off from the fold, and there be no herd in the stalls – yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills.” In chapter 1:2-4, the prophet Habbakuk has asked a question, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear? Even cry out to you, “Violence!” and you will not save. Why do you show me iniquity and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds.” As the Lord answers him, he is able to come to the place of recognizing who God is, and that what he sees around him in that present moment is not what will always be. In chapter 3, he begins to think back to past victories, and to have a vision of the victory yet to come, and it is in this process that he is able to come to a place of praising God in the midst of a situation that seems hopeless.
Christians will often talk about our walk with God in terms of seasons. We will say that we are in a season of blessing and fruitfulness or a season of dryness or despair. The strange thing that happens is that it would seem that it’s easier to praise God when we are in a season of fruitfulness and blessing, but sometimes we are so busy enjoying the blessing that we forget to thank God. We can forget when our hearts and tables and cupboards and bank accounts are full that there may have been a time when they were not. Or we might feel like we deserve the blessing we have received because we have been through a time of trial, and so we do thank God for the blessing, while also feeling as if we are somehow entitled to live with that blessing always so we can become careless with our praise and forget to be grateful that we have received God’s grace.

God doesn’t play games with us, but there are times when He will allow the enemy to come into our lives so that we can be reminded that it is not our own goodness that has brought us blessing and it is not our works that have given us His grace. God loves each and every one of us, no matter what we have done or not done, and there is no one who “deserves” his blessing. Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”  Time after time prophets are brought before God and they cry out that they are unclean and so cannot face the Lord Almighty and live. These are prophets who have been called before God, and they feel unclean and unworthy. Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short or the glory of God,” and Romans 3:10 tells us, “There is none righteous, no not one.”  When I think of these truths I am even more profoundly moved by the grace and mercy and love of God because I begin to understand the mystery of His love in a new way. He loves us just because He loves us, and He blesses us because He chooses to bless us.

When we go through a dry season, a season of despair and discouragement, when we begin to cry out to God as Habbakuk did, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and you will not hear?” It is in that moment that we begin to hear the Lord in a new way, and we begin to understand that He is with us even in those times of weakness and seeming defeat. He does hear, and He does see. He knows all things and all hearts. When the Lord answers Habbakuk in chapter 1:5, He says, “Look among the nations and watch – be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you.” He then goes on to describe the destruction that will be caused by a warring nation, and Habbakuk is at first confused because it seems as if the Lord is saying that the destruction and terror will continue. He asks a second question in verse 13, “Why do you look on those who deal treacherously, and hold your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he?” He describes the destruction and devastation that he sees, and asks in verse 17, “Shall they continue to empty their net, and continue to slay nations without pity?”
But then Habbakuk does something very interesting. In chapter 2 verse 1, after expressing his confusion and despair and feelings of hopelessness before God, he says this, “I will stand my watch, and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected.” He knows who His God is. He may not understand what is happening or how God works, but he knows that there is something much bigger than he is that he doesn’t understand. When the Lord answers this time, He tells Habbakuk that the judgment he has been waiting for will come, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointment time; but at the end it will speak and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith.” The Lord then goes on to describe all that He has seen of the wickedness of people and that their time of judgment will come, and Habbakuk can then know that it is not that the Lord has not seen, but that He is waiting for the appointed time, the perfect time, to act. It is in that waiting time, when Habbakuk does not yet see the promised release from oppression in his own life that He begins to look back on the past salvation of the Lord and to trust in His deliverance for the future.
We may not always understand God’s timing. And there may be times when we want Him to act right now because the pressure and oppression and trial seems too much for us to bear. During those times we may have victories that we don’t even recognize because we are so focused on the challenge and struggle and strife all around us. It is in those times that we can choose to draw nearer to God, to begin to thank Him for the victories we have had and the victories to come, and to praise Him for His mercy and grace. It is not an easy thing to do, because as we see the behavior of people around us that is meant to harm us and others it can seem as if God does not care. But when we take our eyes off of the destructive acts and look at Him who is the author of the creative ones, when we remind ourselves of who He is and all that He has already done, we can know in our spirit that though we see the drought and devastation of a dry season, the renewal and abundance of a fruitful season will come.

Jannie Susan

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Uno Propone Y Dios Dispone

My internet was down yesterday morning when I tried to get on early as I usually do to check my emails and post my daily blog post. It had been working fine the night before, but in this kind of hot weather, sometimes the power goes down or the transformers blow. There’s been so much going on but for some reason I took it in stride. Usually that’s the kind of thing that would really irritate me, but I was able to make the calls I needed to make and find out that there was nothing I could do and then went on my way to work to wait to see when it would be resolved. It was resolved in a few hours, but I couldn’t post until last night, even though I’d written the post the night before. I try to write something at night so I can edit it and post it the next morning, and because I’ve been away and haven’t had a chance to post in the way I usually do, I wanted to get back on schedule. But there’s a saying in Spanish that is actually from Proverbs, “Uno propone y Dios dispone,” and it translates roughly to “A person plans and God puts things in order.” We might make a plan and think our plan is pretty good, but He always knows best and wants the best for us, and when we understand that, we can sometimes find the grace to relax and let things go His way instead of ours.

When I first heard that expression, a woman I know told it to me when we were trying to get something done and everything seemed to be going wrong. She said her mother had always said it, and the way she had learned it was almost with a negative meaning. She had learned it that we could make plans, but that God would change our plans, and in a way, mess them up. What I know about God is that He doesn’t try to mess us up, so I’d always thought that expression must mean something a bit different. I looked it up last year because it was in my mind and my heart to share it with someone I love who had been going through a rough time. When I looked the expression up online, I found a listing for an even more negative expression that includes something about a woman coming along and bringing even more of a mess. I knew that wasn't what the Lord wanted me to share with my friend, and so I looked it up in English in Proverbs, and the verse is from Proverbs 16:9, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” in the King James 2000, “A person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” from the International Standard Version, “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,” in the New American Standard Bible, “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps,” from the English Standard Version,” “In their hearts, humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps,” from the New International Version, and “We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps,” from the New Living Translation. Even though they were better than the negative Spanish expressions, none of these seemed to my spirit to be what the Lord was really trying to say to me, at least at that time, and what He wanted me to share with my friend. The Holy Spirit said to look it up and translate it, word for word from Spanish to English. I studied Spanish for six years and I knew it really well once upon a time. I can still figure out the sense of sentences, and hear the meaning underneath the translated words when I think about them.
Words are for me very powerful in any language, because of the nuances and layers and levels of meaning, and when I looked up “Uno propone y Dios dispone,” I found something much more like the encouraging word I know comes from the mouth and heart of God. The translation I listed first, the one in the first paragraph, is much closer to what He was trying to tell me and what He wanted my friend to know. The message also becomes clearer in combination with all of the other Biblical translations – if you look at them all, there are different references to plans and the heart and the mind, to humans and men and people. There are words for establishing steps, directing steps and determining steps. If we put it all together, we get something closer to a meaning that when we have something on our heart, God put it there, and when we start to plan, He arranges things and puts things in order so that the plan He has put in our hearts and in our mind can come to pass in the best way possible.
There are times when God will speak a word to us, and will give us a glimpse of what He has planned. He will put something in our hearts and in our minds that we are sure is from Him. But then trouble comes, something happens to make us doubt, we see “reality” around us, and it doesn’t look like the vision He’s given to us. 2 Corinthians 5:7 tells us, “We walk by faith, not by sight,” and when I just looked up that scripture, I found another article from the Expository Files website by Shane Scott,, that has a real zinger at the end, “The Bible challenges us to 'walk by faith, not by sight.' This task is as unnatural as walking with our eyes closed. But the more steps we take, the more comfortable this walk will become, and the more confident we will be of the destination of our walk. And ultimately, that’s what faith is all about – it is 'the assurance of things hoped for' (Hebrews 11:1)." Shane Scott also talks about the difference between walking by sight and walking by faith, and it’s a stark difference. When I read his words about walking by faith, it makes me think of a person making their plans and then going ahead no matter what happens, trying to do what they think they need to do in order to make their plans work. I’ve seen this happen, and I’ve been experiencing it recently with someone I know. We can get so caught up in what we think should be happening that we take things into our own hands, sometimes even to the point of trying to manipulate other people or situations or even telling lies to get our own way, that we don’t wait to see what God can do and we don’t let Him do things in His own wonderful way.

Walking by faith is not easy. It’s a place of power only when you understand it deep in your spirit. Without that understanding, it feels foolish and can be very scary, and because it is a place of power, there will always come someone or something to try to knock it and you down. I was having a conversation with a woman I met on the bus to Boston the other day, and she shared with me the idea that there are people who do not understand faith at all, even if they are claiming to be Christians or people of faith. They are still walking by sight, and when they see someone else who walks by faith, they get almost scared because they don’t understand it. They also know that there is a powerful force working through true faith – it’s not simply believing in God – there is a saying we have in church that even the devil believes in God – but faith in what God can do through my life, through your life, through an impossible seeming situation, that kind of faith that believes in the power and the promises of God no matter what it sees, that kind of faith can see mountains move and walls come tumbling down.
If God has made a promise in your life, if He has spoken a word into your heart, believe it, no matter what is happening right now. God doesn’t play games with us, He doesn’t do things that will make us look foolish. When He makes a promise, He keeps it, and He backs it up with His word. Romans 10:11 says it in many different ways in many different translations. Here are just a few: “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame,” New International Version, “Anyone who trusts in Him will never be disgraced,” New Living Translation, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed,” New American Standard Bible, “Everyone who believes in Him will never be ashamed,” International Standard Version. It may look like something completely different, but if God has spoken it, it will happen. All you need to do is trust Him, take a deep breath, and let Him put everything in order. If you can do that, you will never be disappointed, ashamed or disgraced. And the beauty of it is that He will help you to do it. All you need to do is ask for His help. That's His word and you can count on it when there is nothing else that you can count on.

Jannie Susan