Make Your Life A Testimony – Pt 2

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Impacting Others for Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.            (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

It has been said that there is nothing more powerful that a personal testimony concerning something extraordinary that has happened to a very ordinary person.  This is the last article I will write on the book written by Mark Atteberry, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel“.

On page 176, Atteberry writes:

The great value of a true story is that it places a finger under the hard-road traveler’s chin and gently pushes up.  Unlike fiction, it forces the person to ask, “Could God do something like that for me?”

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We tend to put so many others up on pedestals, like sports heroes, movie stars, gifted speakers, etc.  So many of us feel like we have very little to offer to other people.  But the Scripture I quoted at the top of this article says otherwise.

I think it would be fair to say that every person who has ever lived has encountered difficulties and painful experiences.  That is simply part of being human.  What is also true for those who believe in God is that many of us can tell stories about how God came through for us and brought us through those difficult moments.

And it is these stories, these testimonies, that Atteberry says we all need to share with those who are around us.  Rephrasing the Scripture above, God is a God of great compassion who helps us in our times of greatest need, and that often, He allows these difficult times to come in order that we can then in turn help others who are now going through what we just came through.

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In his book, Atteberry anticipates that some people will shy away from the idea that God could ever use them and their situation to be of help to anyone else.  He expands on three possible objections that someone might give for  not sharing their life stories and experiences with others:

  • I’m not a great communicator.
  • I have no platform from which to share.
  • My story isn’t dramatic enough.

Some of these statements may actually have some truth in them.  Moses was someone who stuttered.  The widow who gave her last pennies at the Temple as Jesus watched probably never thought she would be important.  I was never a drug user who “saw the light” and came to believe in Jesus.  (Why do we always use the example of drug users.)

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But all of these objections (and more) have missed the point.  It is not the quantity of what we do in life that is most important, but the quality of whatever we do, no matter how small that might look to us.  I like Atteberry’s comment on page 177:

The big thing to remember is that your testimony is simply your story.  It doesn’t have to be a sermon.  It doesn’t have to be theological.  It doesn’t have to answer all the difficult questions people might feel inclined to ask.  All it has to do is show how the Lord helped you as you walked with Him along your hard road.

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It has been just a little more than a year ago when I started writing articles on this blog site.  I had the choice at the beginning to use my site as a venue by which I could whine and complain about all the pain I suffer with my muscle disease, and how hard life is for me.  I could view my world as having shrunk down to sitting in my sofa recliner day after day within the confines of my living room and apartment.

But God challenged me to view my struggles as an opportunity to reach out to other hurting people.  Very quickly I saw that by means of my internet connection, I could potentially reach thousands of people with my stories of what God has done in my life in the past, and is still doing through me today as I take one day at a time by faith.

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In fact, as you look at the visitor counter, you can see that there really have been thousands of people who find it worthwhile to visit and read the articles that I write.  But as soon as I say that, I have to figuratively knock myself on the side of the head and remind myself that I am not writing for the thousands, I am writing for the one person who really needed to hear the word of encouragement that I offer in a given article.

Atteberry goes on to say:

The best way to measure the value of a testimony is not by the size of its audience, but by the impact it has on the people who hear it. If your story helps even one person stay faithful to the Lord — or perhaps return to the Lord — then it has had an eternal impact.

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And this is where we conclude our study of this book.  I really hope though that these “Hard-Road Journey” articles have been more than just a book study.  I pray that we have been able to walk along side of each other and be encouraged in our faith and walk with the Lord because we’ve gone on this journey together.

I am amazed and thrilled that God has used me in this last year to impact others.  All I’ve done though is to be open and honest and share “my story”.  Even if you never go public like I have, I’m going to promise you that if you are open and honest with others around you, then God will use “your story” to also be a blessing to someone else who really needed to hear what you have to say.  May God bless you as you do this for Him.

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Make Your Life A Testimony – Pt 1

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We have come to the last chapter in our book that we have studied together this year on The Listening Post.  The title as many of you know is “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel” by Mark Atteberry.  We have journeyed together with the children of Israel through their wilderness wanderings until they came to their Promised Land.  But we have also journeyed together with reflections on life with one another and seen that the God who fulfilled His promises to the Israelites is the same God who fulfills His promises to us in our lives.

This book has had such a profound impact on my life as I have been on my own personal hard road journey living with my muscle disease that flared up 3 ½ years ago.  There have been many difficult days for me along this road.  Even today, I am not feeling well as I have not had a good sleep and battled pain and fatigue for four days now.  But then I remember that my commitment to God is to serve Him, not complain to Him.  And I also remember that God’s promise is that when I am weak, He is strong.  And reflecting on that brought an old hymn below to my mind.

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Before I gave my life to Christ at age 12, I was only concerned about Me.  (But isn’t this the attitude of all children?)  Yet I wonder what kind of adult I would have turned into if Christ had not become my Lord.  I shudder to think about how self-focused and self-serving I would have become.  So I praise God that I heard the Gospel message when I was young and responded to that call.

And it was only a few years after making that decision to make Jesus my Lord that He showed me that my life was to be fully dedicated to serving Him in mission work around the world.  I have never thought of my years of service for Him to be my “duty” or my “repayment” for the salvation He offered me. Rather, it has always been my joy and privilege to offer my life as a thanks offering back to Him.

1.  Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in endless praise.

2.  Take my hands and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love.
Take my feet and let them be
Swift and beautiful for Thee.

3.  Take my voice and let me sing,
Always, only for my King.
Take my lips and let them be
Filled with messages from Thee.

As I consider the years that I have been in ministry and mission work up until my disease become evident, I feel that my commitment to serve Christ was in some ways easy for me. Like the first three verses of this hymn mention, I gladly gave Him what was not difficult to give.  I would go, I would reach out, I would sing for Jesus.  And I would enjoy myself as I went along on this adventure in life.

But it in these past 3 ½ years, I have found that serving the Lord had to become a regular choice, as I could choose to give in to the disease and decide the effort to go half way around the world to do our mission work was not worth it.  Even more basic than that, I had to choose to praise God and thank Him for each day that I woke up, no matter whether I “felt” good at the start of the day or not.  Living for Christ is giving all of me over to Him, my mind, my will and my heart.

4.  Take my silver and my gold,
Not a mite would I withhold.
Take my intellect and use
Every pow’r as Thou shalt choose.

5.  Take my will and make it Thine,
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own,
It shall be Thy royal throne.

6.  Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee.

I found that my world shrunk for me all the way down to little more than my living room.  With little to do, and little ability to do much more than sit in my recliner chair and become even more attached to my computer, I could have literally turned into a “couch potato”.  But God was not finished with me yet.  Through encouragement from my wife and others, we found ways for me to still serve God, even sitting in my own living room.

Through modern technology, I am still able to work on translation projects that are on the other side of the world.  With modern medicine to manage the pain, and rapid transport to get me to other countries, I set myself up in a different recliner and keep on being active in this mission ministry.  But God also opened up this ministry of blogging so that I could encourage others to believe that if God can use me and bless me as He has in spite of my limitations, then He can do this for anyone.

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Back to Atteberry and his last chapter, he tells us that when we have broken through from the barren wilderness of our hard road experience, we need to set up a memorial, as a testimony to others that God is faithful and will carry us through.  And I believe that is what this blog site has become for me.  I sit down and write three articles a week and memorialize all the good things that God has done for me and is still doing for me.  My prayer is that my writings, my memorial stones, have brought honor to God, and been an encouragement to all my readers.

Another Year – “Praise God!”

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My Birthday Reflections

Two days ago, it was my birthday.  I was not able to share this day with my family here in Dallas since they are all back in Canada.  But I’m really okay with that.  Of course it would have been nice to celebrate with them.  But what I did instead was to go out with a friend after church down here and we had a great time just talking and sharing stories about our mission work and interests.

Back to my family, they all sent me a card and either called me or emailed me to wish me a Happy Birthday.  That was nice.  I didn’t need the calls to be reminded that they love me, but it was still so nice to hear their voices and to see their messages.  It means that I was important enough to them to take the time to give me a call, and I am so grateful to God that I have a wonderful family.

    

As I went through the day though, I came to realize once again that I am actually part of another family, the Family of God.  Of course I don’t know everyone in this special Family, since there are millions of Christians in countries all around the world.  But there are a good number who do know me, either from growing up together, or through my mission work.  And now I have a number of new friends made through the ministry and fellowship we can have by means of the Internet.

Take Facebook for example. There are many hundreds of people whom I can call “Friend” on my personal home page of Facebook.  And the FB Page which is also entitled The Listening Post, has more than 750 people who are following it.  So by the end of the day on Sunday, because of the way I get notifications into my email Inbox, there were more than a hundred greetings from these various friends to wish me well and to pray for me to have another good year of serving the Lord.

    

But let me tell you another very big reason for celebrating my birthday, besides having a great family and lots of contacts on my FB account saying “Hi!”  I thank God for the life He has given me, (even taking into consideration my physical handicap).    Actually, because of my muscle disease, I have come to appreciate life more, and I often wake up and say, “Thank you God for giving me one more day that I can live for You here.”  And so having one more birthday means I have beaten this disease for another year.

You see, just about 3 years ago, I had been devastated by the diagnosis of my health condition.  And on top of that, things had not gone well with my mission organization back in Canada.   They had to freeze the financial books and some mission activity for a short while so they could deal with some governmental paperwork to keep the mission running.  I thought I saw all my dreams and hopes for life and ministry coming to an end.

There was about a month back then where my symptoms kept getting worse and I didn’t know if or when I would level out with my condition.  And I felt quite distraught about what was happening with our Canadian mission.  I felt so overwhelmed by circumstances out of my control that during that time, my pain increased to the point that I felt it was crushing my chest and I really thought I might actually die.

    

But God was watching over me and provided me with just the right kind of professional help that I needed to get through that rough period.  I was able to see a Physiotherapist who helped me to set some realistic goals on exercises and short distance walking.  And when I found myself becoming overwhelmed emotionally, there was a Social Worker within the same clinic who took it upon herself to meet with me for four weeks in a row and let me talk out about my emotional and physical pain.

It was truly amazing the transformation that happened within me after meeting with these two ladies for those four joint sessions.  As I spoke out about my discouragements and fears, the Social Worker listened empathetically, while the Physiotherapist made sure the pain remained under control and that I was not in any physical danger.  And through that process, God brought about some real healing to both my emotional heart and to my physical body.

    

What made the difference for me in these sessions was my steadfast belief that God was still in control.  I told these ladies of how I had served the Lord in either pastoral ministry or overseas mission work for many year, and I poured out my heart about how much I wanted to continue to do just that.  And as I talked about how faithful my God had been to see me through some tough periods in my past, I realized that God had not changed, and I could look to Him to carry me through the current crisis to future days of ministry for Him yet.

So I have been marking November in my mind now for more than just stating, “It’s my birthday.”  I have realized that each year I do have a birthday, it is a victory day to mark how God has been faithful to carry me through and on into another year of life.  And so, this is now Year 3 of my new life: life with Christ AND life with my disease.  Lord willing, (if He doesn’t return soon), I will be able to have many more years of service for God, and each time I have another birthday I will say, “Thank you Lord for another year.”


Pursue Your Dreams For God

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Keep Your Dreams Alive – Part 2

“Right now, you must understand that the distance between you and the fulfillment of your dream can grow a little smaller every day if you keep taking steps in the right direction.  You may not be able to take big steps.  Indeed, the hard road you’re traveling may make even the smallest steps very difficult.  But if even a little progress can be made, make it.”  (pg. 154 from “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel” by Mark Atteberry)

In Part 1 of this two-part article, I shared some details about the struggles and disappointments each of us within my family has had in these past three years to experience the fulfillment of our personal dreams and hopes in life.  At the conclusion of this article I have some good news.  But I would guess that some of you who are reading this are still walking along on a dark and difficult road and are not seeing your dreams fulfilled.  I believe that Atteberry has some good advice for all of us.  He offers three suggestions as to how we can keep our dreams alive.

1  Keep Talking About Your Dream

I believe that God is our Creator.  He created each one of us to be uniquely different.  Just look around and you will know that this is true.  The Psalmist says that God knew us and was uniquely forming us from the time of our conception in our mother’s womb.  (Psalm 139:13)  And part of this unique individuality He created involves our personality, our interests, our desires, our hopes and our dreams.  These are all a part of what makes us who we are.

Accepting that as a given, we should also accept that we would naturally want to speak out about these interests and dreams that we have to other people.  In fact, I believe that when a person truly discovers what dreams they have for life, they will feel so passionate about these dreams that they won’t be able to contain them and keep them secret. but will constantly be telling others about what they hope to accomplish in life.

And that is as it should be.  Sometimes we may not clearly know how to fulfill these dreams, but just by talking to others will help us to clarify the dreams and what steps we need to take to accomplish them.  And don’t worry about negative or pessimistic people who for whatever reason are constantly shooting our ideas and dreams down.  There will always be people like this around.  Even if you are not seeing the realization of your dreams now, as Atteberry says, just talking about your dreams will help keep them alive.

2.  Keep Praying About Your Dreams

Not only should we be talking to others about our dreams, but we need to constantly be talking with God about our hopes and aspirations in life.  Notice how I said we need to talk “with God”, not “to God”.  Too often we make our plans and goals in life and then we ask God to bless all that we do.  But in Proverbs 16:9 it says, “man plans his steps, but the Lord directs his path.”  When we pray, it is important to talk over our hopes and plans with God, but it is even more important to be listening to the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit.

When life is difficult though, and things don’t seem to be turning out like we had always dreamt and hoped they would, Atteberry advises us to pray to God in two very specific ways.  First, as we go through a difficult period, he advises us to pray and ask God for strength to endure the hardships we are experiencing.  And secondly, he tells us to ask God to still bless our dreams and make them a reality.  What is amazing is the fact that God does want to bless us and give us these good things.  And more often than not, as Scripture says, we have not because we ask not.  (James 4:2)

3.  Keep Moving Toward Your Dream.

Now after all this good advice, there remains just one more thing to do: find out what you can do, even little things, and go out and keep pursuing your dreams.  You may feel like it is hopeless, or that it will take forever to get to where you want.  But remember the famous saying of, “How do you conquer the mountain?” Answer: “One step at a time.

In a previous article I share how my one son waited and pursued after his desire to be in the Army.  It seemed like every time he talked with the recruitment office they told him to fill out another application, or some new form.  He could have given up.  But he dutifully filled out each form.  And he called back once or twice every week for a few months.  And guess where he is now?  After a two-year waiting period, right now he is in Quebec just about to finish the first month of his Army Boot Camp training.

For me too it has been a long, slow process to get to where I am now today.  Three years ago, I thought my missionary career was over when the full force of my muscle disease hit me.  But in time, by some trial and error of different medications, and by continually adjusting my environment around me to make me comfortable, it has become possible for me to continue doing my Bible translation work.

And so what about you?  What obstacles are standing in your way.  Jesus said metaphorically that even with tiny mustard seed faith we can conquer mountains that stand in our way.  You have to believe first that your dreams and aspirations have come from God.  Then believe that He can empower you to get to your goal.  And then finally, we all just need to take a step forward and start walking towards our dreams.

God’s Little Detours – Part 2

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The Value Of Detours

This is the second article that I want to talk about this concept of encountering detours in life.  And let’s face it, the question is not whether we will encounter detours, but what to do when we encounter detours.  In the last article, I mentioned that we will all have good moments, and that we must treasure those moments and count them as blessings. And now I would like to suggest that we even consider the detours of our lives to be blessings and to treasure them also.

This is exactly the kind of attitude that I sensed as I read the second half of chapter 9 of Mark Atteberry’s book entitled, “Walking With God on the Road You Never Wanted to Travel”.  For those who have been reading these “Hard Road Journey” articles, I would like to suggest again that this book is certainly one worth getting and reading many times.  (You can click here to find out how I can help you to get this book.)

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Let’s look then at how Atteberry considers detours in life to be helpful:

1.  Detours Can Train You

One of the first things that Atteberry does in this part of the chapter is to make a distinction between “to teach” and “to train”.  I thought that this was quite good because there is an important difference between the two concepts. You can hear about something, watch something, and even study something, and that might “teach” you something important. But until you have gone through an experience, you have not really been “trained” to be able to handle that experience.

I shared with many people of the strong interest that I had in Bible translation work since the time that I was age 16.  Then, when I tell them that I was 36 years old when our family went over to Papua New Guinea to start working in a translation project, people often ask the obvious question, “So what did you do in those 20 years?”

And I will respond, “Let’s see, I did some short-term mission work in Central and South America. I went to Bible school, then got married, then carried on and went to seminary. After that, I did about five years of pastoral ministry. Then there were some in between years where I felt a little lost and God was teaching me some lessons in humility. And also, we started a family and began raising our two boys.”

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I think it’s fair to say that when it comes to ministry work, and especially Bible translation work, I can be very passionate about it. Almost to the point that you could say I become so absorbed or obsessed with it that I can lose perspective with regards to other people or other important things in life. But I would never say that those 20 years between the time that I first thought about being a Bible translator until when I finally got onto the field were wasted years.

This came home to me in a powerful way in 2007. I was in PNG and attending a course to train translators to become Bible translation consultants. We were trained to listen well, ask good questions, be patient, be sensitive to cultural issues, know how to exegete Scriptures well, offer suggestions but not be forceful about it, and much more.

By the third week of this course we had had opportunities to sit in and watch experienced consultants work with other missionaries and the national speakers to check their translations. We were also given opportunity to lead sessions ourselves. When the teacher of this course asked me one day how it was going for me, my reply was, “Everything in my life up to this point now make sense to me.” And I still believe that is true: my theological training plus my years of pastoral ministry plus my village experience as a translator had honed me to be able to be a good translation consultant.

2.  Detours Can Test You.

But just when I thought that everything was now in place for me to be traveling the world as a Bible translation consultant and trainer, that was when my muscle disease hit me and its symptoms flared up. In February of 2008, I had just returned from PNG after doing six weeks of intense consultant sessions and some training sessions. I literally went from running through airports to barely being able to walk across my own living room floor.

As my health deteriorated that year, I slowly released one responsibility after another of the many international tasks that Pioneer Bible Translators had asked me to be involved in. By the spring of 2009, I was hardly doing anything at all, except feeling sorry for myself. And I felt like my ministry work and even my life was coming to an end.

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Praise the Lord, God showed me that there were still many things that I could do and that if I leaned on him and trusted him for my daily strength, He would empower me to continue to do this translation consultant work. What I’ve come to realize is that while there may be many things that I would like to do, I am to focus in on this one thing that I can do and which God still wants me to do.

Many people who are aware of my muscle condition have commented to me how amazing it is that I am still able to do this work. I could let this go to my head, but instead, I point to God and say it is by God’s grace and grace alone that this is possible. I will close this article was a very good quote from Atteberry on page 124:

Make up your mind that you’re willing to learn whatever the experience is ready to teach you. And remember that your character is being put to the test. People are watching and will be influenced for better or worse by what you say and do.

God Will Provide

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Trust God to Meet Your Needs

This article will finish off our study on Strategy #6, “Trust God to Meet Your Needs”, that Mark Atteberry gives us in his book “Walking With God on the Road you Never Wanted to Travel“.  (You can click here to read the article on the first half of this chapter in the book.)

I believe that this may be one of the most important strategies to adopt for any of us who are caught walking along a difficult path in life.  We must believe that God can and will meet our needs.

Certainly there are plenty of Scriptures to back up this belief, aren’t there?  Let’s name a few:

  • And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”  (Philippians 4:19)
  • And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  (John 14:13-14)
  • Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.”  (John 16:24)
  • Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:7-8)
  • So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  (Matthew 6:31-33)

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These are just some of the verses that might come to mind for a Christian when we talk about God meeting our needs.  Notice that I do not say “wants”, but “needs”.  You can be sure that pretty much everyone would say that they want things which they think would be good for them.

Even if that is true, we still need to be careful to distinguish true needs from just our wants in life.  And when using Scriptures, we need to be careful not to take a verse out of its context and make it say something more than it is intended to say.

Take Philippians 4:19 and the two passages in John mentioned above.  I’ve seen people who have their “want” list and they quote these verses like a shopping list handed to God, with the expectation that of course God will grant them whatever they want.  (Oops, notice the word is “needs” and not “wants” in Philippians?)

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Looking at Philippians chapter 4 though, we see that the church in Philippi had been tremendously generous in how they had met the needs of Paul, whether that was material help or financial help.  And Paul is promising these believers that God notices the sacrificial giving of the people and that God will in turn repay their kindness.

And the passages in John, within their context, are referring to the disciples’ desire to understand who the Father was and Jesus’ words about Him having to leave them for a while.  They were lacking in spiritual knowledge and wisdom, but Jesus is promising to “fill the gap” of their understanding.  Thus Jesus says, “ask me for anything and I will do it.”

So let us put these three verses to the side, seeing as it is quite possible that there is more here than just us asking God to give us something.  Let us look at the Matthew verses.   Jesus’ words are pretty clear that God loves us even more than the best loving parent could, and as such, He will supply our basic needs in life and He also does desire to give us some good things in life.

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I have seen this to be very true for me in recent days.  Many of you know that I just came back from a week in Dallas where I helped teach the new missionary recruits who are interested in our mission.  The invitation has been given to me to move down to Dallas in August until December to teach more in-depth some linguistic courses to our new missionaries.

Due to my muscle disease, I told our office staff there that I could only live and work down there if I had a very comfortable chair.  In my situation, a comfy chair has become a necessity if I am to live and work with minimal pain.  And to get around the large campus, I have had to rent an electric scooter in the past.  So meeting these needs for one week would not be too difficult, but how about for 4 months?  Would God provide for my “needs” in order for me to do His work in Dallas?

Well….Praise God!!  He has once again shown that He can do “immeasurably more than I could ever ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  Not one, not two, but three comfy recliners have been made available for me to use in the Fall months.  Take a look at the picture of me enjoying this “gift from above”.

And regarding the scooter?  Guess what?  The company that has helped me in the past to rent from them had bad news; the competition has been so tough that they have gone out of business.  But before they did, they made a special offer to sell a very good used scooter for 1/5 the price of a new scooter.

If ever we have had doubts about me heading down to Dallas by myself to teach this Fall, this gift from above tells us that God definitely can and has met my needs.  And so I go forward by faith, and often, I find God is already there ahead of me.  Praise God for His goodness and His faithfulness.

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