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Devotionals

Ready…But Not Prepared

fall newsletter

By Beth Stephens-Johnson

Dear Friends,

It has been quite a while since I have written a newsletter, but just recently the Lord spoke to me and I felt that I could wait no longer. I would like to share some thoughts the Lord has recently impressed upon my heart, as well as give you an update on the ministry.

As many of you know, I have had some downtime this summer recovering from a scheduled surgery which has given me the opportunity to attend several church services as an attendee rather than as the minister. It has been very refreshing and I’ve truly been blessed. As I was sitting in one of the services, I heard several people describe their desire to see God move in a new and fresh way.  Their words were, “I am ready to see God do ‘this’ or ‘that’. I am ready to see ‘certain things’ happen. I am ready…” Suddenly, I heard the Lord speak to me. “People say they are ready, but are they prepared?” It was so loud and clear in my spirit that I was startled.

Ready, but not prepared. Immediately my mind went to the ten virgins in Matthew 25:1-13. This parable is about a Jewish wedding and the bridesmaids who were chosen to light the way for the bridegroom to find his bride. There are some truths about the young virgins that stand out in this parable that need to be recognized:

  1. All ten were virgins. That tells us that their character was blameless. They lived a life without reproach.
  2. All ten were waiting for the bridegroom.
  3. All ten had lamps.
  4. All ten came with their lamps burning.
  5. All ten had good intentions. They were all in the position to help light the path for the bridegroom to reach his bride.

But there is a glaring difference in these bridesmaids. They were described as five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. Even though they all started with their lamps burning, the five foolish virgins only had the oil that was in their lamps. The five wise virgins took extra oil in case the bridegroom waited longer than expected and their lamps went out.

As the parable continues, the lamps of the bridesmaids did go out while the bridegroom delayed his arrival. And actually, all ten bridesmaids fell asleep while they were waiting. But when the cry came at midnight, “Behold the bridegroom!”, all ten girls jumped up to meet the groom. It was then that they realized their lamps had gone out. The five wise virgins put their extra oil in the lamps, but the five foolish virgins had run out. They tried to borrow oil from the others, but to no avail. As they ran frantically to purchase some oil, the bridegroom came. Only those that were prepared went in with the bridegroom to the great marriage feast and the door was shut, allowing no one else to enter. This was their purpose, they had looked for His coming; therefore, they were prepared. When the five foolish virgins returned, they begged for a chance to enter the wedding, but were rejected.

My understanding is that the oil represents the presence of God or the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Zechariah, the prophet, was shown a vision of a great golden lampstand with two olive trees standing beside it. The trees dripped oil into the bowls of the lampstand, and Zechariah was told: “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). The oil symbolized the Spirit of God which keeps us established with the Lord, especially in the “dark” or “midnight” times of our lives, and gives us the power to maintain our testimony even in those difficult times. In the natural, when olive oil is produced, the olive must be pressed to produce the oil. The pressing of the olive represents us going into the throne room of our Lord…spending time with Him. That is what produces the anointing oil (presence of the Holy Spirit) that keeps our lamps burning! It is the substantial presence of God in our life that will keep the fire burning through the dark nights.

Obviously, it was the lack of an adequate supply of oil which caused these foolish virgins to be met with the words, “I do not know you” and the rejection of not being allowed to enter into the marriage feast. They did, of course, have some oil when they began, but it was not enough. The danger is that many people want enough oil to give them immediate help with their problems, or relief from their fear, guilt or shame, but they never go on to total surrender to the Lord. Those that were foolish took their lamps of an outward profession only. Many will go to church, pray, sing on the praise team, give in offerings, but they have no living, ongoing faith in their hearts. Even if we sell everything we have to feed the hungry and clothe the poor, if we do not have an ongoing relationship with Jesus Christ, all the good works we do will profit us nothing! It is one thing to profess faith in Christ, but it is altogether another matter to be bearing the fruit of the Spirit, revealing that they are truly abiding in the vine (John 15). These foolish virgins represent those who have the appearance of being ready, but who will be found unprepared.

But the wise virgins had found that deeper level. They had an extra reservoir of oil which continually fueled their spiritual life, never letting it falter or go out. It carried them in every hour of stress, of adversity, of disaster, keeping them firm and steady in the midst of the pounding pressures of life. They had a supply of oil that kept their light shining bright despite the circumstances.

How graphic and shocking this picture of one almost saved—but lost! And as alarming as it is, the difference between the wise and foolish only became apparent when the bridegroom arrived. Prior to that, all ten looked exactly alike! What a sobering thought! Even as I write these words, there is something deep inside of me that cries out to the Lord, “Please don’t let me be unprepared!” That may seem like an odd thing for a minister to say, but may I remind you that all the virgins considered themselves “ready”, but only five were prepared to meet the bridegroom.

Today, I challenge you as well, to soberly and honestly evaluate yourself. As of yet, I haven’t met one who classifies themselves with the foolish virgins. But from the parable, it is obvious there are those in the church who say they are ready but have nothing past the outward appearance in preparedness to meet the Lord. There are millions who are in the church, but not in Christ. But that doesn’t have to be you. Prepare yourself today to meet our Lord with your lamp shining bright!

ON A PERSONAL NOTE:

beth stephens johnson Don’t you feel a fresh stirring of the Spirit? I certainly do and we are seeing the manifestations of that stirring in so many of the services in which we have the opportunity to be a part. Many times when things are stirring and shaking in the natural as we have seen recently, it is indicative of what is happening in the Spirit. I truly believe the Lord is giving His church, as well as the entire world, the opportunity to get prepared for His soon return. With that being said, we are taking advantage of every occasion possible to lead people to the Savior. Whether it is through the spoken Word, worship, miracles, signs and wonders, we are always diligent to point people to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith!!

2017 marks the seventh year of being back in full-time evangelism. Yes, there are times when Hampton Inn feels more like home than our own house, but the Lord gives us grace and strength to continue to follow His plan…and actually, there continues to be an excitement and an expectation for each open door! We are believing for new doors of ministry to open each year and the Lord has yet to disappoint us!

This year on June 29, 2017, Curt and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary! I know, it is hard to believe! 🙂 Every year it becomes increasingly apparent that our ministries are blending together more and more. It has been so exciting to see God work through us as a couple. We are grateful that we get to minister together most of the time, but there are still times that Curt is traveling in one direction and me in another. Either way, we are extremely grateful to be used of the Lord however He sees fit.

And lastly, please be in prayer with us for several things:
To be more effective than ever as laborers in His Kingdom
To be open to be used in ways that may be “out of the box” to accomplish His plan for our lives
For doors to continue to open for us across the nation
For finances to continue to come in to supply “more than enough” in meeting our personal needs and those of His Kingdom
Thank you for partnering with us! God bless you and we look forward to seeing you soon when we minister in your area!

In Christ,
Beth

PS: We are planning to have new CD’s and shirts available at the beginning of 2018!

Devotionals

Live Your Faith Out Loud!

frankbeckerde / Pixabay

If you are like me, you are just a little shocked that Christmas is just around the corner…again! There’s something special about these days though, when lights are sparkling on the trees, the air is finally turning crisp, and the smell of evergreen is permeating the house, that always makes me a little nostalgic…it makes me begin to think back over my life and the blessings that have “overtaken” (Deut. 28) me in my journey. It’s a time I remember the people who have influenced my life and and although many have already left this world for Heaven, they made such an impression on me that it still impacts my life to this day. In recent years, I have preached messages about this very thing…people impacting the next generation. It is a passion of mine, actually! When I look in the Word, there are so many references to training up the next generation. What a tremendous responsibility and opportunity, from the parents to the spiritual leaders, to help shape the lives of the next history makers! I must admit, my heart is challenged with this responsibility. At a time when the “politically correct” movement has infiltrated even our churches, I realize more than ever that brave and bold men and women must be willing to speak the truth of the Word of God to this present generation!

And the more I have the opportunity to spend time with them, the more I realize that they hunger for just that…truth, authenticity, passion, conviction and the power of God that changes people’s lives!

I can name countless people that seemed like just good, ordinary people who loved God…but they were so much more than that to me. They helped shape my life through speaking the truth in love to me when I was out of step in my walk with God. They helped shape my life by testifying of miracles they were experiencing in their lives as they prayed, fasted, and trusted God for deliverance. They helped shape my life by teaching me to be still and hear the voice of God for direction, for comfort, for instruction. Just ordinary people who loved God. Ordinary people, like you and me, but used mightily for His Kingdom. People are so kind and encouraging, telling me what a blessing this ministry has been to them…and I am very grateful. But I will tell you truthfully, it is the “Elijah’s” in my life who helped me to see past my insecurities and begin to see our Lord as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace who desires to do amazing feats through me! So here’s my question to you…Have you seized opportunities to speak life into others? Has God opened the door for you to pour into this generation, but you have wavered because you thought you were no longer relevant? Have you shuffled your feet in hesitation considering your testimony to be too insignificant to make a difference?

I want to encourage you this Christmas season to begin something new! Spend some time with your grandson, a college student, a newly married young woman, a brand new dad, and give a gift that will last forever!

Make a decision to live your faith out loud!

Tell them how God has brought you through impossible situations, healed your children, restored your marriage, turned your finances around! Encourage them to desire more of God as they watch your life of surrender to Him! Speak the Word of God into their lives, and do it in faith, believing God will take the seeds you sow and turn them into a mighty harvest for this NOW generation!!

______________________________________________________________________________

Dear Friends,

Thank you for the opportunity to share a little of your time during this wonderful Christmas season! We wanted to give you a quick update about our personal lives and ministry. God has been so absolutely amazing to Curt and me over this last year. We have sold our house in Athens, Georgia and will be moving to Zebulon, Georgia at the beginning of 2016! We made the decision to move to be closer to our family and so we can eat more of Mom’s home cooking! 🙂 As for the ministry, we are continually overwhelmed by God’s favor! We are very close to being completely booked for 2016 and are continuing to trust God for the end-time harvest. Words cannot begin to describe what we have had the privilege of seeing God do this year and completely trusting Him to not only continue, but to increase! Please continue to keep us in your hearts as you pray. We know many attacks of the enemy are thwarted because of the intercession of prayer warriors!

Also, if you are interested in being a financial partner with us and would like to have a tax credit for 2015, there are several ways to do this. You can send a check to PO Box 82441, Athens, GA 30608. There is also a “donate” button on the home page of our website, www.bethstephens.org. Or, feel free to contact our office at 706-424-5250, and we can assist you further with this matter. We are very thankful for your partnership as it allows us the opportunity to continue serving in the capacity God has called us to in this season!

I pray the days ahead will be filled with joy as you spend time with your family! Merry Christmas!!

With love,
Beth

Devotionals

Broken Cisterns

OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

Jeremiah 2:13 (NASB)
“For My people have committed two evils:
They have forsaken Me,
The fountain of living waters,
To hew for themselves cisterns,
Broken cisterns
That can hold no water.”

God’s people committed two evils. One, they had forsaken…abandoned…God. The other, they had dug their own cisterns.

To understand the full impact of this scripture, you must look a little closer at the historical context. Jeremiah preached and lived in a day when the people of Judah, the southern portion of the nation of Israel, had turned away from the Living God to do their own thing. And God, through Jeremiah, compared this to digging for themselves cisterns. A cistern was an artificial reservoir that was dug in the earth or hewn in the rock for the collection and storage of water…rainwater, runoff water, etc. Cisterns were very important in the land of Israel because of the long, dry season and the few natural springs. Rainfall was scarce during the summer months and it was important that water be stored during the rainy months for the upcoming dry season. BUT, a broken cistern was practically worthless! A broken or cracked cistern could maybe hold a small quantity of dirty water, but very little, if any! And notice that the cisterns did not become broken after some time of holding water…NO…they were broken from the day they were built…they never held any water!

Maybe we could try to excuse them for digging their own cisterns. Maybe they were just going through a tough time and been through some stressful situations and they just wanted to be sure their bases were covered. But that was only HALF of what they did wrong! Trying to construct an artificial reservoir for collecting spiritual water was bad enough, but to turn away and reject the water from the life-giving Spring was tragic! How could anyone in their right mind do such a thing? If no natural spring existed nearby, digging a cistern would be the best thing you could do. If a spring was nearby and you didn’t know it, you would be pitied for your ignorance, but at least you were trying to do something. BUT…if you did know that there was a good spring of running water readily available, and you deliberately turned your back on this life-giving source to construct a cistern, you would be incredibly, unbelievably insane!!!

Jeremiah used the illustration of broken cisterns to show the extreme foolishness of God’s people, Israel, who were no longer totally committed to God. No longer were they devoted to the Lord or depending on Him to meet their spiritual needs. And God used this illustration to show His people how utterly foolish and guilty they were when they turned away from Him. The surrounding heathen nations could at least be pitied when they ignorantly followed lifeless gods which could not meet their spiritual thirst. And it must be noted that unlike Judah, these pagan nations were loyal to their gods! But the people of Judah knowingly forsook their Source of Living Water to attempt to drink from self-made broken cisterns. No wonder the heavens are called on to “be appalled” and “shudder with great horror” (Jer 2:12) at such foolishness, such evil.

I was discussing these thoughts with a good friend, Daren Hicks, and he shared some interesting insight and revelation. In our text, the people had turned to idol worship and they were trusting in three things wrongfully:

1. Wallet- they were trusting in their own provision instead of trusting God for their provision.

2. Warfare- they turned to the gods and government of Egypt and Assyria (their enemies) for their protection and provision. They were no longer trusting God for their victories.

3. Worship- their worship was misdirected…they were worshiping idols.

Is it possible that some of God’s people today are guilty of the same two evils that the people of Judah committed in Jeremiah’s day? Is it possible that we’ve become so accustomed to the Living Water that we’ve wandered away from the Fountain to see if there’s some water available elsewhere? Have we foolishly gotten involved in constructing our own cisterns? Wealth, fame, recognition, honor, position, power, and pleasure…friends, props, traditions, merits…anything trusted besides God…they are cisterns at best, whose water will putrefy…or broken vessels which will leave you nothing but mud and dirt at the end. We try to bring fulfillment to our lives by things and stuff. Any of these things are not wrong in themselves, and are good and helpful when kept in proper balance. But when we find that we are looking to these things for satisfaction and fulfillment in life, a subtle form of cistern construction is probably going on. And you and I know better, but we do it anyway. We involve ourselves with every project that comes down the pike trying to fill the void that only Christ can fill.

The three things cisterns were used for:

PROVISION
PRISON – Jeremiah 38:6
GRAVES – Jeremiah 41:9

When we have misdirected worship… (Addictions to drugs, alcohol, pornography, shopping, internet, sports, outward appearance, personal agenda, etc.)…at first they seem to satisfy – PROVISION. Then you find it is your – PRISON. Finally, it will be your – GRAVE.

God gave the nation of Judah chance after chance to return to the Lord, but they turned farther and farther away. In terms of the illustration, verse 18 indicates that instead of turning back from the broken cisterns to the Fountain of living waters, they turned to the river waters of the Nile and the Euphrates. In other words, rather than turning to the faithful God of Israel, they looked to the gods and government of Egypt and Assyria for protection and provision. As a result, the Lord declared that His people would reap what they had sown (v19). And so Judah was conquered and taken away into slavery in Babylon (on the Euphrates River) where they drank the bitter waters they had chosen. In Jeremiah 42-44 we learn that the survivors who were left in the land of Israel ran away to Egypt against the explicit counsel of Jeremiah, and there they died by the waters of the Nile.

When God gave the first commandment as “You shall have no other gods before me”, He was not just giving this only as a commandment, He was giving it for our good. How foolish it is to get involved in the evil of hewing out cisterns! God makes the fresh fountains of water and man makes the cistern! Cisterns have limited supply and God has a never-ending supply!

Isn’t it amazing that even in the New Testament, Jesus talked about living water to the woman at the well?

The woman came with an empty water pot and an empty heart. Jesus made the first move in asking for a drink of water from this woman. She was astounded that a Jew would ask someone like her, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. She responded by asking Jesus why He would even ask her for a drink.

John 4:10-11 – “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water?”
John 4:13-15 – “Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw.”

God wants you to get your eyes off of the well that has been dug by man and get your eyes upon the Living Water that comes from God. As long as you go to an empty well you will leave with disappointment and discouragement. But every time you come to the Lord you will leave the old water buckets and go refreshed with a drink of Living Water.

John 7:37-38 – “In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

Let’s make a decision today not to go back to broken cisterns for spiritual refreshing! Let’s rediscover the value of going to the well rather than the stagnate, dirty cistern!! It’s time to return to the Fountain of Living Waters!! Let’s let God do a NEW THING in us this year!!

Isaiah said in 43:19, “Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert.”

Devotionals

I Want to Testify!

asi24 / Pixabay

I can picture her now… weak, sick, depressed. It’s been too long; to be exact, twelve years too long. Mark tells us in Mark 5:25–26, that she had an issue of blood and everything the doctors had tried to do to help, only made things worse! To even make the matter more serious, she had spent all her money on these doctors! So now she is not only sick, weak, and depressed… now she’s also broke! What a horrible situation this woman has found herself in. But finally, a ray of hope! Someone passed by her apartment… Someone saw her looking out her window with the tear stained face. This woman was “unclean” so maybe the passerby should just keep on walking and ignore the desperation that was evident by her countenance. Maybe the passerby should just do what hundreds of other people were doing and mind their own business and let the poor lady manage things the best she could. The temptation was only a fleeting thought as the person begins to remember all they had witnessed being in the presence of Jesus, the Miracle Worker. Dead people had come back to life, fish and bread had multiplied, leprosy had miraculously vanished, eyes that had never seen were open, people who were once paralyzed were now running and leaping… It was all too marvelous not to tell! Did the person knock on her door? Did they shout it from the street below her? I really don’t know. But what I do know is they could no longer keep the good news to themselves! “Hey lady… I don’t know what is wrong with you, but there’s a man named Jesus who is about to pass through your town! He heals the sick and raises the dead! And I’ve even experienced His miracle power in my own life!!”

Most of you know how this story ends. Once the sick woman heard the good news, hope was created and faith was born. She mustered up enough strength and courage to leave her apartment, pushed through the crowd and touch Jesus’ clothes! And yes… She was immediately made whole! But today, we would not have this amazing miracle that so many have been encouraged by over the years if the passerby, the friend, the coworker had not taken the time to tell this desperate woman that her situation wasn’t impossible for Jesus, the Great Physician! Mark 5:27, “When she had HEARD of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment.” For her to have heard, somebody had to tell. And in our generation, God wants YOU to be that “somebody”! In our modern age of Christianity, it seems we have been quick to pass people by and just remain silent. “What if they think I’m weird? What if they don’t agree with my theology? What if… What if?” Our enemy has used this tactic for years, but this story shows what can happen if one person will boldly take the risk and testify of the life-changing power of our Savior! If your marriage has been restored… Testify! If you’ve been healed of cancer… Testify! If you been delivered of an addiction… Testify! If your family has been saved… Testify! If the Lord has done ANYTHING for you… Testify! Your testimony may be all God needs to change someone’s life! Can the Lord depend on you?

God’s blessings always,
Beth

2014, Issue 1