Defining Moments- Pentecost Sunday

I awoke this morning earlier than I wanted to, it’s Sunday I should be able to sleep in a little. First thing to cross my mind was checking the status of the violent protests that have erupted in cities across America, specifically a city near me. One of my close friends has a son who is a Highway Patrolman assigned to a particular hot spot in that city. I have been in prayer for him.

My heart is broken for the sin sickness that began this mess. The cruelty and utter horror of watching a video of a policeman kill George Floyd during an arrest. There is no excuse for such a cold hearted atrocity. But on the same token, protest meant to cry for justice have spun out of control and erupted across our nation. Looting, violence, innocent businesses destroyed, people being killed, etc. my heart aches as I watch this unfold.

All of this occurring as the Church celebrates a traditional holiday- Pentecost Sunday.

I have always held an optimistic view of Church history. I believe the Church is not a wimpy, irrelevant organization of do gooders. The Church is the messenger, the courier of the Cure for the madness we see escalating by the hour. In the midst of this great darkness our world is spiraling in, we are the light! Church history is the world’s History and in this case the Church is what will define this moment of American History. We cannot take our role lightly, nor can we believe we are powerless and defeated by foes too great for us. Now is our time to shine!

Yesterday morning my 19 year old daughter had a friend over. They were at our table in my kitchen when I walked in to get my morning coffee going. After some light conversation, the events of the news began to be discussed. My daughter asked me my thoughts on all the craziness in the world she is just now starting to step out into adulthood within. It was then I quoted the words of Jesus from John 4:35, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” I then told them, “What we are watching is sad and horrible, but this is also a sign of a good thing. The anger, violence, hatred, etc. are a reflection of the heart of our nation. These people need an answer that political powers cannot provide. They need what we have, Jesus, and they are ‘ripe for harvest’. The question is how do we as the Church get the Cure to them?”

On this Sunday 2000 plus years ago a group of men and women waited in an upper room in Jerusalem. They were familiar with unrest, police brutality, cruelty, racism, pain, etc. They lived it. Roman’s occupied Jewish territory. The Romans were unfair/ unjust. This particular group in the upper room had watched as these oppressors’ subjected their leader, an innocent man who did nothing but good, to death on the cruelest of torments, the Roman Cross. They also experienced the joy of knowing that the current events around them could not stop Jesus. He was not confined by torture and death. He conquered them! He told them that the things they had seen Him do were going to be surpassed by the things they would do once the Holy Spirit came upon them. So it was in this environment, they waited.

God’s hope does not disappoint! HE came that Sunday! HE filled everyone in the room with His promised power to be a witness, and it was there that the world began to change. Men and women, boys and girls, were no longer confined by their mortality. God’s very Spirit had filled them to overflowing to take the Cure- Jesus to the world. And that is exactly what they did. A once cowardly denier of Jesus became a man of boldness and preached a sermon that preceded 3,000 conversions, and what was a tiny group of twelve disciples has exploded to millions and millions through the centuries.

Have we seen dark times in history before? Yes! The church has endured much. But it is time. This is our defining moment. We are to take the power of Pentecost to the world! We are to do “the greater things” John 14:12-14.

John Wimber once said, “When do we get to do the stuff? You know, the stuff here in the Bible, the stuff Jesus did, like healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the blind- stuff like that?”

Now is the time to do the stuff! Our job is to boldly proclaim Jesus, pray for those He puts in our path, and Shine our lights. As we do these things, “the stuff” will come! Because once again the Church is celebrating a Pentecost Sunday during a time of great darkness, heartache, and oppression. And just like that day so many years ago as we seek God’s Pentecostal Power and step out in it, our world, our nation will receive the much needed cure, Jesus!

Memorial Day- Forever Changed in My Life

Originally written 5/23/2014. It’s been almost nine years now. Matt is Never Forgotten

When I was a kid, I was a “June Bug” in the Girl Scouts. I remember on a Memorial Day we put flags on the grave stones of the veterans. I had no idea what the fuss was all about, all the flags everywhere, and a day off that, for me, marked the beginning of summer. Really the holiday, throughout the years, sadly, hasn’t meant that much to me. Not until almost 3 years ago when I got the call that my nephew Matt, who was serving in the Navy as a linguistic interpreter, had been lost at sea. There was a search for him for a few days and then all hope for his return to us was lost and we were left with just our memories of a boy who turned into a man and followed hard his passion to serve our country.

Miss you Matt. You’ll always have a special place in my heart.

I didn’t get to see Matt a whole lot throughout the years. He lived in another state. On an average, I saw him once or twice a year, but that kid was always the sweetest to me. He always greeted me with a hug and excitement to see me, and when our time together passed, he would always give me a warm hug and say, “I love you, Aunt Janet.”

I have many fond memories of him. He was the cutest ring bearer in our wedding. One time during a winter storm, my brother brought him and his sister to our duplex and sledded in front of my house, just because in the the south, where he lived, there wasn’t enough snow to sled like we always got to do as kids. We went camping together in family camp outs, and there was Christmas time eating goodies and playing games with Great Grandpa.

Matt at my wedding. Such a cutie.

    The last time I saw Matt was at the celebration of my parents 50th anniversary.  He was excited about his first time out to sea, in the Navy.  When we had to leave to go home, he made a point to get to me and give me a big hug, and as always he said, ” I love you , Aunt Janet.”  

     It was surreal going to his military funeral.  It was the first military funeral I had ever attended.  We arrived and the Freedom Riders were there, because of a threat of the possibility of Westboro Baptist showing up.  When the family walked in they representatives of the Navy saluted us, and then the 21 gun salute and the sounding of taps all that in the memory of a someone I think the most of as a kid with a big smile, blue eyes, and a warm hug. 

Matt’s Gravestone

This will mark the second Memorial Day since we have lost Matt. The meaning of the day has changed a lot for me. Now one of the white memorial stones represents someone I love, and the day of remembering has went from an excuse to barbeque to another day, like his birthday and the day he died, that sticks out as a reminder that he is gone. Now the statement, “Freedom is not Free” means a lot to me, and when I see a young man or woman in their uniform I appreciate the sacrifice they are making in putting their life on the line for my freedom.

“Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” was the verse that was emphasized at his funeral. It is so true. Matt loved his family. He loved his friends. He loved his country, and most important, he loved his God. Knowing this gives me hope that He is waiting for me to finish my race here on earth, and when I finally make it home to heaven, he will be waiting there with that same big hug and greeting, and once again I will hear him say, “I love you , Aunt Janet.” In the meantime, know I will never forget you Matt. You are in my heart forever, and I love you too.

Manasseh and Ephriam- The Goodness of God

My husband and I have taken up a new reading plan on the Bible App as of late called “Reading the Bible in Historical Sequence Part 1”. It’s one of those read the Bible in a year deals, but this time it’s arranged everything according to the Chronological order of events. We’ve hit the story of Joseph. One of my favorite characters in the Bible. He’s one of those people that I can look at and say “Look at all he went through. He had it a lot worse than I ever have and yet he remained true to God.” His story of abuse, false accusations against him, unjust judgements and unwarranted punishments, yet God’s continued favor towards him in the midst of his suffering speaks volumes to anyone, which I would imagine it would be everyone, who has ever walked through some hardships.

As I was reading this morning these verses jumped off the page/screen at me. I’m sure I’ve breezed by them time after time when I’ve read this story, but today it struck home.

https://www.bible.com/app

(Check it out! It’s a life changer!!)

“Joseph had two sons born to him before the years of famine came. Asenath, daughter of Potiphera the priest of On, was their mother. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh (Forget), saying, “God made me forget all my hardships and my parental home.” He named his second son Ephraim (Double Prosperity), saying, “God has prospered me in the land of my sorrow.”” Genesis 41:50-52 The Message

Joseph had endured all the things I listed above, but when God had finally brought him to the place that unbeknownst to him, would be his defining moment as a hero of Bible history- the man second in command to Pharaoh and the rescuer of God’s people (his family) from a famine, he was blessed with a couple of sons. Joseph named his sons “Forget” and “Double Prosperity”. Kind of odd names if you think about it, but names that made a statement. “God has made me forget all my hardships and my parental home.” and “God has prospered me in the land of my sorrow.” Joseph looked at his newborn baby sons with the awe and love that any new father would have and reflected on where he had been and where he was now.

I wonder how often Joseph thought of how unfair his situations were and how much had been taken from him as he worked as a slave in Potipher’s house. I wonder how many restless nights he may have spent remembering being thrown into a pit, sold to strangers, accused by his master’s wife, thrown into prison, on and on. Could he have had moments waking from nightmares of the ordeal he suffered? Or flashbacks of the horror? Yet in all that God had brought him out into a place of great blessing. He could “forget”/ leave behind the hurt and enjoy the “double prosperity” of his new life.

High school years were not among my favorite. I can remember a night that I broke down into tears over a broken car horn on my car. I told my dad how much I hated school, honors society tree planting (another story), etc. He told me, “I hated my teen years too, I don’t know why people always say these are the best years of your life. Mine have been since I married your mother and had you kids.” That stuck with me. I’ve even quoted that to my own kids as they have walked through that awkward time. There are some time periods of life that are just hard, maybe even traumatic, but I’ve found as Joseph and my dad did that better days truly were ahead.

Last night my son, his wife, and our grandbaby came over for dinner. We have 22 acres for roaming on, so my daughter in love asked if I would mind watching my grandson for a little while as she and my son went out to explore it. “Are you kidding? I’d love too!! When are you all heading out?” I sat in my rocker/recliner holding the sleepy 3 month old as he squeezed my finger, staring in his face. Then it occurred to me once again, just like Joseph did looking at his sons, “I have been blessed far beyond anything I could have imagined. Here I sit holding my son’s son. He’s beautiful. I can forget the long struggle it took to get here, because I am blessed with double prosperity where I am.”

Every once in awhile I feel like I almost need to pinch myself. I have a nice home, nice car, my needs met, sweet kids, a beautiful grandbaby, and a smoking hot husband (no exaggeration there). It’s not exactly where I’ve pictured myself being when I walked through the hard times of life and lived in the struggle. But I have been blessed. God has been good to me.

Understanding this and remembering it when the winds of adversity blow is a key to remaining in joy. I guess that’s why remembering the good and being thankful is so important. A practice that I would do good to diligently attend to.

Pain into Pulpit

 

Four years ago my Mother in Love became sick.  We discovered after a hospital stay with complete renal failure that she had Multiple Cell Myeloma.  Months later she went to the city to have a stem cell transplant at one of the nation’s leading hospitals. Her time there was as she has described it her time of “being the closest I’ve ever been to death.”  In the four years since it’s not been an easy road for her.  Monthly and sometimes weekly or more appointments at the Cancer Center, changes in treatments, side effects in medicine, sleepless nights, and sometimes just feeling plain old crappy.

Yesterday, she calls me after returning home from another appointment with some good blood report readings and some not so good.  She relays all that, but then begins to share about a woman that sat by her in the waiting room, probably in her 30’s, recently diagnosed, and scared.  You’d have to know my Mother in Love.  She’s never ever really met a stranger. So she strikes up a conversation with the girl, and then begins to take the pain that she has walked in for these past four years and turns it into a pulpit.  She shared about how God saw her through treatments, transplants, radiation, sickness, it all.  She talks about how faithful and close He is, how much He loves, and how much He loves that girl and that she doesn’t have to be afraid.  Then my spunky 73 year old Mother in Love goes through the rest of her appointment and drives home, a challenge for her but as I tell her jokingly, frequently, “She’s a tough old bird.”

I was out running errands for her today, and thinking about all this and some of the personal challenges I have faced and am currently facing in my life.  Then this verse from Philippians 1 crossed my mind. “…Everything happening to me in this jail only serves to make Christ more accurately known, regardless of whether I live or die. They didn’t shut me up; they gave me a pulpit!” Philippians 1:20 The Message.  It occurred to me that a stranger sitting next to my Mother in Love in a Cancer Center is probably feeling things pretty close to what a Centurion Soldier in Paul’s time must have felt chained up next to Paul. You either love it or hate it, but you for sure are going to hear about Jesus and everything He’s done. Paul reports to the Philippians that during his time in prison he has told everyone around him that he could about Jesus.  Many in his captive audience wanted to know more about this Jesus that turned Paul’s life upside down and changed a persecutor of Christians to a preacher of Christ.  Although beatings, chains, dirty prisons, poor food, and fellowship with rough cut prison guards were Paul’s daily life, he had taken all this and turned his pain into a pulpit at which he proclaimed the Goodness and the Love of God.

For four years my husband and I had been involved in a ministry called Encounter Ministry.  Every month they have had a weekend get away at a small rural church campground.  People from many different denominations of the Church come.  There are several sessions about different topics that typically start with a testimony of what God has done in the life of someone who has struggled.  I’ve heard women at the Ashes to Beauty Encounters speak about losing husbands, children, drug addiction, porn addiction within their home, marital unfaithfulness, PTSD, suicidal intentions, abortions,depression, anxiety, abuse- verbal, physical, mental, and sexual, etc. They talk about how they had suffered such great loss and pain yet they have found peace, joy, love, forgiveness, etc. in Jesus and how much He has changed their lives.  Once again they have taken their pain and turned it into a pulpit to declare a God who understands our weaknesses and wants to reach in and raise us above them.

I’m certain that life in Jesus  is a series of victories over struggles. I know I won’t totally arrive until I arrive i.e. see Jesus face to face.  I have been very aware, as of late, of some of the hard things I have had to walk through in my life.  I know several people who become aware of that and then freeze only to be stuck in the Pain.  I was praying about this as I drove from point A to point B on my outing today.  Suddenly it occurred to me, “What if the hell we experience here on earth, the teeth gritting hard stuff, are the very things that enable us to help some one experience the eternity of heaven?”  My mother in love has not enjoyed the pain of sickness, but what if all that was to reach that young woman at the cancer center with heaven’s hope in eternity for her? Paul didn’t enjoy the things he suffered, but what if the hellish torment he endured was the very thing that spread the gospel to a descendent of the Europeans that went down the line to finally give hope to a small town American girl, me, in the 80’s? There are countless accounts of martyrs, missionaries, and ministers that have endured much to be able to proclaim loudly from the pulpit built upon their pain.  My resolve must be that “what the enemy meant for evil, God will turn for Good.”  Hoist myself on top of it and proclaim from the very tip of the pain the God who Heals.

I’ve been kind of stuck on a song by Elevation Worship as of late.  It’s called “Graves Into Gardens”.  The chorus says, “You turn graves into gardens. You turn bones into armies. You turn seas into highways. You’re the only one who can… You turn mourning to dancing.  You give beauty for ashes.  You turn shame into glory.  You’re the only one who can.”  This same God who does all these things as we let Him into our lives, is the same God who turns the pain we have walked through into a pulpit. That we can proclaim all that Jesus has done for us.  He’s the only one who can!

Take Your Hands Off the Wheel

A few years ago my husband came to a realization that it was time for a change.  Three of our four kids had graduated high school and it was no longer necessary for me to drive a mini van. It was time for us to get something a little more “sporty”.  After test driving a Dodge Challenger with a Hemi (probably not a good idea for my lead foot), we settled on a more conventional Dodge Charger with four doors and a V6.  Fun to drive, but not overly tempting for my race car driving dreams.

We took our little beauty home and quickly realized that a couple of miles on gravel to get to our house would not leave it beautiful for long.  That’s when I broke down and signed up for the local car wash club.  $25 for unlimited car washes in a month sounded like a no brainer.  Once again my car would sparkle.

Admittedly my first trip to the car wash was a learning experience.  It’s one of these automatic deals.  Pull the car up on the Wheel tracks, put it in neutral, foot off brake, take your hands off the steering wheel.  The machine does the rest.  My mistake… not following three of the four instructions.  This resulted in frantic waving of hands and pointing to the flashing sign by the employees.  I quickly fixed my mistake, and emerged with a shiny car.  Win Win…

Today was a day for clearing my mind with a little garden therapy. Pulling weeds, thinking about life, and praying.  The scenario of my first trip to the Automatic Car Wash came to my mind and the phrase, “Take your hands off the wheel” kept echoing in my thoughts.  It occurred to me, “There are somethings in life I need to just take my hands off of, relax, and let God work it out.”  The more I try to hold onto the steering wheel and control them, the more harm it does.  In the few seconds I was figuring out my error at the car wash that fateful day, the rollers that typically push a car through were pushing against my wheels with the engine in gear.  It was not in neutral.  It shook the whole car and made a really bad noise.  My holding on to control of certain situations can produce the same effect mentally and spiritually.  Best advice for now… “Take your hands off the wheel!!”  My trying to analyze, fix, and control will only make matters worse. There are some things that will just have to play out, and I will just have to watch the outcome. Anticipating that on the grand scale of things that outcome will be ok eventually, no matter how bad it appears to be becoming right now.  Ultimately God will get me through to the other side, and I will come out shining in the end.

After a couple of years of membership at the car wash, I don’t have the issue I had the very first time I went.  When I approach, I keep in mind what I need to do. Nothing gets shook up, no shouting directions at me is needed. 

I am hopeful that after 49 years I will finally get the lesson of trusting God with my life down to a fine art.  When I approach a difficult situation or circumstance, I will keep in mind what I need to do.  “Take my hands off the wheel.” and let Him be God. No shouting or waving arms at me necessary to get me to do what I need to do.

 

God’s Promise for Moms- Philippians 1:6

This Mother’s Day will be my 25th as an official Mother. It’s kind of hard to believe for me.  Being a Mom was something I always wanted to be, but it was also the scariest of propositions for me.  From the day I found out I was pregnant with my first to today I’ve always had this awareness of what I lacked for being the Mom I should be.  I’m sure if I was able to take a poll of all the moms out there that is what they would tell you too.  It kind of comes with the territory.  There’s always someone more creative, with a cleaner house, more respectful kids, healthier meals, happier husband, taking all the “me time” they need, and so on- kind of mom.  For some reason “comparison” is the favorite game of moms all around. At least it was my game of choice for most of my childrearing years, and on occasion still is…

There’s nothing like having a little life to shape and mold as your primary responsibility, or maybe 2 lives, 3 lives, or in my case 4.  Needless to say I’ve spent a lot of time praying and telling God “I have no idea what to do with … (fill in the blank with a name).” In fact, that’s a prayer I still use frequently and three of my four are adults now.  I guess that may never stop.

Recently, I’ve been spending time in the book of Philippians in the Bible.  The first chapter has a verse that I’ve thought of often in my journey of motherhood.  Philippians 1:6 “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  It’s a verse that I’ve often heard as an encouragement to an individual. The ol “don’t get discouraged, God isn’t finished with me yet.” kind of verse. But Paul was writing this to a group of friends, brothers/ sisters in Jesus, who he described as having them in his heart (Philippians 1:7) the ones he said he prayed for.  Some of the same things I as a mother of grown kids can relate to.  My adult children and my teen are in my heart.  They have been in my heart since I heard the first heart beat in the ob/gyn office, and I pray for them, on the regular.  I know that life, although full of joys and excitement, is very hard.  The struggles they had while under my roof may have changed, but I know they are there. I was 20 something once and I struggled too.  But I can say as Paul said about his spiritual family in Philippi, about my family, “God began a good work in them and He will finish it.”  I’ve told young mothers who’ve worried about how to deal with the various challenges of infancy and toddlerhood, “Remember as much as you love that little angel, God loves them the same and then some.”  Same applies at any age.  God loves them the same as I do and then some.  He doesn’t start a project to abandon it.  He simply is not finished yet.

It’s hard to let God have our kids at any age.  The reality of this hit me shortly after I brought my firstborn home from the hospital.  I was a fear filled mother and SIDS was on the forefront of my mind.  I would sit on the edge of my bed with a flashlight watching my son breathe in his bassinet.  I remember praying, “God, I can’t stay awake 24/7.  Sooner or later I will have to go to bed and trust Him to You for a few hours.”  Not really understanding the reality that God not only had him when I slept, He had him when I was awake too. It really wasn’t all on me to keep him alive, but it was on God.  Then the same kid turned 16, got a little blueish truck and hopped in it to drive to town.  Once again I found myself scared of what could happen to a teenage male driver who believed he was invincible.  I spent some time laying face first in my carpet asking God to bring him home safe, realizing it wasn’t about me at all, but totally about God.  The for instances in this paragraph could go on and on, especially since I have four kids that I have prayed for, cried over, and felt so helpless at times to help.  But thankfully by kid number four It’s getting a little easier to see just how much God has all these things even when I do not.  (cheers instead of tears when he drove away newly licensed a few months ago.)

I’ve not reached Jedi master in this whole, faith filled mom who never worries about her kids’ next step and direction thing, but I do intend on holding fast to those words Paul penned so many centuries ago.  Even though I am no longer able to call the shots, give the orders, put them in time out, or send them to bed. (Nor would I want to. I’m kind of enjoying the freedom. 🙂  )  I am able to bring them before God on the regular and I must trust that God will “carry on” His good work in them.  I had to trust them with God while I slept as they were infants, and I must trust them with God as they take their wings and fly away.