Archive for the ‘Sunday’s Sermon’ Category

My Story – Church Version

Sunday, February 26th, 2017

Today Pastor Ed had me tell my story in church. Here’s what I wrote out to say, which I followed pretty closely.

My Story

First, I want everyone to know that Ed tricked me. Since he was doing a series about Practicing creative devotion, I offered to get up here and talk about memorizing Scripture, and then he told me he wanted me to share my story! So it’s kind of a compromise talk about how the Bible has touched my life.

The reason I wanted to talk about memorizing Scripture is that I grew up in a Christian home, and my parents had the bright idea to pay us for memorizing chapters of the Bible. I wanted to earn some money and that sounded much better than housework, so over the years I memorized a lot of chapters.

But I do believe that God’s Word has power. If you put the Bible in your head – whatever the motive – it will find its way into your heart. Doing all that memorization honestly made me love it.

Now mine was the kind of family that was at church whenever the doors were open. I went to a Christian elementary school, a Christian high school, and a Christian university. I married a guy from Biola who sang in the choir with me. We were part of a small group of young married couples at our church in downtown LA.

After we got married, I went back to Biola as a math instructor. But when our first child was born, I wanted to have more time with him, so my husband joined the Air Force as a musician and I started teaching part-time. We moved to New Jersey and then Illinois. In Illinois, I had a second child and was put on bed rest for the pregnancy, and our church brought us meals and got us through.

After 5 years in Illinois, we got the opportunity to move to Germany, and we were thrilled. We got to see Europe, and I got a job in the base library and loved it. We extended twice so that we could stay until our oldest graduated from high school, for a total of ten years. I thought we were a good Christian family with a side of world travel.

But a year and a half before we left Germany, everything fell apart. On March 14, 2005, I found out that instead of spending extra hours at the office, my husband had been spending that time with another woman.

It didn’t even compute at first. I thought it was a terrible mistake. Some sort of weird misunderstanding. We loved each other, right? When I confronted him, he confessed by looking me in the eye and saying, “I’m not having an affair, but I am living a double life.” He said he’d been spending time with this other woman because he needed a friend and that I hadn’t been there for him.

He did apologize, and I thought that was that. We’d straighten it all out. But over the next month, he started telling me every single way I’d hurt him over 18 years of marriage.

What was devastating about it was that it was based in truth. I had done hurtful things over 18 years of marriage. But I begged forgiveness, and I groveled, and I cried and I looked for ways to make it up to him, but he said he just couldn’t forgive me.

That was pretty much the low point in my life. I remember going for a walk and chanting the names of my kids so that I wouldn’t think about suicide.

I want to talk about the ways God used the Bible in my life, and it was at that time, when I was in a deep depression, being told I was unforgivable by the person I loved most, being told that I was the one who had ruined my marriage – that Psalm 103 came up in my memorizing rotation.

So here I want to give a little commercial for memorizing. Imagine you’re feeling unforgiveable. Then this is what you’re memorizing. You’re reading it over and over again. It starts to sink in.

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—

who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
    and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known his ways to Moses,
    his deeds to the people of Israel:

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
    slow to anger, abounding in love.

He will not always accuse,
    nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
    or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 
as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 
As a father has compassion on his children,
    so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 
for he knows how we are formed,
    he remembers that we are dust.
15 
The life of mortals is like grass,
    they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 
the wind blows over it and it is gone,
    and its place remembers it no more.
17 
But from everlasting to everlasting
    the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
    and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 
with those who keep his covenant
    and remember to obey his precepts.
19 
The Lord has established his throne in heaven,
    and his kingdom rules over all.
20 
Praise the Lord, you his angels,
    you mighty ones who do his bidding,
    who obey his word.
21 
Praise the Lord, all his heavenly hosts,
    you his servants who do his will.
22 
Praise the Lord, all his works
    everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the Lord, my soul.

You can see why those words were life to me.

I realized I’d always proved to myself that I was lovable because my husband loved me, and now I really had to turn to God.

The last year and a half in Germany were truly awful. It felt like my marriage was slipping through my fingers. I kept trying to patch things up, trying to be extra loving, trying to somehow get things right, and every time I thought I’d made progress, Steve would pull further away.

But I started following a ministry that encourages you to “Stand for your marriage,” and I still didn’t think there were grounds for divorce, and I believed divorce was wrong, and I made a vow, and, doggone it, I was going to pray him back. (I look at it now and think maybe I was a little controlling?)

One very good thing about that ministry was they encouraged you to listen to God’s voice. I was desperate and I started listening.

Toward the end of my time in Germany, the pastor there preached on the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. It’s a weird passage. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears and then spits and touches the man’s tongue – and the pastor pointed out that Jesus was speaking to the deaf man in sign language, telling him what he was going to do. And he said that God speaks your language. And I realized that my language is books. And Scripture.

And it made me cry, because for the last several months exactly the book I needed kept landing on my desk at the library. I read The Divorce Remedy, which helped me stop chasing after Steve to try to get him back. And I read Love Without Hurt, which is about responding with compassion instead of anger. And there were several other books that came just exactly when I needed them.

Our time in Germany was up when our oldest graduated from high school. I’d planned to follow Steve wherever he was stationed next, so he could be near Tim, our youngest. But he got himself sent to Japan unaccompanied so that I could not follow him. He wanted to be on the other side of the world from me.

Well, that gave me a choice to go anywhere in America. I didn’t want to go back to California for a number of reasons – but I had two friends I’d known since 3rd grade in California who both lived in Herndon and attended Gateway, Kathe Barsotti and Darlene LeVault. I’d visited Gateway when I was here for Darlene’s wedding, and had wished there was a church like that where we lived. What’s more, Tim was starting 7th grade, and Gateway was meeting at Rachel Carson, a brand new beautiful middle school.

So we got it on his orders for me to go to Virginia. The day the movers came was the day Steve told me it had been an affair all along. Since I’d been saying for a year that nothing is unforgivable, I wasn’t able to turn around and say, “Except that! That’s not forgivable!”

So I came to Virginia still standing for my marriage. But I came here completely broken and devastated and sad – and Gateway took me in. Darlene and Matt let me and my kids live in their basement for six weeks, bless them. I was so distraught, I lost my cellphone and a key to Darlene’s house in the first week. I went with them to Trisha & Phil Sallee’s small group, and it turned out they’d gone to Biola and started the first semester after I quit teaching, so that was a connection.

But what completely touched my heart was that when my household goods arrived, the entire small group came over – even though they didn’t know me yet – and moved me in. Almost all my furniture had been disassembled, and some of it was broken, and they put it back together and made me feel so cared for and so much less alone. That was when Gateway became my family.

That was 2006. God was taking care of me, too. I knew I needed to work full-time now, so I got my Master’s in Library Science, and I was able to almost completely finish it while Steve was still in Japan getting a dual housing allowance. And when I did finish it, I got a job right away at the closest library to my house.

I was still standing for my marriage, still hoping to pray Steve back or somehow win him back with my loving, forgiving attitude! I had this feeling that if I were really spiritual, and really loving and forgiving, then nothing Steve said should be able to hurt me.

That brings up a story from August 2009, when Steve sent an email basically telling me I was a terrible mother and a terrible person. My mind didn’t believe it, but my heart did.

My first reaction was to write back a blistering response, but I was pretty sure that probably wasn’t the best idea. I did pray and ask God how I should respond.

That night I was planning what I was going to wear to church the next day. When I saw a t-shirt with stars embroidered on it, I thought of the verse Philippians 2:15. It says, “so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

It comforted me to think that God was using all I was going through to make me shine. Again – you have to understand that I was feeling terrible about myself. As much as I wanted to not believe it, a part of me was believing that I was unlovable, that I was a bad mother and a bad person. But how healing it would be to think that God was using these awful times to build my character and was making me shine like a star. And that He brought that verse to mind to tell me so.

The next morning as I was getting dressed, the thought came to me, I think the prompting of the Holy Spirit, to pray that Philippians 2:15 would come up in the sermon. That would be confirmation from God that He was making me shine like a star, that I wasn’t unlovable, that God was bringing good things out of all this. That would show me that the verse coming up wasn’t a coincidence, but a message to me from God.

You weren’t preaching that day, Ed — and the verse did not come up in the sermon. Oh well. It was probably a silly thing to pray. I mean, what are the odds?

Then they sang the closing song.

“We are the people of God,
The sons and daughters of love
Forgiven, restored and redeemed,
Living our lives to the praise of our King
We are the ones who will shine
His light in the darkness of night
The hopeless, the broken, the poor,
They will be hopeless and broken no more.

You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.
You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine you, Lord.”

Okay, I’m getting very emotional, realizing how much this fits the verse, and they went through that twice, and then they sang the bridge:

“We shine like stars in the universe
Proclaiming the hope of our God
To the sons and daughters in all the earth
We shine you, Lord.”

In case you didn’t catch it, that’s a direct quote from Philippians 2:15. I completely lost it. Partly what meant so much was that God looked down and saw just how much I desperately needed that encouragement.

And then when I got home came the punchline. I looked up the verse to go over it again. I had forgotten that the sentence begins in the previous verse, Philippians 2:14 – “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine as stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.”

Remember that I had asked God if I should defend myself and answer the email that hurt me? Well, in His loving and wonderful way (with His sense of humor), He gently led me to the answer: “Do everything without complaining or arguing”! But he also answered the pain and doubt that came with the email. He was making me shine like a star.

And that reminds me of how you talked last month about coming to God as a lover. But what I learned in that awful time is that God comes to us as a Lover.

He says in Isaiah 54:5 – “For your Maker is your husband –
The Lord Almighty is his name –
The Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
He is called the God of all the earth.”

He says in Hosea 2:14-16 –
“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
And speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
And will make the Valley of Trouble a door of hope.
There she will sing as in the days of her youth,
As in the day she came up out of Egypt.
‘In that day,’ declares the Lord,
‘you will call me “my husband”;
You will no longer call me “my master.”’”

It took a long time, but I did finally realize, especially with the help of a sermon you preached, that “standing for my marriage” wasn’t actually trusting God. I was still trying to control the outcome.

I had this vision of bringing glory to God with a restored marriage. But how much was that really about bringing glory to me?

I think, for me, I had to let go of my belief that God would do this thing that I was sure was best – but hold onto my belief that yes, God would bring good out of this awful thing that happened. I had to realize that Faith isn’t telling God what to do.

At one point in the middle of this, someone said to me that “Everything works out for the best.” And I got mad. That’s not what it says! Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” It’s not the best when someone makes a bad decision, and I still think my husband made a bad decision to leave me and leave the church. But – God brought me so much good out of it, I’m not sure it’s not far better than what I thought was best.

I remember sitting in Mark and Rachel Morgan’s small group, a few years after coming to Virginia, and I realized that I’d turned the corner. I no longer had to just believe that God would bring good out of my marriage falling apart, but I could already start to feel it in my heart. I was already so much closer to God, felt so much more loved by Him.

I had to trust that about the divorce, too. Our divorce was final in November 2010.

And God has brought all kinds of good out of it. Some things are obvious. I got a career for the first time, and I love being a librarian. Also, I wouldn’t even be here at Gateway if all that hadn’t happened.

It made me feel much closer to God, but it also humbled me. And I discovered how much I needed humbling. I had always looked down on people who were divorced. Even when I was standing for my marriage. I had to be shown that some things, believe it or not, are out of my control. And, boy, did it give me a heart for other people going through similar things.

Just last week, my small group was talking about the Beatitudes. And I was struck for the first time by “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” My heart had been broken, I was as low as I could go, and God comforted me. And that’s a blessing. It’s not a blessing I would have ever chosen for myself. But it is a blessing that honestly does outweigh the mourning.

Prayer with Thanksgiving

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

I haven’t updated this in awhile, and after a good sermon is a good time to do so.

I mentioned the cancer scare in my last post, but not that it subsequently got worse. I had a biopsy done under general anesthesia, and the doctor found three places to biopsy — but the results came back BENIGN. I have “reactive lymphoid hyperplasia” — basically some overgrowth of lymphoid tissue, reacting to infection somewhere else in my body. But the important thing is that it is not cancer!

Still, I think the lessons I referred to in my last post still bear thinking about.

And today the pastor preached on Philippians 4:4-9, and the part that applies to this is the part about bringing your requests to God *with thanksgiving.*

Now, I know this is the way to pray! I think of myself as good at this — but that’s an arrogance that really has no place in prayer!

And certainly, it appears I can apply this in my prayers for others. After all, if I am thanking God as I pray, that implies a level of trust — that He is actually going to work this out. But it should not imply that it must work out the way I say it should. Can I let God be God?

Last Spring, when I was leading a study in the Psalms, it struck me that David doesn’t spend a lot of time telling God what to do. He lays out his worries and his needs and his fears. He asks God to act. And then he thanks God because the Psalmist knows he will come through. He thanks God for what He’s going to do.

That might be a good model in prayer for others. Can I thank God for what He’s going to do in my ex-husband’s life, even though that’s going to be totally apart from me? Can I trust God enough to believe that, as He has brought all kinds of good into my life through the situation, He will also bring lots of good into my ex-husband’s life — even if he never does even admit that what he did was, at the very least, unkind?

Oh, how I dance around what I’m willing to hope for him! Because it’s so hard for me to admit that, just maybe, I don’t actually know what’s best for him, and, just maybe, it’s no longer any of my business.

But God loves him and knows him. And that is true of anyone else I may care to pray for.

And I am so thankful that God is in control and not me!

Take the ones I love, Lord. Walk with them on the path that is best for them. Thank You for the path on which You’re leading me, and thank You that You know what is best even for these ones I love.

Sunday Songs

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Our pastor is doing a series on Finding Jesus, and today’s topic was Simplicity of Identity.

Alyssa got up and talked about all the different ways we find our identity — from our physical qualities, our job, our hobbies, what our friends say, to quizzes on Facebook. Then they showed this music video:

Pastor Ed’s sermon was from John 6. When we read John 6, we can see how secure Jesus was in his identity and how firm he was about it. And Jesus’ identity is firm and secure because of his connection with the Father.

But the point of John’s biography isn’t to help us identify Jesus. It’s to help us find our identity in Jesus.

Jesus doesn’t ask for us to understand him — He wants us to come to him, to eat and drink of him.

In our lives, we have identity indicators and identity anchors. My identity will be secure if my anchor is my connection to Jesus.

The only way to get free from the crippling identity messages that come at us is to find our anchor in Jesus.

I was especially touched by this sermon because before and after they sang a song that was sung at my wedding — “Take My Life, and Let It Be Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.”

But my marriage ended badly, and many messages were flung at me that I was unlovable, a failure, and a cruel person.

But I had honestly prayed on my wedding day, “Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.” Things didn’t work out the way I wanted them to, but what a nice reminder that God considers me His Beloved.

Beloved. We are beloved by God. He will never let us go.

Sunday Songs – Forgiveness, by Matthew West, with Jonah 4

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

This song, Forgiveness, by Matthew West, has reached out and grabbed me when it plays on the radio lately. I do believe that Forgiveness is the key to living a joyful life. It’s the opposite of bitterness, which eats away your life. I believe that forgiveness is for the person doing the forgiving more than anything. As he says in this song, “The prisoner that it really frees is you.”

Here’s the song:

Today’s sermon was on Jonah 4, and it struck me that Jonah 4 is a story of unforgiveness.

When Jonah tried to run from God, God went after him. Jonah repented and did what God told him to do — but his heart was still bitter.

Jonah preached to the Ninevites, and they repented. He should be happy, right? Instead, he tells God, “O Lord, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.”

What do you suppose Jonah had against the Ninevites to hate them so much? We know they were barbaric conquerors, and we also know that they conquered Israel’s northern kingdom. We know they fully deserved total destruction from God.

No mention is made of Jonah’s family. What if Assyrian soldiers killed his children? What if they raped and murdered his wife? That would certainly explain his bitterness, hatred, and anger.

My first reaction to those “what ifs” is to think, God would never send Jonah to the Ninevites if that had happened.

Wouldn’t He?

Jonah was so angry with the Ninevites, when God forgave them, he wanted to die. He sat outside the city, hoping God would change His mind and blast them after all.

What if, besides wanting the Ninevites to repent, what if God wanted to free Jonah from his bitterness?

You know, it’s easier to be forgiving when the person in question is suffering for their sin. If everything you hear from them sounds like complete misery, what’s to be angry about? They’re suffering as they deserve. But what if they repent and God forgives them? What if things start going well for them? Why do we feel like it’s up to us to remember how awful they are and all the punishment they deserve? Why do we feel we have to carry the torch for their wrong-ness, to make sure it’s never forgotten?

God put Jonah into the belly of a whale. Jonah had to beg for God’s mercy and face his own need for forgiveness. In chapter 4, with the vine, God tries to make Jonah see those he hates as people, too.

God asks Jonah, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

I love this quotation from George MacDonald about why God cannot forgive those who don’t forgive:

“When we forgive our neighbor, in flows the forgiveness of God’s forgiveness to us. For God to withhold his forgiveness from the one who will not forgive his neighbor is love as well as necessity. If God said, ‘I forgive you,’ to a man who hated his brother, what would it mean to him? How would the man interpret it? Would it not mean to him, ‘You may go on hating. I do not mind it. You have had great provocation, and are justified in your hate.’ No, the hater must be delivered from the hell of his hate, that God’s child should be made the loving child that he meant him to be.” (Wisdom to Live By, p. 162)

What if this is why God specifically sent Jonah to the Ninevites?

I’d like to think Jonah indeed learned from this, that the message of God got through in the end. And I do have reason to hope that: After all, how else did that chapter get into Scripture? Jonah and God were the only ones who were there. I’d like to think Jonah was the one who told people about the aftermath of his preaching. He had some time to think about it, and he added to the story, “Here’s what God taught me in the end.”

And in the process, I’d like to think Jonah stepped out of his prison of bitterness.

And maybe that’s a greater miracle even than God sending the great fish.

Guidance

Sunday, August 19th, 2012

Today’s sermon was a second in a 2-part series about guidance by our associate pastor, Alex York.

I feel like learning about guidance is a precious gift from extremely horrible trials.

In my case, the horrible trial was my husband leaving me. I did turn to God in extreme desperation. And God answered.

It brought me to a completely new place in my relationship with God. A much much closer friendship. And a place where it got to be normal to hear from God. I have to emphasize that before, my relationship with God was nothing like that. In fact, the first few times I heard from God, I was apologetic and pretty much chalked it up to wishful thinking.

Also, this was a situation where I needed guidance. There were many, many complications, and I needed to know what to do. Should I file for divorce? Should I try to win him back? How would I survive financially?

But one of the precious things about the whole experience was that, so often, the things I heard from God were simply encouragement. Now, that’s what I needed — I felt completely torn down and worthless at the worst parts of the ordeal — but God saw that and gave it, and I felt so loved.

I enjoyed today’s sermon. I have to admit, I could be wrong, but it didn’t sound like Pastor Alex has ever been in a situation where he’s so desperate, he wants to die. (And it’s interesting. Though feeling close to God, able to hear from God, is a great big huge blessing of an ordeal like that, you’d never ever wish it on anyone. You’d never willingly choose it. But, after a time, you actually can see that God brought great good out of it. But you can’t really be proud — Yes, I was so utterly desperate and despairing, I had no choice but to turn to God for guidance.) But he did lay out good steps and principles for hearing from God. I just wanted to add a couple things.

1) God speaks to each person in their own language.

I learned this from a beautiful sermon back in Germany. The pastor preached on the passage in Mark 7 where Jesus heals a deaf and mute man. Jesus does strange things, putting his fingers in the man’s ears and then spitting and touching the man’s tongue. The pastor pointed out that Jesus was using sign language! Of course! And it dawned on me that He had been speaking to me in my own language, too — bringing me over and over again just the exact book I needed at several steps along the way as I was figuring out which end was up. (If you want to get through to Sondy, of course you use books!)

Along with that point, I have to add that God speaks in more ways than were listed. Through books. Through e-mails. Through websites. Through songs. Through rainbows. I do believe it’s all very individual, tailored to what we need and what we can hear.

2. Hide God’s Word in your heart.

Pastor Alex did talk about God speaking through his Word. He did talk about Inner Promptings. For me, most often those two occur together. I don’t have to ask academic questions about Scripture though. I read and read and read and memorize and go over and over passages, and sometimes, I simply know that this verse is God’s word to my specific situation.

I’m just saying that this isn’t an academic exercise. Memorize Scripture. Read Scripture. Look at one verse a day. Don’t rush through. Read and listen for God’s voice. Grow to love it. Hide God’s Word in your heart.

3. Ask for Confirmation.

When I get an inner prompting that God is speaking a specific verse to me, God isn’t mad if I ask Him to repeat it if I’m hearing Him correctly. One remarkable time, I outlined three points that I thought God was telling me from three verses. But I said that I wasn’t sure, and I could really use some confirmation if that was what He was really saying. The next morning, the pastor opened his sermon with the verse from the first point. The other verses were included.

In James, it says that God gives wisdom “to all men generously without finding fault.” He will not get mad at us if we want to be sure we’re hearing correctly — as long as we’re going to obey.

4. Ask.

I almost forgot. If you want to hear from God; if you’re wondering what you should do, ask Him. That’s covered in the James verse, too. Be specific; write it out. Then watch and listen for answers.

But I do think that the more desperate you are, the more you acknowledge that you don’t know what to do, the more likely you are to hear.

Oh, and one more thing: If you hear from God through Scripture, write the date next to the verse in your Bible. That will remind you God gave you that specific verse. And you can look back later and see how He fulfilled it in your life.

Sunday Songs – “Psalm 23” – Peter Furler

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Today I just want to post a song that feels joyful. So here one is:

Our pastor’s been preaching in Malachi. The passage about divorce reminds me what a horrible, rough place I was in just a few years ago. But God promises to be a Witness for a woman who’s left by the husband of her youth. And God has been so faithful. On top of that, a year ago this week, I had a stroke, and it’s been a rough year, healthwise. But for that, too, God has been faithful.

One of the pastor’s main points was that an antidote for discouragement is to remember who you are: Someone loved by God. And that God is with you.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me!

So it’s been an incredibly difficult several years. But right now? All kinds of possibilities are opening up. I’m soon going to be interviewing for not one but two versions of my dream job — Youth Services Manager at a regional library, in two different counties.

I’ve been praying for months about direction. When I came to Virginia, I moved to be near my lifelong friends, figuring I’d stay a couple years while I licked my wounds. Then my son got into the Number One high school in the nation. I got a job as a Librarian as soon as I finished my MLS degree.

Now that my son has graduated, I wondered if I should stay in Virginia. I thought about moving back overseas to another base library, this time on my own steam. I thought about moving to the Pacific northwest, where I have lots of family, and my older son as well. But my church here has become like family.

Then, not one but two Youth Services Manager positions have come open. Both have great things about them. Mind you, I don’t know if I’ll be offered either one, but I’m super excited about the possibilities.

And it makes me think of my favorite verse from Malachi, which I read in church today during the sermon on Malachi:

But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.

— Malachi 4:2

What I love about that verse is from my experience living in Leithoefe, Germany. Here’s a picture of the place we lived (front and center). This picture was taken in the summer, and the cows were one pasture further up the hill, but you get the idea: There were cows directly outside our back windows.

The cows in the picture look staid and boring, and that’s the way they almost always looked. If they moved, it was slowly and leisurely.

But that’s not the complete story. During the winter, the cows are kept in the farmer’s barn down the hill. In mid-Spring, once the pasture won’t be a sea of mud, the farmer puts the cows back into the pasture. One year, we were looking out the window when the cows returned.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The cows frolicked. They leaped! They danced around that field! Not just the calves, either, but the old, calm, staid mama cows, too. I still wonder if I imagined it, but the sight burned itself on my eyeballs. Those cows were joyful. They were so glad, glad, glad to be out of that barn!

So, I was happy to be reminded of that Malachi verse right now. I’m hoping for a Springtime season in my life for a time.

And I intend to be joyful.

Prayer and Healing, Faith and Fear

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

I last posted on Sonderjourneys in December, and since then it’s become pretty clear that I’m having more mini-strokes, something that the Coumadin was supposed to prevent. Unfortunately, it’s not terribly clear to the doctors what to try next. I’m currently being referred to a specialist, who will spend next week reviewing my case to decide whether or not to see me. Meanwhile, I’ve had a headache for the last 14 days. It may be a tension headache, since heat and relaxing do help, but it’s not going away. What if it’s a sign that something’s wrong inside? And it started right after a very short dizzy spell that may have been a mini-stroke.

I’ve been having my Quiet Times the last couple weeks in Luke 8, where Jesus does four different miracles. On top of that, the sermon topic of the last two weeks at church was prayer. Last week, my Home Group all prayed over me. Also, after church the prayer team prayed for me, and then the pastor and the elders prayed over me.

So I’m thinking about prayer and healing, about faith and fear. I thought I’d try articulating some of these thoughts.

First, Jesus deals with each person very differently. Calming the storm was very different from driving demons out of the possessed man which was very different from healing the woman who’d been bleeding for 12 years, which was very different from raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, which was very different from healing Bartimaeus. (The first four are from Luke 8. The other is from this morning’s sermon, in Mark 10.) It’s not like there’s a certain formula if you wanted Jesus to heal you. He approached everybody differently.

Second, in Luke 8, it was all Jesus’ fault! Whose idea was it to sail across the lake right when a squall was about to come up? Jesus! And if he hadn’t gone across the lake right then (apparently just to meet the demon-possessed man and return), then Jairus could have gotten to him before his daughter died, and it could have been just a simple, straightforward healing. Jairus didn’t come running to have his daughter raised from the dead. He was hoping for a healing. He comes to Jesus urgently, and you know he must have been anxiously waiting for Jesus to come back across the lake. And then, while he’s on the way, Jesus stops and talks to some woman who touched the edge of his cloak! Doesn’t Jesus realize how urgent this is?

Third, these were truly bad situations. The Bible admits that the disciples in the boat “were in great danger.” These fishermen told Jesus, “Master! Master! We’re going to drown!” As for Jairus, he was told “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher any more.” Yes, I think he had good reason to give up.

But the thing that most struck me was this: Jesus said different things to the different groups of people. To the disciples, Jesus said, “Where is your faith?” In Matthew, it says his words were, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” But look at what Jesus said to Jairus! After he was told that his daughter was dead and he might as well give up, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe and she will be healed.”

What was the difference between the disciples and Jairus? Jesus didn’t scold Jairus for being afraid, even though he did tell him he didn’t need to be. But the disciples knew Jesus. They should have known that God wouldn’t let them drown. They should have known better.

So that brings me to this morning’s sermon. John Maulella said, “When my awareness of my need meets my understanding of the character of Jesus, that’s faith.”

Where am I in my spiritual walk? I’m very sure that God loves me. I’ve seen him work in my life and bring great good to me out of truly terrible things that happened. So even if God allows something terrible to happen to me, I do believe that God will bring good out of it. I’ve come far enough with Jesus that if I doubt, He’ll have good reason to ask me “Why are you so afraid?”

Now, mind you, that’s easier said than done. One verse that helped is in Psalms: “Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.” Singing songs can help remind me that I believe I am in God’s hands.

And I don’t know what His plan is with this illness. It would be nice to just be healed. It would also be nice to have the doctors figure out what’s going on and help make me better. In the meantime, I get practice in trust.

Also this morning, I listened to a recording of a podcast a friend gave me of John Eldredge speaking about suffering. He reminded us that in the Bible suffering is not something to be surprised about. Even Paul, God’s point person in reaching the world with the Gospel, suffered terribly.

So how does all this fit together? I’m not sure. But I do want to have the kind of faith that helps me not be afraid. Because I do believe that God is good. And I’ve seen him bring great good out of terrible things. What is He going to do out of this?

An Opportunity To See What God Will Do

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Today’s sermon resonated with me on several levels.  Our pastor spoke about giving and generosity and money — a very timely topic, since I expect to lose my job in a few months and don’t know what I will do.  I also have filed for divorce and don’t know how the settlement will turn out.  So lots of reasons to worry about money, right?

Pastor Ed spoke from I Timothy 6:6-19 to point out two big lies we believe about money, that hinder our generosity.

Lie #1: We think our provision depends on what we do.

If we depend on ourselves, we’re proud.  Even when we worry because we think we haven’t done enough, we’re showing pride, thinking it’s all up to us.

We shouldn’t be like antique collectors, but like a well-appointed distribution center, accepting gifts from God and passing them on to others.

Lie #2:  We believe that we would be happier if we had more resources.

We put our hope in wealth.  We think we aren’t doing so, but our actions say otherwise.  And that’s foolishness.  Wealth is so uncertain.

Here he talked about putting our hope in our own plans.  He talked about how God gave our church a wonderful piece of property, and we planned to pay for a building by selling two outparcels.  But then the real estate market tanked.  However much we were disappointed is however much we were putting our hope in our plans and not in God.  And then we forget to thank Him for His abundant provision — the gift of the land in the first place.

God’s will often is dynamic.  He often doesn’t show us the whole picture right at the start.  We need to walk with Him step by step.

That part of the message resonated beautifully with what God’s been telling me about my divorce.  As I said in my last post, I felt it was time to file for divorce.  But I still worried if I was lacking in faith, not trusting God enough.  Didn’t God tell me, and confirm and reconfirm, that He was making my husband a leader and a witness, and one day our marriage would be restored?  I prayed about it.  I thought this was the right step, but how could filing for divorce be following God’s leading?  Was I just lacking in faith?

Then one day, when I was reading in Hebrews 11, a phrase jumped out at me from the part talking about Abraham sacrificing Isaac.  He did that even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

If Abraham had been thinking like me, he could have said, “I’m really sure that God told me I’m going to have many descendants through Isaac, so I must be hearing Him wrong about this sacrificing Isaac.  How could that work?”

Hebrews 11 says that Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead.  Abraham had to give up his own plan about how it should happen.

As Pastor Ed emphasized today, my hope should be in God, not in my own plan.  Surely God can resurrect my marriage, but if so it will be through His power, not because of any plans of mine, or any stubborn holding onto my marriage even though my husband has left.

As for my job search, all the rest of the sermon related to that.  I did not get the Assistant Branch Manager position I had applied for at my last posting.  I now have four applications out there for four very different positions.  I don’t know what my chances are for any of those positions.

But as I think about the future, I will not be afraid.  My last three jobs have been complete gifts from God.  (No, pretty much every job I’ve ever had has been that.)  It’s not like God’s going to abandon me now.

I’m bolstered up by two Truths Pastor Ed pointed out from the Timothy passage.

Truth #1:  Our provision comes from God, and that’s where we should place our hope.

Truth #2:  God richly provides for our enjoyment.

Don’t get so caught up in my own plans that I forget to enjoy and thank Him for the many gifts He’s already given!

And that kind of attitude enables me to be generous with what God has provided.  God asks us to be generous, because that’s who we truly are, that’s how we will live “the life that is truly life.”

So, it was a beautifully encouraging morning.  Instead of seeing my probable job loss as a tough trial I’m going through, the sermon reminded me to see it as a wonderful opportunity to see how God is going to provide.

Shining Like Stars

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

God did a beautiful thing for me today.

I was feeling down, shaken at the core of my being, who I am.  Let’s just say that some hurtful words in a letter, coming from someone I love, essentially accused me of being a bad mother and a bad person.  No matter how much my mind knows that’s not true, my heart was wounded, and I needed reassurance.  I was also tempted to answer the letter, but knew I probably shouldn’t.  Still, I asked God about it…

Anyway, Saturday night I was choosing clothes to wear to church.  I wanted to wear something pretty — I feel like God’s telling me He’s giving me beauty for ashes, and the truth is that He’s making me more beautiful during this trial, and I wanted to wear something to symbolize that.

My eye fell on a v-neck t-shirt with little stars embroidered across it, and I thought of the verse in Philippians 2, “… you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life…”  I thought I’d wear that shirt as a symbol of shining like a star through God’s light.  To go with the symbolism, I chose underwear with stars all over them, too!  🙂

As I put the clothes aside, I thought how neat it would be if God had that verse come up in the sermon in the morning.  I prayed and asked for it.  I knew that would be symbol from God that He is indeed making me shine like a star in the universe, by His grace. 

I had trouble getting to sleep that night, so I thought about the phrase, “you shine like stars in the universe…”

Well, the verse did not come up in the sermon.  It was a good sermon, about living your Christianity in your job.  I got to thinking, well, it was a silly little whim.  God certainly didn’t have to do that.  What are the chances that that particular verse would come up anyway?

Then they did the closing song:

We are the peple of God
The sons and daughters of love
Forgiven, restored and redeemed
Living our lives to the praise of our King
We are the ones who will shine
His light in the darkness of night
The hopeless, the broken, the poor
They will be hopeless and broken no more

You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine You, Lord
You are the light
The light of the world
And we shine You, Lord

Okay, that specific verse wasn’t there.  But I was getting the idea…

Then came the third verse:

We shine like stars in the universe
Proclaiming the hope of our God
And to the sons and daughters in all the earth
We shine You, Lord

Now there was no doubt — “shine like stars in the universe” is exactly quoting the verse.  By this time, my eyes were streaming with tears!

By doing that little thing for me, I felt that God was telling me He loves me.  He cares about the little things of my life.  He cares about my emotional pain.  And He is indeed making me shine like a star.

Wow!

Then came the punchline.  When I got home, I looked up the verse.  I had forgotten how the sentence begins, in the previous verse, Philippians 2:14 —

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. . .

I had asked God if I should defend myself and answer the letter that hurt me?  Well, in His loving and wonderful way (with His sense of humor), He gently led me to the answer:  “Do everything without. . . arguing”!  And, in fact, my answer is my life, in which God is making me shine like a star.

Praise Him.

Here’s a link to a site that plays the song:  http://www.imeem.com/mattxiong/music/FB9viSRq/steve-fee-you-are-the-light/

More Big Picture/Little Picture

Sunday, July 13th, 2008

Today’s sermon was titled “Keeping Perspective.”  It was about exactly what I’ve been thinking so much about lately:  The big picture and the little picture.

Of course it got me reflecting some more.  I think there will always be a tension between the big picture and the little picture.  We can believe that God is working, that God is surely working all things together for good.  But in the little picture, bad things do happen.  And they hurt.

The Psalms are full of wrestling with this tension.  Here’s a common pattern to so many psalms:

Help, Lord!

Things are awful!

Answer me quickly!

I remember that You came through for me before.

Surely You will come through for me again!

God rocks!

I’m going to conquer!

Isn’t God AWESOME?!?

Sometimes the way we get through our pain in the little picture is to cry out to God.  After we express our pain, we can remind ourselves that we KNOW God is going to come through for us.

Pastor Ed mentioned that the best way to keep perspective is not positive thinking, but faith.  Hebrews 11 has so many models of faith.  Even though “they did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.”

Maybe that’s the challenge:  Seeing what God is doing, and welcoming it, even from a distance.  Believing that God is Real, and that it is Worth It to follow Him, however foolish it may look in the short term  (Hebrews 11:6).

Imagine that you’ve bought your child something they’ve been longing for.  It’s wrapped up and hidden away for his birthday, or maybe sitting under the Christmas tree.  Then you go to a store together and see one, and he dissolves into tears because you won’t buy it.  You would be sad with your son because of his pain, but you would know he’ll get a lot more joy if he waits for Christmas.

Last year, God gave me some verses in Jeremiah 31, beginning with: 

“Restrain your voice from weeping

and your eyes from tears,

for your work will be rewarded,”

declares the Lord.

“They will return from the land of the enemy.

So there is hope for your future,”

declares the Lord.

“Your children will return to their own land.”

Now here God is telling us to stop crying, but I know from other passages that He does have compassion for our pain!  So he’s not the Mean Dad snapping, “Stop crying!” but the one saying, “There, there!  Don’t worry, Honey, I have this problem totally under control.  Everything’s going to be Okay.  Better, everything’s going to be Beautiful.”

If we can truly believe the big picture, even our emotions can start to reflect that.  Mind you, getting them there may take a wrestling process such as in the Psalms.  But that Big Picture thinking can help us refrain from crying as we come more fully to believe that, truly, God “exists, and He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”  It is worth it to follow God.

I’ve also been thinking lately that I can use my love for fairy tales to reinforce my big picture thinking.  Today Pastor Ed said that as Christians, “We believe in Happy Endings.”  How true.  If we follow God, we can be certain that, whatever happens, the ending will be, “And they lived happily ever after.”

Isn’t God AWESOME?!?