The Gift of Biblical Fellowship

I’m over at the Redeemer Church blog today.  You can access that post by clicking here.

Have a wonderful day!

Sheree

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When God Isn’t Efficient

I can’t remember where I heard this but recently someone commented on how process-oriented God is. He is as much about the road traveled as He is about the destination.

I’m not that way in many cases, so this got me thinking about trees. God could have decided that trees (or flowers or babies or anything, for that matter) would  come into being full-grown.  He has the power to do that. He could just speak trees or people into existence. But He decided things would start small and grow…slowly.

Take an oak tree. First, an acorn has to set down a deep tap root. Then, at an average growth of about two feet a year, the tree reaches it’s fully grown height of between 60 and 100 feet. This means the tree won’t be fully grown for 10 to 15 years!

Why didn’t God just say “be there, oak tree”?  I would have done that if I were Him. Wouldn’t it show His power far more if trees just showed up in people’s yards full grown?  Everyone would know Someone did that! Or imagine if you arrived at church and friends announced the “birth” of the son they had been praying for — a tall, lanky teen who showed up at the breakfast table that morning unannounced. No one would doubt that he was the product of Divine placement!

Someone told Benny and me one time that we had a problem: we were wanting God to be more efficient.

He isn’t. He delights in revealing His power through weakness. His wisdom is put on display in trees growing so slowly that it takes us seeing pictures of the front yard from last year to even notice it.

I’m realizing that one of the ways I can be an “imitator of Christ” is to find joy in watching things unfold. I need to relax and be more like the One who sees beauty in processes. My impatience is an evidence of being a creature, not the Creator.

There are things about me that I think are taking too long. I want my selfishness to be totally gone today. After all the training and instruction, why can’t my kids think differently now? I want my friend to find out this week that her cancer is gone.  And why plant a tree in which someone other than me might be able to hang a swing for her grandchildren?

Maybe you’re like me and are battling perplexity or frustration over God’s inefficiency.

“Some things cannot be done in a day. God does not make a sunset glory in a moment, but for days may be massing the mist out of which He builds it.”  (Streams in the Desert)

Are you, like me, tempted to be frustrated or perplexed by God’s inefficiency? Let’s think about it: God may be collecting mist from our lives to paint a beautiful sunset.

Hardships and Heaven

I love living an hour from the beach. Benny and I spontaneously decided to use his much-needed afternoon off to take my lab, Wallace, to play in the ocean yesterday afternoon. As we sat enjoying the beauty, I was especially admiring the fluffy white clouds against the beautiful blue sky.

“Honey, today would be a GREAT day for Jesus to come. He’s gonna come on the clouds…I want Him to come right now on those clouds! Come, Lord Jesus!” I exclaimed. And you know what? I surprised myself by how much I really meant it.

On the way home we talked about how our view of heaven has changed over the years. We reminisced about going to a meeting when we were dating and hearing a message on the return of Christ. While there were aspects of that thought that intrigued me at 17, I remember thinking I didn’t want Jesus to come back at least until we were married and had a few kids…

When was my longing for heaven born?

I don’t remember but it grew slowly. It had something to do with going through hard times. Years of infertility that made we wonder if I would ever have those children I wanted Jesus to wait on. Attending the funerals of my 27-year-old brother, too-young daddy and cherished grandmother in an 18-month period when I was in my mid 20’s. Leaving northern Virginia, and my beloved church and extended family, in my mid-40’s to move to Orlando…only to unexpectedly lose my mom to cancer less than two weeks later. Walking through devastating heartbreaks with dear friends overs over the past 10 years: adultery, heart attack, teens walking away from God, repeated job losses, horrific abuse, cancer, hopeless marital strife, infertility, bankruptcy.

Charles Spurgeon said, “The bitter cups of earth will give a relish to the new wine that sparkles in the golden bowls of heaven.”

Our struggles, pain, loss, grief, sin, disappointment and brokenness here remind us of something really important: there is a place where none of these will happen. No death. No sin. No heartache. No sickness. No grief. No goodbyes. No worry.

And it’s not just about what won’t be, but also what will be!  Worship without getting tired or distracted. Health. Reunions. Uninterrupted joy. Relationships with no anger, bitterness or impatience. Contentment. Peace. Finding it easy to love and serve and think of others before ourselves. Nothing to fret about or lose sleep over.

Forever and ever.

I’m hurting today. I’m scared for a friend who is very sick; longing for another friend’s husband to hear about a much-needed job (closeby, Lord?); missing family members who live far away; and praying for reconciliation between some people I love dearly who can’t seem to get along.

“For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (1 Pet 4:17).

It doesn’t feel light. Or momentary.

Are you hurting, too?  Let’s pray for faith to rise in our hearts to eagerly and expectantly (not morbidly or with self-pity) anticipate the clouds that WILL usher Him in.  Whether we’re on this side or the other, what a day that will be. Wow. It has helped me to write this.

Come, Lord Jesus! I’m eager to taste some of that new wine.

Me…a Jonah?

I read this article by Ed Welch from CCEF and wanted to share it with you. It’ll take you about 5 minutes to read, but hold on till the end.  Wow.  I won’t say any more…you just gotta read it.

You can find it here.

And thanks for your support and encouragement about my new little blog. I’m enjoying interacting with you and read every comment.

Blessings!

Sheree

Good Things are On the Way

On Monday my daughter, Jaime, started scanning some old pics into her computer…and sharing a few on Facebook. I haven’t been able to get the picture of this little guy out of my mind. Someone commented that he looked like Opey. But he’s my Benny. I see glimpses of our Joey, Josh and his son, JJ, in that darling face. But mostly I see the cute little blonde and freckled boy that would become my husband.

He lived in Alabama. I was in Maryland.  When our parents decided to move to Alexandria, Virginia neither us were happy about moving away from everything familiar. But God had a plan.

God didn’t consult us or ask our permission. If He had, both of us would have declined. He would have remained in Alabama with his cousin so they could continue getting in trouble and pulling pranks on poor ‘ol Mrs. Batts next door. (Like the time they called every taxi company in town and had them all show up at her house at the same time.) I would have stayed in Maryland where I had just one more month to anticipate the fun of high school and finding a cute boyfriend.

God knew what I didn’t: that boy was in Virginia and I needed to get over there to meet him. I whined; then begged my parents to let me live with my like-mother married sister. After all, it would only be a 45-minute drive to spend weekends with them in Virginia until I graduated high school. When they said no I was confused, angry and resentful. I just knew I would hate our new home.

I didn’t really get to know “that boy” until over a year after the move. But in March of 1971 a mutual teacher of ours took the class on a camping/spelunking (caving) trip to West Virginia.  That day I had two memorable “firsts.” I encountered bats hanging from the ceiling of the caves…and I also encountered the flame on Benny’s camping hat when he leaned to kiss me. I left the cave with a singed nose and a new boyfriend.

If I was in control I would have never made that move. My once-bitter heart is now full of awe at God’s wisdom and kindness. And 7 children and 11 grandchildren are here because God had His way.

While I living in Maryland as a school girl, playing tetherball and feeling jealous of girlfriends who had more stuff than me and worrying about whether I would get the solo in my 6th grade performance, young Benny was moping about having to move to Virginia. Aw.  He didn’t know that he had to get up there because some years later a quick (and painful!) kiss in a cave in West Virginia would have to happen.

Many kisses later, I’m so glad.

Are you facing something that is tempting you to be confused, angry or resentful?  Have circumstances in your life forced an unwelcome change or loss?  I pray my little story reminds you that there’s a God who is wisely and lovingly superintending every single thing that happens. Even the hard and hurtful things “all work together for good” (Romans 8:28). Confusing and hard situations get us where we need to be to encounter the good He has in store.

Just look at this little guy (who I think looks alot like his Papa!)  30-some years after my unwanted move he was born to my firstborn son.  The good just keeps on coming.

27 Years with Joey

Today my Joey turns 27. I want to talk about him, not just to honor him but to encourage parents who may be struggling with discouragement over where your kids may be currently. I hope your faith will grow as you read this motherly tribute.

I think he was born smiling. What a sweet and pleasant baby he was — which was a special blessing because soon after his birth, his 20-month-old brother started throwing tantrums and biting me.  Gratefully, Jesse’s tantrums ended and Joey’s sweet, happy nature continued.

Joey has been a well-suited middle child. As the 4th of seven, he was often chosen to ask Mom if they could do things the sibs weren’t sure would be approved. (They claim I said ‘yes’ to Joey more often than not. Maybe I did. Who could resist that smile?) He was usually the peacemaker, and the first to ask forgiveness after sibling arguments. He loved sports from the start and enjoyed the advantage of being the little guy who played up 2 years so he and Jesse could be on the same team. (He would want me to include that he became quite the basketball player as a result.)

He never went through the “I don’t want my mom to hug me when my friends are around” stage. Or at least he never showed it. And when Benny had to be gone overnight I would hear my teenaged son getting the couch in the family room ready for bed so Mom wouldn’t be downstairs in my room alone through the night.

Somewhere along the way he became a gifted writer who uses both sentiment and humor to bless others. I have been the recipient of both his playful (and exaggerated, I might add) mocking and his heartfelt honor. I can’t express how much his words — and his counsel — have meant to me, especially during really tough times. Like the time at McDonald’s when I met him and a sibling or two to help me deal with some heart wrenching fears about someone I deeply love. His love for truth and discerning application of it, is a gift that has been forged through good times and bad.

All families go through hard times; we are no exception. At points along the way with each of our children, I’ve battled anxiety.  Some kids, including a couple of ours, make their issues obvious through scary rebellion and outbursts of sin. Others are so compliant and sweet you don’t always know what is brewing in their hearts.  That was Joey. During one season in particular I worried that as a pastor’s son, Joey had given into the common pressure to please people rather than do the difficult heart work to please God. I didn’t consistently trust that God was at work…especially when the work wasn’t being done my way in my time.

And grace won. Like it always does.

As a now grown up man, he opens up his life to us and others in humbling ways. Like last week at our Community Group when he acknowledged his need for God’s help to overcome self-sufficiency and grow as the spiritual leader in his home. And you know what’s amazing? When he reads this he will be glad I included some of the not-so-great things about him; especially so any parents who read this will be reminded that God is faithfully at work in our children’s lives even during seasons when it’s not clear enough for our weak eyes to see.

How can a parent thank a son for being so fiercely loyal?  For being patient with flawed and sinful parents who made mistakes, big and small?  For persevering through common temptations and struggles and sins with uncommon humility and trust in a sovereign God? For being such a hard working provider and devoted family man?  While the gratitude is primarily reserved for a faithful God…this mother is also saying thanks to her son.

And there’s no way I can thank him for giving me another daughter and a precious granddaughter!  That little blonde, blue-eyed cutie makes my heart squeeze like it did when her daddy was toddling around getting into everything. Little Amelia Grace will someday (sooner than he realizes) be in her mid-twenties. I pray she will follow in Daddy’s footsteps and rise up to bless her Mommy like he has his. And I pray God gives her a man like Daddy.

Happy Birthday, Son.  I love you.

Praying for our First Miracle

Yesterday was a mixture of joy and sorrow for Redeemer Church.  Have we changed our name to Ultimate Power? No. That’s just the name of our new location. Who would have ever thought of checking at marital arts studios to see about renting space for a church? We’re glad someone did. It’s a great situation for us, and gives us room to grow. We’re grateful.

Watching everyone enjoying food before the meeting; setting up chairs, sound equipment and children’s ministry items which were all donated to us; and seeing a large, open space turn into a place for our meeting was humbling and fun. Yet looming in my mind was my expected arrival of my dear friends, Frank and Liz. You see, they found out on Friday that Liz’s cancer has returned with force.

I kept looking toward the door.  Frank and their son, Nathan, arrived looking tired.  My heart went out to them. When did little Nathan get so tall? How much sleep had Frank gotten the night before? Where was Liz?

Frank pulled Benny and me aside and said  that Liz was unable to make it, but that he had something he wanted to share with the church.  They were both eager for the church to hear some things on their hearts.  Since Liz started anticipating the the possible return of her cancer, her thoughts have been consistently focused on others. So it was no surprise that this godly couple is thinking about their new little church on the first Sunday morning after such hard news.

When Frank stood before us during worship, he opened his Bible to Philippians 1 and read these words:

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two.”

With tears welling and his voice cracking, Frank shared that Liz’s most recent thoughts of regret surrounded her sadness that she may not be able to be here to be a part of Redeemer Church. In our short history we have had our first baby born and our first engagement. He and Liz have wondered if hers will be either our first funeral…or our first miracle?

He further communicated his and Liz’s desire to see her illness used to advance the gospel. Looking further up into Philippians 1 he read:

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”

With some typical-Frank attempts at humor to keep the sobs from hindering him, he exhorted us to preach the gospel. Liz wants to do that. He wants to do that. God has sent us on a church plant and we need to do that, too. As I sat there listening to our friend of three decades who has been through “many dangers, toil and snares” — and who just learned that his wife and best friend needs a miracle to live — I realized I was on holy ground. Like our Savior when facing His own death, others are on their hearts.

We gathered around Frank and Nathan for our first opportunity as a church family to pray together.

Will you join us in praying that our first miracle is about to happen?

Interrupting My Life to Be Normal

Over the past few months my life has been providentially barraged with weighty matters:  my daughter’s wedding, a son applying to law schools, and the birth of Redeemer Church…to name a few. I wonder if that’s why I’m finding such comfort in normal every-day-life stuff?

Cooking.  Watching Julia’s high school basketball games. Reading. Chatting with Jake about things other than law school. Walking the dog with Benny. Vacuuming. Playing angry birds on my iPad.

And spending time with my little people.

Being Granma to Kayla, Wyatt, Annie, Danae, JJ, Elsie, Eleanor, Sam, Issac, Josiah and Amelia is one of the deepest joys of my life.  In the midst of life-altering happenings I am grounded by PBnJ’s, dirty feet, poopy diapers, and chasing itsy bitsy spiders up water spouts.

Your life is full, too.  Maybe it’s a demanding job, carpooling kids around, rigorous college classes, homeschooling — or trying to juggle church and family and friendships while seeking to make your times with the Lord more consistent.  Oh, and remembering to pay the electric bill and…hmm…whose birthday was yesterday that you forgot to write down?

Can I encourage you to just pause for a moment?  What can you do today that will help you remember how small and normal you are in the midst of your looming tasks or dizzying busyness?

After a morning meeting today I’m gonna do some cooking and maybe play a few games of angry birds.

How ’bout you?

 

Redeemer Church Update

Thanks to those who have asked how things are going with our new church. The past few months have been a whirlwind of activity; heart-searching; laughs; tears; prayers; and joy. We’ve spent time together as a team eating, playing and brainstorming. But mostly we’ve been amazed at God’s miraculous provision for this adventure.

Here are some highlights:

Send off at Metro on January 1: A bittersweet day for our team. As we gather in the front for prayer, facing the people I have grown to love so dearly, I am fighting back a torrent of tears. Yet, I realize how kind the Lord has been to call so many to join us, including all of our children and grandchildren. (I prayed…but worked hard to guard my expectations.) All of us are grateful that Danny Jones felt well enough to exhort and pray for us. Are the tears ones of joy or sadness? I find out from others later that, like me, it’s both. My heart is full of gratitude to God for 11 years at Metro Life Church. But God is calling us to move on. We have no place to meet yet and there is much uncertainty. But we know Who is in control and Who has nudged our hearts to leave.

Wednesday, January 3rd:  Just in the knick of time we get the call…we have a place to meet this Sunday!

Our First Sunday Meeting on January 8:  72 people, including children, gather to eat (of course!), lug sound and children’s ministry equipment, and set up in a small room at the Wycliffe Activities Center. The enthusiasm in the room is tangible and we all feel a sense of wonder at God’s providence. Just 6 months ago Redeemer Church wasn’t even a thought.  As we stand and sing, “Oh Happy Day” I know we are a part of something historic. Benny starts a series called “Urgent” from the Book of Mark. We end our morning crying out for God’s help…then Benny invites everyone to McDonald’s.  Yep.  70 people all in one McDonald’s.

January 11th a Community Group begins:  Wednesday the 11th is our first Community Group.  Benny is taking twelve people through a 12-week “practice run” of building a small-group culture of care, confession and accountability in our new church. Right away, there is a depth of humility and openness that inspires me! Benny is using “You Can Change” by Tim Chester, along with various CCEF counseling articles, as the springboard for opening our lives to one another. As he walks out the door I hear one of the guys say, “I wish it wasn’t a week before we meet again!”  I agree. Such sweet, biblical fellowship is already happening. In April, the church will be divided into three or four groups as our Community Group ministry is officially launched.

Later that week:  We learn that the larger facilities we hoped for at Wycliffe are not available on Sunday mornings. Lord, what is Your plan? We’ve exhausted the options we know to explore. Help!

January 15 at our second meeting:  Since our official opening Sunday isn’t until April 8 (Easter) we are excited to welcome two visiting families.  One couple has been praying for several years for Metro to start something in the Lake Nona area! Kyle and the guys do a great job again leading us in worship. Benny’s messages (which you can find at http://www.lakenonachurch.com if you’re interested) are challenging us to embrace the call to live and share the gospel with fresh faith. Mr Frank and Mrs Liz have already captured the hearts of the children, who love “fishing” for men. Rumor has it that Ralph, an old friend from children’s ministry days up in Virginia, shows up, too! We left that morning wondering where we would meet next week…

January 16:  We are contacted by a martial arts company Alex (a young man who is heroically helping Benny administratively) talked with some weeks ago. They are willing for us to meet in their facilities after all!  God’s provision is once again in the knick of time. So…how to turn a martial arts business — with lots of mats and exercise equipment — into a meeting place with a stage, band, chairs and children’s ministry rooms? And do this in 6 days? 🙂 God will be faithful and people will work hard again. So humbling.

Other than watching my husband’s eyes sparkle with youthful joy, the thing I’ve been most affected by over the past few weeks is watching God move the hearts of people to sacrifice for this new church. He miraculously  provided for us through the generosity of dear friends, for whom we are forever grateful. Then He led a group of people (mostly 20 and 30 somethings, but a few close to our age…smile) to not just participate, but to do so with joy, creativity and energy. The ownership, service and sacrifice we’re witnessing is nothing short of a move of the Holy Spirit. Within a few short weeks they created a website; found two locations; put together a children’s ministry; brainstormed about a list of practical needs to send to other churches in case they have extra stuff we can use; gathered all the equipment and personnel needed to provide sound, worship, toys, food, greeters, guest cards, signs, chairs, clean up; and did it all with joyful excellence.

We are a part of an unfolding miracle called Redeemer Church. Knowing that we have friends near and far praying for us means more than I can express. Thank you so much.

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes (Psalm 118:23).

Lessons From an Old Tree

I read something I can’t stop thinking about on the Romantic Vineyard blog yesterday and wanted to share it with you.  While it’s directed to married couples, this post is for all — whatever season of life we’re in.

These are some wise thoughts about watching our words…said much better than I could.

Click here to read the lessons Debi learned from a 3500-year-old tree.

Enjoy!

Sheree